Is Wonder Woman 1984…wonderful? We all hoped so.
The DC Extended Universe has been polarizing from the very beginning. While it had a decent start with Man of Steel, the next two entries were universally panned. It seemed like the DCEU was over before it even started.
Luckily, Wonder Woman brought hope to DC fans. Diana of Themyscira’s big screen debut was a cool–but flawed–adventure that brought us back to the horrors of WWI.
And from there, we visit 1984?
Not only did the original showcase Patty Jenkins‘ potential as a blockbuster director, but it was a smashing hit. It made $800 million dollars at the box-office, making it the third most financially successful DCEU film. The sequel, unlike the first one, was given complete free reign.
Patty Jenkins described the film as “more of a standalone adventure,” rather than a direct sequel. As a result, Wonder Woman 1984 (or WW84) goes for a drastic tonal change that puts emphasis on camp and humor. By doing so, Wonder Woman 1984 elevates some of the most appreciated aspects of the first film, while undermining others.
Plus, Patty Jenkins shows her love for the Richard Donner era of Superhero genre throughout this entire movie. Overall, it has some big flaws, but an even bigger heart. And with the year we’ve had, Wonder Woman 1984 might be the movie we needed during these holidays.
The Story of Wonder Woman 1984
Diana of Themyscira has been living among mortals for nearly 100 years. She is a archeologist working for the Smithsonian by day, and fights crime as Wonder Woman by night. All the while, maintaining a secret existence. However, her life is turned upside down when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who has been dead since 1918, suddenly comes back to life.
The first act is pretty enjoyable. The film starts with a fun flashback sequence that is mainly there to introduce the film’s main theme. Diana and Steve’s interactions are the highlight as usual.
Every character’s motivation and their positions in the hierarchy of the DC Universe is established. This provides a good sense of who they are. Its main flaw is that it goes on for far too long.
If you’re a fan of action, you’ll have to wait a long time before they get to it. However, each character has clear goals, no matter how corny, or even shallow, said goals might sound. The film really picks up, and doesn’t stop, past the first hour. While it has some editing issues, they become less apparent as the film goes on. At some point, you’re just enjoying the ride.
A New Tone
Probably one of the most controversial aspects of the film. As mentioned before, Wonder Woman 1984 goes for a drastic new tone. On paper, this shouldn’t have worked.
However, seeing that WW84 had a different subject matter than the first, I think the tonal change was necessary. Instead of going with the harsh atmosphere associated with The Great War, director Patty Jenkins embraces the colorful sets and camp associated with early superhero movies.
Patty Jenkins is a big fan of the Richard Donner Superman films, and shows her appreciation for those films throughout her own. Her love for Superman (1978) is much more apparent in the first act of the film, which mostly takes place in Washington D.C., the city Wonder Woman chose to protect. It embraces a silliness and a feel-good vibe, and I couldn’t help but smile throughout that first hour.
Yet, we need balance…
Like I said, the tone comes with its own set of problems. One problem is the tonal inconsistency with the first and with other DCEU films. Also, it can get a little too silly at times. I have shared before here in the MoviesMatrix, the DC Extended Universe’s greatest strength is the individuality of each film. In that regard, WW84‘s tonal change is one of its biggest strengths. Also, with the change of tone comes some beautiful cinematography. It’s not a stretch to say this is one of the best looking DCEU films.
The first was more in line with the character’s New 52 interpretation. However, this one is more in line with the character’s pre- and post-crisis versions. The result was an interpretation of Wonder Woman that feels more like.. well… Wonder Woman!
But this doesn’t mean the film doesn’t get serious when necessary. As it goes on, the fun and games get pushed aside. Eventually, the usual darkness we’ve come to know from the DCEU returns. As a result, we get a film whose tone is not only well balanced, but also has some of the most subtle connections to the wider DCEU.
One of the first film’s biggest criticisms was its choppy camera work during the action sequences and its overreliance on CGI. Unfortunately, I can confirm that every single one of these problems is still present in Wonder Woman 1984. However, Patty Jenkins does show improvement on some aspects.
With a new tone comes new, more upbeat, action sequences. In that sense, the action definitely delves more into the funnier side of things. The sword and shield is dropped in favor of raw feats of strength and lasso maneuvers. We get guys getting thrown around like rag dolls and cars being used as shields. All that was missing was some “PING” and “POW” sound effects, Adam West style. (I say this positively.)
The film’s first real action sequence is especially impressive, because it is mostly practical effects. However, it still suffers from questionable angle choices. Also, Patty Jenkins still has a hard time with green screens and close-up shots. Some of these scenes still look painfully fake.
I have to talk about the third act.
It is much smaller and personal than the first film. Yet, the stakes are even higher. Yes, the lightning and coloring is significantly toned down to hide the bad CGI. However, the final battle is very well choreographed.
This feels much more like gods and monsters fighting for their respective goals. Most importantly, the ending doesn’t undermine the film’s message. It successfully encapsulates the film’s themes and brings the journey of each character to a close, all while leaving room for more development.
While it has its flaws, from a thematic standpoint, the third act is a major improvement over the last film.
Gal Gadot has some rough moments, with unnatural line deliveries at times. However, her chemistry with both Chris Pine and Kristen Wiig is apparent. Gal Gadot clearly has a passion for the role, one that isn’t seen anywhere else. If she puts just as much passion in her future projects outside of the DCEU, she has the potential to become a much bigger name that she currently is.
Once again, Chris Pine delivers a strong performance as Steve Trevor. The film even gives Pine the opportunity to show more of his comedic side. Downside is Chris Pine doesn’t get much to do in this film. He serves as a plot device, an obstacle meant to help Diana grow as a character, but he doesn’t do much growing himself. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We rarely see men in such a position in film, after all.
Kristen Wiig does everything she can to create a sympathetic performance as Barbara Minerva, and to give a badass one as Cheetah. Unfortunately, the writing simply wasn’t good enough. The character was given just enough personality to be enjoyable, but her motivations were too shallow to be believable. Fortunately, from the way things were left off, it is safe to assume we haven’t seen the last of Cheetah.
Pedro Pascal was by far the best actor in the film. Pascal’s interpretation of Maxwell Lord differs greatly from the comics, but it is one that is much more relevant to today’s times. Maxwell Lord is no General Zod, Dr. Sivana, or even Cheetah. He is a man whose greed knows no limit, and he doesn’t care who he hurts to get it. And yet, you can’t help but feel sympathy for him. He is without a doubt one of the DCEU’s best villains.
This film has a lot of problems, but the film was exactly what we needed.
Despite the obvious flaws, it is still a solid film, one whose positives overshadow its negatives. I love the film for its themes, which are truth, pain of loss, and the inability of letting go of our desires. I like to think that the film is about men of power who exploit the wishes and dreams of others for their own gain, and only by seeing through their façade can we see the truth.
And that is why this film is so important, because odds are that you’ve also lost someone this year. Matter of fact, its safe to assume most of us have lost something like our jobs, our homes, and of course… people.
And truth is, we cannot have everything we want, and we cannot bring back our loved ones, no matter how much we want it.
We’ve all wished them back, wished we weren’t alone, or wished we weren’t afraid of that damn virus anymore. We’ve all wished this year would’ve gone differently. As painful as it is, all we can do is to move on, while cherishing the memories and remember what the ones we lost taught us, and work towards making the world a better place.
In the end, Wonder Woman 1984 was messy, and even problematic at times, but it is a fun homage to the Richard Donner era of cape films. Most importantly, Patty Jenkins delivers her message with all the love and sincerity imaginable. And despite being set in the 80’s, it feels more relevant than ever.
To quote another superhero film: It is brilliant! But lazy…