When Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) isn’t swinging inside Washington DC’s malls like Spider-Man (who, despite being a superhero, belongs to a totally different continuity, comic book brand and studio), she is living a wish any man, or woman, longs for: spending time with the true love of their life.
In Diana’s case (that’s Wonder Woman’s real name by the way), the man she fell in love with died decades ago at the climax of her first solo movie, set during World War II.
Since his death, Diana, ever the faithful one, spends her nights frequenting cafes, sighing at couples, and looking up at commercial airplanes flying through the night sky. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) was a pilot who crash-landed on the mythical land of Themyscira — a land ruled by strong-willed, immortal Amazon warrior women.
How the women got there and how they fare today aren’t topics for this particular story. The film, directed by returning helmer Patty Jenkins, stays away from fabled islands of the past, and shifts its attention to another legendary time of our past: 1984 (ergo the digits in the film’s title) — a time ruled by pop-music, aerobic exercises, video stores and slaphappy, oversized fashion trends.
Wonder Woman 1984 is by far the best superhero film to come out of DC in its clumsy present-day line-up
When Steve Trevor finds himself in ’84, he sees an alien futuristic world … and he likes it. Like all heroes, however, he knows both he and Diana must track down a mysterious artifact that makes wishes come true. Time is of the essence. But then again, what else is new?
Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84) is by far the best superhero film to come out of DC in its clumsy present-day line-up. It is so good, in fact, that it beats its own previous part by those kilometre-long leaps that, apparently, every Amazon woman is capable of.
In fact, WW84 is so good that it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest superhero film of all time (according to this critic): Christopher Reeve’s Superman from 1978. When you think about it, the two films can be distant cousins.
The imminent threat in both films is an everyday man — in Superman it was the megalomaniacal tendencies of the whimsical criminal genius Lex Luthor (played by the brilliant Gene Hackman); in WW84, the villain is Maxwell Lord (who is engagingly played by Pedro Pascal), a conman with similar megalomaniacal tendencies.
DC comic readers from the late-80s may remember Lord as the man who funded the Justice League International (a classic, zany comic-book series featuring a new roster of B-superheroes of the time). Avid present-day readers would recognise him as the mind-controlling genius who highjacked Superman’s consciousness, and was subsequently murdered by Diana.
Nothing quite as dramatic happens in WW84. In fact, there is not one screen death. Even when Lord swiftly takes over the world in the film’s hokey, over-the-top climax.
But hey, it’s a superhero film set in the mid-80s, how can it not be hokey or over-the-top, given the combination?
WW84 is a guilty pleasure — a pitch-perfect film that favours character chemistry, grounded story beats (ie. plot points) and conversations in favour of the bombastic action sequences.
Barbara Minerva, a nerdy, unconfident woman played by Kristen Wiig, whose casting I had issues with before I saw the film, is Cheetah, WW84’s other baddie, and her villainous avatar doesn’t even appear until the last two fight sequences. Barbara’s growth, until then, is deliberate, and her character sympathetic. Like every actor in the film, there’s a certain allure to how Wiig plays Barbara.
The screenplay by returning director Patty Jenkins, esteemed DC comic writer and former President and COO Geoff Johns, and screenwriter Dave Callaham (Doom, The Expendables) gives characters space to flesh themselves out. There is no hurry to jump from one big, dumb, visual effects-laden spectacle to the next, despite the film’s extensive VFX work. Most of the effects on screen are thematically subtle, fitting the mood of the story.
One example is Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, which she and Steve commandeer from an airfield. When Diana, in an abruptly introduced revelation, turns the jet invisible to eyes and radar, and they fly through clouds brightly-lit by coloured fireworks, the moment feels magical and romantic.
In hindsight, it’s another tip of the hat to Reeves’ and Margot Kidder’s romantic scene from the first Superman film; and like the latter reference, the scene in WW84 has no dialogues.
Jenkins herself has realised the importance of unhurried storytelling. The only two things that take you away from the moment is the brief introductory sequence from Themyscira featuring a young Diana, who cheats at an event (the lesson she learns doesn’t help the story, nor it is mentioned ever again) and the spectacular hardcore Wonder Woman theme from music director Hans Zimmer.
Usual present-day hardcore beats seem alien in a film that deliberately takes a departure from the obvious and the inorganic. It’s a different superhero film from a different era — and it is ‘wonder’ful (apologies for the pun).
Streaming on HBO Max, Wonder Woman 1984 is rated PG-13. Parents needn’t be cautious about anything
Published in Dawn, ICON, January 3rd, 2021