It’s hard to imagine how Wonder Woman 1984 would have been received had it kept its Summer 2020 release, or even its original December 2019 date. The world feels like a very different place, and after such a troubled year, Wonder Woman 1984 (abbreviated to WW84 in the film itself) feels like a breath of fresh air, an escape from reality at a time when we need it most. Patty Jenkins‘ Wonder Woman quickly became my favourite film in the DC Extended Universe, thanks to its winning cast, story and visuals. Jenkins made the film her own: a wonderful (pun intended) mix of hope and heroism, fighting back against the evils of the world to find the good. It was a glorious success ($800 million at the box office), and a sequel was inevitable – but could lightning strike twice? Well, it turns out that Diana can catch lightning with her lasso of truth, so probably! WW84 may not be as sharp as its predecessor, but its a hugely ambitious and refreshing take on a sub-genre that’s gone from strength to strength over the past twenty years – and most importantly, it gives us all hope for a better future.
After a fun, action-packed prologue which sees a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in the Amazonian Olympic Games, the story moves to Washington, D.C. in 1984, where an adult Diana (Gal Gadot) balances her job at the Smithsonian museum with her crime-fighting antics as Wonder Woman. She’s still reeling from the death of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), but when her colleague Barbara (Kristen Wiig) discovers an ancient artefact said to make anyone’s greatest wish come true, Steve himself returns from the dead, finding himself in a strange future he never even dreamed of. But the artefact has attracted the attention of businessman and TV personality Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), a man determined to get what he wants – no matter the cost.
I can’t think of a blockbuster like WW84 – at least, not in recent memory. It’s a bigger, bolder and more ambitious film than its predecessor, but with a new setting, a new ensemble of characters (apart from Diana and Steve) and a new story. It’s actually quite refreshing to see sequel so different from the original, and not in the “darker, moodier” strain for once. WW84‘s ambition may be too great, but it’s interesting to watch a superhero film that priorities its characters over a its narrative, whilst still retaining that level of spectacle. There’s no tie-ins to a broader franchise, no awkward set-up for a third Wonder Woman film, just a focus on the story at hand.
Here, Wonder Woman is a hero who believes in fighting for justice and avoiding violence at all costs. She doesn’t have a sword or a shield, just her lasso of truth – which she uses to apprehend criminals and save innocent civilians, which feels strangely refreshing in 2020. Diana isn’t a character with moral ambiguity, but someone who believes in the inherent good in people, and she’s embodied beautifully by Gal Gadot, who retains her balance of earnest heroism and action heroine prowess from the first film. I’m all for complex anti-heroes, but it’s great to see Wonder Woman as a pure symbol of goodness and heroism just feels so reassuring – particularly in such a difficult year. Her arc across the film may be somewhat predictable, but when the outcome is so tragic, who can blame Diana for trying to avoid the obvious? And the scene where she finally faces what she has to do is incredibly well-handled.
Chris Pine brings a wide-eyed sincerity to a resurrected Steve Trevor, feeling like a very different character to the World War I spy we met in the previous film, but also a capable and endearing love interest for Diana. Kristen Wiig is very likable as the bubbly, slightly eccentric Barbara Minerva, which makes her gradual transformation across the film all the more tragic. Perhaps the direction her character takes in the third act is a bit too silly (this is after all a comic book movie) but the film never loses sight of her humanity. The real star of the show though is Pedro Pascal, who is just superb as the film’s main antagonist Max Lord, bringing a cheesy 80s businessman vibe (not unlike a certain US President) but also a recklessness and a desperate desire to be a better man than he really is. It’s easy to sympathise with Lord’s motivations, and his desperation for something better feels so inherently human. That’s what ultimately works about all of WW84‘s main characters: at the end of the day, they’re human, with desires and flaws and a determination to be better people. Wonder Woman doesn’t believe that people are truly evil, just misguided, and that’s embodied both in the first film and this sequel.
Despite this, WW84 is not without its faults. Oftentimes its ambition feels too great – an entire sequence in Egypt feels like it could have been cut from the film entirely – and at 151 minutes, it does feel a tad too long. A lot of the momentum grinds to a halt in a second act that’s filled with nice character beats but feels like it’s stretching the story a bit too thin, before the pace picks up again for the final third. I appreciate the film spending more time on its characters than its action sequences, but there is a long stretch of WW84 that’s quite meandering and perhaps even a little dull for younger audiences. However, when it gets going, WW84 delivers on a number of levels. The first third is a really great start to the film, and the climax delivers on both a spectacle and emotional front in a way that the first film couldn’t quite manage. While the action sequences in the first Wonder Woman felt quite Zack Snyder-y in its execution (complete with grey CGI baddie covered in flames), the action in WW84 feels more of Patty Jenkins‘ own style, and she handles with a great sense of clarity and scope. It’s a gorgeous-looking film, and I would love to see it in IMAX at some point (the opening 10-15 minutes is just terrific) and it’s such a shame that WW84 isn’t receiving the proper cinematic release it deserves; watching it at home really cannot compare to the big screen.
Overall, Wonder Woman 1984 is a surprisingly uplifting film to end 2020, ending with a sense of hope and optimism that the world sorely needs right now. While it may be a bit too long, and some aspects don’t quite work, I really cannot fault the film’s ambition. Patty Jenkins has really strived to make WW84 it’s own distinctive piece, whilst also retaining that central idea of heroism. The cinematography is lovely and vibrant, the production design is immaculately detailed, Hans Zimmer‘s musical score is bold and uplifting, and regardless of its’ narrative faults, the main characters are all great and develop in really interesting ways. Truly a wonderful blockbuster to end the year.
Sorry, I couldn’t help it.