Starring: Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6), Chris Pine (Star Trek), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), Connie Nielsen (Gladiator), Robin Wright (The Princess Bride)
Director: Patty Jenkins (Monster)
Writers: Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns (Aquaman) and Dave Callaham (Zombieland: Double Tap)
Runtime: 2 hours 31 minutes
Release Date: 16th December (UK), 25th December (US)
In this critic’s opinion, Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman is one of the best superhero movies ever made. Rather than just another aping of the Marvel formula, it used Richard Donner’s Superman as its key point of inspiration and delivered a classic mythic tale that encapsulated the essence of Diana Prince in cinematic form; yeah, the third act was a bit of an odd gear shift, but it otherwise delivered with flying colours. It remains the shining star all DC movies since have had to compare themselves too, and I doubt one will even match its like soon. That too, I’m afraid, very much applies to its sequel. Though Wonder Woman 1984 does retain the optimism and spirit that made the first film feel so refreshing, it ultimately tries to do too many things at once, making for an ambitious and often awe-inspiring blockbuster but one that nearly buckles from its own exuberance.
Wonder Woman 1984 immediately sheds what remaining grimdark influence Zack Snyder had over its predecessor, tonally delivering a much more vibrant and upbeat adventure that feels like it could have been made in the year of its namesake. The story itself is a fairly simple “be careful what you wished for” narrative blown up on a global scale, succeeding where the first film did by building its narrative and themes around Wonder Woman’s ethos; if the first film was about Diana’s power of love, this is about her power of truth. The film is at its best when it goes for broke and embraces its comic book inspirations, even if it sometimes borders on parody. However, this whimsical technicolour outlook doesn’t always gel with a film that also wants to make a serious political statement. Much of the plot is allegorical for both the greed of the 1980s and its nasty resurgence in modern times, and it’s hardly subtle about it. The problem doesn’t lie so much in its treacly yet earnest message, but in how it is delivered. It naively simplifies complex issues of political motivations and personality deficiencies that just can’t be unravelled so easily, even by a literal demigod superhero. There’s nothing wrong with a film being optimistic, and the breadth of it present in Wonder Woman 1984 can be intoxicatingly uplifting. Unfortunately, it approaches topics like capitalism and authoritarianism with the ingenuous thinking of an ex-boyfriend thinking they can win back their lover with a grand romantic gesture; its heart is in the right place, but it’s just not that simply solved.
Even in subpar fare like Batman v Superman and Justice League, Gal Gadot has always been the bright star of the DCEU and continues to do the name of Wonder Woman proud here. Much like the film itself, her performance exudes with joy and playfulness, but with a clear undercurrent of world weariness and desperate longing. She’s a more confident and witty character than in the first film, where her humour relied more on fish-out-of-water gags, but even with her power she’s still clearly a human with needs and flaws that lead her into trouble. This character development helps to freshen up her relationship with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, with him now in the role of the newcomer astounded by the “future” of the 1980s. Though the way his character re-enters the story is odd and needlessly complicated, Pine himself is as charming and affable as ever and his chemistry with Gadot continues to be a high point for the franchise.
The big new draw for WW84 is its villains, and both Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal do not disappoint on a performance level as Barbara Minerva and Maxwell Lord respectively. Though Wiig feels well-cast as an awkward wallflower, it’s a little tiresome to see yet another superhero movie where the villain starts off as a nerd with big glasses and bad hair who has an unhealthy obsession with the hero (I mean, they literally introduce her with a “clumsily drops her papers and no one helps her” moment). Luckily, once Minerva begins to shed her anxieties and go down the wicked path, Wiig really gets a chance to show her range as more than just a comedienne; I’d love to see her get more opportunities to stretch like this. Meanwhile, Pascal is an utter delight from his first moments on screen as the delightful but insecure Lord, turning the character into far more than just a playful take on a certain other power-hungry con man who lies his way to the top. He is absolutely the best thing about the movie and balances that fine line between taking his character seriously and having a blast with it. Sadly, his character’s arc is where the film’s biggest problem is most evident, as if the film itself fell in love with Lord so much that it couldn’t bare to give him his deserved fate. The rest of the supporting cast is made up of relatively minor roles, with Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright only returning as Hippolyta and Antiope for a prologue sequence that is narratively superfluous but thematically important, and classic Wonder Woman fans would do well to sit through the credits for a long-overdue cameo.
When I said the film has a “whimsical technicolour outlook”, that applies as much to the visuals as it does the tone. WW84 bathes itself in the neon excess of the 1980s on every level, from Diana’s glossy new costumes to the film’s highly stylised colour grading. Despite retaining cinematographer Matthew Jensen from the first film, this is a vastly different film from a stylistic perspective, going for a far more hyperreal aesthetic that is often evocative of the art of Alex Ross; there are so many shots in this film that made my jaw drop just from their staging and/or lighting. Though none could ever match the majesty of the No Man’s Land sequence from its predecessor, the action sequences on display are varied and thrilling, with particular highlights being a car chase through the Egyptian desert and the best superhero battle at the White House since the Nightcrawler sequence from X2. Sadly, the film does have some technical shortcomings. The visual effects are incredibly inconsistent, even with things as basic as compositing; one could argue this was an intentional choice to evoke the VFX of 1980s movies, but it’d be a pretty tenuous one. Most disappointingly, the score by Hans Zimmer lacks the bombast of his usual compositions and is mostly pretty forgettable, with the new arrangement of the Wonder Woman theme sounding especially restrained. It almost feels like temp music at times, with Zimmer even blatantly reusing a track from his Batman v Superman score in one key scene. Why? I have no idea. The scene isn’t a callback to that film in any way narratively or thematically. The track is just…there, like they put it in during the rough edit and forgot to replace it later.
If the first Wonder Woman was the spiritual successor to Richard Donner’s Superman, Wonder Woman 1984 is very much Superman II. It’s bigger, bolder and brighter than the first film, but it lacks the verisimilitude that made its predecessor transcend the genre. Purely as a piece of blockbuster entertainment, I can highly recommend it as a joyous comic book adventure made with an abundance of talent, passion and care. That said, it makes the mistake of buying into its own hype, lacking the restraint it needs to realize how ridiculously naïve it is. I mean, it’s nowhere near as childishly simplistic as “Superman solves nuclear war by tossing all the nukes into the Sun”, but it veers in that direction. Ultimately, Patty Jenkins’ love for the character is still all over this film, and I almost can’t blame her for overindulging herself after being freed from having to fit herself into a Snyder-shaped hole. Hopefully, after her detour to a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, she’ll come back and deliver a capper to this trilogy worthy of its ambitions.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10