Nearly 70 years after the events of Wonder Woman, Diana of Themyscira [Gadot] is the only survivor of the original cast. She lives a life of pure service, dividing her time between social isolation from those around her, holding down a day job at the Smithsonian and keeping the streets of Washington DC safe as “Wonder Woman.” But everything changes after a simple robbery unveils an ancient relic which seemingly has the ability to grant wishes. In the care of newly appointed gemologist Barbara Minerva [Wiig], the stone is sought after by television entrepreneur Maxwell Lord [Pascal] who believes it is the remedy to all his woes. And to complicate matters further, Diana’s long-dead love interest Steve Trevor [Pine] has woken up in another man’s body, unsure of how he arrived there.
I have a simple theory that to enjoy this movie you have to come at it in a very specific way and once this epiphany dawned on me, I was able to genuinely enjoy the experience for what it is. In a world where Superman breaks necks, Batman uses guns and there seems to be almost no superhero material for children, Wonder Woman has stepped in to fill the gap. More than that, this film emulates the benevolence and tone of the Richard Donner Superman films. No matter the obstacle, Diana refuses to kill, protects the innocent and ditches the sword and shield in favour of the lasso of truth. No doubt this will rile a lot of fans who are used to a certain type of superhero film or those who are expecting certain seminal moments of comic lore but this feature is trying to push past all that and recreate something that has been absent from cinema for a very long time.
The DCEU’s opening was dominated by both the success of The Dark Knight trilogy as well as Zack Snyder’s branded version of hyperviolence and pessimism, in terms of tone and visuals. But there has been a distinct alteration and there are now as many features pushing away from that image as there were those that defined it. Like Shazam or Aquaman, Wonder Woman 1984 is big and triumphant but more importantly is imbued with a fun wholesome energy throughout. The sheer lack of cynicism, globe-trotting adventure and literal wish fulfilment allows this movie to really stand apart from everything that has come before. Admittedly, the narrative isn’t doing a lot that’s new other than the female focus but in earnest, that is new and therefore feels fresh.
Speaking of the DCEU, the continuity doesn’t matter. None of it makes sense. It’s a shared universe with very little cohesion, so the fact that this film doesn’t fit into something like the events in Batman v Superman makes no difference to me, it flows from its 2017 predecessor and that’s all that matters. As we find her, Diana is alone and unlike someone like Steve Rogers who woke up to everyone he knew gone, Diana has watched them live, grow and die. This has given her a slight edge to start with and a hesitance to let people in. Which is a fantastic place to introduce Barbara Minerva. Barbara walks every cliche of the 80s but does it well – although I feel how you receive this character will depend entirely on your opinion of Wiig’s brand of comedy. And then there’s the primary antagonist, Maxwell Lord. Comic fans have grown up with a few versions of Lord and this is really none of them, it’s a unique creation for the movie but one I very much enjoyed. Maintaining that light sense of redemption, no one in this film is truly evil, Barbara and Max are just two weary downtrodden people desperate for a way out of their misery. While the first Wonder Woman film had a solid adversary in the idea of Aries and war in general, this led to a fairly displeasing climax that was the weakest element of that feature. With Barbara being Diana’s mirror opposite at the cost of her humanity and Lord’s selfish drive to prove to the world that he’s not a failure (with the noted tragedy of his son innocently wishing for his dad’s greatness), there’s something sympathetic to them and rather than snapping their necks or piercing them with a spear, the audience should want them to be redeemed as much as the titular character does.
Gadot once again shines as Diana and with every return to the character it becomes clearer and clearer that she was a fantastic pick for the role. As a fan of the Azzarello comic run, I’m desperate for something steeped in mythology and titanic monsters but a magic wishing stone cursed by a god offering elements of Wishmaster and Quantum Leap is a solid compromise. Although there’s something amusing about the real-world parallel of wishing on a monkey’s paw to sing a simple song to make the global lockdown not seem so bad – wish granted.. but at a price.
Curiously, you’d almost think these movies were directed by completely different individuals. Where the 2017 feature was desaturated and dark, due to its war-time setting, WW84 is as vibrant, bold and colourful as it can be. It’s not that this tonal shift is a disservice to the character or the continuity but it serves to highlight the incredible versatility Jenkins has and her ability to retain a recognisable emotional core regardless of setting and premise.
Of course, the movie isn’t perfect. The clichés and tropes are a little dulled by setting it in the 80s but they’re still present. There’s also the handful of questionable CGI moments that seem like a mandatory prerequisite of contemporary blockbusters these days and Barbara’s “end” feels somewhat unresolved, possibly open for a sequel or merely an oversight. But to my mind these are fairly minor flaws if you have been sold on the overall concept. Much like Black Panther, it’s not the finest version of what it can be but it feels like the start of something and the effort made is noteworthy and important.
It’s entirely possible that without a pandemic raging globally, Wonder Woman 1984 might not have made the impact it needed to, suffocated by the competition around it but as an optimistic beacon of hope, it stands out. In a world of r-rated superhero films geared primarily to middle-aged men with a disposable income (i.e. me), this feels like a movie you can take your kid to. Not just a teenager but a child and I think we’ve been quietly seeking that for some time. Furthermore, depicting a version of humanity which is able to shirk off selfish desires for the greater good thanks to the inspirational actions of a powerful female figure is something we so desperately need and for that alone the film deserves undying praise.
25 December 2020
The Scene To Look Out For:
Rupert Gregson-Williams’ 2017 score managed to use the frankly laughable guitar motif from Batman v Superman, adding it to a bold but ultimately sombre suite. Curiously, WW84 brings back Hans Zimmer for a strikingly different collection of almost care-free playful themes – the track 1984 in particular feels like it came thundering out of the last century. Despite that, toward the end of the movie, we are treated to John Murphy’s Adagio In D Minor from Sunshine, which felt wholly out of place and reeks of hold music (wherein a director uses temporary tracks in the edit but becomes so attached to them that they end up saying “make it sound like this”). The scene in question is also arguably the key emotional moment for Diana and it deserved better than taking me out of the film and stirring thoughts of an entirely different movie.
Arguably, a hero is only as good as the villain and it’s interesting that there is a third adversary under the surface yet constantly present. More subtle than a conman selling happiness for your soul or a cat/woman hybrid, it’s just living in a man’s world. All too often the female characters bat away unwanted advances and attention and understandably, there’s no conclusion to this. People like Diana and Barbara exist in a quietly oppressive world and despite all their power will still be subject to forms of sexual harassment and invalidation. Ultimately it could have said or done more with this but the scene with Barbara holding the wrists of an attacker and defiantly saying “No” is a clear enough message.
“I give everything I have every day and I’m happy to.. but this one thing–”
In A Few Words:
“A welcome return to big joyful superhero films of the past that instructs its youngest viewers to be good and aim high”