DIRECTED BY: Patty Jenkins
STARRING: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen
Rewind to the 1980s as Wonder Woman’s next big screen adventure finds her facing two all-new foes: Max Lord and The Cheetah.
In 1984, during the Cold War, Diana comes into conflict with two formidable foes, media businessman Maxwell Lord and friend-turned-enemy Barbara Minerva aka Cheetah, while reuniting with her World War I lover, Steve Trevor.
Wonder Woman 1984 sees Patty Jenkins return to helm the film, as well as co-write the screenplay alongside Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham. Set several decades after the original, Diana Prince now resides in Washington D.C, working as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution while also secretly fighting crime in the city as Wonder Woman. However a stolen artifact is brought into the institution for her colleague Barbara Minerva to study and identify, which happens to be a Dreamstone, an artifact that has the power to grant wishes to anyone that comes into contact with it. Meanwhile, businessman and TV personality Max Lord is trying to obtain the Dreamstone in the hopes of saving his failing oil company.
There was a lot of expectations going into Wonder Woman 1984, particularly in it would serve as a sequel to one of my favourite comic book films to date. I absolutely adored the original film, so the film already has an uphill battle of matching that level let alone surpass it. One arc that continues on from the original is the relationship between Diana and Steve Trevor, who returns from the dead due to Diana unknowingly wishing him back to life, and for some elements of the film the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine provide some of the films strongest moments. Chris Pine gives an always reliable performance in whatever film he appears in with his charisma and comedic-timing on point here, and while the roles are sort of reserved here in regards to him now being the so-called ‘fish out of water’, he at least lived in this world compared to Diana in the original and sees how far that humanity has come in terms of technology, fashion and danger, and while half of his screentime is reacting to things, I did enjoy that. The biggest criticism of the original film was that the antagonists were pretty one-dimensional and weak and here it could be argued that one particular gets more screentime than the titular character. Pedro Pascal has portrayed some stoic characters in recent years, primarily on television series such as Narcos and The Mandalorian, but here as Max Lord, a man who initially wants to use the Dreamstone in order to become a success that his son can be proud of that inevitably leads him to becoming power hungry, Pascal gets to relish the opportunity in playing the role and oozes bucketloads of charm and chewing up the scenery that you can’t help but feel the influences of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko in his character, with a dash of Nic Cage in the final act. I also thought that Kristen Wiig as Barbara Minerva, though she initially felt like every other role Wiig’s portrayed previously in her career in the first act, I felt she grew more into the role as the film progressed and overall I actually liked her journey to a certain degree in becoming a confident, powerful figure. There’s certain elements from the comics that are brought to the big screen (or small screen, pending on how you viewed the film) that some fans will enjoy and in particular moments I liked the score composed by Hans Zimmer. The film opening with a flashback to Themyscira and their own version of the Olympics meets Ninja Warrior was a riveting, memorable sequence and a strong opener.
Unfortunately however, the issues with the film are with the screenplay and tone. The original film was written by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, which delivered a solid origin story of Diana becoming Wonder Woman and the growth her character goes through. In the sequel, Patty Jenkins has more creative control and co-writes the screenplay alongside Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, and they appear caught between a rock and a hard place in whether it wants its main focus to be on the love story of Diana and Steve Trevor, or focus primarily on the setting and politics of the 80’s. I explain further in a separate article, but in regards to the sub-plot of Steve Trevor’s return, it was poorly executed in how they creatively brought him back, and as for the politics that the film tries to tackle in the film….oh boy. To go for the stereotypical approach of how it portrays characters in the Middle East will cause some backlash, deservedly so, but given Gal Gadot’s background in military service and her political stance in regards to Israel-Palestine, there’s a certain action scene in which Wonder Woman saves a couple of young children playing football that some viewers will consider to be tone deaf. Let’s not forget however in a throwaway line in how the Dreamstone has been around since the dawn of time and that it happened to be responsible for the collapse of previous civilisations, including the Mayans, so it was their fault and not that of Spanish colonialism. Unfortunately as it feels like that they can’t come to agreement on what should be the primary focus, the film feels overlong with its two and a half hour runtime and some characters feel sidelined and feel like they exist to just serve as a tally for the film to check off the list of what’s required to have. Case in point: Barbara Minerva becoming Cheetah. Cheetah is one of the most recognisable villains in the history of Wonder Woman comics, but unfortunately her character is the tired trope of nerdy woman that goes unnoticed and ignored at work by her colleagues and men around her, but due to the power of the Dreamstone and her wish of becoming like Diana, she becomes more confident, becomes the focus on attention anywhere she goes and also learns that she has a particular strength that she’s never had before. As for her fully becoming Cheetah…it’s simply shoehorned in a manner that the film can have a final battle in which Diana can go toe-to-toe with someone of similar ability and they were hardly going to have Max Lord do that. On the theme of the films opening to the Dreamstone, it’s message of you have to work to makes your dreams come true rather than take shortcuts to obtainable them is admirable, in execution here it feels heavy-handed and in some ways preachy. As for the visual effects, it’s the same as most comic book films, there’s some noticeable green screen here and there, I also didn’t particularly like the overall CGI look of Cheetah and their final fight and overall the film just lacks any punch of emotion or any memorable action scenes when compared to the original.
While Wonder Woman 1984 has some moments in which it shines, be it a scene or two between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, or the performances of Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig, but the screenplay leaves a lot to be desired as there’s no primary focus on either the protagonist and antagonists, while a few creative decisions will be discussed for a long time over where its big swings are hits or misses, for me the film is such a downgrade compared to the original.