Why was Wonder Woman 1984 set in, well, 1984? Was it because that era of genre movies was so special, with films like Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Splash, Indiana Jones, and others of that vein making their debuts that year? Was it because one film, in particular, Supergirl, was released in 1984? No, but those are certainly good theories. The facts of the title are 1984 just happened to be the height of the cold war and George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-four provided some prescient political and social warnings about our society that are relevant to our current time and the overall plot of this movie.
Yes, Wonder Woman 1984 has some overt political themes that may be triggering for some and when they work, they work well. Unlike their chief competitor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC movies aren’t just escapism. They all present a healthy dose of social and political commentary.
Early reviews of Wonder Woman 1984 compared the film to a Donner-era superhero movie. In geek land, this is a high compliment. Richard Donner practically invented the genre with 1978’s groundbreaking Superman The Movie. But THIS film is no Superman. What it is is that film’s follow-up Superman II (the Donner cut, not the Richard Lester-directed theatrical version.) It even contains some pretty obvious homages to that film. That isn’t a slam. Princess Diana’s 2017 World War I adventure set the bar so high that any sequel – and any superhero film in general – would struggle to exceed it. So this high-powered second entry should be reviewed on its own merits. Yes, Wonder Woman was inspiring and revolutionary and it packaged up its subversive feminism in a way that few were conscious of but 1984 is a comic book movie. All the magic and awe of seeing her for the first time is past. The character is established now and, dare I say, more human. The fish out of water theme of the first film has been flipped and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is now the displaced person trying to adapt to a strange new world. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) shows that no matter how powerful a woman is or in what era she lives, she has the same challenges to overcome.
Wait! Steve Trevor is back??? Didn’t he die last time around? Why yes, yes he did. But in comic books, no one important stays dead long. It’s up to the storyteller to make these resurrections believable and to serve the story’s ultimate goal. Wonder Woman 1984 could have easily taken the DC comics Lazarus Pit trope or borrowed the grandson plot device from the 1970s TV show, but Trevor’s reappearance happens, not as a convenient way to shoehorn Chris Pine into the movie, but to serve a very important theme of the film. It works well and doesn’t cheapen the poignant ending of the first film.
Wonder Woman 1984 begins with a prelude of a younger Diana, again portrayed by the darling Lilly Aspell training with Robin Wright’s Antiope and sets up the overall moral lesson of the film. In this sequence, Diana competes in a sort of Amazon olympiad where she’s taught a valuable life lesson. “No heroes were ever born from lies,” Antiope instructs. And, indeed, nothing good comes from cheating. The entire scene is one of the film’s highlights, an epic heart-pounding action sequence.
As you’ve already surmised, the time period of Wonder Woman 1984 is the 1980s with all the “me generation” selfishness of that era on display. The two big baddies of the film, Barbara Minerva/Cheetah (Kristen Wiig) and Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), are both paramount to this theme with the latter offering the possibility of getting everything you’ve ever wanted. It’s a potent drug with millions willing to take a hit. Cheetah is the perfect customer and Lord the consummate supplier. But as we see, it’s Diana who becomes the junkie here, at least for a while. First love never runs dry, they say, and when she sees the chance to have the love of her life back, she takes it. Without giving too much away about Max Lord, we’re all familiar with him already. He’s the slick politician, a power-hungry madman with analogies to what we’ve experienced over the last four years in the United States. Subtle yet obvious political undertones are very much in play here and really can’t or shouldn’t be avoided especially considering the movie’s cold war backdrop.
I wasn’t totally thrilled with how Cheetah was handled but the character is serviceable and sets up an important element of the film’s final act. Max Lord, however, steals the show as bad guys in these movies often do. Wonder Woman 1984 may suffer from having one too many villains. As we’ve seen in other superhero movies, packing in too many tends to weigh down a movie’s plot, and the film either feels crowded or the length of it is extended to compensate. That being said, Wonder Woman 1984 would have been a better movie if it was about 20 minutes shorter.
Speaking of Princess Diana and Steve Trevor, their chemistry is off the chain here. You ache for them. You remember your own first love, your first kiss, and you’ll find yourself wondering how much you’d be willing to pay and sacrifice to recapture that feeling. All CGI-powered superhero badassery aside, this the movie’s strongest element. But this IS a superhero movie and we came for the action. So how is it?
Apparently, director Patty Jenkins listens to fans and she made sure the final battles with the villains weren’t overly long. They were satisfying, the visual FX were mostly spot-on, but the message was the star of the film.
Hint: Stick around for the middle credits scene. You’ll be glad you did and kudos to the early reviewers for not giving it away, although I’d suspected something along those lines for a while now.
Wonder Woman 1984
A comic book movie with heart. Not as epic as the first, but what superhero movie can or ever will be?