Wonder Woman 1984 is the follow-up to 2017's hit DC Comics movie and, while it doesn't quite recapture that same magic in every way, it is very much its own, inspirational journey with abundant messages of triumph and hope -- just when we need such themes in the world. The latest installment of the DC movie universe, existing as a totally standalone flick without many ties or surprises from the grander cinematic world, uses such containment to its benefit in telling a globetrotting superhero story that, in some ways, feels like a the next chapter of Diana Prince's origin story.
Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot reteam as director and star, with Gadot clearly getting more and more comfortable in this titular role with this marking her fourth title in the part. The movie features Diana heavily as she tries to get to the source of a problem which are so loaded with exposition that describing them would spoil aspects of the film.
As Diana chases down a mystery to get to its source as a means to find a solution, an exploration of this source for the audience could have propelled the story a bit deeper in meaningful ways rather than leaving some of the events of the film as fill-in-the-blank happenings based on presumptions about the movie's world and human desires. A mythological item is introduced and the audience will either accept its ability or not depending on how well they suspend disbelief for these films and Wonder Woman 1984 won't make an exceptional push to justify this mythological item's abilities. Fortunately, other aspects of the film outshine this element, so the film manages to land thanks to focus on character, emotion, and themes of hope.
The amount of actual Wonder Woman screen time feels unfortunately limited in the movie, but when she does take the screen, she quite literally soars in the best ways. Opening and closing action sequences which have been heavily touted in trailers get expanded upon in a welcome manner, with only a couple of sequences in between showing Wonder Woman springing to action. Jenkins has the action of it all down, so tossing in heroic moments like saving those not involved with the conflict are the bonus touches which really send Wonder Woman's themes home. Not to mention, most of the movie looks like it was pulled straight out of the eighties and not only in set design, costume, and music. Jenkins went above and beyond to frame shots and color the film as though it were produced in a time machine.
The villain of the film is Pedro Pascal's Max Lord, who also happens to be the most entertaining part thanks to an all-in effort from the actor. Max Lord is a vile baddie who uses organically written misogynistic tendencies to leverage his evil plans right out of the gate -- and, as crazy as he looks to drive the world, Pascal goes crazier in the performance. He convincingly plays a deteriorating lunatic with every bit of mental instability and insecurity shining through in every frame. A layer of moral ambiguity is added to the character but he ultimately does not feel like one which should be worthy of much redemption.
Kristen Wiig checks in as Barbara Minnerva, taking on the daunting task of playing Cheetah, and really gets a chance to flex some of her acting muscles we haven't seen before -- displaying a tragic turn as the transformation into a super villain progresses throughout the film. Wiig's performance is ferocious, but the character leaves some meat on the bone, as we could've seen more to get a better understanding and fulfilling time with the character.
In fact, the same can be said for other aspects of Wonder Woman 1984, as, despite a 150-minute run time, the film glosses over certain elements of its story. A deeper exploration could have helped the villain's plans and execution land more thoroughly rather than an implied expectation and result but, instead, the movie has moments where you really start to feel that two-and-a-half-hour run time.
Fortunately, Chris Pine's return as Steve Trevor sees the dynamic between Diana and Steve brought back to life, literally, and a lot of the rom-com cliches about men and women in film see their roles reversed in entertaining ways, in addition to Steve needing to be acclimated to life in a world so many years after he died. And, once he and Diana finally take flight, the movie does so in a similar fashion -- about an hour in. Plus, their emotional moments, well, I'll leave it at that.
Wonder Woman 1984 learns from the critiques of its excellent predecessor, delivering a much more contained finale by comparison to its extravagant and over-sized blow-out third act in the first movie, but it would have benefited from some more character work, sharper pacing and conclusions, and, well, a little bit more Wonder Woman. The team delivers an exciting and inspirational new tale, with a surprising level of worldly commentary considering when it was shot, along with a much-needed message of hope -- all complemented strongly by the always empathic musical score from Hans Zimmer.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Wonder Woman 1984 hits select theaters and HBO Max on December 25th.