After years of anticipation, Wonder Woman 1984 debuts in theaters and on HBO Max today. Set in the eighties— 66 years after we last saw Princess Diana and Steve Trevor in the first film— this movie demonstrates that any era is merely a backdrop for the solid performances of its principal actors and the heart and soul that co-writer/director Patty Jenkins creates with her storytelling. Wonder Woman 1984 is a worthy successor to the 2017 instant classic, and a refreshing testament to performance over special effects.
Studio mandated ending aside, 2017’s Wonder Woman was the sleeper box office juggernaut of the year not for unchecked CGI excess, but rather due to the heartfelt performances of Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, and the script and storytelling that brought their partnership to life. While other cinematic universes relied on smart-ass quips that were so generic the line could be used by any superhero on screen at any given time, Wonder Woman took the time to bring a unique life to its characters and the film earned its silly moments. Wonder Woman 1984 continues this tradition with even more incredible moments between Gadot’s Diana Prince and Pine’s Steve Trevor. Through a relatively simple (but acceptable) movie trope, Steve Trevor comes back to life for the sequel and the “fish out of water” routine between the two is thereby reversed. Suddenly it’s Diana who is the expert on the earth world and Steve Trevor who embarrassingly navigates through uncharted territory with a sense of wonder and amazement. This plot device keeps the story fresh and builds on their tender relationship. This is where the magnetic aura of Gal Gadot and the “aw shucks” heart of gold that Chris Pine brings to the film matters most: beneath the battle scenes and beyond the special effects lives the timeless story of star-crossed lovers, of love and loss. And Jenkins masterfully captures these moments in a manner that always effectively pulls at the heartstrings of viewers. Their romance is effectively placed within the superhero world of the movie, but it is this beating heart of Wonder Woman 1984 that separates it from the market-tested, punchline driven competition.
Jenkins builds on the Wonder Woman formula by developing her villains further than those present in the original film. Pedro Pascal hams it up as Maxwell Lord, a TV charlatan whose greed is only outmatched by his desperation. Kristen Wiig completes the principal cast as Barbara Minerva, a mousy and underappreciated scientist who dreams of being something more. I would be lying if I said we haven’t seen these types of caricatures in superhero and adventure films before, but Jenkins gives both performers ample screen time to strengthen the narrative arc of Wonder Woman 1984, and they use their moments to be over the top the top and silly and to develop as characters… sometimes both at the same time. The result is villains who at first glance seem like the bad guys that would appear in the action movies which were debuting around the time in which the film takes place, but who are able to effectively balance the qualities of truth and goodness that Gadot brings to the screen with her Wonder Woman. The result is a superhero/supervillian match that is satisfying and engaging.
Eighties nostalgia reached a fever pitch years ago with Stranger Things and every horror and science fiction production made since then that’s attempted to take a bite out of that sweet, sweet nostalgia and the dollars it produces. Fortunately for Wonder Woman 1984, this trope is not a crutch that the film ever relies on over the content of its own storytelling. In fact, after the opening sequence in a shopping mall, I rarely stopped to think about the era in which the movie takes place. Yes, the neon colors, esoteric fashion sense, and fanny packs are there in key moments, but Jenkins uses the time period to develop her story rather than turn the film into a big game of “remember that!?”. The era of corporate greed, industrial excess, and nuclear showdowns becomes a perfect backdrop for Diana to apply her decency and address with her morals. The retro setting never feels forced, and it exemplifies how Wonder Woman’s presence on earth has affected human beings throughout the decades.
Not only does Patty Jenkins expertly bring humanity to her superhero epic, but she also handles action sequences with ease. Jenkins is a visual storyteller, and the fight scenes of Wonder Woman 1984 have a brilliant sense of motion and fluidity to them that is rare in the genre. Viewers will never be left scratching their heads over any sequences of events and the camera control and visual movements pack a serious punch each and every time. A standout moment of the film happens on a dessert road packed with military vehicles moving at a high speed. One can’t help but be reminded of similar, masterful sequences in the Indiana Jones films of yesteryear, as Jenkins handles these moments with a sense of precision and scope that is a pleasure to behold. And then in other moments, viewers’ breaths are taken away by simple shots of Diana soaring through the sky with a new sense of purpose and understanding. These smaller moments are equally effective. Between all of these incredible scenes, Jenkins demonstrates there’s nothing she can’t do behind the camera.
Wonder Woman 1984 followed up on an excellent origin movie with a strong and satisfying sequel. With another standout film under its belt, the Wonder Woman franchise remains the crown jewel of DC’s cinematic offerings and Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkens remain the reigning queens of contemporary superhero filmmaking.