Released: 16 December 2020
Director: Patty Jenkins
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, and Connie Nielsen
Decades after losing her former love, Steve Trevor (Pine), during the First World War, Princess Diana of Themyscira (Gadot) works at the Smithsonian Institution while covertly helping others in her guise as Wonder Woman. After befriending shy geologist and cryptozoologist Barbara Ann Minerva (Wiig), both Diana and her friend find themselves forever changed when business tycoon Maxwell Lorenzano/Max Lord acquires a mystical artefact, the “Dreamstone”, and begins bringing people’s deepest wishes to life.
Following her creation by psychologist William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman has been a firm staple of DC Comics and an influential feminist icon. Wonder Woman achieved mainstream success as a pop culture icon following Lynda Carter’s portrayal of the character in the 1970s and she finally proved to be a massive critical and commercial box office success with the release of Wonder Woman (ibid, 2017). Although the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) was in flux following the poor reception of Justice League (Whedon/Snyder, 2017), production of a Wonder Woman sequel was officially announced in 2017, with both stars Gadot and Pine and director Jenkins set to return. Rather than produce a direct sequel,Wonder Woman 1984 (or simply WW84) jumped ahead to another unexplored period in the character’s long history, the 1980s, to capitalise on the recent interest in the decade. The film’s release was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic but WW84 finally saw the light of day at the end of 2020, where it was met with a lukewarm and underwhelming critical response. This, coupled with its limited release, meant the film massively underperformed and brought in only $166.4 million at the box office; however, while many criticised certain narrative elements of the film, Gadot’s performance was praised as a highlight and a third entry in the franchise is was greenlit soon after the film’s release.
Like the first film, WW84 begins with Diana narrating a flashback to her childhood where, as a girl (Lilly Aspell) on the island of Themyscira, she competes in a gruelling obstacle course. Although she’s able to hold her own for the most part, she is knocked from her horse at a crucial moment and, in order to catch up, opts to take a shortcut and, as a result, is penalised and reprimanded by her aunt and mentor, Antiope (Robin Wright), who teaches her a valuable lesson that forms the basis for the film’s main theme: that she must be honest and true to herself and that she must have patience in order to succeed in life.
Despite claiming to have walked away from man’s world for a hundred years after Steve Trevor’s death, Diana is living and working in Washington, D.C. and we’re reintroduced to her as she performs various heroic deeds as Wonder Woman in an amusingly edited montage that is both bright and vibrant thanks to the excess of the eighties and comically exaggerated in a way that recalls Superman (Donner, 1978). Although Diana makes an effort to destroy security cameras and move quickly to largely avoid being seen, she does appear in full costume in the middle of a shopping mall in front of numerous witnesses, though the film does make a point to show that her identity is unknown. Still, regardless of the continuity blip this causes (it’s hard to imagine Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) wouldn’t have been somewhat aware of Diana before he first encountered her judging by this film’s events), it’s a fun and exciting way to be reintroduce to Diana that is immediately offset by the emotion of seeing that she’s largely closed off from the wider world.
Thanks to brief shots of photographs in her apartment, we see that Diana continued to maintain a friendship with Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and ties with Steve Trevor but is, otherwise, quite a lonely individual. In this regard, she meets a kindred spirit in Barbara Minerva, a quirky, social inept, and insecure geologist who is largely ignored by her co-workers and those around her. Barbara is excited when Diana actually gives her the time of day and the two bond over their interest in history; the two quickly form a friendship, filling the gaps in each other’s lives, and Barbara comes to idolise Diana for being everything she wishes to be.
After foiling a robbery in the film’s opening, Barbara is asked to examine an artefact that was recovered, which claims to be a wish-granted stone, the Dreamstone. Although both are sceptical about this, the stone’s powers turn out to be genuine when Barbara wishes to “be like” Diana and wakes up the next day to find herself suddenly noticed by others, slipping into sexier clothing, and her fortunes generally turning for the better. Sadly, however, her insecurities remain the same and she is easily tricked by the film’s main antagonist is Max Lord, into allowing him to steal the stone for himself. Lord, a prominent figure in DC Comics and, here, is portrayed as a charismatic and silver-tongued oil tycoon and enigmatic television personality who appears to be another corporate, suit-wearing industrialist. Behind his public façade, however, is a is a con man whose oil business is slowly falling apart around him, whose debts are being called in, and who desperately wishes to make his son, Alistair (Lucian Perez) proud of him.
Another consequence of Barbara’s wish is that she develops superhuman strength and agility, just like Diana has, while Lord does the natural thing and wishes to embody its powers, thus turning his fortunes around overnight. The stone’s powers also have a startling affect on Diana when she unknowingly wishes for Steve Trevor to be resurrected; the stone accomplishes this by having his spirit inhabit the body of another man (Kristoffer Polaha). Overjoyed at being reunited with him, Diana and Steve immediately pick up where they left off and, despite how awkward it is for Diana to be taking advantage of a random stranger, this allows the film to present the reverse of the first movie’s concept. Now, Steve is the fish out of water, confused and puzzled by “the future” he has returned to, and it is Diana who has to guide him through navigating the world and the garish style of the eighties.
Perturbed by the stone’s powers, Diana and Steve set out to investigate it; while Barbara begins to revel in her newfound confidence, abilities, and popularity, possessing the stone’s powers turn Lord into an influential, Donald Trump-like figure and Diana is horrified to discover that the Dreamstone is a construct of the Gods, specifically Mendacius, the “Duke of Deception”. Like all good things, the stone’s powers come at a cost; Diana finds her superhuman abilities beginning to wane, Max’s mind and body starts to deteriorate from the immense power, and Barbara slowly loses her humanity until she eventually transforms entirely into the cat-like Cheetah. The only way to reverse the damage is for them tor enounce their wishes, something none of them are willing to do at first since it would mean losing everything they have desired for so long
WW84 is a much more character-driven film that it’s predecessor; much of the runtime is spent exploring Diana and Steve’s renewed relationship, acclimatising him to the then-modern world, and rekindling their passion. Thankfully, Gadot and Pine still make for a charismatic and engaging duo and the two gel really well together as equals but it can’t be denied that things would have been much less awkward if the stone had literally returned Steve to life rather than having him possess an unassuming stranger’s body Quantum Leap (1989 to 1993) style.
Still, on the one hand, spending so much time on Diana and Steve’s relationship does help to further develop her character; she’s clearly still grieving his loss, even after all these years, and doesn’t have much of a social life, though she still uses her abilities to help others as covertly as possible. She forms a real bond with Barbara, perhaps the first real friendship she’s had in some time, and is elated to be reunited with Steve. Her character arc in this film is learning to rediscover her humanity, somewhat, and to let go of the past, something we know from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016) that she doesn’t really do after these events but it’s still wonderfully realised here as Diana applies the lesson she learned as a child to her current situation and, however reluctantly, renounces her wish to regain her strength and put the world to rights after Lord’s actions cause worldwide upheaval.
This has a detrimental effect on Lord, who begins to suffer more and more physical pain and consequences for playing Wishmaster (Kurtzman, 1997); driven to desperation, he finds himself unable to stop granting wishes and tries to restore himself by absorbing the energy of others, plunging the world into chaos in the process. Ultimately, rather than engaging him in a fist fight, Diana is able to convince him to renounce his abilities after forcing him to relive his own unhappy childhood and reconnect with his son. That’s not to say that WW84 doesn’t have its fair share of action; the opening sequence in the mall is a lot of fun and Diana’s attempt to chase down Max Lord in Egypt seems to be a homage to the seventies show, and Diana’s lasso-based fight scene in the White House was very thrilling, but the scene-stealing sequence is the moment when Diana dramatically swings her way through the storm-swept sky by lassoing onto lighting!
Diana’s journey in WW84 is one of gaining strength from these decisions; she demonstrates the ability to turn a jet invisible, acquires the golden armour of Asteria (Lynda Carter), and gains the ability to fly (to the stirring chords of “Adagio in D Minor”) after renouncing her wish and regaining her full powers. This comes in handy for her big showdown with Cheetah; earlier, Cheetah had been able to defeat Diana since her powers were fading, which helped to showcase Barbara as a physical threat to Diana. Drunk on the power and freedom offered by the stone’s powers, Barbara becomes a formidable and fierce adversary and a far cry from the meek character she was at the start of the film. Unfortunately, Cheetah kind of lets the film down a bit in the effects department; even though her fight with Diana takes place in the murkiness of night, the CGI is quite wonky, which is a shame as the practical effects look pretty good. Still, it’s a thrilling climax to the film, which even goes a long way to showing Diana’s compassion as she chooses to save Barbara and even Max rather than just kill them.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a curious film; rather than being bigger and better than the original, it opts to tell a more dramatic, character-based story that focuses more on Diana coping with her grief and loss and learning to let go of the past rather than being a bombastic, action-packed sequel. This is pretty good for Diana’s character development; it’s clear that she is overjoyed to have Steve returned to her and torn between wanting to be with him even if it means leaving the world to its fate and seeing her step into the role of a full-blown hero and saviour is very gratifying. The twist of Steve being the fish out of water this time around was interesting but, at the same time, could potentially have been handled differently or excised entirely in some ways, and I was surprised to find that Barbara’s “geeky, quirky, obsessed” character cliché wasn’t as annoying or aggravating as in other superhero films; it’s perfectly suited to Wiig’s strengths and she pulled off the character’s descent into villainy really well. Thanks to his charisma and magnetism, Pascal successfully walked the fine line between being a scenery chewing character and a cartoonish villain and it was great to see Pine and Gadot’s chemistry back in action. My only real gripes with the film were its length (and even that wasn’t that big a deal as I was interested throughout) and some continuity hiccups with the larger DCEU but, considering the mess the DCEU has become since then, I think I can forgive it and would say WW84 manages to be just as enjoyable as the first film while still mixing things up with its presentation and narrative.
What are your thoughts on Wonder Woman 1984? How do you feel it compared to the first film and were you disappointed by it? Were you happy to see Chris Pine return and what did you think to Diana’s character arc in this film? Were you a fan of Max Lord and Cheetah? What are your thoughts on WW84’s placement in the wider DCEU?What are some of your favourite Wonder Woman stories, characters, and moments? How are did you celebrate Wonder Woman Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Wonder Woman, drop a comment down below.