Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins team back up to deliver a polished second outing for Wonder Woman.
Tension was high for the return of Wonder Woman. I ultimately enjoyed her first film, despite a lackluster finish and some muddy visuals. The first trailer for WW’84 had expectations through the roof with impressive visuals and a fantastic score. Unfortunately, early critical response was not enthusiastic.
Well, screw the critics. I came out of Wonder Woman 1984 feeling that, with very few exceptions, it was a much better film than the first film. Let’s break it down.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Diana Prince lives quietly among mortals in the vibrant, sleek 1980s — an era of excess driven by the pursuit of having it all. Though she’s come into her full powers, she maintains a low profile by curating ancient artifacts, and only performing heroic acts incognito. But soon, Diana will have to muster all of her strength, wisdom and courage as she finds herself squaring off against Maxwell Lord and the Cheetah, a villainess who possesses superhuman strength and agility.
Glitz and Glamour.
Director Patty Jenkins has a field day capturing the zeitgeist of 1980’s America. From leg warmers to cold war tension, oil embargoes to parachute pants, the movie loves to flash it’s 1980’s cred. And it does so with bright and colorful visuals that really pop.
While there are a lot of parallel’s between that period and our own, Jenkins doesn’t belabor the point. Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) does have some Trumpian ticks, but he’s not a mannequin for the movie to talk past. Likewise, the pervasive global unease (AIDS, oil shortages, nuclear brinkmanship) of the 80’s really matches our current situation, but it serves more to humanize the past than to harangue our own time. Below all the glitz and glamour, life was just as precarious and terrifying as it always was.
The Ties that Bind.
The single biggest strength of WW’84 is the cast. While the first film tried to be an ensemble film, this one actually accomplished it. Every character has real ties to each other and an emotionally resonant appeal. Dr. Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and Diana (Gal Gadot) have a complex relationship that goes from idol worship to rancorous envy that is every bit as important to how the story unfolds as the charmingly restrained romance between Steve (Chris Pine) and Diana.
What really hooked me is that everyone of the main characters is a deep, multifaceted person. Diana is more than just a hero. Steve is more than just the comic relief love interest. Cheetah and Max Lord are both complex and relatable baddies who are orders of magnitude more interesting than any other movie villain the DCEU has managed to whip up so far.
A Few Missteps.
I thought WW’84 improved upon the first in myriads of ways – the pacing is tight, the story is consistent, the villains are engrossing, and the film balances its serious and whimsical elements better. However, it did have some drawbacks.
The biggest I noticed was a completely absent soundtrack. There’s no needle drop track from the 80’s to match the fantastic sound work of the trailer. Hans Zimmer’s score is hardly noticeable. Despite having created an effective theme for Wonder Woman that could stand up to the iconic horns of Richard Donner’s Superman or Tim Burton’s Batman, you never hear it. Several fight scene felt flatter because I kept expecting it, to no avail.
The CG is much better in Wonder Woman 1984 than either Justice League or the first WW, but it’s still not break-out levels yet. The swinging from lightning bolts was a blast, but the final battle with Cheetah left a bit to be desired.
Blast in the Past.
I enjoyed Wonder Woman 1984 quite a bit. In a year full of female led super hero flicks that failed to hit, it was a fantastic bright spot. Despite lacking a really immersive soundtrack, it kept my attention with really smart pacing and some damn fine action sequences. It payed off that interest with a solid story full of complex characters. I don’t know where the franchise goes from here, but I’m glad that it’s being handled by folks who really care about the people whose story they are telling.