Review: 'Wonder Woman 1984,' the blockbuster fit for a Blockbuster
Hera help me. All I wanted this year was to sit in a theater seat, order expensive food and watch a Chris Pine makeover montage on the big screen, right before Kristen Wiig destroyed the White House while dressed like an ensemble player in a Ryan Murphy period piece. But no. Divine forces conspired against me/the entire world.
Well, we still have “Wonder Woman 1984.” The rollout was cursed — get in line, rollout — and after many delays, and as the pandemic rages on, it’s out on Christmas Day. (It’s still showing in theaters, if you’re comfortable; the film also debuts for at-home viewers the same day on HBO Max.)
Director Patty Jenkins' 2017 “Wonder Woman” broke boundaries and boosted the box office. It also cemented star Gal Gadot’s Amazon warrior as an exemplar of cinematic superheroics. In the decades since Lynda Carter bounced bullets off her bracelets in the 1970s "Wonder Woman" TV show, comic book-inspired properties have boomed into billion-dollar gold mines. Gadot’s strong, serene take on Wonder Woman — one-third of DC Comics’ iconic trinity with Batman and Superman, dating back to before the U.S. entered World War II — was instantly definitive. Her performance, which blended fidelity to the source material with movie star charisma, hits the spot just like Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man.
No sophomore slump for Gadot in “Wonder Woman 1984.” It is a fun as Hades movie! It also does not make a lick of sense, which is technically fine, because it’s based on a comic book series where an Amazon princess from a hidden island of Greek warrior women fights an archaeologist-turned-”Cats” cosplayer and a psionically powered 1980s tycoon with a penchant for nosebleeds. Throughout this sometimes shaky but always thrilling cinematic translation, though, Gadot is as solid as the Parthenon.
After the events of the last movie — Ares defeated, lover boy pilot Steve Trevor dead — we find our immortal hero in comforting 1980s terrain. Criminals are pulling heists in the mall, breakdancers are pulling windmills outside museums and everyone’s trying to pull off fashions that fit like tents.
In scenes that really strike a chord in our year of solitude, we see that Wonder Woman’s a lonely soul. Tables for one. Steve’s watch prominently displayed in her apartment. As Diana Prince, she’s working as an archaeologist in Washington, D.C., along with mousy colleague Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). A strange artifact lands in their laps, with the power to grant wishes. Unfortunately for them and anyone hoping to make it to 1985, it also grabs the eye of TV-obsessed, ne’er-do-well businessman Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), who needs to make a very rich investor very happy, very quick.
TV-obsessed, ne’er-do-well businessman in the 1980s? Oh yeah, you’re picking up precisely what Jenkins is putting down.
And totally, there’s no point in having a wish-granting rock if you don’t use it as a plot device, I agree. Diana’s greatest hope is to see Steve (played by Pine) again. Barbara dreams of being as strong and special as her mysterious coworker. Truth-averse, aspiring “No. 1 man” Max just … wants. Our characters get their wishes, but that magic artifact has some fine print, and my dudes: You must always read the fine print on the magic artifact if you don’t want to get roped into a two-and-a-half-hour, world-threatening catastrophe.
Jenkins set out to make a capital-M Movie with “Wonder Woman 1984,” and she undeniably succeeded. Like any classic off the Blockbuster shelf — your “Back to the Future,” your “Indiana Jones” — this sequel comes with all the factory options, including seat warmers. Diana and Steve hop the globe to popcorn-munching glee, flying an invisible plane through fireworks and flipping over trucks in Egypt. Gadot and Pine’s chemistry is as easy and pyrotechnic as in the first film, checking off the romance box. We get scenery-smashing fight scenes, sympathetic bad guys with real pathos and even some Easter eggs for the nerds. And y’all! Chris Pine wears a fanny pack. You’ll never find me deducting points for giving people what they want.
Most of “Wonder Woman 1984” is a shiny, star-spangled spree with real heart and humor, avoiding some of its predecessor’s more dark-and-dour weak spots. So, feel that joy. Turn off your brain for a few minutes. It’s not gonna hurt.
But if you must turn on your brain — and I do understand the temptation — you’ll notice several hands waving in front of your eyes as Jenkins and co-plotter Geoff Johns try to distract you. Story points that made me cock my head like a Chihuahua include: What exactly is Max’s plan and why does it involve a large tube of light of indiscernible function? (Beats me.) What exactly is Wonder Woman’s plan to defeat him and why does she seem to be stopped by a strong gust of wind at a crucial moment? (Maybe Amazons are vulnerable to wind only when it’s created by mystical rocks.) Why did Warner Bros. spend money turning Kristen Wiig into a CGI cat person and then barely show us what she looks like? (No, this one I think I understand.)
But again: We are politely watching the very fun comic book movie that Santa brought despite a plague.
As previously mentioned, Wiig’s transformation into Cheetah, a storied nemesis from the comics, is less of a roar and more of a ruh-roh. But the former “Saturday Night Live” star, possessed of great sad clown energy, always has been more interesting outside of straight comedies (see also “The Skeleton Twins” and “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”), and “Wonder Woman 1984” is no different.
Aside from the incandescent Gadot, Pascal’s the MVP here. It would have been easy to simply ham it up as the personification of greed, but his turn as Max is so full of charm and pathos that you’d have a hard time slaying this monster, too.
Speaking of a tycoon turned demagogue, Jenkins was smart to position her film’s conflict as a battle between base desire and truth itself. “The truth is enough,” Wonder Woman implores as the action comes to a head and the world seems to be hearing only what it wants to hear. The theme’s resonance with our current moment is about as subtle as a giant wooden horse full of oily men in sandals.
But this is a year all about not getting what we want. It's nice to celebrate the value of facts and personal sacrifice, even if it's underlined in glowing yellow.
'Wonder Woman 1984'
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal
Director: Patty Jenkins
Rated: PG-13 for violence and sequences of action
Running time: 2 hours, 31 minutes
Watch: In theaters and streaming on HBO Max on Friday