Film Review: Wonder Woman 1984

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★★★☆☆

It’s nearly seventy years after Diana of Themyscira aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) saved the world from the ravages of war. Now, among the day-glo leotards and crisp white leg warmers of the 1980s, her biggest fight is the conflict between her desires and her duty.

Remember when DC’s answer to the colour and fun of Marvel’s Avengers et al was relentless grim-darkness and an adolescent approach to ‘mature’ storytelling? When the colour palettes of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman ran the full spectrum from miserable gunmetal grey to muddy brown sludge? Praise the gods, then, for this new crop of DC pictures, fully embracing the vibrancy, the silliness, and my goodness the fun of their source material.

Returning to the director’s chair after her respectable 2017 entry, Patty Jenkins imbues the world of her WW84 with startling colour – both visual and tonal. In the first film, Jenkins paid light homage to the Richard Donner Superman films of the 1970s and 80s, but her mall sequence – in which Diana is introduced into the world of 1984 – could have been lifted straight from them.

There’s such simple delight in seeing a hero do what they used to be known for: foiling a small time robbery by swinging around with a great big grin on her face. It’s goofy, it’s fun, and it’s squarely aimed at a family audience. In short, it’s what films based on children’s comics should be at their core and it feels like something we’ve been missing for some time. Returning, too, from the first film is Chris Pine’s dreamy pilot Steve, brought into the present through a means too fun to spoil here: but oh, boy, is it neat.

The natural chemistry that the pair had in Wonder Woman 2017 is just as effervescent here, deepened by Diana’s pain at having lost him for all these years. Steve’s return also hearkens the film’s central conflict which, like the rest of the adventure, treads that fine line between clarity and complexity. The pull between what she wants and her duty to the rest of the world is an organic part of the story, weaved throughout the screenplay; the result is real emotional investment and a satisfying, even thrilling payoff.

Less successful is the subplot with Diana’s new friend, Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Wiig herself is excellent, channelling Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman as she transforms from shy geologist to prowling apex predator. Ultimately, however, Jenkins’ Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham’s screenplay falls back on the ‘nerd who got too much power and became evil’ trope that we’ve seen a dozen tiresome times before, resulting in a very unsatisfying, dramatically weightless third-act clash with Diana.

Along with Diana’s relationship with Steve, all the film needs is the conflict with Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord. He’s a huckster addicted to promising the earth to his credulous followers and now in possession of a magical, wish-granting stone, actually able to do it. If it wasn’t obvious enough already, one character actually says out loud that this is a monkey’s paw situation, speaking to both the consumerism of the 1980s and the catastrophic consumption of our own age.

There are lines uttered, too, about the truth always winning over cheaters, which though clunky do result in a climax that is for once resolved in a manner other than by punching things. WW84 is far from perfect: its length and fumbling of Minerva’s arc are chief among its sins, but equally there are no denying its simple, vibrant charms. Much like Christopher Reeves as Superman, Gal Gadot simply is Wonder Woman – and this latest entry is undoubtedly her most fun, spectacular and charming yet.

Christopher Machell