REVIEW: Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Like 2020 itself, the DCEU has lost all concept of time and order. Carrying on in some areas like nothing else has happened and starting a fresh in others, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on. By my count we’ve got three batmen, two Jokers and a recalibrated Justice League on the way. One founding factor that’s remained consistent ever since she took a swing at Doomsday though, has been Gal Gadot’s take on the Amazonian hero, Wonder Woman. Winning points back against that other comic-book movie conglomerate when the DC cinematic universe was on the ropes, director Patty Jenkins’ 2017 smash was the surprise we didn’t know we needed. Now both she and her lead have returned at a time when they very nearly didn’t, to both the big and small screen with Wonder Woman 1984, and while there are some things that are more acceptable in the 80s, this new adventure for the lady with the lasso is not without its issues.
Kicking us into gear with a childhood flashback that has all the energy and hype of the Olympic Games and a Quidditch match, we jump forward to reuniting with Diana long after the end of the Great War, and a good few years before she crosses paths with dark knights and men of steel. Doing her part for the world any way she can, her life is still a lonely one, brushing off over-friendly 80s men and longing for her lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). It’s a side she doesn’t show, not even to new work-mate and awkward wallflower Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) who is in awe of the mild-mannered museum worker that secretly moonlights as a superhero. It’s only when coming across the film’s magic McGuffin that both their desires are realised, albeit with major repercussions that go unnoticed, and pale in comparison to the wants of oil ty-goon, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who has his own agenda that’s as wild as his hair.
Much like another notable war-superhero from the other side of the comic book film fence, the second chapter of Wonder Woman’s story is a huge step away from her initial outing, and Jenkins’ effort to bridge the gap is faultless. Clicking into place like a fanny pack belt buckle, as the timely title would suggest, Wonder Woman 1984 is an adventure wrapped in lycra, rolled-up suit sleeves and backcombed bouffants and it’s a place Diana visually fits into and she seems right at home as soon, as she leaps into action. Gadot’s crime-fighting fatale returns with all the charm and charisma in this era, which would be suited to fighting alongside Christopher Reeve’s Superman rather than Henry Cavill’s, which is in no way a discredit. Dispatching bad guys at the mall in the first act, and giving that reassuring wink like only few heroes can, Jenkins set a Richard Donner-like tone that you immediately become attuned to – it’s just a shame Diana and ultimately Gadot can’t do the same.
It’s hardly spoiling things to discuss the return of Steve Trevor, who was last seen on a final flight and is now back in action (and a tracksuit) due to miraculous means. Returning to his love but not the time he left her in, allows for a great bit of role reversal, not simply for the the once uninitiated Diana Prince to teach her beloved a thing or two, but really get an understanding of how she’s been living her life without him. It’s a portion of the story that’s only slightly touched on and feels like a missed opportunity to flesh-out Diana’s character further. There’s also some questionable plot points that may check the fan service sheet, but feel incredibly out of place and in no way earned. Thankfully, these are outshone by the redeeming element that is reigniting the chemistry that these two had the first time round, and allowing Pine to make that age-old gag of not understanding how an escalator works still funny. However, it doesn’t even take a lasso of truth to admit that these two aren’t even the real power couple of Wonder Woman 1984, with that title falling to newcomers to the franchise, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig.
Easily taking a place at the top level of DCEU baddies, Pascal’s Maxwell Lord and Wiig’s Barbara Minerva are running rings around our heroine every time they’re on screen. In the case of Lord, Pascal has pinpointed a character somewhere between Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and a well-known soon to be ex-leader, smiling for the camera and hiding behind a massive head of hair and any get rich quick scheme he can think of. As adversaries to Wonder Woman go, he’s not even in her league but unlike other baddies of late, his backstory and character arc is a compelling one, unknowingly doing damage that Diana is determined to rectify. Caught in all this and clearly loving it is Wiig, who’s transformation from timid soul to empowered enemy is as iconic as Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns. Minerva/Cheetah is without a doubt the biggest draw of the entire film and a testament to Wiig as an actress who plays to her comedic strengths and displays some new ones altogether as she goes through her transformation.
The only setback is her inevitable showdown with Diana that deserved more attention (and lighting) in order to avoid being just another squint-or-you’ll-miss-it CGI scrap, suffering the same frustrating issues as the first film did. It’s this that captures everything right and wrong with Wonder Woman 1984, propelling our hero forward into a world you’ll be happy to return to, but one that still has issues that really should’ve been remedied. Could another instalment of Diana’s adventures fix all that? We can only wonder.
Wonder Woman 1984 is available in some international cinemas from 16 December and on HBO Max on 25 December.