Director: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen
Run Time: 151 mins
Wonder Woman 1984 is the hotly anticipated sequel to the original 2017 film which proved a U-turn for the DCEU in that it was universally acclaimed after the divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Patty Jenkins is back in the director’s chair for this sequel and she proved an excellent choice the first time around, really taking her time to develop the characters and using action sequences sparingly and as a means to develop the story. Unfortunately, Jenkins couldn’t quite get past the third act curse that plauges many superhero films where they descend into a big overlong action sequence with lots of CGI where it’s difficult to care. It has since transpired that Jenkins’ third act was tampered with by Warner Bros and she had originally planned something different.
This sequel moves the story from the First World War to the height of the 1980s where Diana Prince / Wonder Woman attempts to remain incognito in society by curating ancient artefacts but she does get sidetracked into performing the odd heroic act. When a Dreamstone is uncovered during a robbery in a mall that Wonder Woman thwarts that grants its user one wish, this unleashes chaos when it gets into the wrong hands of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a struggling yet charismatic oil businessman and Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), one of Diana’s work colleagues who is timid and insecure and envies Diana’s qualities.
The reception to Wonder Woman 1984 has proven very interesting. Whilst first receiving unanimous praise amongst critics, the second wave of reviews and the audience reception have proven a divisive response with some viewers passionately disliking this sequel in the choices Jenkins makes.
I found Wonder Woman 1984 to be a very solid sequel that, save for a shaky beginning, tackles some thoughtful concepts and takes some brave risks. In many ways, this is a 180 on the first film in terms of Wonder Woman’s characterisation and the type of storyline that it follows. Wonder Woman was very much a fish-out-of-water in the first film and the interplay between her and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor was authentic. In this sequel, she is a more confident individual that has world experience, less a warrior than the first film or BvS and more a superhero that only steps in if she really needs to.
Gal Gadot is very much the heart and soul of Wonder Woman 1984 again and turns in a terrific performance. Chris Pine also returns as Steve Trevor in a slightly baffling method considering that he gave up his life at the end of the first film and without heading into spoiler territory, is actually a plot hole. If you look past the slightly hokey set-up, both Gadot and Pine share an excellent chemistry again.
Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig are the villains of the film. Pedro Pascal fares very well and is a very multi-layered character. He has a lot at stake and although the film is set in 1984, it very much channels 2020 in how the character channels Donald Trump. Pascal is probably the second biggest character of the film in terms of screentime and Jenkins’ development of him is superb, a very different villain to David Thewlis’ Ares in the first film but very much the other side of the coin compared to Diana and Jenkins draws interesting parallels between them.
Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva fares well initially in how her character is established as undeveloped and jealous but it’s a shame that she has to become the embodiment of Cheetah at the end of the film, one of Wonder Woman’s most notable villains in the comics. It’s not really clear how or why this happens and it would have been best if her character had been introduced in this film for her to then become Cheetah in a future film. Wonder Woman and Cheetah share an action sequence in the final act which isn’t great, especially the visual effects and it’s telling that it’s shot in a night setting to try and mask some of the poor CGI. It will still be interesting to see where DC take the character though.
The film doesn’t start particularly well. The film opens on Themiscyra (the fictional Amazonian island hidden from mankind) where we see a young Diana participating in an Amazonian Olympics event where it introduces a theme that one would think prove important for the rest of the film. There are ways one can argue Jenkins does pay this off later in the film but it’s not obvious and I can only think the Themyscira sequence is in the film so that it is in there to provide a connection to the first film. There is then an action sequence in a shopping mall which is directed with a Richard Donner-esque lightness that doesn’t really work. Luckily, once the film heads into the main narrative, the film is on better footing but I don’t think these two sequences are the best way to start the film. It’s interesting to read in an interview with Patty Jenkins that Warner Bros wanted her to only use one of these sequences rather than both – this is perhaps the rare piece of studio interference that would have helped the film.
The film also doesn’t really make the most of its 1980s setting. Other than the mall sequence at the beginning and a sequence where Steve Trevor wonders at the development of mankind, this film could have been set at any time. Matthew Jensen’s cinematography really helps in establishing the 1980s setting with his visual aesthetic and his work on the film again is assured. Hans Zimmer replaces Rupert Gregson-Williams on score duties but save for a handful of interesting musical moments, Zimmer’s score isn’t particularly memorable.
I can understand why the film has received the divisive reception it has. The story the film tells and where the narrative goes in the third act forms an opinion on human nature and the themes of greed and lust and the subsequent chaos that can ensue. Some viewers have found this to be offensive – I didn’t find this to be the case and I think this is mainly down to Jenkins’ assured direction – but I can understand how it can be interpreted as such. The film is also a lengthy two and a half hours but unlike others, I didn’t find the film to be overlong and felt the narrative that was being told earned the extended run time to truly develop.
It’s interesting the parallels that Wonder Woman 1984 shares with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, another divisive sequel to a well-received first film that also happens to feature Pedro Pascal in its cast. Both films are a sprawling exploration on similar themes and feature Trumpian-like villains and it is interesting how they both have received a divisive reaction.
Overall, Wonder Woman 1984 is a risky sequel that retains the first film’s quality in developing its characters and uses action sparingly in its long run time. I can understand the mixed reception to some of the film’s themes but I got on board with the narrative and was thoroughly entertained from when the film finds its footing about 20 minutes in right through to the end. Yes, it has its problems with some of the narrative choices and the depiction of Cheetah but Jenkins poses enough thought-provoking questions and develops her characters very well to make the film worthwhile. It is always better for a sequel to take risks in order to develop a film series rather than just rehash the same beats and for that, you have to appreciate the ambition of Wonder Woman 1984, even if said risks don’t always pay off. It will be very interesting to see where Wonder Woman and the supporting characters are taken next in future DCEU films.