I finally watched Tenet on Wednesday. That may be an odd way to open a review for Wonder Woman 1984, but I actually saw Chris Nolan’s twisty sci-fi production at home on VOD just two hours after returning from the cinema where I watched WW84. Of course, Tenet is infamous for Nolan and Warner Bros pushing ahead with releasing it in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year to try and get people back into cinemas, only for that strategy to fail spectacularly. But now having seen WW84, I’m convinced WB entirely backed the wrong horse in this race back to cinematic normality.
Not that I’m saying you should have rushed out to the cinemas for this latest DC Comics superhero blockbuster had it been released in its original August slot. Hell, even now I’m not saying you should rush out for it or any movie really (I was lucky enough to score an early morning screening where there was only one other person in the cinema). But if there had to be a movie in WB’s stable that I would have chosen to be the torchbearer leading us out of the dark, cloying miasma of 2020, instead of the intellectually impressive but sterile sci-fi braininess of Tenet it would have been Wonder Woman 1984, a bold, gushing superhero film that seems to have been custom-engineered to combat the salvos of horror, dread, and lies that got flung at us this year.
In fact, while returning director Patty Jenkins penned the script with co-writers Geoff Johns and David Callaham long before the events of 2020 came to pass, it’s almost shocking how timely it is. This is a movie, from its lapis lazuli opening frames showcasing the achievements of a young Diana (played by a feisty Lilly Aspell once again) on the golden isle of Themiscyra to its emotionally-swelling final moments featuring a golden armour-wearing adult Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), that is all about the power of the truth: Living it, admitting it to ourselves, fighting the denial of it. It’s also about the disenfranchised and societal flotsam who will latch onto the promise of any truth offered to them with fanatical, white-knuckled fervor, no matter it’s flimsy construction. It’s about excess and instant gratification at the cost of others, concepts that shine through so starkly in the era of 1980s America with its junk food gobbling strip malls and TV snake oil salesmen that this film is set in.
And if that sounds like a lot for a brightly coloured comic book movie where a lady lassos bullets from out of the air with a magical rope, then that’s because it is. WW84’s script bounces around quite a bit. We learn that in the years since the events of the World War I-set first film in which Diana lost the love of her life in Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, she has had few personal attachments. Diana has buried herself in her work as a historian at the Smithsonian, and while she tries to keep a very low public profile with her Wonder Woman superhero exploits, she can’t stop herself from helping out where she can (as long as it’s away from cameras).
It’s at one of these interventions, stopping a jewelry store heist in a mall, where a mysterious ancient relic enters her orbit. It shows up again in her other professional life, when the FBI asks the assistance of Diana’s new gemologist-colleague-turned-only-friend, the socially awkward and frumpy Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), to trace its origins. Also seemingly interested in this relic for his own reasons is Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a TV personality/businessman selling people on a get-rich quick scheme with his toothy grin and soundbite catchphrases. “Welcome to the future! Life is good but it can be better… and all you need is to want it!”, he wolfishly preaches during one of his commercials. And Maxwell Lord definitely wants it.
“It” being some pretty wild dreams of power, although he is not alone in this wish-fullfilment pursuit. Barbara idolizes the perfect life she imagines the beautiful, poised, and accomplished Diana to have and wishes for the same, while Diana – who sees a kindred friendless spirit in Barbara – is still mending a broken heart more than six decades later and wishes for the return of her love. All three of these characters will soon realize the truth: Getting what you want often comes with a terrible price.
Hardcore comic book purists may take issue here with WW84’s script as it’s a wholly original thing that doesn’t draw from any of the source material. Iconic comic book elements from Wonder Woman’s history are introduced, but in some very different ways. And, in one rather significant case involving Diana’s godly gifts, a bit clumsily and rushed.
The script also greatly changes up the established origin stories of Barbara and Maxwell Lord, as the former slowly becomes Wonder Woman arch-rival Cheetah over the course of the film while Lord descends into villainy. Well actually “villainy” is too strong a word here as both Wiig and Pascal get given some great, layered material to work with, with Pascal in particular just reveling in it with a brilliant go-for-broke performance that runs the full gamut of emotions and morality. Gadot has her own dramatic heavy lifting to do, mainly centered around [SPOILER ALERT IF YOU’VE SOMEHOW NOT SEEN ANY TRAILERS OR PROMOS] the impossible return of Diana’s long-deceased beau Steve. How is he back and what does it mean for her going forward?
It’s also through Diana and Steve’s chemistry-packed interactions that Jenkins injects bouts of genuine levity into the affair, reversing the fish-out-of-water roles between the two from the first film. Now, instead of a naive Diana being introduced into Man’s World, it’s a wide-eyed Steve discovering the Modern World of the 1980s with all its gaudy fashion, breakdancing, and technological advancements. Jenkins also gives the star-crossed couple some incredible backdrops to play out their story on thanks to gorgeously framed visuals. It’s a pity that many won’t see this film on IMAX as it would soar there.
Annoyingly though, while Jenkins stages some amazing big and bright action sequences set around the globe – major standouts being the fun and zippy aforementioned mall scene and a multi-vehicle car/foot chase in Egypt – the filmmaker once again Snyder-izes the film’s climactic final battle, just like she did in WW84’s predecessor. Choppy edits and obscuring shadows abound, especially aggravating since it prevents you from getting a proper look at Barbara’s amazing practical effects transformation into Cheetah. This is a movie that leans into some of Wonder Woman’s more hokey aspects and the shoulder-padded, hairspray goofiness of the 1980s without abandon, but feels reluctant to show off its cat-lady baddie in all her comic book glory.
Luckily, it’s a finale comprised of a lot more than the prerequisite CG explosions and slow-mo fisticuffs as it digs deep into Wonder Woman’s greatest power of all: her heart. Unlike the grim nihilism of some of her DC counterparts, Gadot’s superhero is the very definition of the word, a beacon of inspiration, and Gadot sells it even when the dialogue dials up the sentimentality.
The result is that WW84 is undoubtedly more uneven than its trailblazing predecessor. It’s a bit messy and overstuffed and doesn’t quite stick the superhero-landing on all of its many leaps. However, it executes its uplifting central theme so completely, dovetailing all the myriad elements of its story into that concept of “Truth”, that I didn’t mind one bit. It’s fun and pretty and a little cheesy – but it’s the good cheese that leaves you walking out of the cinema with hope and joy, fully distracted from the numbing rigors of the real world. And isn’t that exactly what pop culture entertainment is supposed to do?
PS: Stay seated for a little mid-credits surprise that should put a smile on the face of any fan.
Last Updated: December 18, 2020