Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Written by Geoff Johns & Patty Jenkins & Dave Callaham
Produced by Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, Stephen Jones, Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Charles Roven
PG-13, 2h 31min
Wonder Woman 1984 is every bit the superhero film of the 80s. And that’s both good and bad, as the films of that era are a mixed bag as well. For every Superman II (1980), there’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. But perhaps a more apt comparison we should review is between WW84 and Supergirl, also from 1984. But more on that in a bit.
First, to get this out of the way: I enjoyed the movie. But…
For a film with “Truth” as its core theme, this movie doesn’t have a huge amount of it. While Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristin Wiig, and Pedro Pascal deliver solid performances (Pine comes out better than the rest), the actors are betrayed by a ham-fisted plot straight out of the 80s. A greedy corporate type (think Lex Luthor lite) wants it all, and the MacGuffin on which the film relies is a ball of Handwavium that feels very much like it’s lifted from the cape stories of yore.
The opening scene — a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in the Amzaonian Games — sets up quite nicely the theme of the story, that true heroes are not born of lies. Honesty and truth are at the heart of what it means to be a champion, and Diana has to learn that lesson in more ways than one throughout the film. Especially as it concerns her love for Steve Trevor, dead these many many years since World War I. And there’s a payoff for this, but it’s not as emotionally rich as it could have been, seated as it is in the midst of a visual effects barrage.
Speaking of which, the effects are fairly well done, nothing spectacular or ground-breaking. A lot of cataclysm that you’d expect to find in a Zack Snyder adjacent film, and it does leave a lot of head-scratching at the end in terms of aftershock and long-term effects on the timeline. Because if this is in continuity with the Snyderverse, it leaves a very big mark that in retrospect is too big to ignore in later events. But hindsight being what it is, you can’t always go back to earlier films and retcon a reference to that time Maxwell Lord almost destroyed the Earth or anything…
Unless you’re George Lucas, maybe…
The comparison to Supergirl is perhaps more apt than it should be, but it’s almost a parallel plot. Substitute Selena’s Omegahedron for Max Lord’s Stone, and you essentially have the same narrative: small-time operator gets tremendous power and the whole thing gets way out of hand. The only real difference is the scale. Where Selena’s reach extends only through Midvale, Lord manages to extend his influence worldwide using technology based on the Strategic Defense Initiative from the US military.
And while we’re on the subject, is that supposed to be Ronald Reagan? Because it’s a poor copy of Ronald Reagan. It’s even a poor parody of the media portrayal of Reagan as the Doddering Old Man With His Finger on the Button, the war-mongering cowboy who was going to start World War III. In truth, Reagan was continuously concerned that the United States was honoring even her informal agreements with the Soviet Union while they violated arms reduction agreements left and right. Reagan was never the “Moar Missiles!” type.
Now, before it seems that this review is going to be one hundred percent negative, let’s look at some of the things that worked:
Even though we have to apply comic book physics to the plane itself, the mechanics of getting the “invisible jet” into the film works here. There’s an in-story logic to the way it happens, although you have to suspend disbelief quite a bit with the rest of that story beat. How can Steve fly a modern aircraft? How does a plane on display at the Smithsonian have fuel?
Diana’s ability to fly was first introduced in 1958, but it gained momentum in the animated Justice League Unlimited. Here it’s given as it was originally shown, with Diana riding the air currents and jet streams to essentially float more than fly. It deftly moves us away from the early era invisible jet to the modern era flight ability with a cute in-story explanation, and for the most part it works.
The rom-com bits between Diana and Steve are handled well. Gadot and Pine have a good bit of chemistry, and they play up the “fish out of water” bit for the comedy it sets up, but not to the point where it becomes a parody of itself. The film knows what it’s doing here, with the send-up of the wardrobe and music stylings of the period, but it doesn’t play it for laughs as much as it’s wry humor for those of us who remember being there when all of that was popular — and some of us actually were part of that scene. (I was not. I have always and shall forever remain a square.) The elephant in the room, of course, is the Here Comes Mr. Jordan way of getting Steve into 1984. And that’s a pitfall for the feminists, should they bother to acknowledge it…
Hans Zimmer’s score is solid, and even though he may have reused some cues, the music underscores the emotional beats of the narrative in just the right way. Of course, we could have used a few more cuts of actual music from 1984, but…
The fact that this film is set in 1984 actually does nothing for the plot. It’s been pointed out in several outlets (rightly so) that this could take place in the modern era of the DCEU and not miss anything. There’s an opportunity to take shots at both President Reagan and President Trump, but those shots are more subtle than I expected them to be. Director Patty Jenkins has said that the movie isn’t political, that it’s more a commentary on the greed of the 80s, but Patty’s just a year younger than I am. We grew up in the 80s. There was a lot of the corporate growth and political instability, yes, but there was also a lot of technological advancement. We were back in space, the personal computer became a thing, and we won the decades-long Cold War. We also got the beginnings of the internet and the early video games. We got the first artificial heart in 1982, a vaccine for Hepatitis B, research in fighting AIDS. Just like any other time period in history, the 1980s were a mixed bag. To focus on the “decade of greed” is to make a political statement based on a media narrative that isn’t altogether truthful.
Nor are the characters truthful, much. Steve Trevor is probably the one character who’s the most comic book accurate of the four principals, and he’s dead. Maxwell Lord bears almost no resemblance to his comic book inspiration, especially in the power set, and Barbara Minerva’s transformation into Cheetah is wholly contrived out of the Handwavium plot of the movie instead of taking anything from her comic book origin (she’s actually the fourth Cheetah). And Diana … well, the whole bit about Wonder Woman operating in secret? That’s Batman’s bag. Princess Diana, Wonder Woman, Diana of Themyscira, whatever role she plays, she’s never operated in the shadows, that I can recall. Her whole schtick is to present Man’s World with the ideal of Hope and Love.
Now, taking all of that into account, if you ignore all of that, and realize that this is completely and totally a contrived-handwavium-plot of a superhero movie not only set in the 80s, but also made in the 80s, it totally works. It’s almost beat for beat another Supergirl, just with a bigger budget and more epic scale. It’s a complete popcorn flick. As such, it’s just as good as anything else that was made back in the day. Will it hold up in ten years? Probably not, but then we’ll be into a whole ‘nuther set of reboots, anyway.
Speaking of popcorn, go see this in the theaters. Buy popcorn and soda and Twizzlers and Milk Duds and hot dogs and nachos. The theaters need the business much more than HBO Max does.
And stay for the mid-credits bit. You’ll be glad you did.