What price are you willing to pay to have your greatest wish granted? Is that price too high to pay? And what are the unintended consequences of your wish coming true? These are the central questions of “Wonder Woman 1984”, out now on HBO Max for the next month. A far more introspective film than the original “Wonder Woman” but an enjoyable film nonetheless.
Patty Jenkins managed to capture the decadent and abrasively loud 1980s perfectly in this film. We find Diana living among humanity and covertly helping people (which is a bit of a retcon from her statement in “Batman V Superman” that she had abandoned helping the world after the first World War). Setting the film in the middle of the Cold War world is a fitting place for Diana, who is still dealing with the loss of her allies from the first film. The photo collection shown at the beginning of the film reveals that Diana stayed with all of her compatriots, including Etta. But we find her in a lonely place, bereft of any real attachment to the world around her.
Gal Gadot continues to shine as Diana Prince, bringing vulnerability and power to a role that requires a fair amount of both. At least in the animated films that DC has produced over the years, Wonder Woman’s main focus is on her combat prowess and warrior nature. This film takes time to examine who Diana is, which at this point in her story is someone who is still dealing with the loss of her first love. She appears distant and aloof, until she forms a friendship with Barbera Minerva (aka Cheetah, although not referred to by that name in the film).
Kristen Wiig is primarily known as a comedic actress and a damn good one at that but here she gets to flex her dramatic chops (with some awkward comedy moments at the beginning). I enjoyed watching these two women work off of each other. In a way, they are both trying to find their place in a world that doesn’t really see them for who they really are.
A common criticism of the original “Wonder Woman” is that the villains were lacking and the third act of the film didn’t mesh well with the first two acts. This film does not suffer from that problem. Both of the “villains” are relatable and three-dimensional people. Pedro Pascal knocks it out of the park as Maxwell Lord, the kind of sleazy TV huckster that was ubiquitous in the 1980s. Lord is not a terrible person but he makes terrible decisions. As mentioned above, Kristen Wiig isn’t playing a villain so much as she’s playing someone who finally has what they believe they’ve always wanted and isn’t willing to give that up.
And that is the heart of this movie: We all want certain things because we think they will bring us fulfillment but ultimately, they don’t. The film drops this anvil particularly hard on the audience and that’s not a criticism. There’s an earnestness to the message that works because this is a Wonder Woman film. Diana, for all her power and beauty, wants to see the best in humanity and that endearing quality is necessary in storytelling. Patty Jenkins crafted a popcorn film with heart, which is something to praised. For a moment, forget the set piece action sequences (which are interesting and enjoyable to watch). The best moment in the film is the ending, when Lord (and thru him, the world) is confronted with the truth of their desires and the cost those desires have caused the world around them. It’s heavy-handed but sometimes, it needs to be to get the point across.
I enjoyed the first Wonder Woman film immensely and this one was a worthy sequel to the first. For some, it may not be their cup of tea, since it does take nearly an hour for the film to really get into the meat of its plot. But the moments before then are important to show who these characters are and where the breaks in their psyches are taking them, which makes the ending work that much better.