Wonder Woman 1984
A satisfying sequel that builds on the original and seeks to expand its message
Christmas movies have always attempted to bring a message about the importance of human, emotional, and familial things rather than the materialism that the holiday is surrounded with. However, many of these films’ messages fall on deaf ears, seeming to be a cliché of its genre instead of a genuine message. As such I found the central theme in Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) to be surprisingly effective and timely for its release on Christmas Day.
Wonder Woman 1984 is the sequel to Wonder Woman (2017). We pick off with the unageing Diana (Gal Gadot), who has moved to 1980s DC after her exploits in WWI from the first film. She’s found a job at a museum, where she meets an awkward and bumbling co-worker named Barbara (Kristen Wiig). Barbara has come into possession of a mysterious mineral with seeming powers of granting anyone’s wish. Before Diana or Barbara can discover much about this mineral, businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) steps in with bigger plans in mind.
The first Wonder Woman proved to be a groundbreaking film, from its leading female hero, to its box-office success. It paved the way for female-fronted blockbusters to be taken more seriously in the industry, to the point, thankfully, that such films don’t feel like overdue milestones anymore. As a superhero film, Wonder Woman was pleasantly enjoyable, especially with the riveting “no-man’s-land” scene, but its finale and villain motivations were sloppy and slightly generic. As such Wonder Woman 1984 had to live up to its pioneering predecessor, while also making new strides into becoming a more distinct superhero story.
Patty Jenkins returns to direct this sequel, and it is clear that Jenkins has a particular skill at making the female experience become subtly imbued throughout the film. She manages to do so without banging you over the head with it or being too explicit or preachy. This is largely thanks to her posing many sexist situations, as character studies instead of ideological explications. The first Wonder Woman had some very obvious examples and reasons with which to comment on sexism in 1914. Setting this sequel in 1984, however, helps make the commentaries of such sexism come up in a new light. The 1980s have been hailed by many as the peak era of capitalism in the United States. So widespread is this view that a nostalgia for its culture has become prevalent today with everything from Stranger Things (2016-), to the revisiting of familiar worlds in Ghostbusters (2016), Doctor Sleep (2019), Ready Player One (2018), and Halloween (2018). As such it was pleasant to see Jenkins reveal that the glossy past many seem to remember might be more reflective of the future and darker than originally thought.
This brings Jenkins to explore what I found to be the core theme of the film: greed. Being hailed as the peak of capitalism, the 1980s were also the peak of neo-liberalism, an economic and political school of thought that has paved the way for much of the conservative thinking of today. When thinking of how Maxwell Lord is portrayed in Wonder Woman 1984, I couldn’t get the “greed is good” scene from Wall Street (1987) out of my head. As such Diana and her journey forces her to go through the attraction, magnetism, and dangerous individualism that greed can have and learn to overcome it.
In the respect of further developing our central hero, Wonder Woman 1984 is largely successful. We get a continuing progression of Diana discovering both her powers and the values she wishes to represent as a hero. The characters of Barbara and Maxwell are also intriguingly set up; however, I was left feeling slightly unfulfilled with both their arcs. Both Maxwell and Barbara seem to be vying for the role of counter-argument to Diana’s rhetoric. As such, they both have their character arcs halved and rather rushed. It leads to spotty motivation and superficial conclusions to their respective narratives. For superhero films, the villain character is crucial towards providing a balanced story and entertainment. While Wonder Woman 1984 certainly provides a much better antagonist than the first films’ Ares, the execution still feels like a missed opportunity for building something bigger.
Jenkins is largely on par with the visuals and how she shot the action sequences. I found some of the fight scenes to be choppier than the first film, perhaps due to more ambitious stunt-work. Otherwise, the final showdown proved to be much more satisfying, and even original, than the first film; giving viewers a participative role in how they would react. The resolution is handled particularly well, dealing with a subject that could easily have become unbearably cheesy. However, Jenkin’s counter-argument against greed proves to be a convincing one, climaxing in a surprisingly emotional moment between a father and son. There is also a scene that may strike many as similar to the “no-man’s-land” scene from the first film. The scene involves Diana simply gliding through the air with a swelling score from Hans Zimmer, in a moment of true liberation Diana stretches her arms ahead of her and strikes the iconic superman pose. It proves to be such a simple and unoriginal gesture, and yet it overwhelmed me with what it was trying to say, of a different kind of use of the now famous words, “me too.”
In the end, I found Wonder Woman 1984 to be more enjoyable than its predecessor. It proves to tackle a much more interesting and relevant subject than the first film’s more generic plot. There is a clear satisfaction in how Diana’s story is moved forward as a result, and the action and conclusion are satisfying and entertaining enough. My only gripe was with the slightly underdeveloped villains, who perhaps crowd each other out from the time they needed to achieve their potential. Even so, Wonder Woman 1984 proves to be a sequel that lives up to and builds up on the hype and admiration of the first film.