Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
WONDER WOMAN 1984
Rated PG-13, 151 minutes
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
When WONDER WOMAN returned to the pop culture zeitgeist a meager three years ago, she brought with her an emboldened sense of empowerment. Though director Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN 1984 conveys a different kind of rousing, uplifting boost than its predecessor, it’s no less meaningful in its intentions to innovate and inspire. With its thoroughly enriched themes, layered characterizations and sublimely shot action sequences, it’s a spectacularly fun blockbuster with lots to treasure.
In this next chapter of her solo story, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is working as an archeologist at the Smithsonian Museum, casually flitting around Washington, DC in her tastefully relaxed Ralph Lauren business wear. But not everything is totally tubular in the awesome era of excess in 1984. As her alter ego, Wonder Woman, she continues to be called upon to rescue humanity from itself, saving a young girl from a robber’s clutches, a jogger from getting run over by a bitchin’ Trans Am, and a bride from tumbling off an overpass. She’s also still visibly marked by grief over the death of her true love, pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).
Diana’s world shifts for better and worse upon her introduction to the museum’s new cryptologist/ zoologist, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). She’s mousey, awkward, dorky and absolutely enamored with Diana’s intelligence, confidence and beauty. A recent crime has unearthed a mysterious citrine stone that the authorities have brought into the museum’s care for special evaluation. Unbeknownst to them, this gem holds the power to grant wishes, whether they’re vocalized, or remain a secret. It’s also an item desperately wanted by smarmy conman/ oil tycoon Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), who envisions it helping him become a wealthy success. As Diana investigates its suspicious origins, the stone’s power grows and all hell threatens to break loose.
There are quite a few things the screenplay by Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham nails. The treatment of the film’s MacGuffin – the stone – is notable since it’s seamlessly incorporated into the story, rather than functioning as an outlier prop. The action-forward, attention-grabbing opening sequence endemic to films of this ilk – here involving an endurance contest on Diana’s home paradise island of Themyscira – is far from a meaningless way to bring back Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright’s characters. It makes its mark, also tying into the narrative’s overarching themes and Diana’s exemplary character virtues as a superhero embodying patience, diligence and courage to face truth. This precise vision of the character recalls Christopher Reeve’s Superman, who stood for truth and justice, but who also bestowed his iteration with a ton of heart-filled sentiment. They do a great job integrating comic-book-based fan moments as well, which deliver a sense of awe whether one is aware of these things or not.
On the whole, this sequel is tonally reminiscent of the Richard Donner/ Richard Lester helmed SUPERMAN series. Not only does the narrative pull inspiration from SUPERMAN II, but it also recalls the buoyancy of SUPERMAN III, with breezier, comedic-skewing action sequences that show Wonder Woman foiling a band of thieves or rescuing DC denizens. Wiig and Pascal both hit pay dirt occasionally going broad with their performances in a few key scenes, each individually channeling some of the blessedly bonkers notes captured in Lester’s films. The difference being the pair also root their characters’ insecurities in a sense of understandable authenticity.
The real impressive magic of the sequel lies in Diana’s further maturation into the heroine humankind deserves. The underlying message the film subtly sends – that all it takes is one person to inspire change in a cynical world – is resoundingly poignant. It’s an empowering thing to see Diana put this lesson into action when called upon. Gadot explores the shining facets of her character’s human and superhuman yearnings with a formidable ease and grace. She shares an undeniable chemistry with Pine, who returns as Diana’s unspoken heart wish to reunite with Steve. Their characters’ romance grounds the feature, giving it a tangible, propulsive sense of emotional drive. Their gender-flipped “fish out of water” scenes, this time with Steve being the one needing acclimation to a strange new world, are super charming and endearing.
That said, there are a few bumps in the road. The straightforward premise doesn’t fully justify the elongated run time, which distracts from its admirable aims. This adds further complications and convolution to the rules of the world the filmmakers have set up. It leaves us to extrapolate a few missing details, and also question some of the ones that are clearly stated and demonstrated.
Nevertheless, the picture’s hugely entertaining qualities outweigh any blights. It takes risks and big swings that are missing from many modern sequels. Better yet, it doesn’t forget to further flesh out its portrait of the heroic woman who delivers wonder.
WONDER WOMAN 1984 will play select theaters and stream on HBOMax on December 25.