WONDER WOMAN 1984 (directed by Patty Jenkins, 151 minutes, USA, 2020)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC This has been a weird year for superhero films. It’s been over a year since the last Marvel tentpole and in their absence DC has really stepped up their game up, proving they’re more than simply dark and gritty superheroes pining over mothers named Martha and misogynistic clowns. First came Birds of Prey , a colorful story of girl power that gave Harley Quinn the spotlight she so desperately deserved. That was followed up with The Harley Quinn animated series, which was easily one of the most raunchy, self-aware and hilarious animated superhero shows ever made. Now comes Wonder Woman 1984, which was originally supposed to hit theaters back in August, but is now screening on HBO Max and theaters simultaneously in a bold move by Warner Brothers. For those keeping score this is the third female led superhero DC film, meanwhile Marvel yet to release their Black Widow film that is, like, two years too late.
Wonder Woman 1984 picks up as you’d expect in the decade of decadence where we catch up with Diana Prince AKA Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who has been living amongst humanity now for 60 years, and has taken up residency in DC working for the Smithsonian. In this installment of the Wonder Woman saga, we are introduced to Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a Trump surrogate – part infomercial star and part scam artist — who’s after a stone that offers the bearer the ability to have their deepest wish granted. This fact comes to light when Diana is examining the stone at the Smithsonian offhandedly wishes for her love, Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), to return and he does – in a manner of speaking. Meanwhile, her awkward coworker, played by Kristen Wigg who has mastered this aesthetic to a T, wishes to be “just like Diana” and gets way more than she bargained for. From there it’s the classic horror of the monkey’s paw, where no wish quite pans out as expected, paired with a hamfisted metaphor for Trump, makes WW84 easily one of the most relevant and audacious superhero films to date.
In a fun power dynamic shift, flipping the fish out of water story of the first film provides WW84 with its emotional core as Diana rekindles her relationship with Steve Trevor while educating him this time on the importance of parachute pants and breakdancing. This narrative thread is the flaw in Diana that is exploited by Max Lord enabling him to execute his plan of trading up wishes for raw power, much like that guy who traded up a paperclip until he got a house, which of course has Max trading up into the White House. This all transpires while Diana is conflicted about taking out Max, because by doing so she would lose Steve yet again.
This film barrels through its two and a half hours like a well oiled machine, and that’s no doubt because director Patty Jenkins has been quietly toiling over it during the ensuing two years of delays. Jenkins executes some of the most graceful and awe inspiring action sequences committed to comic book celluloid and in the process brands her own personal stamp on the genre. While the film cribs the candy-colored ’80s palette you’d expect, Jenkins relies primarily on a traditional score instead of leaning on the needle drop crutch. Gadot, who has grown into the embodiment of the Wonder Woman character, holds her own against a scene stealing, pudgy blonde Pedro Pascal. Better known as the titular Mandalorian, Pascal will no doubt catch you off guard as he not only humanizes the antagonist, but also somehow manages to lay down a path to redemption as well.
Unlike the majority of super hero directors, Jenkins actually has something to say and not just about feminism and female empowerment, though there is plenty of that. With WW84 she has tasked her superheroine with trying to make this world a better place, while showing that anyone could be seduced by the power of lies. The message here is ultimately one of hope and that’s a very welcome commodity in 2020. WW84 is a near perfect superhero film that outshines the original with its infectious sense of joy and optimism and nuanced deconstruction of the power of truth and how that can be a tool of good or evil. Because if any fictional superhero could save 2020, it’s Wonder Woman.