After much delay, the highly anticipated sequel to the wildly successful Wonder Woman has finally arrived. In an unprecedented move, in reaction to unprecedented times, the DCEU sequel starring Gal Gadot and directed and co-written by Patty Jenkins, WW84 is available simultaneously through HBO Max and movie theaters across the country. The expectations are massive, so the obvious question is – does WW84deliver? In my opinion, yes, but this superhero sequel isn’t the typical flashy fantasy film that many might expect.
WW84 takes place decades after its 2017 original. As you can guess by the title, Diana Prince is alive and well in 1984, working as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian in D.C. When not at her day job, Diana moonlights as Wonder Woman, foiling crimes and keeping the streets of D.C. safe. That status quo is threatened when a cache of stolen antiquities is sent by the FBI to co-worker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) to identify. One specific item is a stone which can grant a single wish to the person holding the stone. Diana unknowingly wishes for the return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the love of her life who she surprisingly hasn’t gotten over after 65 years. Barbara, who envies Diana because she’s everything Barbara isn’t, wishes to be like Diana. Of course, Barbara knows nothing of Diana’s true self and thus gets more than she bargained for.
In the meantime, businessman and aspiring oil baron Maxwell Lord (The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal), knows of and is after the “dreamstone” - he wants to turn his failing business ventures around. In a misleading attempt to donate to the Smithsonian, Maxwell seduces Barbara, “borrows” the dreamstone and proceeds to make his wish come true. But as Diana and Steve learn of the stone’s negative effects, Maxwell sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic events which could destroy the entire world.
Soooo, let’s get some of the negatives out of the way because, to be honest, this isn’t as good as 2017’s Wonder Woman. With a 151-minute running time, this felt long. There are lulls and there isn’t a ton of action. About 20-30 minutes could’ve been trimmed had a subplot between Maxwell and Emir Said Bin Abydos (Amr Waked), the ruler of Bialya, been deleted. Doing that, though, would’ve meant cutting a big action set piece that was heavily featured in the trailers. Also, those scenes established Maxwell’s desire to win at all costs, but that aspect of his persona could’ve been established another way.
Even WW84's prologue, which takes place on Themyscira with the child Diana (Lilly Aspell), could’ve been excised. But it is an action set piece that also establishes the film’s main theme. Besides, it’s always good to see Diana’s roots, complete with appearances from Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen.
It must be clearly established right now - Pascal was magnificent. He provided the film’s best performance as he somehow successfully combined Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in 1978’s Superman with Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko in 1987’s Wall Street. Pascal even added a dash of Nicolas Cafe's over-the-top desperation for good measure. If audiences haven’t noticed this actor’s work before, they will after this.
Kristen Wiig – sadly, there’s not enough of her. WW84’s trailers are misleading as they hint that Barbara is Diana’s main archenemy. Wiig is very good, but Barbara is a second-string villain. That’s disappointing because the duality she and Diana share was worth exploring and probably should’ve been the real focus. But like all sequels, the stakes needed to be raised, so an internal struggle wouldn’t suffice. Besides, Diana still needed to tie up loose ends with Steve. In that sense, WW84 is a love story that just happens to involve a superhero. Something tells me most viewers don’t want to see that for most of the film.
Having said all that, Wonder Woman 1984 is still enjoyable and entertaining. Gadot is clearly comfortable as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and, much like her character, has grown and evolved with the superhero. There is a confidence within her that’s palpable and charming. Even when times are tough (and there are points where Diana’s fate is in doubt), Gadot shines and WW84 is all the better for it.
Another plus, in my opinion, is the unconventional route Jenkins took with this sequel. Thanks to Marvel's CU and previous DCEU offerings, audiences have come to expect chaotic, bombastic stories full of CGI and nearly nonstop action. WW84 isn’t that type of superhero film – Jenkins seemingly made a conscious effort to build upon Diana’s backstory by playing up her romance with Steve. That focus hurts what should be a straightforward good versus evil story, and it will be a dealbreaker for most. At the least, it also contributed to many of the film’s slow points, but I can forgive that considering the message Jenkins tried to lay down.
That message is ultimately a human one, which is welcome (and almost necessary) in 2020. For me, fighting for the sake of fighting and action in the name of entertainment has become tiresome. Since 2008 (and even before that) I’ve seen endless versions of good guys defeating bad guys, involving a revolving door of characters, and they’ve all had the same result. Good defeats evil, and evil usually dies.
Jenkins must've gotten tired of that, too, and thus provided an alternative. She turned Wonder Woman 1984 into a fable with good-looking people (instead of animals) in front of an impressive and expensive background. This path is rarely ventured because we don’t want the fables – we want good to defeat evil. But I admire that because it’s relatable - when we do something wrong, we normally get the chance to correct that mistake and aren’t immediately eviscerated.
Wonder Woman 1984 will disappoint many for all the reasons I presented above, but it will also appease many others. I, for one, like WW84 despite it not meeting my expectations. That, of course, has a lot to do with how amazing the 2017 original is (I still can’t forgive that final act, though) but I admire the unusual choices Jenkins went with. I hope that a third Wonder Woman can find some middle ground, though, because you don’t want to make too many changes to something that works perfectly fine.
3.5 stars out of 5