” An intentional homage to both ‘80s movies and its comic book source material, it fully leans into the genre by embracing the ridiculousness of it.”
In the action-packed opening sequence of Wonder Woman 1984 , a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) runs, leaps, and slides her way through an obstacle course of epic proportions on Themyscira— an island home to mythological warrior women known as the Amazons. She races ahead of her competitors with fierce determination, choosing to take a few shortcuts along the way after she finds herself falling behind. But while Diana is convinced this seemingly clever move will lead her to victory, she’s stopped short of the finish line by Antiope (Robin Wright), who instills a valuable lesson in the young hero. She’s not yet ready to win because she cheated instead of earning her success, Antiope explains, affirming the importance of truth above all else. Not only is this scene a flashback to a defining moment from Diana’s childhood, it also establishes Wonder Woman 1984’s central theme: what comes easily often doesn’t come without consequence.
As the film jumps forward to its titular time period, it immerses its audience in the ‘80s aesthetic before showing Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) swooping in to save the day as Wonder Woman during a fun mall showdown. Now a museum curator at the Smithsonian who moonlights as the titular superhero, Diana has never truly gotten over losing the love of her life— pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). She remains guarded as she moves through the world, choosing to keep people at a distance rather than letting them in. However, this changes somewhat when Diana befriends her endearingly awkward new colleague, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who has been tasked with identifying a mysterious stolen artifact for the FBI. Diana and Barbara soon discover that the “Dreamstone” as it’s called is said to contain magical properties, able to immediately manifest the desire of whoever has it in their possession.
There’s a significant suspension of disbelief necessary in order to find any hope of enjoyment in Wonder Woman 1984. An intentional homage to both ‘80s movies and its comic book source material, it fully leans into the genre by embracing the ridiculousness of it. The film’s main antagonist, Maxwell “Max” Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a self-absorbed oil tycoon who essentially becomes an evil genie obsessed with world domination. Pascal plays up the character— who inevitably draws comparison to a certain real-life political figure— with a cartoonish glee, clearly having fun with the role. Then there’s the concept of the Dreamstone itself. Rooted in fantastical mythology, its powers appear to function in whatever way the plot dictates is needed rather than abiding by any sense of real-world logic.
When Diana first considers the possibility that the Dreamstone actually works, she closes her eyes and holds it without saying a word. She doesn’t need to, as it’s her heart that speaks for her in this moment. Still, the notion of having the thing she longs for most magically returned to her is merely wishful thinking, as opposed to a demand made to the universe. This is what sets Diana’s wish apart from the others and reinforces her strength of character. She doesn’t seek to exploit its abilities for her own personal gain, seeking power as Max and Barbara do. Instead, Diana wants nothing more than love— and to her, that takes the literal form of Steve.
While the first Wonder Woman sees Steve guide Diana through World War I-era London, watching with amusement as she experiences the modern world for the first time, here it’s Diana’s turn to show Steve what life looks like in America, circa 1984. The pairing of Gadot and Pine is a delightful one, bringing about some of the film’s most entertaining sequences through this reversal of roles. The two are also at the centre of a visually stunning scene involving an iconic part of Wonder Woman lore— the invisible jet— which would have been even more dynamic given the chance to experience it on the big screen. As well, Diana and Steve’s rekindled romance serves as the film’s emotional anchor, building up to a bittersweet yet powerful moment where Diana learns another valuable lesson— if you love something, set it free.
However, despite the many elements that work in its favour, Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t without its flaws. The film has garnered a fair deal of criticism for its portrayal of Middle Eastern culture, which unfortunately perpetuates negative racial stereotypes. Also, it feels frantic and overstuffed at times thanks to its attempt to juggle three storylines simultaneously, with a few big moments where the payoff doesn’t quite feel earned. A prime example of this comes when Wonder Woman faces off against both Barbara— who has now transformed into Cheetah— and Max Lord. Since the film has spent more time developing the latter of these characters, the Amazonian hero’s climactic confrontation with Max Lord is far more high-stakes than her scrappy brawl with Cheetah, who never becomes a fully realized villain.
The dynamic between Diana/Wonder Woman and Barbara/Cheetah is a compelling one that would have benefitted from further exploration, as it feels like the film only scratches the surface of the complex relationship they have. Gadot and Wiig have an undeniable chemistry together in their initial scenes, and Barbara and Diana are established as excellent foils for one another, each possessing qualities that the other admires. Ultimately though, Barbara’s betrayal of her friend and Wonder Woman’s rivalry with Cheetah fall short of delivering the impact that the film suggests they should. The issue isn’t in Wiig’s portrayal of Barbara/Cheetah, but rather with the lack of development the character receives. Her character’s story seems unfinished— perhaps an intentional choice that leaves the door open for her to return.
“Life is good,” Max Lord is seen declaring on television early on in Wonder Woman 1984. “But it can be better.” There’s an irony in the fact that a film which touts the potential of greatness ends up falling short of expectations itself, making sacrifices and cutting corners as it tries to pull out all the stops. But while Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, it’s an enjoyable second outing for the franchise nonetheless, with messages that feel especially resonant given the current state of the world. With a third Wonder Woman movie recently greenlit, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the superhero franchise. Now that Wonder Woman 1984 has been released though, it doesn’t feel unwarranted to say that fans of Gadot’s Diana Prince deserve to see more from her next adventure— and that’s the truth.
Dir. Patty Jenkins
Prod. DC Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, The Stone Quarry, Warner Bros. Pictures
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal
Release date: December 25, 2020
Available on: HBO Max (USA), Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play