Patty Jenkins delivers a brightly coloured, enjoyable but thin superhero film. Wonder Woman 84 is not a film that stands up to close examination but then again that is part and parcel of its eighties setting. Some spoilers…
We get to fun opening action sequences. The first set when Diana is a small child, competing in an athletic event against adult Amazons. There she learns hard lessons about truth versus ambition. The second sets the ‘modern’ scene with Wonder Woman thwarting a jewellery store heist gone wrong in a day-glow bright 1980s shopping mall.
From there the movie slows down as we meet the two characters and one object around which the films plot will eventually expand. Pedro Pascal plays a flamboyant business man, whose plans for an oil empire are rapidly turning into a ponzi scheme, while Kristen Wiig plays Barbara Minerva — a shy museum worker and new colleague to Wonder Woman’s secret identity Diana Prince.
What escalates events is a magical artefact that grants wishes. In short order, Christopher Pine returns as Wonder Woman’s WWI boyfriend (oh and I only just noticed that WWI works as the title for the first film and its historical setting) and Barbara Minerva goes from shy & bespectacled to glamorous & confident — following a path that looks intentionally reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman in their 1990’s Batman roles.
The film travels a line from here that feels initially like the premises for a quirky romantic comedy with a super natural twist (what if a woman could wish her dead boyfriend back!) that then pulls that into the accelerated consequences of the power of wishing like a Twlight Zone episode before arriving at more overt superhero battles.
You can take a lot of this film in two ways: as lazy cliches or as fun pastiche of 1980’s views and obsessions (including dubious topes about the Middle East and Russia). You’ll enjoy the film more with the second approach but if you look at film with a critical lens it fares less well. Not surprisingly, if you look at the review and conversation you find a similar dichotomy, people pointing out numerous flaws and people saying how much fun it was.
The film invests a great deal on the likeability of all involved. Gal Gadot and Christopher Pine have a lovely dynamic. Kristina Wiig is fully committed to her character arc and even Perdo Pascal’s Trump-like super-villain has a genuine charm underneath his cartoonish fake charm. Yet, the premise for the return of Christopher Pine’s character is squicky the more you think about it and Wiig’s character arc is a cliche, layered in misogyny that goes unexamined.
Yet not unlike DC’s Shazam! film , WW84 form offers charm and its apparent naivety at least avoids the dourness of the Snyder films or broader cynicism. The overt opposition to ‘the power of positive’ thinking is deeper message that cuts into the film eighties setting whilst being a subtle dig at contemporary politics. Truth, claims Wonder Woman, is what matters more than aspiration and (surprisingly) what matters more than romantic love. That aspects is doubly surprising given the dalliance the film has with the tropes of romantic comedy.
I should talk also about how I watched the film.
I risked visiting a small independent cinema that was running at limited capacity (60%) with patrons wearing masks in an area of Sydney with no (currently) recent cases of community transmission of Covid-19. It was odd and weird and unsettling. In the past couple of months, the greater Sydney area had crept closer to normal and I’ve been in busier settings than this. Even so, it felt uncomfortable to be in a room with many people for that period of time. I’d really like these small cinemas to continue to exist but I’m not rushing back anytime soon. I’m going to buy myself some gift certificates from cinemas I like but stick to downloads for the time being.