There is a reason why Ethan Hunt and Steve Rogers are regarded more than James Bond and Tony Stark. Both characters, superheroic in their own spheres, care as much about saving bad guys as they care about protecting innocent people. This characteristic, wholly suggestive of Richard Donner’s Superman, has sadly been absent from the current fleet of superheroes, including the new Man of Steel. Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman 1984 recognises this dearth and serves as a sincere, heartfelt homage to the early Superman films, emphasising the need for personal, standalone superhero stories.
Subverting expectations from the getgo (if you have seen the trailer), the film uses its 80s setting to critique the consumerism-ridden era, instead of playing on nostalgia. Unlike Stranger Things 3, or Captain Marvel, the film scrutinises the overtly celebrated time. It makes the scenario suitable entry points for two of the comics’ most compelling characters: Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, as Cheetah) and Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal).
Following a breathtaking, IMAX-warranted opening scene, featuring a young Diana participating in a Quidditch-like-tournament in Thymiscira, the film transits to 1984 and quickly grabs you into the most eccentric time of the last few decades.
Unorthodox fashion, characteristic hairstyling, evolving technology, and a great diversity of futuristic products – the production impresses you. It draws you into the story with a fantastic recreation of the said era. And while exploring the vintage vicinity, happens your first encounter with Maxwell Lord.
Pedro Pascal’s character recalls every great 80s villain you can imagine. “Life is good. But it can be better.” He reflects excellent charisma and a giddish sleaziness every time he says this line, which he often does. A failed robbery at a shopping mall, soon reveals his ignoble intentions as we learn of a MacGuffin he is attempting to steal.
Its a wish-fulfilling, however, devious artefact, which inadvertently goes through two pairs of hands, before it reaches his.
The first, Barbara Minerva, a loner, insecure woman archaeologist, who is identical to every unconfident, tactless female character you get to see in films. She believes she lacks the oomph and hence, envies the women whom men fall far. The moment she meets Diana (Gal Gadot), and forms an impromptu bonding, she can’t help but crave her charm and lifestyle.
Diana, on the other hand, cares little about fame or avarice, as her mind still dangles in 1918. She hasn’t moved past Steve Trevor, her first and only true love. We learn of her doings in the past 66 years, and how she has maintained fighting crime while also camouflaging her real identity.
A purely unintentional wish-fulfilment, later on, brings radical changes in her and Barbara’s life as they are granted their erratic wishes, which is, intimacy for the former and supereminence for the latter. Things get real ugly once the artefact reaches Maxwell Lord, as his plans of becoming imperative lead to the direst consequences.
At 151 minutes, Wonder Woman 1984 is plot-wise thin and relatively small-scaled film than its predecessor. It tosses all of its ideas within the first 30-minutes and remains focused on expanding them. Whether its Max Lord’s intent for absolute power and dominance, which arise from a very personal spot or Barbara’s misguided approach to being respected and essentially not being bullied, the story elaborates their evil impulses through the course of the film. And it happens with absolutely no hurriedness, giving every scene an extra time to linger in your mind for long.
The movie, in fact, never feels sprinting on reaching any conclusion. It is rare ease, which allows you to sit back and enjoy every bit of the film as it unfolds, without needing to horse your mind to keep pace with the plot. And it is pleasantly limited in action, NOWHERE LESS but adequate (and mostly astounding), prioritising intense, dramatic tension over customary, modern-day pyrotechnics.
Patty Jenkins’s vision of Wonder Woman seems more conspicuous this time than the tonally grim and action-heavy first film. It is very daring and risk-taking of her to subvert people’s expectations and make Wonder Woman heroic and inspirational by forefronting her feminine, tender characteristics than attempting to qualify her (once again!) as an equivalent of her brawny male counterparts.
Her Wonder Woman recalls Christopher Nolan’s Batman (no guns, no killing), and perpetually risks herself to save both the good guys and the bad guys. A terrific, second act action sequence displays her said heroism and will to a significant effect. It’s a spectacularly mounted scene, meant for IMAX, which shows the extensive labour went into the action department.
Gadot, 35, has never been this expressive and laudable as an actor than anything she has done before. Her performance as Diana is substantially more mature and persuasive than her first collaboration with Jenkins, who provides her with a few emotionally challenging scenes to perform, which she does stirringly well. In one of my favourite scenes, or possibly the one I loved the most, she runs fiercely through a slovenly road and takes her first flight, surmounting a strong tide of emotions.
Chris Pine, returning as Steve Trevors, gets to play a surprisingly good (and relevant) part. He starts similar to Diana’s character from the first film, exploring a wholly different world than the one he departed from, giving rise to some humour but proving to be a genuine help to her lady love, once things begin to get dreadful.
Pine and Gadot share great on-screen chemistry, and their romance is twice fascinating this time. One leisurely scene where Steve flies a modern-day fighter jet with Diana is incredibly dreamlike and a treat to experience on the big screen. And only a little after this moment, the narrative gets somewhat convoluted – not for long, but enough to break the symmetry.
Maxwell Lord’s scheme to gain business dominance begins to bother you as he visits one business tycoon after another, compelling you to wonder about the nature of the artefact and how Max could have used it in a better way. The flawed writing in his character, nonetheless, pushes to a frightful scenario, which yields multiple takeaways and ultimately feels worthwhile. The final 20-minutes are expressly memorable for how an emotional payoff swaps the standard action-heavy spectacle.
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The fans hoping to see a good Cheetah vs Diana showdown will likely be disappointed by a wrong choice of setpiece and slightly indecipherable action. It is fathomable how certain characters are hard to be presented on-screen. Mysterio was a complex villain for a live-action version but was delivered well, if not exceptionally. Cheetah too wasn’t easy to pull off, precisely for a fight, but given the night setting and pleasantly short combat, the result feels moderately satisfying.
What plagues explicitly is the deployment of a theme from Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman soundtrack. In an otherwise fine climax, backed by an outstanding score by Hans Zimmer (standing on its own, comprising beautiful, emotionally riveting melodies), the said theme feels entirely out of place. It may be is Jenkins’ way of extolling Zack Snyder, but her work is, altogether, better than everything Snyder has done in the DCEU.
And as it turns out, DC movies are, finally, bigger, bolder, and more resonating than what Marvel is producing. The hope infused by Jenkins’ first Wonder Woman, later swelled by James Wan’s Aquaman and David F. Sandberg’s Shazam, has now reached its high. Wonder Woman 1984 is an excellent sequel that brings back the glory of the 80s DC films and restores the substantiality of the superhero genre, giving us a female lead who is deserving to be admired by and wondered at.
Rating: 4 / 5
PS. A mid-credits Christmas greeting is neither to be missed nor to be spoiled.
Have you seen Wonder Woman 1984? What did you think of the film? Share your review below in the comments section.