Film review: ‘WONDER WOMAN: 1984’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’
Despite its dodgy Xena Warrior Princess-like opening scene and eventual capitulation into super hero vs villain smackdown cliché, the first Wonder Woman (2017), starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins, was a breath of fresh air. Not only did it feature a female super hero but with a quirky sense of humour, it was a welcome antidote to the grey, po-faced tedium of just about every film in the DC cinematic universe.
The much-anticipated follow-up, Wonder Woman 1984 has many of the same qualities and pitfalls as the first film but with a very obvious political angle, references to 80’s blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and for better or worse, a greater willingness to crank up the melodrama to 11.
Here, the film transports Wonder Woman aka amazon warrior goddess Diana aka Diana Prince to 1984 where, in between bouts of crime busting and bad guy butt kicking, she works as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute. Despite being a superhero who also has a successful regular person career, Diana feels her life is empty having lost her lover with the superb bogan name of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in the first film. A remedy for her anguish appears to arrive when geologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) who idolises Diana, presents her with an ancient (and like many motifs in this film), phallic-looking crystal called the Dreamstone that, Diana discovers, can grant the holder one wish… even to restore life. When shonky 80’s businessman and would-be TV personality Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) sneakily acquires the Dreamstone, he uses it to quickly ascend to a position of supreme power and begins wreaking havoc. It’s soon up to Wonder Woman to stop him and to combat and a newly transformed and dangerous Barbara.
As some may have already gathered, this film, through the character of Lord, clearly critiques the chaos of the Trump presidency. It’s a testament to the bizarreness of the Donald’s thankfully brief tenure in the Oval Office that he was able to so easily inspire the creation of a crazed super villain with dangerous magical powers.
Aside from any attempts at political commentary, this film, like all super hero movies, is mostly an outrageous collection of CGI-drenched action sequences and attempts at world and character building. As in the first film, the action sequences are fairly elaborate and draw on Wonder Woman’s range of powers such as super speed and strength and her arsenal of weapons which include the S and M accessory, the lasso of truth. That device, though, like many of the effects in this film is surprisingly fake-looking in this era of hyperreal CGI. Similarly, some of the sequences involving Wonder Woman running at super speed and flying through the air look hilariously clunky.
Set in 1984, this film is also a Gen X baiting nostalgia piece or at least starts off that way. There’s a vaguely amusing Austin Powers-like sequences as Steve, who’s been transported from the First World War era, tries to cope with horrendous 1980’s fashions. About half-way through, though, the film seems to forget about the 80’s parody and looks as if its set in the present day. Still, its brightly lit cinematography is pleasingly reminiscent of the late 70’s and early 80’s Richard Donner Superman movies.
As Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot is once again an impressive physical presence but with her blank expressions and mostly emotionless delivery, she doesn’t have a lot of charisma. Also, now more accustomed to the regular human world, she isn’t the funny fish out of water she was in the first film. As in the previous movie, Chris Pine is a goofier version of the typical matinee idol and he thankfully embraces the role with same energy and sense of the ridiculous this time but he doesn’t steal the film the way he did before. The always welcome Kristen Wiig does a fine job as the bookish Barbara who lets envy and insecurities turn her into a monster. Pedro Pascal vigorously chomps the scenery as the sweaty Maxwell Lord but he’s able to bring some dimension and vulnerability to an otherwise objectionable character.
Even within the limited context of super hero movies, this is hardly a revelatory film but it’s mostly fun, occasionally exciting and despite being set in the 80’s it is, in an odd way, an intriguing document of this strange time we’re living through.
Nick’s rating: ***
Genre: Super hero/ action/ drama.
Director(s): Patty Jenkins.
Release date: 26th Dec 2020.
Running time: 155 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show