It’s been a long-time coming, but the sequel to Warner Bros.’ beloved superhero franchise is finally here. After three years and some COVID-related delays, Wonder Woman 1984 drops on HBO Max (and in theatres) on Christmas day.
So, the one question everyone wants to know is whether Patty Jenkins’ much-hyped Wonder Woman follow-up is worth the wait? And the answer is… just barely.
Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t feel like the evolution of the franchise so much as a sidestep. It features another charming performance from Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, another fish out of water tale (this time from Steve Trevor’s perspective), and another messy third act. Wonder Woman die-hards will enjoy spending 2.5 hours with the Themysciran princess. But those hoping for another classic superhero flick will walk away disappointed.
The film picks up 60 years after the events in Wonder Woman. Diana now works at the Smithsonian by day and fights crime as her secret side-hustle. Although Wonder Woman doesn’t stick to rooftops and shadows like Batman – Diana stops a jewelry store heist in a mall, in broad daylight – her presence somehow remains a mystery to the public at large. It doesn’t make a lick of sense. But that’s the way it has to be since know that Wonder Woman announces her presence three decades later in Batman v Superman.
Things get wild when fellow Smithsonian employee Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig channelling the spirit of Steve Urkel) grows smitten with Diana’s “BDE.” Diana is all the things Minerva isn’t; cool, confident, and tough enough to swat down unwanted male advances.
Barbara stumbles into a way to change her fate when she finds a magical artifact with the power to grant wishes. Although she means well at first, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and things go bad fast. Making matters worse, the artifact grabs the attention of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a sleazebag businessman desperate for his next get-rich-quick scheme.
It doesn’t take long before these two jabronis throw the world into chaos. It’s up to Diana, and her mysteriously resurrected lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to stop them before they bring on an apocalypse.
Does Wonder Woman 1984 offer a good time at the movies in the living room? Damn right it does. Gadot is as magnetic as ever as the legendary hero, and I mostly enjoyed seeing the results of the character’s evolution. (I don’t think it’s cute that she’s hung up on her ex for 60 years).
By this point, Diana has lived in the “world of man” for decades. That endearing wide-eyed wonder she exuded in the last film gets replaced with graceful stoicism. She has the swagger of a classic Hollywood gumshoe. Seeing an unflappable Diana hunt down the artifact reminded me of all the slick male leads I grew up watching in black and white detective flicks. Come to think of it, I would be down to see Gadot cast as the next Hercule Poirot – minus the moustache, of course.
Diana is always the coolest, smartest, and most composed person in the room. Kudos to Gadot for pulling this off without taking away from Diana’s unwavering humanity. It’s tough for actors to act James Dean-cool and still come across as grounded, relatable characters.
We’ve all rooted for ass-kicking action stars who can single-handedly crush small armies and walk away without a scratch. Dirty Harry, Batman, and Dom Torreto are cool heroes idolized by millions, but they remain unknowable on some level. Their superhuman talent for kicking ass and taking beatings makes them hard to relate to.
People connect with characters like John McClane, Buffy Summers, and Diana Prince because we see pieces of ourselves in them. Audiences fell in love with this version of Wonder Woman because Gadot channels both her strength and her vulnerability. Pulling this feat off is harder than it looks, but Gadot makes doing so look easy.
Think of how many action movies fail because they don’t realize this distinction between badass and relatable. Zack Snyder’s Superman films didn’t catch on because they never figured this out. People fell in love with Superman because he is a beacon of hope – an alien who is better at being human than most humans. And yet Henry Cavill’s Superman comes off as the ultimate outsider, a cold, brooding, and indifferent prick. Who can relate to that guy?
The comics often portray Diana as having the temper and gravitas of a Dothraki king. But people adore this version of the character because of her optimism, sensitivity, and love of ice cream. It’s as if someone Freaky Friday’d Superman and Wonder Woman in these DC movies.
Wonder Woman 1984 feels like a comic book movie from the pre-MCU era. The tone is light and breezy even when Diana faces end of the world-level stakes. This movie doesn’t bother with the gritty self-seriousness seen in most comic book movies since The Dark Knight stormed theatres a decade ago. This movie could exist in the same world as Richard Donner’s Superman movies. Both films find ways to respect the source material while not taking it gravely serious either.
Wonder Woman 1984’s cartoony villains aren’t far removed from Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and Richard Pryor’s Gus Gorman. Wiig and Pascal really go for it and turn in broad, colourful performances that lack any sense of menace. Jenkins does attempt to humanize these two baddies but misses the mark – giving us too little (backstory) too late in the case of Max Lord. You would think a movie with a 150-minute run-time would do a better job fleshing out its antagonists.
The film is at its best when Jenkins playfully embraces its comic book roots and delivers moments where Diana revels in the joy and wonder that comes with being a demigod. One standout scene sees her stealing Spider-Man’s signature move and swinging through the sky with her lasso of truth. Watching the Amazonian propel herself off of lightning bolts is a sight to behold.
Cinematographer Matthew Jensen does an excellent job keeping the effects-heavy set pieces coherent. It’s easy to track what’s happening even when the action turns frantic. And legendary composer Hans Zimmer’s knockout score ratchets up the intensity several levels. Wonder Woman 1984’s action sequences won’t blow you away, but they deliver enough big-budget spectacle to whet your pallets until the next blockbuster action flick comes along.
Wonder Woman 1984 is one of the most colourful and over-the-top entries in the DCEU. It’s also one of the most comic book-y superhero movies of the modern era. For better and for worse, Wonder Woman 1984 is the rare superhero film that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to class-up the source material.