Wonder Woman 1984 has been called ‘the film we all need right now’ by a lot of reviewers ahead of and following it’s release, but this has become a slight cliché of appraisal in the age of COVID-era cinema. Any film with a tone even slightly optimistic can be praised as such, and this becomes even easier when it’s the first major superhero film to be released since the pandemic began, as if mild escapism is a way to deal with a global crisis.
This may sound harsh, but does call upon Eric Kripke (show runner of Amazon Prime’s The Boys) criticism of superhero films, in that it trains people to wait for a hero to swoop in and save them in real-life, which is a dangerous habit to get into. However this is where Wonder Woman 1984 battles back at such criticism, as the film’s ability to deal with such themes as intense pain, desire, and sacrifice (with of course that splash of superhero pomp and circumstance), justifies that aforementioned statement of being the film we all need in the present moment, just not in the way you might think.
Director Patty Jenkins picks up where she left off with the first Wonder Woman release in 2017, but accomplishes what every great sequel does by doubling down on what was great, and amending what went wrong. The film has some terrific action set pieces, more consistent comedy, better villians, and an overall better story than the original, although there are still hang-ups in the form of dodgy CGI and the bloated runtime of 152 minutes.
Gal Gadot still shines as the titular character, and her relationship with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor remains top-notch. The dynamic is also helped by the role switch that comes with the time difference, as Steve is out of place in the 80’s, akin to how Diana was in the first film. The 80’s nostalgia didn’t particularly hit for me, but anyone who says seeing Chris Pine acting afraid of break-dancing isn’t hilarious is lying. Having been resurrected by The Dream Stone (and by extension the God of Lies), Steve’s return comes at the price of Diana’s powers, with each wish granted by the dream stone taking something significant in return. While often hastily explained but at the same time frustratingly unclear throughout the film, the stone is a solid device for the central films themes, as Diana has to deal with the looming sacrifice of losing her only love once again in order to save the world.
The stone plays on what has been taken away from you or what you don’t have just as much as what it gives you, and the villains in the film are perfect examples of this. You have your typical male billionaire gone mad in Maxwell Lord (played by The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal) and Barbara Minerva (played by Kirsten Wiig), with both characters being effected by the stone in differing ways. Barbara uses it to initially become like Diana, before then wishing to become an ‘apex predator’ in the from of The Cheetah. Maxwell on the other hand inhabits the stone itself, granting the wishes of others in exchange for power. While still definitely falling into the category of superhero cliches, Pedro Pascal adds emotional and comedic depth to the mad on power billionaire template, while Kirsten Wiig shines in giving DC’s best villainous feline performance since Michelle Phieffer as Selina Kyle in Batman Returns. In addition to this, the visual transformation of both as the stone takes more control off them is stunning, as the physical deterioration of Maxwell and the growth of Barbara matches the fantastic portrayals of both.
This essentially sends the film into becoming a high stakes Bruce Almighty, with Max’s growing power setting in motion the conclusion of releasing your deepest wants for the greater good, as Diana has to sacrifice Steve to regain her powers in order to stop Max, who himself renounces his wish to save his relationship with his son.
Diana’s closing speech, while admittedly over the top and cheesy, is a well delivered final mark on the film, showing the chaos the world is in because of selfishness and greed, uniting everyone against a bigger issue. This is regular superhero fodder that takes on extra significance in the current climate, as while everyone is suffering, with everyone having lost something and hoping for a better future, we have to come together by putting aside our wants and desires for the moment, to fight for the greater good. As is said to a young Diana in the opening, ‘no hero is born of lies’. This message doesn’t necessarily make the film ‘what we all need right now’, but it definitely hits the mark in being a bright and bombastic superhero tale that can, as the Variety review of ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ fittingly wrote, inspire someone who can act to give us what we all truly need.
By Brandon Bethune