VOD film review: Wonder Woman 1984
Ivan Radford | On 13, Jan 2021
Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal
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“Anything you can dream of, you can have it.” That’s the promise of Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) in Wonder Woman 1984 – and, with the film now arriving on UK screens more than a year since originally planned, just the chance to hear him say that will be dream come true enough for fans. And there are many fans out there, after 2017’s rousing solo debut for the DC hero. Director Patty Jenkins follows that blockbuster with something defiantly open-hearted, leaning into the hopeful nature of its emblematic leading lady. If sequels come unstuck by dreaming bigger, Wonder Woman 1984 succeeds (mostly) by focusing on being happy with what you’ve got.
We catch up with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in – you guessed it – the 1980s, where she works for the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, specialising in cultural anthropology. She spends her days in the office alone, goes out to restaurants alone and, at night, pines over photos of pilot Steve (Chris Pine) alone. When a strange artefact comes into the museum’s possession, Diana crosses paths with archaeologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), both of them intrigued by its supposed magical powers.
They hit it off immediately, and Jenkins’ script (co-written with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham) finds its signature charm in the way it chooses to spend time getting to know them, but also spend time letting them get to know each other – their friendship is more than just comic book conventions being fulfilled, and the way Diana singles out Barbara’s strengths, despite her awkward, skittish exterior, brings welcome nuance to the kind of characters who would normally be two-dimensional and dismissed.
Their dynamic also sets the stage for the rest of this morality fable, which echoes some of the sunlit warmth of Christopher Reeve’s Superman (and not just because of the gorgeously uplifting airborne sequences). Where cinema’s original Man of Steel was an icon to inspire others, Barbara finds Diana – and Wonder Woman – aspirational, rather than inspirational, and instead covets her power and agility. But before we can worry about the dangerous consequences of such thinking, we’re distracted by another wish seemingly come true: the unexpected appearance of Steve in Diana’s life once more.
If there were any doubt about the ranking of Chrises, Pine swiftly puts that debate to rest with a winning turn that immediately resurrects the chemistry he and Gadot had back in 2017. From his fashion choices (two words: bum bag) to their goofy muddling through set pieces, they’re a wonderfully entertaining double-act – it’s no wonder that the film takes the time out from busting blocks to share in the simple joy of them watching fireworks.
By this point, you might be wondering how Wonder Woman 1984 intends to juggle all of these things with the aforementioned Max Lord and his capitalist insistence that anyone can achieve their dreams. There’s something wonderfully elegant and bold about a mainstream studio tentpole flick that essentially makes human nature its villain. With its excess-loving society, driven by greed, accumulation, lies and pinstripe suits, this is perhaps the definitive blockbuster of the Trump era – Pedro Pascal is clearly having a ball as the smooth-talking, but frantically desperate, would-be tycoon, his eyebrows and hair jumping from excitement to panic every few seconds.
But by centring its action on shooting down notions of wealth, envy and exploiting others, Wonder Woman 1984 also struggles to get much momentum or drive going – abstract concepts, no matter how noble, don’t a rollercoaster ride make. Spending so long on setting up its themes in the first act, and struggling to use them as a springboard for the mid-section, the two-and-a-half-hour runtime can feel rather intimidating.
Fortunately, the cast are on hand to inject some energy into proceedings, and from Gadot’s poised, confident woman to Wiig’s initially gawky counterpart, there’s a lot of fun to be had, even if there isn’t always a lot of plot to go with it. Moments such as a bright morning shopping mall showdown or a cat-calling correction late at night are genuinely thrilling – Patty Jenkins wrangles a set piece with the best of them – and an opening sequence that brings back Robin Wright’s Antiope and Connie Nielsen’s Hippolyta immediately reminds you why Wonder Woman is such a distinctive franchise. A sequel that lives up to the first film? That dream may ultimately prove unobtainable, but there’s no harm in being satisfied what we do have instead.
Wonder Woman 1984 is available to rent for 48 hours at a Premium VOD price of £15.99.