Wonder Woman 1984 Review: A flawed, but mostly fun new outing fans will enjoy
When Patty Jenkins’ version of Wonder Woman came out a couple of years ago, it wasn’t a film that necessarily blew my mind, but definitely impressed me with how great Gal Gadot was as the titular DC hero, the strong storytelling, and the great character and world building for both Wonder Woman and the greater DC universe. However, everything that’s come out about the sequel, from the casting of Kristen Wiig as the iconic villain Cheetah to Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor returning from the dead for some reason, has made me a little worried that it won’t live up to expectations and made me unsure what to expect. Well, Wonder Woman 1984 certainly offers an experience I didn’t expect – for better and worse.
Right in the opening moments of seeing a young Diana Prince (Gadot) attempt to win a tough competition on Themiscyra and an older Diana as Wonder Woman stops a group of jewel thieves in a crowded 80s mall, it’s very apparent that Jenkin’s goes for a much different feel than the first film. Where the first film is more of a romantic war epic, Wonder Woman 1984 fits more into its time with a style and tone that reflects an 80s fantasy action-adventure. The action is much wilder with big car chases, goofy one-liners, and characters with another great score from Hans Zimmer that adds to the adventurous feel of the film. Every character on-screen is decked with just about every piece clothing, leg warmers and parachute pants in all, that just lives and breathes the 80s and it really gives off this vibrant vibe that brings you into the look and feel of this world. Even Wonder Woman’s armor has sort a candy apple red to it that’s much brighter and reflects the more upbeat tone as she deliver winks to little kids and some delightful quips.
The biggest showing of this film being more of an 80s fantasy adventure is the special stone that the entire plot of this film surrounds – a wishing stone. You know those stories that generally have someone find some special stone, coin, or monkey’s paw that grants them wishes but at an unexpectedly grave cost – that’s exactly what the plot of this film is. When the film first introduces this wishing stone, all of every answer you could possibly have as to where things are going is instantly answered. From how the quiet and quirky Dr. Barbara Minerva (Wiig) is going to turn into the physically dominating Cheetah to how Steve (Pine) is going to come back, it’s clearly all going to be through this stone. It’s certainly a perfectly fine plot device and story that’s fitting for a comic book movie, albeit one that’s incredibly corny and over-used, with an 80s adventure feel but it’s definitely the big element that doesn’t always work in the film’s favor.
The one major flaw that happens with this film following the old “wishing stone” story frame is that it leads to major laps in logic when it comes to how this stone exactly works. In the beginning, the idea of stone is pretty straightforward as it offers the beholder a wish of their choice that comes with an unexpected consequence that ties to the age-old phrase of “be careful what you wish for.” However, a big turn happens when corrupt con-man Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) basically pulls the old “cheater’s wish” move to basically take the power of the stone for himself that muddies up the rules quite a bit. Things like people getting multiple wishes, whether or not wishes made before Max absorbs the stone’s power abide by different rules, and how exactly the timing of the stone working don’t always line-up with established rules or are fully explained. The way everything wraps up is even more confusing with the whole idea of renouncing wishes not exactly coming off clear and what exactly the full effect of it is. For instance, since Barbara made her wish before Max absorbed it, does she still have her strength – especially since she doesn’t audibly renounce her wish like other people.
Even the whole idea of this happening is a little odd to me given that the cataclysmic event that occurs is never talked about in DC films that take place after this. Honestly, this film kind of drops the ball in introducing new world-building events and moves/powers for Wonder Woman as it’s a prime example of the problems with doing new things in the past. Certain moves with her lasso and even Wonder Woman learning to fly are cool and all, but it’s hard not to wonder why she doesn’t do these things in her appearances in DC films that take place in the present. Like, why doesn’t she fly or use the new lasso moves she does here in BvS or Justice League? Doing new stuff in the past always creates these laps in logic and continuity that is problematic in terms of the overall universe. It’s also a shame that the film’s lengthy runtime can be felt because of how overly familiar this plot is and how it tries to shove so much into its plot. There’s definitely a lot of problems that Wonder Woman 1984 just doesn’t overcome, mostly because of this damn wish stone, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun or have some great character moments.
Honestly, although Max absorbing the stone is problematic as hell, the ride his decision takes us on is pretty freakin’ crazy – in a good way. Throughout the film, we learn about how the stone destroyed civilizations and caused mass destruction with its drastic twist in people’s wishes and, to the film’s credit, we genuinely see the destructive power this stone can unleash. The stone’s slow and disastrous power is actually a pretty mind-blowing and crazy visual to see as it sends the world in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect chaos. It also leads to a great world trotting chase where Diana and Steve try to stop Max in great fight sequences on a high-speed truck chase and throughout the White House. Also, although the effects can be hit or miss, there’s still some very incredible visuals of Diana and Steve flying through fireworks and some cool uses of the lasso. Not to mention, the stone’s existence creates some cool relationship building and character arcs that wouldn’t be possible without it.
To be real, Steve’s return was the biggest worry I had coming into the film because of how meaningful and well-done his final sacrifice was in the first movie. I wasn’t really sure how or if they could really pull it off, but to my surprise, it’s one of the best parts of the film. Thankfully, Steve doesn’t necessarily return from the dead, but instead the stone makes him possess a random guy that Diana visualizes as him. Steve’s return adds some genuine heart to the film how he’s in such awe of the future he never got to see and the way that his return impacts Diana. There’s just something about the way that Steve is marveled by how far things have come that’s hard not to love and it’s the kind of positivity and hopefulness that makes his return genuinely heartwarming. Sure, all this probably could’ve been done without Pine given how they bring Steve back, but it definitely wouldn’t be the same without him. His performance and chemistry with Gadot are just so real and he brings the warmth and selflessness that made Steve so lovable in the first film again while also having a different kind of emotional impact to Diana’s arc that pushes her forward.
Diana’s character arc here is kind of a mix between what Spider-Man 2 and Toy Story 4 go for in terms of heroes learning how to do deal with not always being invincible and gaining closure to move forward. After wishing for Steve to return, Diana notices that her powers are slowly starting to slip away and is forced to deal with her feelings of grief about Steve dying and having to lose him again in order to be able to stop Max and Barbara. Their final goodbye is almost as sad as before, but equally well done and it’s a nice push forward for Diana to come into her own and push past her fears that came from Steve’s sacrifice. Gadot brings another great performance that brings a lot of strong human emotion that you connect with, although I do hope that she becomes a little less philosophical in the future, and the film does a good job building her up for the final battle. The sequence of her overcoming her fears of flying because of Steve’s death and using the lasso to ride the lightening around her are undeniably epic and even the surprising introduction to the invisible jet was pretty awesome. It’s also cool how she’s not exactly flying or necessarily perfect at it from the start and it’ll be cool to see this built upon, hopefully, in a future film. Also, a post-credit scene sets up for both Gadot and Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman from the 70s tv series, who plays Asteria here to fight together in the future – which is just amazing to think about it.
The villains of the film are also a lot of fun as both Pascal and Wiig bring some great performances and work well with their respective characters’ arc. Pascal probably delivers one of the liveliest and strongest performances of the entire film with him bringing a slimy yet oddly irresistible charm and influence as Max Lord. He definitely embodies the vision of an 80s TV salesman and it’s fun to see him both be such a strong convincing force for people to make wishes that end up making him more powerful and become slowly more unhinged as the stone’s power makes his health slowly decline. The way the film makes him a little more human in the film’s final moments are little tough to buy, but Pascal sells it well and is honestly perfect in the role. While Lord oddly becomes the main villain over Barbara, Wiig still makes a great impression as the iconic DC villain and is given some solid material to work with. Barbara’s slow-building turn from quiet and unseen to ferocious and consumed by her fury is great and offers a different, more grounded depiction of her becoming Cheetah. It’s great how the film builds her and Diana’s friendship and her turn to helping Max in order to preserve her strength. Wiig creates a strong likeability and relatability to Barbara’s struggles and surprisingly nails her turning against Diana and using her strength for herself. It is a shame that the fight between her as Cheetah and Diana is so short and hopefully, we get to see more of her in the future.
Wonder Woman 1984 certainly has its issues that stem from story choices that leave major laps in logic and don’t carry the same kind of ambition or eventfulness as the original, but it’s still a lot of fun. It continues to push Wonder Woman’s story forward with an enjoyably wild premise full of great character moments that are both warm and break your heart, fun villains, and a hopeful future for what fans could expect in the next film.