The news that Warner Bros would be simultaneously releasing their upcoming slate in cinemas and HBO Max shook the entertainment world, although most headlines buried the fact that this was a US-only deal. In the UK, this week’s sequel to Wonder Woman is still a cinema event, and a welcome one after months of scant offerings. But after all the industry talk, is it worth the wait?
Wonder Woman 1984, as the title implies, finds Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) living in the early 80s, nearly seventy years after the events of the first film. Working as a senior anthropologist at The Smithsonian, she befriends her kind but awkward colleague Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Ann comes across a curious stone, which claims to grant wishes.
Assuming the stone to be fake, both Ann and Diana unwittingly wish on the stone and find that their wishes are granted. Ann wishes to be exactly like Diana, but gets more than she bargained for when she starts displaying awesome powers. Diana’s wish is also granted, but she soon learns that it comes at the cost of something precious to her. To make matters worse, the stone is stolen by desperate businessman Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), who acquires the stone’s magic in order to gain power for himself. With the world at stake, Diana must choose between her heart and her duty.
Running at roughly the same time as the 2017 movie, this sequel doesn’t have an origin story to worry about and so packs a lot in. Returning director Patty Jenkins manages to balance four key characters well, giving Wiig and Pascal interesting journeys without sacrificing any time with our star.
The plot, however, begins to lose its way as time goes on. The thread about the wishing stone feels silly in parts, like we’ve stepped into a DC-Aladdin crossover. While many superhero stories have a magic stone of some description (The Avengers had six of them), the lack of Hollywood pseudo-science to explain them makes it harder to suspend disbelief. The wishing device also leads to a rather overwhelming third act. Anything that can happen does, and as chaos reigns it is hard to keep up with how we got here, or how on Earth you resolve it.
While the narrative may take a walk on the wild side, for the most part the cast are solid. Wiig is interesting as a character who simply wants to be like Diana, to possess her confidence and power. It’s a relatable desire, even if Wiig’s great transformation involves taking off her glasses and going clothes shopping. A scene where the newly empowered Ann gets revenge on someone who harassed is particularly satisfying, although it does make it difficult to root against her when she eventually wanders to the dark side.
Gadot still embodies the role, being everything you want in a superhero, even during the film’s more outlandish moments. There’s more comedy this time around, and a personal dilemma where Diana refuses to sacrifice the only thing she has ever wanted for the greater good, and it’s refreshing to see a slight crack in her normally flawless armour.
Now, let’s talk about the return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). It’s been featured in set photos, trailers and everything else to do with the film’s promotion, so it’s not much of a spoiler to say he’s back and it has something to do with the wishing stone. Pine’s chemistry with Gadot is as strong as ever, but he’s a lot goofier this time around. The comedy of a man from 1918 marvelling at the “future” of the 80s is laid on thick, with the actor required to mug for laughs on more than one occasion. Mainly he’s there to give Diana something to lose, and to remind her of her true destiny. Sweet, but hardly jaw-dropping.
Enjoying his time without a helmet, The Mandalorian star Pascal puts a lot of energy into Lord, a con artist who gets the chance to be the real deal. He puts a desperation into his performance that makes him more than a cackling baddie, and there’s a sense of purpose to everything he does. A thick South American accent will also help Star Wars fans separate this from the man we see protect Baby Yoda every week.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a step above most DC Universe films, but shares its habit of having too many ideas thrown at the screen at once. Best enjoyed as a light piece of wish fulfilment for a world that could do with saving, it will probably be better remembered for the circumstances of its release than its impact on the genre.