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WONDER WOMAN 1984 Review

Wonder Woman 1984 embodies everything which makes Diana an icon of the comic book world: hope, strength and love. Read Neil’s review.

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Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Bros.)

Synopsis

In Wonder Woman 1984, the fate of the world is once more on the line, and only Wonder Woman can save it. This new chapter in the Wonder Woman story finds Diana Prince living quietly among mortals in the vibrant, sleek 1980s—an era of excess driven by the pursuit of having it all. Though she’s come into her full powers, she maintains a low profile, curating ancient artifacts and only performing her superheroic acts incognito. But now, Diana will have to step directly into the spotlight and muster all her wisdom, strength and courage in order to save mankind from a world of its own making.

Review

There was a moment in WW84 which resonated with me more than any other. A moment when Diana (Gal Gadot) connected with the entire world. In that moment it dawned on me that I was watching the most important film of 2020.

There’s no doubt this film would have been impactful whenever it was released. But thanks to the crap-shack which has been 2020 the message of Patty Jenkins’ sequel means so much more.

WW84 is a sequel which isn’t willing to compromise on the success of its predecessor. Instead director Patty Jenkins take risks, changes things up and doubles down on the first film’s most successful elements.

The most successful element? Its heart. It’s at the core of Diana’s character and shines through perfectly throughout the film. Whilst Batman v Superman introduced the world to Gal Gadot’s Diana, we weren’t introduced to her charisma and her gloriously pure heart until her adventures in WW1. It’s Gadot’s inherent likability and her truth which bring such a feeling of childish glee to WW84.

The film is by no means a puff piece of cobbled together action scenes. It opens with a sprawling IMAX sequence set on Themyscira featuring the returns of Lily Aspell, Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright. It feels like the first film dialled up to an eleven. Whilst the use of IMAX enhances the stunning landscapes its Aspell’s performance which steals the show. At the young age of 12 she personifies the young Diana with infectious delight.

Our first glimpse of Gadot in action is during the mall sequence seen in the trailers. There’s a great nod to Lynda Carter with her boomerang tiara. There’s also plenty of impressive lasso action. The lasso is absolutely now Diana’s weapon of choice over a sword. What comes across first and foremost is how much fun Diana, Gadot and Jenkins are having here. The action never borders on violent, yet the stakes remain high. With each of Diana’s moves ending with a wink or a smile which feels like it’s to the audience as much as it is to the other characters.

The meat and bones of WW84 features a more measured pacing. Following the mall sequence the film puts on the brakes. The first act plays out with less action as Jenkins sets the scene for Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). It’s here we also setup the return of Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. A plot point which feels perfectly rooted in the story and tied to its emotional core.

In many ways the film begins to feel like an extended episode of the Wonder Woman TV series. The style, the setting and even the story all feel like classic Wonder Woman. In other words, the aesthetic is spot on. All that’s missing is an actual cameo from Lynda Carter.

There are moments in act one where WW84 feels a little slow. But the setup is absolutely worth the pay off. Both Minerva and Lord are well realised characters and Trevor’s return feels honest and important to Diana’s journey.

It’s Barbara Minerva who has the most comic accurate portrayal. Her arc through the film is also brilliantly crafted. There’s an aspect of slow decline to her characterisation. Losing her humanity as she succumbs to her newly discovered power. Absolute power does corrupt absolutely after all.

Conversely, Maxwell Lord is the most updated compared to the comics. Gone is the Luthor-eqsue origin, replaced by a con man story which has a surprisingly emotional payoff. Pedro Pascal moustache twirls and sleazes his way through the delightful script, oozing 80’s Trump to the best of his ability.

The comic book fan in me was prepared to put a full stop on the moment. I could feel myself wanting to say “but this isn’t Maxwell Lord.” But actually the essence of the character is absolutely still there. His arc isn’t redemptive and neither is it reminiscent of a certain fate which befell his character in the comics.

The (re)addition of Pine brings a beautifully tragic story to WW84. It speaks to Diana’s experiences in the first film. But also to where we find her physically and emotionally in this film. He is the one thing she wants most in this world. But what is the price of having him back? The question speaks to the core of her character and her mission to protect humankind. Jenkins hasn’t crafted a simple excuse to bring him back. His return really is integral to the story and so feels entirely legitimate.

From mid-way onwards WW84 ramps up the action and puts its foot on the accelerator. It leans more towards action but with so much emotional setup it never feels like a simple popcorn movie. I would argue that (at the time of writing) we’ve never seen a third act to a comic book movie packed with so much emotion.

There are a number of hugely emotional moments towards the end of the film. A number of which brought me close to tears. An emotional goodbye, an even more emotional speech and finally a moment of pure glee. All three were high points in what is one of the most solid comic book movies of the last decade. With the flip of a switch WW84 can shift from gleeful to sorrow, but always in earnest.

What makes WW84 truly unique in the modern era of comic book movies is its approach to adventure. This isn’t a comic book movie set in the 1980’s, this IS an 80’s science fiction adventure. From the story to the practical effects, the colour palette to the soundscape, it’s all ripped directly from all the 80’s movies we know and love.

Recreating the magic of the 80’s brings a reliance on practical, not visual, effects. The stunt team uses practical effects where possible and it shows on camera. Wire work is in abundance and to see characters flying around the screen feels much more natural. Even when they’re performing super heroics.

Visual effects are as expected for a blockbuster on this level. Most VFX are used to remove wires and enhance scenery. The landscape of 80’s Washington DC looks and feels authentic. Some of the more super powered stunts also feel legitimately and convincingly enhanced.

There are only a handful of fully CGI creations. One of those we’ll leave as a nice surprise. The other is a character on everyone’s mind, Cheetah. Rest assured she is well done. I would like to have seen more of her fully transformed. But the mix of practical makeup and augmented VFX creates a brilliant visual illusion. Her fully transformed scenes are well shot and play to the strengths of her design.

It wouldn’t be Wonder Woman without the bombastic theme from Hans Zimmer. Zimmer takes over the score for this movie and does a luscious job of crafting an 80’s soundscape. His score is brassy, sexy and synthy all at once. It’s quintessential big screen Wonder Woman.

When all is said and done and the credits roll, Jenkins has created a love letter to Wonder Woman, a love letter to comic book fans and a love letter to a classic era in cinema.

Verdict

Wonder Woman 1984 embodies everything which makes Diana an icon of the comic book world: hope, strength and love. 2020 never knew it needed this film so badly.

Gal Gadot returns in the role of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman 1984. The film also stars Kristen Wiig in the role of the Super-Villain The Cheetah, as well as Pedro Pascal. And Chris Pine returns as Steve Trevor. The film is directed by Patty Jenkins.


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