Wonder Woman 1984 Review: Unsurprisingly Wonderous

After delivering the most critically successful DC movie since 1989’s Batman, is it any surprise that Patty Jenkins has succeeded once again?

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Wonder Woman 1984 Review

Warning Spoilers Ahead!

The return of Wonder Woman to the big screen after several years and COVID-related delays brings the charm of the first film into a new era while introducing new, complex characters.

After delivering the most critically successful DC movie since 1989’s Batman, is it any surprise that Patty Jenkins has succeeded in once again delighting us with the adventures of Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot)? Wonder Woman 1984 not only manages to tell a Wonder Woman story that fits into the 80 years of character history, but it also uses its setting for sharp, relevant criticism.

This story picks up 65 years after Diana helped the Oddfellows (yes, that’s what Steve Trevor’s group is called) save a small European village and, arguably, the whole world by foiling Ares’ plan to bring about peace with chemical weapons. Our titular princess is now working for the Smithsonian as an archeologist where she meets the mousey Dr. Barabra Minerva (Kristin Wiig), a gemologist who is studying a particular Macguffin that grants wishes in the Monkey’s Paw tradition.

Wonder Woman 1984 | Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

From this point, we are re-introduced to Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), returning in a way that fits really well with the aesthetic and never feels like a cheat. The reversal of the fish-out-of-water dynamic from the first one plays out as incredibly charming in this version, with Pine’s Trevor trying very hard to blend into 1980s America while also being amazed by everything he sees.

That being said, Pine pulls off this very heavy lift by anchoring his performance to Gadot’s, creating a timeless chemistry that not only worked in the first film, but serves to reconnect them instantly in this one, perfectly complemented by Zimmer’s incredible score. 

It helps that Gadot brings a clarity to what has been going on with Diana between 1917 and 1984. Her performance brings out the “strength through love” motif that has always been a part of who Wonder Woman is. Her strength and joy shine through so much of the film, and when it’s time for her to be vulnerable, she tears your heart out. 

Wiig’s Barbara Minevra/Cheetah really speaks to her range as an actress. There is a subtlety to the change her character goes through over the course of the film, as her wish to be more like Diana manifests in terms of confidence and strength, but not compassion or wisdom. Her arc is beautifully sketched and her conflict understandable. 

Pedro Pascal also takes on quite an acting task in his portrayal of Maxwell Lord. This film’s Trumpian take on Lord demands that Pascal pull double duty by using the carefully crafted 80s image of the Donald while also commenting on the current incarnation. Pascal plays the role straight, bringing an intensity that makes him a threat before he even gets the powers of The Dreamstone, hearkening back to the comics where Lord was a genuine danger, even before the gene bomb activated his powers.

Despite this, it doesn’t prevent him from bringing a lot of pathos to the role, portraying a man who will do anything to keep his dream alive, even if it means forgetting why he started dreaming. 

The thematic consistency of WW ‘84 is part of what makes it work so well. What other directors accomplish by dragging the film to a halt so the characters can explain what it “means,” Jenkins and company do by merely crafting a story in which the characters model the appropriate behavior for the film’s message. In trying to create more “adult” or “realistic” superhero fare, creatives have frequently leaned heavily on lecturing their audience. Jenkins says a lot more without abandoning a sense of fun. 

The setting also manages to support its thematic underpinnings. Not only is the color pallet perfect for the era, but the whole enterprise is slathered in the decade. Several minutes at the beginning look like a VH1 special in the wild, but it also takes direct aim at the belief that the mere desire for success is the key to achieving it, a core item of faith in the “greed is good” decade. Because the movie is allowed to submerge itself in this particular time and place, it’s able to speak to our world without becoming preachy.

Unfortunately, There Are a Few Things that Don’t Quite Work

Wonder Woman 1984 | Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

There is a lot to love about this film, but it can feel a bit overstuffed and confusing at points, trying to cover too much while not really knowing how to get there. 

Because of its focus on weighty themes surrounding greed, excess, jealousy, human connection, and quite a bit more, there’s a lot to fit into even 151 minutes. There’s a sense that Jenkins knew she would be moving on after this film, so she tried to fit all of her messages into WW ’84

The plot also gets somewhat muddled in the second act. The interactions between Diana and Steve make it a pleasant distraction, but ultimately the mystery angle feels like a needlessly complicated way to get from A to B. 

That all being said, this is still a majestic film. Bright colors and epic imagery contribute far more potently to the period than any needle drop. There is an unrelenting faith in humanity at the core of this story that is played with such sincerity it’s hard not to start believing, too. 

While the ambition of the film may have outstripped the execution in a few areas, it’s a far better thing to mostly achieve a big task than to fully accomplish a milquetoast checklist.

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