Do not let its title fool you, Wonder Woman 1984 is more about 2020 than it is about the past. While Patty Jenkins fills her film with plenty of references to Miami Vice, Pop Tarts and Pontiac Firebirds, it is impossible to miss the commentary that, at one point, literally stares viewers in the face. For all the optimism it has for mankind’s ability to be better, the film does not hold back its thoughts on the rampant nature of toxic masculinity and its disappointment that so many disenfranchised people would help elevate a television con man to a destructive level of power.
While comic books have held a mirror up to society for decades, superhero films have often struggled to find that balance between spectacle and social commentary. Wonder Woman 1984 is a perfect example of this. Opening with a thrilling flashback set piece in which a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) learns a valuable lesson about not taking short cuts in life, the film stumbles in trying to find away to ease viewers into heavier thematic terrain.
The first twenty minutes alone meanders as it takes an unnecessary roundabout route to establishing the principal characters. What is perplexing about the film’s initial jump to 1984 is that Diana feels like a passenger in her own story. One spends a fair bit of time observing Diana (Gal Gadot) as she is living a double-life as an archeologist and the heroic Wonder Woman. Still sullen over the lost of her one true love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Diana pretty much keeps to herself while avoiding the numerous advances from the men she encounters. By contrast, her fellow Smithsonian co-worker, gemologist Barbara (Kristen Wiig), is practically invisible. Her own boss does not even recall what she looks like despite hiring her weeks prior. Seemingly opposites, Diana and Barbara find their lives thrusted down the same path when Barbara is tasked with studying an ancient artifact recovered from a robbery Wonder Woman foiled.
Unbeknownst to the pair, the stone in question was constructed by a God and possess the power to grant wishes. A fact that is of special interest to Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a shady oil company founder who has garnered fame because of his popular television commercials. Of course, the catch is that for every wish granted, the wisher loses that which is most valuable to them. Planning to use the artifact to turn his failing business around, Maxwell quickly realizes that true power is not financial, but rather the ability to exploit people’s deepest desires. As Diana races to get the stone back from Maxwell before he inadvertently causes the collapse of civilization, she must confront if she is willing to lose that which she holds dear to save the world.
Raising the stakes this time around, Wonder Woman 1984 is filled with eye-catching set pieces that will surely delight. However, even in its most action-packed moments, one cannot help but feel like something is missing. As Jenkins’ film awkwardly moves from fish out of water comic beats involving Steve learning about the wonders of the 1980s, to more serious themes it becomes clear just how much the supporting characters are driving the narrative. One walks away feeling as if they have gotten a more well-rounded picture of Maxwell, Pascal is an absolute scene-stealer in the role, than we do of Diana’s evolution. Part of this is due to Diana’s journey in the film being heavily defined by her bond with Steve.
As a result, empowering moments, such as when Wonder Woman literally learns to fly on her own, feel somewhat stunted. It also does not help matters that the disjointed rhythms of the film only further highlight how blunt the symbolism is. While the original film showed that Wonder Woman could be a beacon of hope, the sequel seems to have less faith in the audience’s ability to see the light. There is literally a scene where Wonder Woman preaches to the world about the nature of truth. Reminding each viewer that they are not the only ones who have suffered and experienced hardship, but that this is no reason to burn the world down by putting your faith in a false prophet.
Unable to recapture the perfect blend of action, humour and symbolism that made the original Wonder Woman one of the best superhero films in recent years, Wonder Woman 1984 is a rather underwhelming affair. It loses sight of the woman behind the inspiring sense of wonder.