The much delayed and anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 has finally been released in an unprecedented roll of the dice and experiment by Warner Bros. and its parent company AT&T. Released on HBO Max and in theaters, the film has pivoted a few times due to the current pandemic and shifting needs of consumers. Taking advantage of my big-screen television and surround sound, and not wanting to risk COVID, I took advantage of my HBO Max subscription to watch the film and in doing so, I felt transported back decades to the early years of comic film adaptations. That’s both a good and bad thing in the end. But, the end result is a film that’ll be polarizing and over years most likely dissected, analyzed, and opinion will shift for the positive.
Shifting the setting decades from the original, Wonder Woman is now in 1984 living her dual life. Longing for the return of her Steve Trevor, she’s been lonely and somewhat isolated. Enter the dreamstone, a MacGuffin that can make wishes come true. A failed businessman, Maxwell Lord, also wants the statue in hopes that he’ll be able to turn around his ventures and become a worldwide business dynamo. What results is a film that examines the 80s while also upending superhero movies in many ways.
Directed by the returning Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman 1984 features a story by Jenkins and Geoff Johns with a screenplay by Jenkins, Johns, and Dave Callaham. The story and direction have their bumps but overall the film feels like a throwback to earlier years of superhero films both in tone and look. This isn’t a film filled with cynicism and negativity. Instead, it’s a story about hope, love, and a positive future. It’s bright at times and wears its pacifist leanings on its armored sleeve.
The biggest break from other superhero films is the lack of a villain with a motivation to cause harm. Played by Pedro Pascal, Maxwell Lord is Donald Trump mixed with 1980s television hucksters. It’s established early Lord is a fraud attempting to make money through a pyramid scheme. He wants a successful business not to rule anything and we see that through his actions.
In the end, the issue presented is desires uncontrolled. Lord’s plan spirals out of control putting the world on the brink of nuclear war. In that way, we get a very different story from DC and Marvel films of the past. This isn’t a nefarious plan so much as a mistake. It’s a scam that gets out of control and results in unintended consequences.
Jenkins attempts to have fun with that spiraling out of control world as things amp up slowly and then the avalanche. Lord wants more and uses his newfound powers in an attempt to enrich himself and at the same time also create some stability… which only creates more instability. We’ve seen a similar plot in Bruce Almighty. While that film stayed isolated to Buffalo, this takes it to a global scale.
The team slowly builds Lords out of control failure from his empty office, to the Middle East, to the White House, and then beyond. It’s a ramping up of an out of control power and a man desperate to figure out what to do next. He easily could have just made himself the ruler of the world but he doesn’t. He wants to be “the” businessman.
Jenkins attempts to bring an 80s vision to the film’s 1980s setting. That results in a mixed result. The tone of the film has much more in common with Richard Donner‘s Superman than it does with anything post-2000, the “modern superhero film era”. Its colors, lighting, and overall attitude are one of positivity. It has a light tone never taking itself too seriously and playing loose with the logic of the story. We’re treated to a finale that breaks from the traditional punching that crescendoes most comic films. It puts an exclamation point that the film attempts to do something different.
But what the film really does is remove itself from the meta-cinematic universe we come to expect. Yes, the film has the return of Steve Trevor from the first story but it has little direct impact on other DC films nor does it set up or continue a meta story that involves 20 other films. It’s a two-issue story arc giving us breaks between drawn-out “events”. It’s supposed to be a breezy popcorn film focused on fun and it generally succeeds.
The film absolutely has issues with its story. Trevor’s return has a lingering of rape due to how it’s done. Kristen Wiig‘s Barbara Minerva/Cheetah is underused. Some of the film could have been tightened up in the details. The film is loose with some fat to it. Minor changes would have made a leaner and tighter film. Special effects at times are rough and some fight sequences feel a bit uninspired. But, every comic film released has had problems none are perfect and there are modern releases that are in a far rougher shape than this.
The actors all bring some interesting aspects to the film. Gal Gadot is supposed to be front and center and while she plays alone very well, she doesn’t quite have the draw power she had in the first film. That’s partially because everyone else is so over the top in their performances that her Diana/Wonder Woman comes off as too serious and dour at times.
Returning is Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. Pine has the most fun of the actors continually being excited about the world he’s returned to. The joke happens over and over but Pine’s delivery never gets old and through him, the film gets to poke a lot of fun at the time period. Pine is our time capsule reminding us of the fashion, dances, and innovations of the decade.
Joining Gadot and Pine are Kristen Wiig as Barbara Minerva and Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord, the two “villains” of the film. I put that word in quotations because neither is truly evil.
Wiig plays the bookwormish Minerva who also works in the museum with Gadot’s Diana. In Diana she sees someone she inspires to be and her wish to do so brings unintended consequences. Wiig does a fantastic job of evolving from one thing to the other playing a convincing flower blooming. She does the stumbling nerd well and then the confident woman everyone wants to be around. There’s a lot of 80s John Hughes in the performance and it captures the decade well.
Pedro Pascal puts in an over the top performance tapping so much of what was wrong the decade. His scheming Lord is the insecure loser and con-artist we knew so many of the titans of the time were. Donald Trump, televangelists, late-night infomercials, Lord is all of these things in a bad wig. He’s the embodiment of everything wrong during that time period and does it with a delivery that emphasizes the slime. But, he also gives us a villain who isn’t so much one and as we learn someone the audience can relate to more than they want to admit.
Wonder Woman 1984 feels like the enjoyment will be directly inversed to how cynical one is. The more you are, the less you’ll like it. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself seriously and just roles with its ideas. The action sequences are enjoyable, performances a bit over the top, and a story that you just roll with. This is a popcorn film that wants you to not think and just go for the ride. It’s comic book escapism that takes its tone and look from comics delivering popcorn digital enjoyment.
Overall Rating: 8.0