REVIEW: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

Boyce Rucker, Contributing Writer

After a decade of big-budget superhero films filling cinema seats, Warner Bros. decided to take the first step in delivering the first big-budget superhero film of the year with the release of “Wonder Woman 1984” in both theaters and the HBO Max streaming platform. 

Pedro Pascal as Max Lord in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Wonder Woman 1984. ( (Warner Bros. Pictures/TNS))

In the past, Warner Bros. has faced difficulties trying to establish a cinematic universe of DC characters, ranging from poor critical reception to dramatic changes in development for various projects. The success of the 2017’s “Wonder Woman” signaled a great and hopeful outlook for future DC films, particularly the sequel. Rather than matching up to the greatness of its predecessor, or even the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Wonder Woman 1984” feels like another step backwards for the DC Extended Universe.

The vibrant 1984-set sequel follows Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) as she’s settled into living a civilian lifestyle among humanity in Washington, D.C. while serving as the city’s mysterious but beloved protector in her alter ego, Wonder Woman. During this time, she befriends fellow archaeologist, and soon-to-be enemy, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and faces off with power-seeking businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). In the most notable of returns, she reunites with a newly-revived Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), her love interest and former ally who sacrificed himself at the end of the previous film. Together, the two team up to face off with Minerva and Lord in a battle that holds consequences for the entire world.

In terms of narrative, the film presents a plot that’s reminiscent of the adventure found in Indiana Jones films and the optimism of the older Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. With a two and a half hour runtime, the film can feel unnecessarily long at times since the better part of the first hour is dedicated to exposition with not much action, aside from a campy opening sequence that avid comic book readers or fans of the character may enjoy. There’s also a lesser amount of action sequence as a whole, as the film moves at a much slower pace than the previous one, and only really finds its footing in the latter portion. 

UNCW Junior film major Shelby Watson says, “There are interesting themes of compassion and love which stay with you after watching the film, but a lot of other superhero films do not leave much impression other than ‘yay, the good guys won!’” Such love and compassion ties into the theme of needs and desires, and they certainly add more empathy compared to other superhero films since Wonder Woman stands out as a beacon of hope and empathy for many.

(TNS/ Warner Bros. Picture)

Many viewers, as UNCW Sophomore film major Megan Morley points out, can spot the film’s theme of female empowerment. This is especially prominent in the first act which features instances of Diana quickly dismissing the advances of several men while Minerva, through supernatural means, becomes the main object of attraction to several men and even beats a drunken assailant with her newfound abilities. The theme of female empowerment is to be expected in a Wonder Woman film, similar to how director Patty Jenkins injected it into the first film as an underlying theme amidst the WWI setting, except she brings it to the forefront here and uses the 1984 setting to her advantage to do so, as the time period saw the emergence of female icons in media and a fight against sexism.

Viewers can find enjoyment in the performances of the four leads. The film highlights Gal Gadot’s performance of Wonder Woman as the most definitive take on the character: she perfectly displays the character’s charisma, courage and emotional tenacity. Her depiction in this film is such a far cry from the colder version found in Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman” (2016) or the watered-down version seen in the jumbled theatrical cut of “Justice League” (2017). While this installment has several issues, one can see Gadot’s understanding and passion for the character under the direction of Jenkins, who shares the same passion. 

This performance is further enhanced by her chemistry alongside Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. Trevor undergoes a role-reversal this time around as he’s now a stranger to the world of 1984— in the same way Diana was a stranger to mankind in the original film. This unfamiliarity with the new world leads to the film’s most humorous and heartfelt moments, as the couple find themselves in dangerous predicaments where hard decisions must be made. For the scenes Trevor is featured in, we never get to see as much of him as before. Despite this, the individual performances of Gadot and Pine are outstanding and their chemistry is fresh enough to keep audiences engaged.

The most-widely anticipated role of this film would have to be Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah. The character takes a few cues from Jamie Foxx’s Electro in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) by undergoing a transformation of sorts after being viewed and treated wrongly for so long. Wiig does a great job of depicting this transformation from ally to villain and easily gains the audiences’ sympathy and attention. Unfortunately, the audience never really gets enough time to see her shine as a villain as she just makes way for Maxwell Lord. The role of Lord is one that Pedro Pascal is able to have fun with as he channels Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor while displaying moments of charm, menace and heartbreak. The character of Lord in the film feels more humanized and fleshed out than he was in the comics or previous adaptations, going beyond the typical sinister businessman archetype. The villains here are notable, but it doesn’t feel like Cheetah was given that much to do.

While the film itself doesn’t hold a candle to the original in terms of plot, action and themes, it does provide a hopeful message about humanity’s ability to show passion and empathy towards one another and the necessity behind it. This theme is exceptionally relevant in the year of 2020. The film acts as a showcase of the true strength and power behind the character of Wonder Woman beyond her super-abilities while holding true to her role in comic book history. “Wonder Woman 1984”  is an enjoyable ride for fans of the character that’s worth a watch during free time, but it feels like a step backwards for what’s been the DCEU’s strongest franchise so far.