Director Patty Jenkins swung directly for the fences on every pitch. Sure, not all of ‘em are home runs, but it’s hard not to have a ball watching someone so casually and sincerely wear their heart on their sleeve.
Wonder Woman 1984, the direct sequel to the 2017 blockbuster hit, follows the further adventures of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). She’s matured and moved beyond the naive hero we met last time, living over fifty further years and having lost all of her friends to time. The woman is working as an anthropologist for the Smithsonian alongside Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a clutzy frump of a geologist that idolizes her. When the two come into possession of an odd stone encircled with a Latin ringlet they are visited by Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), a phony oil tycoon with dreams of possessing the stone. After holding the rock and wishing for the return of her dead boyfriend, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Diana begins to discover that it may be exactly what the Latin words claim it to be – the Dreamstone that grants wishes at a cost.
It’s odd to me that one of the criticisms of this film is that it’s about wishing for stuff using a magic rock when just last year the box office went gaga for another film about wishing rocks, only there were five of them contained in a glove. Fandom is just weird like that. Me? I just dig the utter sincerity that Jenkin’s brings to her overly indulgent vision of the 1980s, a time when America thought everyone could have it all.
And Jenkins really does try to have it all. Her first Wonder Woman film involved a lot of great viciousness, weaving a war film into the awakening of a superhero while Gadot and Pine just oozed chemistry all over the screen. This time, however, parts of her film have fallen into the same trappings that her villain does. Lord is a man that believes all you truly need to do is wish for it and your desires can fall into your lap. He gets there by hook or crook (mostly the latter), and takes every shortcut he can find to fail upwards in a desperate need to instill his insecurities into the world around him. Jenkins shows a lot of that same charisma and failure, creating a very charming but overindulgent story that is bloated and decadent in the way that a delightful cupcake might be. In an era of increasingly big superhero films it may benefit many a filmmaker to have some limitations pressed upon them.
Gadot, however, steps in and saves the movie from its need for a stronger editor. I hesitate to call her an actress, but the woman is a star through and through. She’s got “it,” that wonderful magnetism that feels like a product of a bygone era. She’s an instrument, trained in military tactics and able to rock every action scene with as much effortless grace as one might channel into brushing their teeth in the morning. Her line deliveries are corny, but they feel less as though they’re coming from a performer and more someone that just believes what she’s saying. While I wish the energy between Pine and Gadot had stuck around, the complete belief in the utter silliness of what she’s doing makes up for a lot of that. Whether striking the Wonder Woman flying pose or pretending to whip and swing from lightning bolts, you just buy into her performance at every stop.
Pine, sadly, is now one of the weaker links this time around. Wonder Woman saw him as a sexy hunk goofball that connected with Gadot on such a primal level that you can buy into their romance despite (or maybe because of) its brevity. Now, however, something just seems to have been left off the table when designing his usage. The guy remains charming, it would be hard for him not to be that way, but he doesn’t seem to have the same fervor for the woman that wished him alive as he did in the early 1900s. It’s a shame, but at least we get a montage of him trying on over-the-top 80s outfits.
The real fun this time around is between Gadot and the new cast members, Wiig and Pascal. Kristen Wiig’s take on Cheetah feels like a hair metal version of Tom Hooper’s Cats by the end, but that’s to its credit rather than its detriment. Up until that point she’s moving from a cliche powder puff of a woman to angry icon, the classic tale of the downtrodden office worker that finds renewal and sexiness in power and doesn’t want to let it go. We’re not far from the territory Michelle Pfeiffer was playing in for Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. She’s a blast to watch and awkwardly cute in her role, one that serves as a perfect counterpoint to Pascal’s take on comic book character Max Lord. This guy is a prime example of what happens when a charismatic bullshitter is allowed to have the power they desire, a person with nothing to offer but a hustle that then bullies their way into making it a faux reality so they can feel important. His hair and demeanor are not that far off from some individuals we may hear about all the damn time, but Pascal’s performance humanizes it and makes it desperately pathetic instead of frighteningly dangerous.
Hans Zimmer has taken scoring duties from Rupert Gregson-Williams after the latter declined to return. It’s sort of a shame, as it enters the realm of “Zimmery” scores instead of the weird electric-guitar slides of the first film. Still, it’s a rousing and exciting set of songs and it’s far more than something to shake a stick at. Zimmer has made a name for himself in superhero films and, despite his claims, will continue to prove that he’s a solid baseline.
Wonder Woman 1984 is far from perfect and lacks a lot of the things that made the character’s onscreen debut so definitive, but it’s not completely lost in the woods. The utter sincerity of some of the ridiculous iconography associated with DC’s major female character is part of what makes this work, from striking iconic poses to flying an invisible jet. We were robbed of this in theatres, a thing that I firmly believe would have made the whole thing much more magical than otherwise, but it still stands as a grand piece of escapist luxury that we can ill-afford to skip during these hard times. It’s sweet, it’s bright, and it’s a sight for sore eyes after all of the smaller films released in 2020. Patty Jenkins has stepped in to remind everyone why we loved the big screen in the first place, why superheroes are still important, and why sometimes dreaming big really is enough.
Wonder Woman 1984 is currently streaming on HBO Max.