Wonder Woman 1984: Learning to accept defeat
3 out of 5
Nowadays if you mention the name of Director Patty Jenkins, most people will now know her as the successful director of the 2017 saviour of the DC Cinematic Universe: the first female-led superhero film, Wonder Woman. For me, Patty Jenkins will also be the person who brought us the Oscar-winning Monster back in 2003. I gave the first outing for Diana, Princess of Thermyscira a "4 out of 5" rating. This time it's 3. In re-reading my review from over three years ago, I wonder was the extra star because this was a brighter, better film than the darkness of previous DC cinematic outings? Or was it because it was a tent-pole film led by a female hero? Maybe it was a combination.
Here we are in 2020, the strangest of years with minimal cinema releases and many "blockbusters" postponed to next year One wonders if this postponement of films will dilute anticipation and reduce audience size when films are eventually released. The new Bond film will be over 12 months late, people will have seen the many trailers, read many articles and I suspect a bit of apathy will have set in. But that's a topic for discussion for another time. For now though we are heading to the world of 1984: a world of break-dancing, day-glow colours, shoulder pads and rolled up suit sleeves - for it is these visual cues that tell us where the new Wonder Woman film is set.
In her debut, Wonder Woman faced a single foe, the Greek God of War, Ares. This time she is facing two foes, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Cheetah (Kristin Wiig). There are many Macguffins in the film. A Macguffin is a thing, an object, or a person in a film's story line that serves to move the plot along or provide motivation - it has little other purpose. This time story centres around the theft of an ancient relic with the power to grant wishes (someone should have spoken to Aladdin to find out how this might end). Kristin Wiig's character works in the Smithsonian and is tasked with studying the object and of course she makes a wish. Diana/Wonder Woman (once again played by Gal Gadot), who also works at the Smithsonian makes a wish too. Having let the camera play in her apartment earlier, showing us images of her long-dead love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) together with many wistful expressions, leaves us in no doubt as to what she wished for. Later, a con artist/business man, Max Overlord (played by Pedro Pascal with blonde highlights and sans his Mandalorian helmet) obtains the object and proceeds to make his wish. Without giving away any spoilers, chaos ensues as wishes are fulfilled and Armageddon approaches. As with all wish-fulfillment stories there is a price to be paid for getting your heart's desire and it is here that the moral of the story sits as each character has to learn to accept defeat.
Along the way there are many action set-pieces but also lots of talking and travelling. I think there is almost an hour of the films two and a half hour running time where we don't see Wonder Woman in her costume. There is a lot of detective work which reminded me of Moonlighting with Chris Pine doing his best Bruce Willis. Suffice to say, all ends well, the world is set to rights.
As I mentioned, maybe it was the expectation of the first film that carried me along, but I found this Wonder Woman outing a little baggy in the middle. Or maybe we are all a bit jaded of the three Act superhero film where we know we are always building to the big showdown in Act III. Jenkins does another great job in directing this one and her energy is tangible in every frame. This time around she also shares writing duties and I'm not sure the script is as strong or as sharp as it could be. Yes, we have lots of fun with the 80s nostalgia and imagery - did people really wear those clothes? In terms of characters, Gal Gadot returns as the titular hero and again, does an admirable job. Her character this time has none of the wonder we witnessed in the first film, which is a shame. If you recall the scene where she tasted ice cream for the first time - it was a simple delight. None of that here. Instead we get a jaded, slightly misanthropic character who is going through the motions of her daily life without much joy.
Speaking of joy, it's no spoiler to say Chris Pine returns as Diana's love, Steve Trevor. How he returns is never fully explained but after a while we go with it - it is cinema after all. The discussion as to how Diana has not aged a day from when they met in World War I to 1984 and how he has aged, is just brushed over. There's a lot of that including the discussion s to where he has been all this time. Pine seems a little bored in this film, as if he were contractually obliged to turn up. I'm not sure, because I do find he is disconnected from many of the characters he plays on film.
Kristin Wiig seems to be having the most fun in this film. Her character goes from bookish museum scientist to something very scary, Cheetah. Along the way we do get to understand her journey and the wishes she asks for. Yes, I said wishes. The initial set-up says you get one wish but she gets a couple - oh well, why stick to your rule? Wiig's transformation, her learning to walk in heels and her journey of confidence is fun and inspiring. Her redemption arc is probably the least fulfilling of all the characters.
Also having fun is Pedro Pascal as Max Overlord who is some sort of tele-evangelist/business man who is also part Gordon Gekko, part grifter and con-man. His motivation is greed, pure and simple. He wants everything, including the love of his young son. Pascal does a lot of scenery chewing and makes the most of some cringe-inducing lines. His blonde highlights just look wrong and at times I thought it was a wig. His character does have a redemption arc and as I mentioned earlier, all's well that ends well. I did feel Pascal was miscast as Max Overlord. His roles to date have been gritty, determined characters, from his role in Narcos as a DEA agent to his current starring role as a bounty hunter in Disney's The Mandalorian.
In conclusion, it's a good film but not as good as Wonder Woman's first outing. I enjoyed it even if it's too long. Macguffins and plot holes abound but as my first in-cinema experience in many months - it was a delight and will bear repeated views. Leave your cynicism at home and enjoy!