Published Dec 21, 2020The year 1984 had many victories: the first solo transatlantic flight, the first untethered spacewalk, the identification of the AIDS virus, and the introduction of technologies like Apple computers and CD players. But there was also, as it seems every year, turmoil and violence. Famine in Ethiopia, a deadly shooting at a Mcdonald's in California, the San Juanico disaster, the Milperra Massacre. Every year could use a mysterious figure flying high in the sky with a golden lasso looking over us — someone who not only serves to protect, but also embodies living life with truth and patience, and above all, spreads hope.
Wonder Women 1984, helmed once again by writer-director Patty Jenkins, begins the best way it could: with a wondrous return to Themyscira accompanied by an exhilarating Hans Zimmer score that will make you want to replay this intro ten times over. It follows a young Diana (Lilly Aspell, embodying the character's daring ambition) in competition against the most seasoned Amazons, an event that results in some tough lessons that she will carry through the rest of the film.
Wonder Woman then moves forward to the titular year and we're greeted by flashy cars, flashy clothes, big hair, punk styles and iconic '80s workout gear. (Some fantastic costume design all around by Lindy Hemming.) When Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) isn't working as an archeologist at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, she's saving pedestrians and stopping jewellery store robberies. It's a cheesy bit of action that matches the fun, neon-soaked era. And this robbery, in particular, is the catalyst for the film's proceeding events, as the jewellery store is actually a front for a black market side business selling rare antiquities, whereby these stolen jewels find a home at the Smithsonian. They include an ancient, worthless-looking stone that turns out to contain wish-fulfilling properties.
One thing that's very clear early on is that, while Diana is living in a new decade, she's stuck in the past – the camera panning over the many black and white photos in her apartment. Memories of war, and of course, Steve Trevor. If you've seen or heard anything about this latest instalment then you know that the internet's favourite Chris (Chris Pine) is back (although we won't spoil the circumstances). After having served in the First World War, Steve is thrown six decades into the future, and he's humorously awestruck at everything around him, from modern aircraft to spaceships to Pop-Tarts. I've been known to complain about the unnecessary fashion shows in old movies, but Pine has one of his own that I will defend as 100 percent necessary to the plot. In their scenes together, Steve and Diana are two people refreshingly looking at everything with new eyes — something that will make audiences hopeful that we will never tire of or cease to find wonder in the familiar.
The scenes with Steve and Diana, especially in the middle section, make the film feel like a rom-com that, while charming, is riddled with clichés and tropes. While the action is well-executed, it takes a long time for it to ramp up, much later than it should in a superhero action flick, especially since the narrative of one of the film's villains is so dull. The film frequently shifts focus between Steve and Diana to Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a charismatic businessman who refers to himself as a TV personality. He's a tycoon consumed by greed; a con-man on a power trip. But deep down, he's a big loser. It all sounds very Trumpian, but while Trump truly is the villain in America's last four-year-long story, Lord is just the oilman. No scary God more powerful than the titular Amazon, and no one that's a real threat.
The biggest problem of the script, this time co-written by Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, is how uninteresting the villain is, creating a superhero blockbuster that's low-stakes. This has nothing to do with Pascal, who absolutely steals the show. Having spent two seasons as the title character on The Mandalorian, he's completely unrecognizable here in his physicality, going full-on psychotic as he becomes obsessed with possessing the aforementioned stone to become the most powerful man in the world.
And then there's the film's second villain: Barbara Minerva, a.k.a. Cheetah. You would think that, as a character regarded as Wonder Woman's most common and iconic archenemy, she would have much more time dedicated to her. But what we get feels like a disservice. Kristen Wiig is out of her comedic element here, but she owns it as she transforms the shy and awkward Barbara into a fierce wild cat. It feels like the film would have benefited from having one fully fleshed out villain. When will we ever get the chance to see Cheetah on film again? Maybe in the third installment, but it's doubtful. This was Warner's one shot to pay homage to the character, and she doesn't receive the origin story she deserves.
Wonder Woman 1984 isn't as masterfully crafted as the first film, nor does it feel wholly original, but the reason why audiences want to come back to this story is for its titular Amazon and the films' hopeful messaging (and exploring a relationship cut short is the icing on the cake). The arcs of the characters are all interesting to see unfold, despite weakness in some storylines. Gadot excels in bringing that much-needed humanity and vulnerability to the character as we see a different Diana – one who starts to feel helpless. And while Diana embodies humanness, we see the film's villains lose theirs. Loss of humanity comes often when abuse of power sends the world spiralling into chaos, but no matter how dark things get, you're not alone. It's a message that offers much-needed catharsis to end the year. (Warner Bros.)