- Wonder Woman 1984
- Directed by Patty Jenkins
- Written by Dave Callaham, Geoff Johns and Patty Jenkins
- Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Kristen Wiig
- Classification PG; 151 minutes
Sound the bells of Themyscira, grab your favourite lasso-slash-polygraph test and gas up the invisible jet. After six premiere-date changes, a continuing pandemic and a release strategy that might forever change Hollywood, Wonder Woman 1984 is finally here for your viewing pleasure. Yes, even for us lowly Canadians! While we might not be able to stream this superhero sequel through HBO Max like our American neighbours, we are now afforded the option of paying $29.99 for the opportunity to watch it digitally on demand starting Christmas Day.
But was all the industry fuss and DC fan migraines and endless speculation worth it? Eh. Sort of.
Certainly, Patty Jenkins’s film is a relentlessly interesting creation. Unlike many superhero sequels, the director’s follow-up to her own 2017 blockbuster has ambition and ideas and gobs of charisma. At times, it delivers the thrills and wit and the faintest rise of a goosebump that we crave, if not necessarily demand, from our contemporary four-quadrant entertainment. Even watching the movie at home, on a too-small laptop screen after my Apple TV decided to go into year-end cardiac arrest, I felt a genuine sense of epic-ness, of too-big-to-fail charm.
This could simply be my 2020 trauma talking. It has been a long year mostly free of the franchise blockbusters that my mind and soul are accustomed to absorbing. If the multiplexes had been overwhelmed by the half-dozen or so comic-book adventures that were scheduled to come out over the past 12 months, then perhaps I’d feel differently about the overriding same-ness of Wonder Woman 1984. But as our purgatory-ish existence stands, the movie is good enough to get a pass.
What works best is obvious from the get-go: its villains. Or rather, the actors cast to play those foes, with Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal’s performances helping transcend the derivativeness of their characters.
Taking place 66 years after the earlier film’s First World War theatrics – Diana (Gal Gadot) ages far more gracefully than mere mortals – this new Wonder Woman pits our title hero against not one but two enemies in the totally awesome, mall-crazed, Duran Duran-soundtracked Washington of, you guessed it, 1984.
First up is Wiig’s Barbara Minerva, a geeky and frazzled archaeologist/amateur cryptozoologist whose journey to becoming the supervillain Cheetah feels an awful lot like the misadventures of Batman Returns’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman – or, for more contemporary audiences, whatever The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was trying to do with Jamie Foxx’s Electro. Jenkins and her co-writers Dave Callaham and Geoff Johns have a vague idea of what they want Barbara to represent for the film’s very particular era, but none of them seem to know how far to lean into themes of feminism and take-back-the-night vigilantism, leaving the character as merely an awkward obstacle for Diana to swerve around, again and again.
At least by casting Wiig, Jenkins nails one crucial element. Treating the job as half a Saturday Night Live sketch gone haywire and half a chance to undermine Gadot’s ultraserious approach, Wiig jolts the movie awake every moment she’s onscreen. She’s clawing more than a page or two out of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Batman playbook, but if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.
The truly big bad of the film, though, is Pascal’s Maxwell Lord, a pill-popping conman who is Donald Trump in all but name. The character’s Trumpisms are easy, obvious winks, but Pascal – free from the restrictions of The Mandalorian’s helmet – has the sweaty, unctuous energy to sell them fast and hard. One sample Maxwell line: “I have a great relationship with Sears! I can get you a brand-new TV by the end of the day”; uttered by anyone else, it would fall flat. But Pascal twists Trump’s tired, pathetic sleaziness into something actually worth chuckling over.
Oh, and the ultrasmooth Chris Pine is back as Diana’s long-dead love Steve Trevor. Exactly how the film pulls off this resurrection is best left undetailed, not because doing so would be particularly spoiler-y, but because the story itself is just so very silly, even for a movie about immortal Amazonians and literal cat-ladies. It is almost as if Jenkins and Co. had wished, Monkey Paw-style, for the easiest of plot devices, and were then granted one so eye-rollingly overused that there would never be any room left for surprise.
Visually, Jenkins is in complete control. As candy-coloured and bright as the first film was all muddy dark-blues, Wonder Woman 1984 has an enlivening sense of bubbly pop to it. And though it takes roughly 75 minutes for the first real action set piece to arrive, it’s a good one, highlighting both Diana’s awesome power and Jenkins’ expertise in burning millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles in the span of 30 seconds. Plus: There is a moment where Diana lassos lightning that delivers on the promise of a thousand heavy-metal album covers.
Does all this add up to a successful film, or even a better-than-average blockbuster? I’m not sure. The margins of the movie are so curious: There is an entire graduate thesis to be written about how a film starring a one-time Miss Israel features a subplot about Egypt magically erecting a giant wall within its borders, or how its 1980s aesthetics are inexplicably paired with modern moviemaking bloat. But the overriding keyword of Wonder Woman 1984 is “conventional.”
Which is fine, for now. Let’s watch these superpowered gods rumble amongst themselves. We can worry about our mortal world tomorrow.
Wonder Woman 1984 opens in Canadian theatres Dec. 25, the same day it is available digitally on-demand
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