Wonder Woman 1984

One thing we can all agree on: People do enjoy their strong opinions on superhero movies. Love them, hate them, hate the genre, see them as the death of cinema itself, everyone has a take, and more than likely it’s a hot one. Somewhat overlooked since Tony Stark launched a seemingly endless parade of men and women in tights on the big screen is the fact that these films currently serve as a rare cultural lingua franca in this fractured day and age. You could sit down next to a stranger (summer 2021, fingers crossed) and find nothing in common to discuss in music, politics and tv—but you’d likely both have seen Endgame and would share a sigh over Chadwick’s being gone too soon. In the 1980s everyone had the same national jukebox with MTV, a measly 3 major networks dictated almost everyone’s viewing habits, hell, people even read and discussed the same bestselling books. With the plethora of streaming and listening options available today, the cadre of familiar characters from our childhoods flying around cinemas and our living rooms is one of the few things we collectively inhale, usually right around the same time to boot. Of course this leads to heady opinions and passionate discussions about what is ultimately only high dollar kiddie fare; they’re a lot more fun than talking about anything else happening in the world anymore.

Which brings us to the latest installment of what some refer to with the clunky DCEU moniker, Wonder Woman 1984. We’ve hopped ahead the better part of a century from the earnest and entertaining first film, with our heroine working in antiquities and pining for her lost love, Steve Trevor. Kristen Wiig is a new friend at the office, like the rest of us wishing she was half as cool as Diana Prince. Pedro Pascal sheds his Mandalorian helmet for a truly odd look as an empty husk of a capitalist dream, attempting to hustle away from his ethnicity into a red white and blue vision of wealth and influence that of course isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The three characters are brought together by one of the most delightful Macguffins I’ve seen in a film in some time, which I won’t spoil here but suffice to say is responsible for a variety of circumstances that spiral out of control for each of them and is cleverly responsible for Trevor’s seeming return from the grave—a gleaming drop of mid movie romance, spiked with a thrilling bit of fan service, that plays out as it only can, which is to say as bittersweetly as it must. Of the two antagonists, surprisingly we end up developing more affection for Pascal’s misplaced motives and ultimate arc than Wiig’s; her Barbara Minerva takes a somewhat standard nerd to badass arc and keeps chipping away at her own humanity until she’s barely recognizable. Gal Gadot remains as charismatic a presence as she’s ever been, and the film gives her many opportunities to shine as both a heroine and as a humanist. She even achieves the magic trick of convincing us 80s fashion was somewhat respectable at times.

It was a big deal when Patty Jenkins was announced as director of the first film, and her touch continues to bring a special shine to the franchise. I was struck at the end of the somewhat lengthy run time by how many problems were not hastily solved with a punch or a kick, perhaps the sign of a comic book film being truly managed by a feminine touch. The focus is on a fun story and the evolution of characters, so much so that after a relatively brief scuffle in the third act, the denoument itself is resolved with empathy and appeals to humanity, not bullets or a magic lasso. While you’ll get your fair share of action of course, it’s the rare superhero movie that doesn’t feel like it’s merely plowing toward the next fight or chase sequence, which to me marks it as something rare and special in the genre. Is the film perfect? Hardly. One could make a modest list of problems, starting with the glaring lack of any actual 80s music to be found, although the fact that the film isn’t particularly concerned with constant nods to the time period is in itself refreshing. One significant era appropriate vibe baked into the conclusion is the haunting fear of nuclear annihilation; for those of us who were there, that feeling held a much greater sway over us than usually alluded to in glossy nostalgia trips like Stranger Things. It’s a pity that the obvious spectacle promised by a movie like Wonder Woman 1984 will be seen by most eyes on televisions thanks to circumstances well beyond the filmmaker’s control, but considering the modest goals set out by the premise and genre, Jenkins’ movie is a crowd pleaser, no matter how small that crowd in the living room is.

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