Wonder Woman 1984
WHERE TO WATCH:
Sunday 2 January at 20:05 on M-Net (DStv 101)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
It has been nearly 70 years since the events of the first Wonder Woman film, and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has been living something of a solitary life since. Now, in 1984, she still operates as Wonder Woman from time to time but has mostly spent the past decades working in academia, never ageing a day as those she cared about grew older and died around her. A chance meeting with another academic, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), will soon change both women's lives forever when Barbara comes into possession of a mysterious ancient rock – a rock that is wanted by TV star and self-professed millionaire, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), for his own self-serving agenda.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
After Zack Snyder kicked off the DC Extended Universe with the gloomy, dour and ultimately fairly terrible double-punch of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, and David Ayer's Suicide Squad cemented this new superhero franchise as Marvel's unpleasant, upstart of an unwanted younger sibling, Wonder Woman came just in time to well and truly save the day. Written by comics and TV writer, Allan Heinberg, directed by Patty Jenkins (who had recently parted ways with Marvel over creative differences on Thor: The Dark World) and starring the all-round stunning screen presence of Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, the Amazon Princess' first-ever big-screen outing breathed life into a franchise that was otherwise dead on arrival, while delivering what is easily one of the greatest superhero films ever – its sometimes shaky third act, notwithstanding.
Wonder Woman's much-anticipated sequel was ready for release in December last year, just two-and-a-bit years later, but it was moved to June 2020 to avoid direct competition with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. And then Covid-19 happened. June became August became December but with a simultaneous release in the United States in cinemas and on HBO Max. We have been fortunate enough to get the film nine days before its release in the States and exclusively in cinemas, but this early release did nothing to quench the thirst of Wonder Woman fans (like yours truly) to cap off this crummy year in the company of one of the most iconic and inspiring superheroes, brought to us by (most of) the same people who brought her so strikingly to life three years ago.
With this much anticipation going in, it's not too surprising that I was a bit disappointed by Wonder Woman 1984. There was an unexpectedness and freshness to the first film that, by its very nature, its sequel can't quite recapture. It also doesn't have quite the same focus and a sense of purpose that the World War One-set origin story gave the first film and its flaws, rather than mostly being contained in the final act, are more prevalent throughout.
This is not to say that Wonder Woman 1984 isn't genuinely worth seeing or that it's not a soothing balm of positivity, goodness and *cough* wonder in a year that so often lacked these qualities. I just have a definite feeling that I will enjoy the film more the inevitable second time around when it doesn't have to live up to what are fairly unreasonable expectations on my part. Because, really, there is so much to love here.
First and foremost, inescapably, there is Gal Gadot. It's not simply that she is superhumanly beautiful or that she acts well in the part, but she embodies Wonder Woman in much the same way that Christopher Reeve embodied Superman – and there is truly no higher praise than that. Wonder Woman, at her best, displays both warmth and strength in equal measure and her unpretentious ease with people offsets the sense of awe she engenders in everyone she meets. Such characteristics have sometimes been hard to capture, even in the pages of her own comic book over the past 80 years. But Gadot brings them to life with deceptive ease and humour, commanding the screen in a way that even Wonder Woman herself would struggle to match.
(The flip side of this, of course, is that playing Wonder Woman somehow elevates Gadot's already prodigious screen presence, acting talent and natural beauty to such a high level that one can't help but worry if, like Chris Reeve, she will ever be able to step out of the shadow of this particular role.)
Arguably, my biggest problem with Wonder Woman 1984 in comparison to its predecessor isn't that its storytelling isn't quite as tight, that its themes aren't quite so perfectly distilled or even that some of the choices made with these characters are quite perplexing (having Diana pine for her lost love for 70 years to the exclusion of all else seems... excessive and the way they bring back Chris Pine as said lost love opens up some big moral questions that the film weirdly ignores), but that the film spends too much time focusing on anyone other than Gadot's Wonder Woman.
This is extremely unfair on my part because, objectively, not only are those other flaws much more real but the shifts of focus away from Diana are there for a reason – not least of which is to build up the film's two villains, Kristen Wiig's Cheetah and Pedro Pascal's Maxwell Lord. And, though they differ quite significantly from their comic counterparts in many ways, they are compelling characters, perfectly portrayed by Wiig and Pascal, that benefit significantly from their own time in the sun.
Pascal totally transforms himself from the handsome, charming leading man type (and occasional bounty hunter with a heart of gold) into a character that has been described by his co-creator, JM Dematteis, as a mix of the '80s personas of Donald Trump and Bill Murray. Admittedly, that description better fits Maxwell Lord in his original form as the morally compromised and manipulative benefactor of the Justice League International rather than the full-on bad guy he unfortunately later became in the comics. But because his appearance here basically splits the difference, Pascal's impressively slimy and creepy but weirdly charismatic performance is really right on the money.
Wiig, meanwhile, gets a chance to flex both her comedic and dramatic muscles as we watch the sweet, funny, dorky Barbara Minerva slowly give in to her insecurities and envy for Diana as she transforms – albeit through a magical McGuffin - into the cold, cruel Cheetah. That Diana herself may well be partly to blame for this transformation is an especially intriguing aspect to the dynamic between the two – that also bridges the gap between the comics and film versions of the Cheetah.
Concentrating on these characters is clearly crucial, both in fleshing out their motives and in the way they come to represent the opposing forces to the film's central theme of why selflessness and truth are both painful and all too necessary. Once again, Patty Jenkins who, this time, also serves as the film's co-writer along with Dave Callaham and DC's former chief creative officer, Geoff Johns, uses the time period in which Wonder Woman finds herself as the thematic basis for her films.
The '80s, which are rendered in all their neon-coloured, shoulder-padded, fanny-packed glory, was the apex of self-serving capitalism and crass materialism and it is those forces that Diana is truly facing in these two new foes – and in her own suddenly fulfilled desires. It doesn't work quite as well as the war-themed first film, but Jenkins still does a great job of focusing on these real-world realities - not through politics (this is no socialist screed) but through the better angels of our natures; once again tapping into the aspirational core of what makes Wonder Woman so appealing.
And yet, despite the smartness of these choices and despite the fact that Wonder Woman is still central to the story, is still its emotional heart, and is still the MVP in all the actually very impressive set pieces (though the big supervillain fight at the end is still nowhere near as impressive as when Wonder Woman is simply out there helping people), every time the film focuses on anyone but Gadot, it is genuinely hurt by her absence. Again, much like how despite only getting third billing in the original Superman film (shocking, I know!), that movie and its sequels were never anywhere near as good as when Reeve was on screen.
It's entirely possible that I simply like Wonder Woman more than Wonder Woman 1984; purely, its focus was always glued to its heroine. It's also probably a better film, though. Still, WW84 is clearly a must-see movie for superhero fans of all ages and genders, and it takes on extra resonance in light of the times in which it has been released.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: