Patty Jenkins returns at the helm for the follow-up to 2017’s Wonder Woman, which is arguably the best of Warner Bros’ interconnected DC universe output thus far. The first film (my review of that one HERE) was an exciting, emotional adventure that carried with it genuine optimism for humanity. It’s a pleasure to report that the sequel, although not quite to the same extent, follows suit.
As the title attests, we catch up with Gal Gadot‘s Diana Prince in the ’80s, which allows the film to poke plenty of fun at the era’s stylings and, occasionally, emulate the now-cheesy film tones of the time. Apart from continuing to save the day now and then as her heroic alter ego, Prince is now working as a senior anthropologist at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Institute, although that workplace set-up is clearly for our hero to have a connection with the film’s inciting… object (I’ll skip the object’s description, to avoid any spoilers). Kristen Wiig plays her work colleague, Barbara Minerva, a socially awkward woman who looks up to Diana Prince and – as the trailers have let on – will become a villain.
Narcos and The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal plays the film’s primary antagonist, ambitious businessman Maxwell Lord – and Pascal is absolutely fantastic in the meaty part. Lord gets a surprising amount of depth and screentime for a villain, allowing us to understand his reasoning and almost feel for him as his obviously-shaky plans escalate out of control. His exterior is all confidence and charm, hiding the deeply embedded insecurity that drives his wild scheme – which could cost him more than he realises. He makes for a strong foe, and is far more of a worthy antagonist than the first film’s Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya).
And Chris Pine is back, reprising his role as Prince’s love, Steve Trevor. I won’t touch the hows and whys of his re-emergence, but suffice it to say that the emotional result for Diana certainly trumps what is, admittedly, a pretty simplistic cause. The chemistry between Gadot and Pine is again wonderful, and key in providing Wonder Woman with a palpable internal dilemma. The first film was her introduction and thus focused on establishing and exploring her as a character. This time, she, alone, actually has less going on, and it’s down to the characters of Trevor, Lord and Minerva to provide her arc as a more reactionary persona. Not a criticism, mind you, just a note-worthy difference.
WW84 is a proudly colourful and vibrant adventure. Jenkins uses the ’80s setting to throw in plenty of nostalgic nods, particularly in the first half. It provides a fun canvas, although it must be said that there is a noticeable drop in era-related discussion points, such as the themes the first film drew on with the First World War as its setting. Nonetheless, the film does tackle its theme of ‘desire vs. greater good’ quite well and the Jenkins-Geoff Johns-Dave Callaham-penned screenplay provides a number of angles for its discussion.
As with the first film, the pacing proves to be a little bumpy. WW84 comes in at two-and-a-half hours, which doesn’t feel padded out with enough plot turns to warrant the sizeable length. Following the energetic opening and a sequence of Wonder Woman putting a halt to a robbery, the film takes its sweet time with setting up Prince’s current situation and the development of her oppositions, without much to incite any action. It feels slightly dragged out in the build up, although the characters and cast are a pleasure to hang with. Once things get kicking, though, the energy thankfully picks up nicely. And while the action sequences are enjoyable, they are generally of standard superhero movie fare (although, that highway sequence is quite good). And hey, having it all backed up by Hans Zimmer’s fantastic score can only help.
A nit-picky critique, if I may. While the studio tentpole production is, of course, quite grand and the special effects are generally picturesque, there are the occasional CG missteps that provide jarring bubble bursts; some CG-injected shots of Wonder Woman’s running, for example, are straight-up awkward and stand out in a film of this size. I’ll admit: I may be in the minority for noticing/caring.
Importantly, behind WW84‘s mythical and magical plot elements is a very human core. Jenkins has again ensured that there is a wider-reaching theme of hope and humanity to be found; that, generally speaking, we are inherently good, even if we have to be presented with the worst of ourselves in order to be reminded of it. It has the action, laughs and overall excitement that fans will be looking for, but Wonder Woman 1984 also has a lot of heart. Jenkins and co. have a superhero blockbuster that wants us to know we are all connected and more similar than we often realise, and with divisions and faction mentality continuing to drive many apart off the back of a year like 2020, that’s wonderful.
‘Wonder Woman 1984’ is released in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day, December 26th. In the US, the film is being released simultaneously in select cinemas and streaming service HBO Max on Christmas Day.