To use the catchphrase of floundering oil tycoon wannabe and chief Wonder Woman 1984 villain Maxwell Lord, “Life is good, but it can be better!”. It’s a very nice (and very 80’s) way of looking at things but when Diana Prince’s first proper sequel arrived life wasn’t that good at all. As one of the many cinematic casualties of 2020, WW84 was eventually launched onto HBO Max in a controversial movie that many saw as the grim sounding of a death gong for the future of cinema going while it was released theatrically in the UK ONE DAY after yet another COVID related lockdown. In short, seeing Patty Jenkins’ superhero love letter to the 80’s in it’s optimal form (ie. a cinems screen the size of a council flat in Dagenham) seemed to be a rare occurrence indeed; could Themyscira’s favourite daughter newest adventure overcome such distractions as tea breaks, trips to the toilet and the unregulated usage of mobile phones?
We catch up with casual godess Diana Prince as she divides her time between working at the Smithsonian and flitting around Washington DC in her (slightly) more glamorous guise, righting wrongs and thwarting robberies with her nifty Lasso Of Truth, her boomerang tiara and that cool sliding leg sweep she does in every movie.
However, her life carries an aura of sadness as she still mourns her lost love and World War One hero, Steve Trevor, but a run in with a magic crystal somehow brings him back to her in a morally problematic way that neither of the two leads seem interested to broach thanks to them being far to busy boning and going to museums as such. Meanwhile, the crystal has also been eyed up by two other parties; Diana’s meek friend Barbara, who unwittingly wishes to be more like Diana and desperate businessman Maxwell Lord who deliberately absorbs the trinket’s power in order to become a one-man vending machine for wishes. Using this power to rebuild his collapsing business and benignly remove any one in his path, he carelessly starts causing havoc across the globe with his action having major political ramifications that, if left unchecked, could lead to World War III.
As Diana and Steve follow in Lord’s wake trying to locate the crystal, Diana finds that her wish is causing her to have a progressive case of the Superman II’s which means her super strength and resilience is starting to crap out at the worst possible time. Can she possibly hope to convince an 80’s business man to give up unlimited power (good luck with that) when a jacked up Barbara, drunk on her own empowerment, will stop at nothing to protect her wish?
For a while there, it was looking like things for the DCEU were looking up in a big way. Acolytes of Zack Snyder were getting his fabled version of Justice League, Black Adam was finally announced (featuring the Justice Society no less) and at least two Batmen where gonna mix it up in a time-fucking Flash movie and everything was going to be set with Wonder Woman 1984 leading the charge. Multiple actor scandals aside, the first stumbling block has turned out to be the fact that WW84 is probably the most aggressively “fine” movie you’re likely to see this year, which turns out to be somewhat of a major source of frustration because it’s also extraordinarily clear what Patty Jenkins was obviously trying to achieve.
Taking a day-glow, positive approach that contains all the cynicism of a newborn baby is, for a lack of a better term, ballsy to the extreme. Casting off the wide-eyed war veteran of the previous movie (not to mention the bitter, brawling warrior of Batman Vs Superman) to showcase Wonder Woman as a full fledged superhero with a strict no-kill policy that makes Christian Bale’s Batman look like Pol Pot, the movie strives to have the innocent, carefree feel of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, but in many ways Jenkins seems to have done too good a job. Veering between being sweetly heartfelt to cringingly goofy often in the middle of a scene, you can’t fault the filmmakers reasoning, but the result often piles on more unwanted cheese than a day dreaming waiter dispensing parmesan on a meal.
Sometimes a lush helping of cheeky cheese can work wonders for a superhero flick if tinged with the correct balance of darkness – Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man being a prime example – but WW84 does it at the expense of the villainous plot carrying any real weight leaving the renewed relationship between Gal Godot and Chris Pine to carry the film. The two leads are up to it but the manner that Trevor is revived is clever, but also raises a fair few uncomfortable questions that marrs it slightly. Still, the role reversal of Steve now being the stranger in a weird new world of parachute pants and body popping is possibly the best thing in the movie.
Much like the first movie, the villians are weak, but still an improvement but Perdro Pascal plays his power obsessed business man rather big, which he makes work and certainly fits the film he’s in (barely) but will most likely throw a fair few viewers off. Who knows, maybe all that time under the Mandalorian’s helmet gave him a strong desire to emote like he’s in panto…
In comparison, Kirsten Wiig fares a little better as Barbara but is saddled with the overused nerd-becomes-angry-do-badder plot seen in Batman Forever and Amazing Spider-Man 2 which eventually sees her devolve into one of the jellicle nightmares from Cats for a unsatisfying climatic (and literal) cat fight.
What’s most weird about WW84 is it’s noticable attempts to give out no real references to the DCEU whatsoever despite of the curious fact that Hans Zimmer repurposes some of his old score from the opening from Batman Vs. Superman which pops up for no real reason aside from they used it as a temp track that simply stuck. It’s a neat callback, I guess, but it only highlights the fact that in it’s efforts to remain defiantly it’s own thing WW84 not only feels removed from it’s connected universe (not exactly a bad thing) but it feels tonally alien to it’s own predecessor.
Still, Patty Jenkins should be commended for the concept, if not the result. An opening flashback dedicates a massive blockbuster set piece around a 10 year old girl which is fairly novel for the genre and the overwhelming message of hope and good feelings the film is trying to convey us admirable even if the 80’s setting feels more like a colourful gimmick than a legitimate setting.
Add some underachieving CGI to the mix and a suprising lack of action located within it’s hefty running time (the bloody thing only has one superhero in it and it’s only ten minutes shorter as Avengers: Infinity War!) and it seems that the rot is already setting in on the most endearing character in the DCEU to date.
Not exactly a blunder, but definitely not much of a Wonder either, once again the world of this particular shared universe seems divided.
So Sunder Woman, then?
Oh, screw you, look it up…