REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN 1984 is a great throwback to the grandeur of the epic superhero film of the 1980s


Director Patty Jenkins channels the Salkind-produced Christopher Reeve Superman films in this bombastic and bigger-than-life follow-up to 2017’s Wonder Woman

The opening lines of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN 1984 speak to the power of nostalgia and childhood, a time when everything seems possible and nothing seems beyond the limitless horizon ahead of you. In many ways, WONDER WOMAN 1984 is the living embodiment of this promise, a film that would feel at home on your VHS shelf next to the Richard Donner Superman films and the Tim Burton Batman film as the iconic definition of that character for that generation.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 kicks off on the island of Themyscira, as a young Diana learns that heroism can never be born from lies; a true hero is defined by truth, and only then can you succeed. Flash forward to 1984, as we see Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in all her glory saving people and foiling crimes accompanied with a bombastic score reminiscent at times of the epic John Williams Superman fanfare. Diana has made a life for herself in Washington D.C. after immigrating from England after World War 1 and now works at the Smithsonian Institution as a cultural anthropologist and archeologist. It is here that she meets a new hire, an awkward gemologist named Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a sort of throwback to the types of characters that Richard Pryor or Jim Carrey might have played in a superhero movie back in the 1980s or 1990s. Barbara is meek, nerdy, but well-intentioned and good-hearted. Barbara and Diana strike up a friendship; one where Diana is taken with Barbara’s good-heart, while Barbara sees Diana as the definition of sexy and cool and all that she aspires to be. Taking advantage of Barbara’s need to be liked is Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a millionaire old speculator known more for his obnoxious television commercials than his financial acumen. Barbara receives a citrine gem from a robbery that Diana foiled to identify its origin; one that Lord wants for his own purposes as it possesses mystical properties. These properties seem to be along the lines of monkey’s paw; they can bring your deepest dreams to reality; like Barbara’s desire to be just like Diana, or Diana’s yearning for her one great love, but at what cost? Especially when Lord’s yearning for power makes his need to fulfill his quest for power an unyielding one.

The basic premise of Wonder Woman 1984 feels a lot like that of the 1984 Supergirl movie; with the citron gem having elements in common with that film’s MacGuffin, the Omegahedron, in terms of the power and magic it can wield. But that is in many ways a good thing. WONDER WOMAN 1984 pays deliberate homage to the superhero film of yesteryear, with Wonder Woman very much recast here as an aspirational hero in the mold of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. We see kids look at her with wonder and awe in various action setpieces throughout the film and these really work. Gal Gadot has the same kind of charismatic charm as Reeve did and the film’s elements play to that heavily with great success. Gadot’s Wonder Woman struggles with the lesson of relying on truth to show her what a hero can and should be. This is mirrored in the film’s antagonist, Lord, whom Pedro Pascal makes into a compelling villain whose motivation you can see and feel. Lord came up from nothing and wants to be someone his young son Alistair can be proud to see as his father. However, as Lord seizes more and more power, this desire warps, and all he wants is more. It’s too Pascal’s believability that he turns Lord into a sympathetic character, not unlike Andy Serkis’ turn as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings franchise; one that we want to see redeemed. Wiig as Minerva makes a compelling secondary antagonist as she becomes an anti-Wonder Woman in her turn as Cheetah, one whose moral compass is twisted by her wish. Wiig does well with her turn as a supervillain, although her CGI apex predator alter ego seems a bit much and is somewhat unnecessary to the overall plot. Much like Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, Chris Pine serves as Diana’s anchor to the human world and he is determined to help Diana as much as he can despite the circumstances that brought him to these modern times that he finds himself in. Pine and Gadot effectively shift places from this film to the original, as Pine is now the fish out of water in a world he doesn’t know. But their chemistry helps drive the film and he becomes responsible for inspiring her to drive on and his passion for flight is responsible for one of the film’s best moments (and the best use of the orchestral track Adagio In D Minor since Danny Boyle’s film Sunshine).

Overall, WONDER WOMAN 1984 is a high mark for the DCEU shared film universe. Patty Jenkins throwback doesn’t feel like nostalgia mining, but using the milieu of a simpler time to tell the type of moralistic tale you would see in a film like Donner’s Superman, one where the strength of truth, love, and justice can inspire mankind to change their way and triumph over evil. It’s a lesson that still rings true and one that works very well in this film. WONDER WOMAN 1984 was worth the wait in that regard.