One of the few genuine blockbusters to receive a release in the unprecedented year that has been 2020, Wonder Woman 1984 is well and truly worth the wait, and if you’re able to see the film on a big screen – certain international limitations means it’ll be available to stream on HBO Max in the United States simultaneous to its theatrical release – I suggest you do so.
Given just how much magic director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot created with 2017’s Wonder Woman, it makes sense that there’d be both a sense of hesitation and excitement when approaching the sequel. Sequels don’t always succeed in furthering the original character, but the fact that Wonder Woman brought the DC line-up out of its momentary underwhelming funk – the back-to-back line up of 2016’s Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad didn’t help the canon – means audiences should have enough faith for Jenkins and co. to recreate such wonder.
Decades after the original film’s proceedings – if you haven’t surmised, the 1984 of the title is the year in which its set – Diana Prince (Gadot, simply luminous throughout) has settled into a satisfactory existence of working as a curator at The Smithsonian whilst keeping her superhero alter-ego a secret. Though still pining for Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), her love from the 1918-set predecessor, she finds a momentary distraction when mousy co-worker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, a true stand-out) discovers an usual relic in the museum’s latest haul. Seemingly worthless, this “Dreamstone” may be a far more destructive entity than either of them realise, and when it garners the attention of smarmy con-man Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) – think of him as Wolf Street wolf Jordan Balfort, but far more desperate – the threat of international chaos grows further by the minute.
As simple and generic a plot that may be, WW84 offers its share of surprises through its narrative – the film offering the illusion of power through the Dreamstone also presents the reality of losing what you hold sacred the most – and they’re best experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible. Jenkins really has crafted something magical with this film, from the opening spectacle of a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in a multi-stage Amazonian race, to the rousing finale where the villain’s aspirations feel a little too on-the-nose in today’s Trump-saturated market, WW84 feels very much in-tune with the original Superman film from 1978. The hope, humour, and lack of cynicism present here truly elevates an already stirring film to a project of awe.
Bursting with the type of movie star magic that practically overflows out of the screen, Gadot (also earning producer credit here) continues to wholly embody the humanity and goodness of Diana and Wonder Woman with a warmth that burns bright throughout the lengthy running time; get those bathroom visits in prior as it clocks in at a hefty 150 minutes. Much like the first film benefited from her chemistry with Pine, WW84 wisely recreates that here, though it’s sure not to just repeat the same trope of someone trying to immerse themselves in a modern landscape. Pine’s return is well handled, and his Steve becoming enamoured with 1980’s fashion and technology allows the film moments of jocular levity.
Perhaps where the film truly bests its predecessor is in its depiction of its villains, presenting two distinct characters who are both afforded the type of arcs rarely extended to comic book antiheroes. Perfectly cast as Barbara Minerva, who ultimately transforms into The Cheetah, Wiig taps into her comedic sensibilities early on in the film before effortlessly adopting a powerful sexuality, resulting in a truly charismatic creation that earns audience sympathy along the way. Nothing will ever top Michelle Pfeiffer’s mousy-turned-maniacal interpretation of Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Batman Returns (1992), but Wiig’s transformation is similar in both the on-screen characteristics and the overhaul of her abilities as an actress.
Pascal similarly creates an honest villain of sorts as a crooked businessman whose lust for domination ultimately consumes him. With just enough cheese and self-awareness imbued in his performance in the earlier moments, his Max Lord is supremely entertaining, and though his acts as an eventual powerful being cause the film’s disruption, both narratively and for its characters, he too is injected with a humanity that keeps us invested beyond the simple want of his own destruction.
Though the aforementioned running time may irk some viewers, possibly felt even more so as the plot opts to not rely solely on action sequences to pass the time – though it has its share of rapturous set-pieces throughout – and anyone hoping for an 80’s inspired soundtrack best seek their audio delights elsewhere too, WW84 is an engaging continuation that honours everything that made the first film so special, whilst updating it in a manner that imbues the film with an autonomous freshness. After the year we’ve all experienced, WW84 is a wonderful reminder of the cinema we deserve.
Wonder Woman 1984 is screening in Australian cinemas from Boxing Day, December 26th 2020. It will be available to stream on HBO Max and screened in select cinemas in the United States from December 25th.