In 2020, it’s hard to look at Wonder Woman 1984 completely objectively. For many, assuming they brave the cinemas to check out Patty Jenkins’ superhero sequel, the film may be the first new release they’ve seen at the multiplex in months.
For others (including those who watch the film on-demand) it may be even longer since they enjoyed a triple-A blockbuster, and within that context any upbeat, action-packed movie might impress more than it would have with a more crowded pack of competition.
Still, even with those caveats in mind I think in any year it would be impossible to dislike this movie. Rich, colourful, exciting and packed with great performances, Wonder Woman 1984 is a powerfully entertaining piece of superhero cinema, and a more than worthy successor to the smash-hit 2017 original.
Gal Gadot is as striking as ever in the lead role, the action scenes are fun and unusual and the film is gifted a tremendous villain in Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord, whose “greed is good”-style beliefs are a key theme of the finished film.
“You can have it all… you just have to want it,” he says at one point during the film’s conclusion. But what does Diana want most – and what is she willing to give up to get it?
Following a brief flashback to her younger days with the Amazons, we pick up with Diana’s story (unsurprisingly) in 1984, where the full excess and bloat of the decade is on full display and our titular hero is still in mourning following the sad death of her true love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in the last movie.
In the 70-odd years since her first adventure it’s suggested Diana has lived a solitary life, eschewing the company of humanity except those she secretly saves in her downtime. Soon she’s drawn to another lonely soul, Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva, a fellow museum employee who believably idolises Diana’s confidence while she’s overlooked by everyone around her.
Also on the board this time? A slightly sleazy billionaire and television personality named Maxwell Lord, who’s on the hunt for a magical artefact that can turn around his businesses and change the world forever. Oh, and the resurrected Steve Trevor, mysteriously returned to life and Diana after his noble sacrifice in World War One.
What follows is a bright and fairly fast-moving romp as Diana and Steve chase after a magic crystal, Barbara finds herself transformed into a more powerful, confident woman and Max gets his heart’s desire, which threatens the safety of everyone in the world as his plans spin wildly out of control.
Far from his taciturn performance in Disney+’s The Mandalorian, Pascal’s Lord is all flamboyance, charm and spectacle, and you may find yourself rooting for his schemes to succeed as Max ingeniously turns the world to his advantage. He’s a villain that’s easy to love, and a significant improvement on pretty much any bad guy seen in Warner Bros’ DC Movies universe to date.
Meanwhile Wiig also impresses as Barbara, whose gradual fall from grace is subtly played and faintly tragic as it subverts the classic ’80s movie makeover storyline (overlooked girl ditches the glasses and gets confident) to create something a little darker – though by the end of the film, her role does feel a little superfluous and mainly there to give Diana a physical threat to face.
Revealing too much more about the story delves into spoiler territory, but I will note that Wonder Woman 1984 is packed with more ’80s nostalgia than a Stranger Things marathon (and features an excellent day-glo action scene set in a mall that wouldn’t look out of place in Hawkins, Indiana), some genuinely emotional scenes and in one surprising twist, a Christmas-themed conclusion that might leave you feeling a little festive.
It’s also very funny in a charming and understated way, without the usual barrage of superhero quips (one character’s delivery of the line “But…. my …cows!” will stay with me forever), and ties up its central “you can’t have it all” message very neatly in Max and Diana’s final scenes.
It’s not a perfect film, of course. It’s a little long, and often takes great leaps of logic (in a single bound) which have the effect of leaving odd story points unexplained or underdeveloped. In particular Steve’s resurrection is tied to a bizarrely arbitrary set of circumstances (which I won’t spoil here), while a Spider-Man 2-esque subplot about Diana losing her powers seems to come and go depending on whether the film needs her to do something superheroic.
Still, when a film’s this fun it’s hard to complain too hard about these issues without it sounding like sour grapes. Overall Wonder Woman 1984 is fun, flashy and positive – the perfect capper to a year when the prospects of cinemas have felt anything but.
Wonder Woman 1984 is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 16th December, and in the US (and HBO Max) on December 25th. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.