The first Wonder Woman film was an absolute breath of fresh air when it released in 2017; a DCEU (that’s DC, as in DC Comics, Extended Universe to those unfamiliar with the cinematic universes that seem to make up an awful lot of big films these days) movie that didn’t trade in the same sort of overdone, teen boy grimdark tone that permeated Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice – not to mention David Ayer’s disastrously all-over-the-place Suicide Squad. The laughable attempts at ‘realism’ that those films – and their defenders – still trot out despite the presence of scenes like the infamously pathetic ‘Martha’ climax to Dawn of Justice. Wonder Woman’s tone is still relatively sombre, based as it is around the horrors of war but it doesn’t forget to have fun without veering into self-parody. Its heroine, a wide eyed innocent just learning what horrors the world of man inflicts upon itself in the name of war. Though the film – starring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, the eponymous hero – it does feature a climactic CGI battle that would have fit right into any of those aforementioned movies, until then it does a great job of showing us the world through the eyes of a powerful, naive outsider who wants to change things for the better (which Man of Steel failed to do convincingly, again in the apparent aim of making Superman more ‘realistic’).
Wonder Woman 1984 takes us back to the island of Diana’s origin, Themyscira, to see the young heroine tackling her first entry into a sort of Amazonian Olympics. It’s a wonderfully big scale, well realised sequence that shows us exactly what the society of superhuman women are capable of.
She fails to win – attempting to take a short cut in the event she’s participating in, her mother stops her just before the finish line to insist that she must obtain victory honestly – and, life lesson remembered, we flash forward to 1984. Diana is working in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC while secretly carrying out heroic acts as Wonder Woman. Shy museum employee Barbara Minerva (an excellent Kristen Wiig), barely noticed by her colleagues, assists Diana with identifying objects recovered from a robbery that we see Wonder Woman foil – and they unknowingly come into contact with an artifact that grants them each a wish. Soon, wannabe oil baron Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal – superb as the somewhat Trumpian figure of 80s corporate excess) – who is fully aware of the artifact’s powers – becomes a donor of the Institute in order to gain access to the wish-granting object and use it to save his failing company. With Barbara’s strength spiralling out of control following her wish being granted and Lord’s own quest for power and success becoming increasingly dangerous, it’s up to Diana to save the day.
Moving the film out of the trenches of World War One, which provided a muddy, grey setting for our colourful heroine that was a real contrast to her utopian island – is a smart move, as it means that we get a far more colourful, brash aesthetic throughout this time around. The 80s setting is mined for plenty of superb period detail, though whoever stuck an Operation Wolf arcade machine so prominently in a film set three years before the game was released should probably get a stern talking to.
Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, reliable as ever) returns despite his apparent death in the first movie, and it provides a nice switch from him showing Diana the world during World War One, to Diana bringing him up to speed with the ‘modern’ world in ’84. How he returns is something I won’t reveal, but it is quite problematic if you stop to think about the implications once it’s clear what’s actually happening.
It’s a long film – at just over two and a half hours – and it takes a considerable amount of time for us to get our heroine in costume once we’re past the opening 80s-set scene, which have a real Christopher Reeve-Superman style feel to the campy heroics. The tone’s a little cheesy, as the comparison to Reeve-era Supes may imply, but it’s hugely enjoyable. Wonder Woman developing the power of flight – a superpower she’s had for decades in the comics – is mishandled a bit from a special effects point of view, but nails the exhilaration and joy that’s missing from much of the previous DCEU movies.
There’s also the sense that, with two supervillain origins and fights to get out of the way, there’s a little too much going on. Kristen Wiig, as good as she is, is let down by a very Cats-esque look in the latter stages of the film – in a fight scene that looks distractingly awful in terms of its CGI. In a film of this scale and budget, it’s criminal that the special effects look so terrible at times. The ending wraps up a little too neatly and with little in the way of obvious consequences for at least one, if not both, of our villains too, which is a bit of a headscratcher given how apocalyptic everything gets and the speed at which is gets there.
However, there’s plenty of moments and scenes that work well. It’s an ultimately optimistic and very feminine superhero movie; though it’s a less consistent film overall than its predecessor, it does still have an awful lot of heart, even if that does translate to a little too much empathy for antagonists that don’t necessarily deserve it. Stick around for the post-credits sequence too, which is a wonderful shot of nostalgia for older viewers.
It might be a bit of a mixed bag, but there’s a lot here to like. It’s just a shame that, like the decade it’s set in, Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t really know when to rein itself in and curb the excess.
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