When Wonder Woman released back in 2017 the movie was received as a triumph. Gal Gadot’s Diana was a breath of fresh air and her message of love resonated. With the glowing reception to Wonder Woman, the future of Warner Bros.’ superhero slate had never looked brighter. Just three years later, however, and the movie industry – in fact, the whole world – has been upended. Amid the turmoil arrives Wonder Woman 1984, a flawed sequel, but one that at its core carries a most important and timely lesson: “Nothing good is born from lies.”
The truth has been tested in 2020, and no year in recent memory has more firmly demonstrated the real harm brought about by lying. Within this context, Wonder Woman is the perfect hero. She wields truth not as a weapon but a beacon, using it to inspire and guide rather than punish. This aspect Wonder Woman 1984 absolutely nails, understanding Diana wins the day not through brute strength or god-gifted powers, but with empathy and compassion. On a lot of other levels, though, WW84 is a bit of a mess, making some wild choices, not all of which work as well they were surely intended.
Gadot remains a fantastic Diana, and her performance in Wonder Woman 1984 is even more effortlessly natural as she’s grown more comfortable in the role. Pairing her again with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is a genius move, even if the explanation for how is one of the trickier parts of the plot that doesn’t really work. Their chemistry is as good as ever and Pine excels with the fish out of water comedy. For villains, WW84 enlists Kristin Wiig as Barbara Ann Minerva and Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord. Neither are exactly as comic book readers may know them, but both suit how WW84 is trying to use them. Wiig is excellent as Barbara, and her transformation from a bumbling nobody to a fierce antagonist is one of the movie’s best performances. (The same cannot be said of her final, CGI form, but more on that later.) Pascal is good, too, but he gets a little lost in his mania midway through, but still delivers a strong end for the character.
The action in Wonder Woman 1984, while somewhat subdued when compared to the first movie, is still largely excellent. Be it the opening Amazon challenge in which a young Diana (Lilly Aspel) competes against her adult sisters, Diana’s crime-stopping at the mall, an Indiana Jones-inspired car chase in Cairo, or a brawl with Barbara in the White House – each scene has fun choreography and moments of great spectacle. It’s in these moments that the film’s limited theatrical availability is most harshly felt, too, with it unlikely that most watching at home can really replicate the experience of a big theater screen with immersive sound.
But Wonder Woman 1984 is by no means a perfect sequel. (Fair warning, expect more detailed spoilers from here on out.) The Dreamstone and how it works in the plot is completely bonkers. It grants wishes, but is pretty vague on how the wishes manifest. In one case, it can create a giant wall out of nothing in order to divide a nation, but to fulfill Diana’s wish to see Steve again, the result has him possessing another man’s body. The choices this movie makes at times are odd, to say the least, and especially when dealing with magic and almost limitless possibilities. At another point in WW84, Diana and Steve steal a miraculously gassed up fighter jet from a Smithsonian air strip and it’s hard to say what’s more ridiculous about the scene – that Diana can turn the jet invisible with a little hand-waving, or Steve being able to fly a jet built 70 years after his death? (Honestly, it’s probably the latter.) The nitpicks will bother some more than others, but the frequency at which WW84 expects its audiences to just roll with this craziness is more than most can likely handle.
Wonder Woman 1984‘s biggest disservice, however, comes in the final battle between Diana and Barbara – now fully transformed into the fearsome Cheetah. For starters, the CGI transformation this movie gives Wiig is terrible. Seeming to know the digital cat lady Diana is meant to fight – while dressed in that gleaming and beautiful gold armor, no less – looks awful under too much scrutiny, WW84 opts to have this fight take place in near darkness. The scene is mostly gray in color, Cheetah included, with Diana’s armor barely looking brighter than a mustard yellow. As the movie’s climactic action set piece, the scene is wholly disappointing. While WW84 admittedly addresses the complaints so often lobbied against the final fight with Ares that marred the first film, giving Diana and Max a finale that’s more intimate and fitting for the character of Wonder Woman, it completely misses the mark in this fight against Cheetah.
There are some truly wondrous moments in Wonder Woman 1984. Diana relinquishing Steve is heartbreaking, and the scene of her taking flight for the fist time soon after is something special, verging on Donner-esque in how it hearkens back to 1978’s Superman. There’s a surprise mid-credits, too, that is one of the best kept secrets and a true delight. Still, this is a flawed sequel that’s more muddled than its predecessor, even if it’s no less sincere. This is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, and for better or worse, doesn’t let logic stop the story from going where it wants. The redeeming quality of Wonder Woman 1984, however, remains in how fundamentally it understands Diana’s character, continuing to showcase her as a loving superhero who strives to inspire the best in those around her.