When the first Wonder Woman was released in 2017, it was hailed as the saviour of the wobbly DC Cinematic Universe, the film that would redeem the failures of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Three years on, that has proven to largely not be the case, with the ‘shared universe’ side of the DCCU effectively killed off by the calamitous Justice League, allowing Wonder Woman 1984 to write its own rules, free of the ponderous template laid down by Zack Snyder. It’s a freedom this sequel only occasionally puts to good use, finding an enjoyably cartoon-y tone but wasting it on an overstretched and underwritten story.
70 years after her introduction to the human world in the midst of World War 1, Amazon warrior Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is living a quiet life in Washington DC, rarely donning her Wonder Woman gear and still mourning the loss of heroic pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Returning director Patty Jenkins dives right into the ‘80s cheesiness from the off, giving us a world of packed malls, aerobics, and TV personalities espousing on the powers of positive thinking.
One of these personalities is Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) who, with his tan and golden hair and narcissism, makes for both an enjoyably hissable villain and a very obvious Trump stand-in, a choice that has certainly lost some of its bite in the 6 months since WW84’s initial June release date. Lord is trying to get his hands on an ancient gem that grants wishes in order to make himself rich, unleashing a chaotic and destructive power that forces Diana to once again pick up her armour and lasso.
With wish-granting magic in the air, Diana inadvertently brings Steve Trevor back to life, and Chris Pine’s puppy-dog enthusiasm and sincere awe while exploring the futuristic ‘80s is one of WW84’s great strengths, Pine continuing to provide a genuine humanity that very few actors in superhero movies do. With its outrageously MacGuffin-y plot and gaudy set-dressing, WW84 feels more like a Saturday morning cartoon than any of its recent genre stablemates, which allows for the cast to go very broad on their performances, Pascal in particular hamming it up to sitcom levels.
With much of the opening act dedicated to both fish-out-of-water comedy and setting up all of the plot’s moving parts, there’s a lot of downtime here, but Jenkins does open the film with two great set-pieces. First up is an Amazonian decathlon with some dizzying stunts, followed by a foiled mall heist that, with its earnest sense of humour and Diana’s imaginative use of her lasso, calls to mind the best action sequences of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. These scenes will bring a big grin to your face, though later action is stymied by some pretty rough effects work. The CG-enhanced villain Cheetah (Kristen Wiig looking like a forgotten member of the Cats cast) is a particular eyesore, and her final battle with Diana is a murky mess, though Wiig brings some surprisingly effective grit and rage to the role.
Though its characters are mostly very likeable, WW84 fails to make its stakes feel remotely real. There is no consistency to any of the powers on display here – Diana, her lasso, and the wishing stone all have entirely different capabilities and rules from scene to scene – so none of the problem-solving is creative or cathartic. It’s not that a movie about a mythical immortal warrior fighting a cat-person needs to be realistic, but there are a lot of moments where the suspension of disbelief comes crashing down, especially come the interminably overwrought finale.
In a time of horrible gloom and uncertainty, it would be nice to be able to recommend the sort of big-hearted, escapist fun that WW84 attempts to offer, and if you’re a devotee of the genre, it may be worth a look once it comes to streaming. But, sadly, this is a wildly overlong and messy film with some atrocious dialogue – a mid-film exposition dump almost seems like a cruel parody of comic book movie writing – elevated in fits and starts by the sheer charm of its cast.