Here’s our very spoiler-light review of Wonder Woman 1984 – the long-awaited superhero sequel, starring Gal Gadot.
It’s bittersweet in current circumstances that Wonder Woman 1984 simply feels like a big screen movie. There’s an underlying confidence and scale to it present from the off, and a real drive to make the most of its canvas. No wonder Warner Bros delayed it twice, in the hope of getting it a full cinema release. A real pity most of us won’t get to see it that way.
In lieu of that for most people, at the very least it’s worth getting near a very big television for a prologue that takes us back to the days of a young Diana Prince, taking part – against much older competitors – in a breathless opening that channels the TV show Gladiators, a bit of Quidditch, and some horse riding. It’s put together with a wonderfully kinetic directorial style and sets the fun factor high nice and early. Returning director and co-writer Patty Jenkins is absolutely at home here, and she proves it in double quicky time.
Then we move to the 1980s, where the bulk of the film – as you can correctly guess from its title – is set. On the one hand, this is an excuse for gaudy outfits and 19 inch televisions, on the other it cuts out mobile phones and the internet as communication shortcuts for the story (there’s a Commodore PET on screen at one point, but I can assure you it was a sod to even get anything to print from one of them). It’s all the perfect cover to reintroduce Gal Gadot in the role of Wonder Woman/older Diana Prince to the screen. Gadot’s utterly at home here too, a genuine screen presence who soon finds herself in the midst of a new adventure. And the world her character finds herself in seems, at first glance, in pretty decent shape too.
Well, until Max Lord comes along.
As played by Pedro Pascal, he’s a man whose wells are dry and his prospects are grim, until he finds – and this is a spoiler-very-light review, so no details – a way to turn his fortunes. A method that brings him a way of making things he wants come true. It’s a plot point that also brings Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor back into Diana’s life from the first film, but it’s also one with growing and significant consequences. If there’s a moral to the story, be careful what you wish for seems to be it.
That’s certainly true for the character of Barbara Minerva, played by Kristen Wiig. When we meet her, she’s stumbling, struggling with heels and a little bit alone. A friendship soon strikes with Diana, but Barbara too is wanting more. Wanting to be more like others. And, well, stuff happens.
I’ve tried to keep the description there as light as possible, but perhaps it’s even coming across from what I’ve said there’s a fair bit to swallow in the central plot for the movie. I confess I did have one or two moments of a quiet ‘really?’ before rolling with it all. Still, that goodwill the film quickly builds up off the back of its excellent first act – and holds over from the terrific original – is useful, given the turns the story takes here.
It helps too that the core actors really sell it. The aforementioned Gadot is really wonderful, whilst Pedro Pascal is perhaps a little more divisive but no less committed to his character and his character’s choices. There’s certainly a sense of a man gradually being consumed by power and going off the rails a little, even if I’d argue that never really equates to much sense of actual screen threat. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the bigger the film’s story becomes, the less tangible it feels.
I really warmed to Kristen Wiig’s work here, though. At first I thought was giving a performance that felt really quite familiar for her, that her character felt recognisable from her previous work. Yet she evolves quite wonderfully in the movie, and even though Barbara is a little shortchanged, I found myself far more convinced by the havoc she could wreak than that of Max Lord.
I’m conscious I’m doing Pascal a bit of a disservice there, and I did appreciate the attempt to serve up a comic book movie foe who was a little to the left of normal. I do wonder if one antagonist may have focused the film just a little more though.
For this is a long movie (150 minutes, including credits), and it does start to feel it. It doesn’t help that the ending takes a bit of swallowing, and there’s a fair amount to wrap up once it heads into its last 20 minutes. It’s never less than fun to watch, to be clear, but just feels like it’s got itself into a spot from which it needs a slightly too big a leap to escape from.
Firmly in Wonder Woman 1984's corner though is the sense of optimism, the lack of cynicism, and the sheer entertainment value of the film. No question, when it hits top gear, this is prime blockbuster filmmaking and deliriously entertaining (boasting a really playful Hans Zimmer score too). At times, I felt it captured the spirit and charm of the original Superman movie too, certainly more than any DC film has since. It does so too whilst carving out no shortage of space for itself to be its own thing.
I do think it lacks the tightness and focus of the first film, and I’m not sure how much the narrative will hold up to too much prodding. But the ambition and warmth of the film is irresistible, and its hunt for something upbeat very much appreciated.
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