Wonder Woman 1984 review by Ian Ford
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Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is one of the few critically successful movies of the new era of DC superhero films. And while most DC cinematic romps enjoy decent box office returns and a level of fanboy fanaticism that Marvel could only dream of, critical success has been far harder to come by for the blue and white side of the comic book divide.
The first Wonder Woman enjoys many triumphs during its lengthy runtime, but for every whoop inducing sacrificial plane crash, there’s an overly effects-driven sequence that tarnishes the film’s success. Wonder Woman begs for a sequel that builds on its strengths while avoiding its weaknesses.
So, here we are 3 years later with Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84) hitting our Coronavirus battered cinemas (and HBO Max if you live in the US). The question is, does Wonder Woman 1984 fulfil the first film’s potential, or does it fall prey to the same pitfalls as before? The quick answer is a resounding yes to the first question and a booming hell no to the second.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a heartfelt and bright story that is both enjoyable to watch and emotionally engaging. It trades the bombastic styling of most modern-day superhero movies for the warming glow of the golden era and comes out a much better movie as a result. But enough of my thoughts, let’s have a look at the film’s story.
Big Hair, Big Clothes, and Big Egos: The Plot of Wonder Woman 1984
* Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Wonder Woman 1984. If you’ve yet to see the film, stop reading NOW. If you’ve already seen it, step right up and enjoy the ride **
As you’ve probably worked out from the title of the film, Wonder Woman 1984 is set in the 80s, a decade when everything from stereos (if you’re young Google it) to hairstyles were big. And, in a similar vein to Netflix’s Stranger Things, the film embraces the decade with open arms.
The film starts with a heart-pounding prologue on the mystical (and made up) island of Themyscira where we meet Diana Prince (Wonder Woman — played for the 3rd time by Gal Gadot) taking part in some sort of athletic competition. After winning the competition but being disqualified by her aunt Antiope for… heck, I don’t really know why. I was focussing too hard on Gal Gadot looking stunning while riding a horse.
Anyway, after the horse-riding, athletic thingy, the audience is transported to Washington D.C. in the year 1984. Here we once again meet Diana working as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution and specializing in ancient Mediterranean civilizations (something she should know a lot about as an immortal Amazonian warrior). The transition from ancient Grecianesque Olympia to 80s era Americana brings with it a satisfying and unexpected change in cinematography. Shots are framed in an almost low-fidelity Raiders of the Lost Ark vibe, and colours become muted but strangely more colourful at the same time. Even the music embraces the 80s feel with Hans Zimmer doing an outstanding job of evoking John Williams in the aforementioned Raiders with tinges of ET and even Jaws thrown in for good measure.
Enter Wonder Woman
We finally get to see Wonder Woman for the first time as she swings into action in a montage of superhero rescue shots emulating Christopher Reeve in his prime. The entire central storyline encapsulates the superhero vibe of the decade stealing pieces of Superman, The Incredible Hulk television show, and even a bit of the campier Tim Burton Batman movies for good measure. Patty Jenkins clearly understands the 80s and its films well, and her homage to the era is both warm, light-hearted, and authentic. It’s just a shame that as the film progresses, the style fades into a more contemporary feel. But while it lasts, the 80s vibe is quite captivating, especially for someone like me who grew up in the era.
Back at work, Diana meets a new employee called Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristin Wiig). Barbara is an insecure woman who initially idolizes Diana. This infatuation soon turns to envy. After Wonder Woman foils an attempted robbery, Barbara and Diana identify a cache of stolen artefacts, including a particular object inscribed in Latin called the Dreamstone.
Without realising it, Diana “uses” the stone by wishing for her deceased lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to return to life. Steve’s soul reawakens but is forced to inhabit another man’s body. Barbara, realising what the Dreamstone can do, makes a wish to become like Diana. Unwittingly this bestows her with superpowers that will eventually lead to her transforming into the supervillain Cheetah.
Meanwhile, failing businessman Maxwell “Max Lord” Lorenzano (Pedro Pascal of Mandalorian and Game of Thrones fame) sneaks into a Smithsonian gala to abscond with the Dreamstone, hoping to use it to save his failing oil company. Max uses his charm to seduce Barbara and gain access to her office where they are keeping the Dreamstone. Taking the magic artefact for himself, Max revives his oil firms fortunes before turning to bigger aspirations by wishing himself to be an embodiment of the stone. This gives him the power to grant wishes whilst also being able to take anything he wants for himself.
Using the stone, Max heads to Cairo where he becomes a powerful figure unaware of the destruction and chaos he leaves in his wake. It’s in the character of Max that the film’s intended message really shines through. Max isn’t a bad person. His intentions are good… up to a certain point. And his granting of wishes is born of an urge to help others (including himself)… but every choice he makes has a consequence, even if he cannot see it himself.
Diana and Steve follow Max to Cairo and the two (along with Barbara) discover that the Dreamstone was created by Dolos, the god of lies, deception, treachery, and mischief. Every wish made using the stone has a toll that must be paid: a reckoning that balances out the good. The only way to destroy the negative effect is to destroy the stone (in this case, Max) or renounce the wish altogether to remove both the negative and positive effects. Steve realizes that his returning soul has come at the cost of Diana’s power and that Barbara’s god-like powers have drained her of all her humanity. But with Diana unwilling to allow Steve to leave her life again and Barbara too far removed from her past self, neither will renounce their wishes.
Wonder Woman 1984: Explaining the ending
The final act of Wonder Woman 1984 is where the real message of the film opens up. The overriding morality story of ‘be careful of what you wish for,’ is a strong metaphor that the film is happy to experiment with for both emotional impact and entertainment purposes.
The final third of the film sees Max, whose life is mysteriously draining from him, (another side effect of the wishes) granting the entire world their wishes. He broadcasts a message to everyone asking them to wish for anything they desire and he will grant it. Unknown to Max, the side-effects of the wishes cause widespread turmoil across the globe.
With the world heading for ruin, Steve makes one last push to force Diana to rescind her wish and let him go, which she does in an emotional scene that tugs on the heartstrings. Gal Gadot shines in these quieter, emotional sections and dismisses any criticism about her acting in the first film with a nuanced performance that captures the spirit of Diana Prince.
Barbara, on the other hand, has no intention of giving up her new powers and uses Max’s broadcast to become even more feral and Cheetah like.
As the film draws to a close, Wonder Woman and Cheetah battle it out in an old school good vs evil deathmatch with a surprising winner… Ok, maybe not surprising. Wonder Woman wins as expected, but her humanity in victory is a pleasant touch and lends to the overall earnest nature of the film.
After defeating Barbara, Diana heads to the TV station and confronts Max. Using her Lasso of Truth, she speaks to the rest of the world through Max and convinces everyone to renounce their wishes. Max is shown visions of his childhood (an unhappy one — is there any other in the movies) and his son. Realising the terrible toll his wishes are placing on not just the world but his own son too, Max renounces them before rushing to his child for another heartfelt reunion.
The final third of Wonder Woman 1984 is a glorious old-school approach to comic book movies. It (thankfully) avoids the CGI-drenched mashups of other genre pieces in favour of a heartfelt, low-key morality tale that harkens back to the mythological tales of caution that many comic books paid homage to in the first place.
How Wonder Woman 1984 fits into the DCEU
Wonder Woman 1984 is the eleventh (by my dodgy mathematical reckoning) film in the DCEU, but is interesting in how it fits into the greater DC timeline as it is set before the events of many of the films in the series.
The film takes place years before the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (our first sighting of Diana Prince), The Justice League, and is only a few short years after the destruction of Krypton and the arrival of Superman on Earth as a baby. Hell, Wonder Woman is the original DC superhero having already saved the world over and over by the time Superman’s balls dropped and Batman started to terrorise the criminal element of Gotham.
In terms of the events in Wonder Woman 1984, the film tells a self-contained story (similar to the first film) that has little bearing on the overarching DCEU storyline other than to explain a little about Diana’s motivations. The key link between WW84 Diana and the character’s first appearance in Batman v Superman is her insistence that she doesn’t want to be noticed (despite running around and saving the world). This intention is mentioned again in BvS when she talks about stepping out of the shadows to save the world. In a way, Wonder Woman 1984’s only purpose in the DCEU is to explain a little about why she’d hidden away in the intervening years.
Wonder Woman 1984 Easter Eggs
The fact that Wonder Woman 1984 is a self-contained movie doesn’t stop it from hiding a smorgasbord of Easter eggs linking it to other DC movies and the comic books. Here are a few of our favourites:
Themiscyra and the Amazon Trials
This opening gambit of the film takes us back to Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s homeland, where Diana is competing in a triathlon-like trials event. This event is incredibly similar to the Amazon Trials depicted in the comic books to decide who would go with Steve Trevor to the human lands and save the world. By splicing this scene into the beginning of WW84, the film links with both the original film and the comic book source.
Early in the film, we see a photograph in Diana’s apartment showing her liberating concentration camps in World War II with Etta Candy. You may remember Etta as Diana’s ditzy human friend from the first film played by Lucy Davis. In the comics, Etta and Diana worked together frequently, and the photograph shows this to be the same in the intervening years between the films. Obviously, Etta is nowhere to be seen in 1984 because of her passing many years previously of old age.
Steve Trevor is reborn
Steve has been killed and brought back to life many times throughout his comic book history, so his return in WW84 is unsurprising. In fact, in one early Wonder Woman comic story, he was meant to be a vessel for bringing back a long-deceased bad guy in a reverse of his story arc in WW84.
The Invisible Jet
Anybody of a certain age will remember the invisible jet from the old Lynda Carter Wonder Woman TV show. But this wasn’t the first time it appeared in the WW universe. In fact, the invisible plane has been around since 1942 in the comic books and was created by William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman herself. Why does the Amazonian goddess have a flying jet? Well, Diana couldn’t fly in the early stories. Speaking of flying…
Wonder Woman can now fly
Yes, Wonder Woman can now fly. In Wonder Woman 1984 we see Diana develop her ability to fly, similar to the comic books of the 1950s, before this was expanded into full-on flying in the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot.
Wonder Woman losing her powers
While Wonder Woman losing her powers isn’t rooted in any of the comics, it is incredibly similar to the how Superman lost his powers in the 1981 film Superman II (a film that WW84 draws a lot of inspiration from). In both films, the hero is stripped of their powers after choosing love over being a hero. While Diana unwittingly brings about her loss of powers (unlike Superman), she chooses Steve instead of taking them back… at least until she is compelled to do so by the evil forces in the world (just like Superman).
Wonder Woman 1984: My Take
Wonder Woman 1984 was originally set for distribution in December 2019, but its release in the middle of a period of turmoil for the planet couldn’t be more timely. The story harkens back to the golden age of comic books and is earnest and full of promise and love. I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for the quiet times of the 80s (at least that’s how I remember them) when as a ten-year-old boy I saw Superman fly on the silver screen for the first time.
There is nothing new about Wonder Woman 1984 but its adherence to the classic superhero template elevates it above its peers and gives us exactly what we need right now — hope.
WRITTEN BY Ian Ford