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‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (review)

In 2017, Wonder Woman had her long overdue big screen debut, and the Amazonian princess’ first theatrical outing was a breath of fresh air after a handful of DC offerings that had left much to be desired.

Since Wonder Woman imbued this cinematic franchise with some much-needed heart and hope, the majority of the subsequent DC films took at drastic turn towards a brighter and bolder style with the entertainingly ludicrous Aquaman, the warm and witty Shazam!, and Margot Robbie’s passion project, Birds of Prey.

However, while Patty Jenkins’ first effort charmed audiences around the world with its warmth and sincerity, 2017’s Wonder Woman nonetheless still suffered from a very formulaic approach to the genre and woefully underdeveloped villains, which left many wondering if it was merely the novelty of finally seeing Wonder Woman lead a cinematic release that had ensured the film’s success.

Thankfully, Wonder Woman 1984 does not disappoint, but instead cements that the character is in incredibly safe and capable hands with Jenkins. From the impressive action set pieces of the opening sequence on Diana’s native Themiscyra to the first look at the 1980s setting with a bright, slapstick-filled action sequence that literally winks at the camera, the playfulness of the early parts of the film easily reminds one of the classic Christopher Reeve Superman films.

That is not to say that the film is merely shallow fun, as the bright beginning quickly turns out to be a worthwhile juxtaposition for the direction of rest of the film.

Here, the fate of the world truly hangs in the balance, with the filmmakers utilizing the political tensions of the 1980s to ensure the film has a degree of gravitas that is rare for the genre. This in turn also emphasizes why the film is set in 1984 rather than present day, as the mix of the excess associated with the decade and its Cold War paranoia proves essential for the narrative.

Unlike its predecessor, the evil that our heroine must defeat in her second cinematic solo adventure also evades the dreaded trap of becoming yet another tired boss fight against a lackluster, run-of-the-mill villain. While Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord is certainly dastardly and Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah is unmistakeably ferocious, they are also tragic, and the true antagonist of Wonder Woman 1984 is instead something of a more metaphysical nature.

Similarly, Diana is also much more vulnerable than we have come to expect, which reinforces her humanity and adds additional tension to the action sequences in the middle of the film. As such, both our heroes and villains are therefore significantly more compelling than most of their ilk, which makes the film emotionally impactful in a deeply satisfying way.

In terms of the acting, Gal Gadot’s performance is a clear improvement over her first time around, and it is delightful to see her spar with Chris Pine once more as he makes a welcome return as Steve Trevor. And while one could again argue if a mere human is much use as a sidekick to a demigoddess, it quickly becomes clear that Diana needs Steve not only because of her love for him, but also because of their dynamic as a problem-solving duo, which is especially imperative due to the challenges Diana faces in the film.

Kristen Wiig works the full gamut of her acting capabilities from her trademark awkward comedy to a smoldering intensity that underlines how she gradually loses sight of her humanity. This makes her character arc a well-rounded contrast to that of Diana, but as much as Wiig makes for a good Cheetah, it is Pedro Pascal who ultimately steals the show.

The Mandalorian star becomes more of a “Ham-dalorian” as he expertly channels his inner Nicolas Cage with a performance that is delightfully unhinged. However, as deliriously over-the-the-top as his performance largely is, Pascal also ensures to remind the audience that he is a highly competent actor with an impressive range. Anchoring the more absurd aspects of his character in the deeply human faults of the man behind the metaphorical mask of Maxwell Lord’s cheesy grin, Pascal makes him thoroughly compelling and the reasons for his villainy understandable.

Wonder Woman has always been a beacon of truth and humanity, and much like the sincerity of how the filmmakers approached the Amazonian demigoddess saturated the first film, the successor further fleshes out why this cornerstone character of DC Comics remains relevant. Wonder Woman 1984 serves not only as a reminder of the particular sense of wonder associated with older live action adaptations of DC Comics’ roster, it also reminds us why these superheroes are at their most powerful when they show the most human aspects of their character.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

Wonder Woman 1984 arrives in theaters and on HBO Max Christmas Day

*  *  *  *  *

Produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, Stephen Jones
Screenplay by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, David Callaham
Story by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns
Based on Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

 

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