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'Wonder Woman 1984' Review: Can a superhero have it all?

Patty Jenkins' long-awaited Wonder Woman sequel is an escapist blast while suffering from trying to do too much.

Gal Gadot as Diana Prince in "Wonder Woman 1984."
(Image: © Warner Bros.)

Our Verdict

A charming sequel that doesn't quite reach the bar set by Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot's first outing. Bold costumes, a strong cast, and exciting action sequences make this an enjoyable experience.

For

  • ✨Diana's lasso and accessories as weapons effects.
  • ✨Chris Pine's endless charm
  • ✨Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal's off-kilter energy.
  • ✨Costume designer Lindy Hemming taps into 1984 and delivers on the WW armor.
  • ✨The appeal for humanity and empathy.

Against

  • ✨A sagging middle might have you checking your watch.
  • ✨Steve Trevor's return is a bright spot, but it also impacts Diana's agency.
  • ✨The plot is overstuffed, which impacts Barbara's arc.

“Greed is good” is the unofficial catchphrase capturing the excess of a decade drenched in capitalist ideals from Reaganomics to thriving mall culture. It doesn’t matter that this is a shortened version of Gordon Gekko’s (Michael Douglas) Wall Street speech in 1987 because it speaks to the lurid aspect of a period that gave birth to MTV, Dallas, and the leg warmer accessorized aerobics craze. Wonder Woman 1984 is awash with shiny candy-color images tapping into a desire to have it all — whether flaunting the hottest fashion trends or owning the flashiest car. 

Women have long been plagued with the “having it all” question, which in the world of Sex and the City means a career versus family (or both) debate. In the case of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), her version of this question is shaped not by children but rather pitting her superhero responsibilities with a slice of happiness. In Patty Jenkins’ second standalone Wonder Woman outing, yearning is a dominant theme in a narrative that takes on too much while still serving up enjoyable escapism in the process.

As with every blockbuster slated for March onward, the road to release has been a bumpy one with several rescheduled dates due to the global pandemic. Streaming on HBO MAX (December 25) was not how anyone foresaw this follow-up to the 2017 global smash — nothing about this year has met expectations. Arriving at a time when escapist fantasy is a balm to real-world turbulence, the small-screen might reduce some of the spectacle, but WW84 is at its best when it digs into the personal moments exploring humanity. Catching up with Diana nearly 70 years after the events in the first movie, the world has changed a lot since her first taste beyond the cloaked shores of Themyscira. 

Working at the Smithsonian in Washington DC, Diana has a closet packed full of stylish high-waisted pants, belted duster coats, and leopard print heels. Rather than falling into extreme fashion fads, returning costume designer Lindy Hemming sticks to the draped garments that tie back to the first film (as well as Diana's contemporary Parisian wardrobe). Despite the flashy apartment, cool job, and sartorial savvy in a decade that produced many questionable trends — shown in all their glory during the mall sequence — the movie finds Diana still stuck on her beau who sacrificed himself for the greater good at the end of Wonder Woman. The appearance of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) has not been kept secret, though we will refrain from revealing the specifics behind his seemingly miraculous return. 

Steve Trevor was the rare superhero love interest who isn't threatened by his girlfriend’s extraordinary abilities. A short-lived union, the couple exuded a charm that had fans clamoring for more. Pine’s return is shown in the trailer, which sees the pair indulge in a romantic stroll with DC landmarks providing the picture-perfect backdrop. Now Diana is the one showing Steve how to dress appropriately for the era switching out the Selfridges department store 1918 makeover montage for a fanny pack accessorizing fashion show. Again, the trailer teased this particularly fun sequence that highlights Steve’s “man-out-of-time” role — while also pointing to Pine’s ability to wear anything and make it look good.

Serving up wide-eyed wonder, the interactions between this couple possess oodles of heart and humor. However, for all the joy derived from these interactions, this storyline points to a weakness in the overall pacing. Too much time is spent mooning over the dreamy pilot and it reduces Diana to a woman defined by the man who died over 60 years before. When Steve remarks "it's like not one day has passed," this shouldn’t mean that her heart is also stuck in WWI. It is a testament to their chemistry but the positioning of this plot gives short shrift to Kristen Wiig as Diana’s nerdy new colleague at the Smithsonian. 

The friend-to-enemy plot is a superhero staple, which Jenkins turns to (in a script she co-wrote with Geoff Johns and David Callaham) in this portrayal of Dr. Barbara Minerva. Delivering awkward nervous energy that counters Diana’s friendly-yet-distant work persona, the early scenes with this pairing lay the groundwork that gets lost in the various subplots. Barbara responds to her co-worker with starry envy, assuming Diana has everything and then some. Part of this is down to her chic closet, which includes a recurring theme of impossible-to-walk-in high heels — adding to the long-running footwear debate that Jurassic World kicked off five years ago. Here they represent an image of effortlessness with Barbara’s abilities linking to fashion, as well as strength. Women having it all doesn’t just mean career and family, but also the way she is viewed by society. There are some interesting moments that involve catcalling and harassment, but once again this gets lost among everything else the film is commenting on.

Juggling Barbara’s transformation with TV personality and oil tycoon villain Max Lord’s (Pedro Pascal) — yes, he resembles someone familiar — is part of the overstuffed timeline. One aspect to embrace is Pedro Pascal’s commitment to portraying a chaotic cheesy businessman who boldly tells the world, "Anything you want. Anything you dream of, you can have it!" This focus on Max Lord does overshadow Barbara’s development and it is better when the pair share scenes. Early on there are some very fun moments between Pascal and Wiig that make the most of the shared off-kilter energy coupled with his excess.

Charming performances do make up for some of the plot misfires while there are impressive action sequences that take advantage of Diana’s accessories including the Lasso of Truth and her various hardware — a running theme of hating guns is part of Diana’s overall ethos on not hurting the innocent. Reflecting the 1984 of the title, there are aspects that read like a love letter to filmmaking from this era (although some imagery of the Middle East is questionable). Nods to not only the first movie but the Wonder Woman comics will no doubt please fans, and Jenkins has crafted an entertaining ride that succeeds despite shortcomings.

Wonder Woman 1984 will hit HBO Max December 25th, 2020.