Wonder Woman 1984's Powerful Message Soars Above Its Superheroic Excess

Diana is back.
Diana is back.
Photo: Warner Bros.

The first 10 minutes of Wonder Woman 1984 moved me to tears. Part of it was the long-awaited return to Themyscira, seeing a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) battle her fellow Amazons in an epic action scene set to an incredible new score by Hans Zimmer. But another part was just that after a year of delays and uncertainty, the movie was finally here. Watching a big blockbuster again just felt really, really good. So I was emotional—don’t judge me, it’s been a year.

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The return of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) could not have come at a better time. After almost a year of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, most of you will likely watch Patty Jenkins’ sequel streaming on HBO Max. Seeing a movie this big, day and date, on your TV is a landmark moment, so even if Wonder Woman 1984 was a bad film, it would still have that going for it. Thankfully, it’s not bad. It’s actually pretty great, but a tiny part of its greatness is undoubtedly due to the circumstances.

The movie is set several decades after the hero’s last solo outing (but several decades before Batman v Superman and Justice League), and one of the best things about Wonder Woman 1984 is how the main story stands alone. There’s no need to look for deeper connections and mysteries. It’s just this story, in this time, with these characters. It partially tells a tale of isolation because, after seven decades as Wonder Woman, Diana has been forced to keep more or less to herself. Even when people try to make friends, like new colleague Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), she’s still rather guarded.

Wiig’s character ends up kick-starting the film’s plot, which is about a mysterious artifact that can grant any wish you want. That sounds good but of course, trouble follows and things get worse when wannabe oil magnate Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) happens to get his hands on the artifact and subsequently wreaks havoc. If you think for a second what an ability to grant any wish would do if set loose in the world, and just how complex that could become, you begin to get an idea of Wonder Woman 1984's scope.

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Museum pals Diana and Barbara.
Photo: Warner Bros.

The biggest problem with that scope is how unabashedly Wonder Woman 1984 leans into it. Jenkins’ script spans the globe and really spends a lot of time with each of its characters. As a result, the movie (which runs 150 minutes) can feel glacially paced at times during its first and second acts. Somehow, it’s also completely aware of that. So while it may feel like the movie could easily lose 15-20 minutes, the audience gets the bonus of spending leisure time in this superhero world. Which, frankly, is kind of nice. We’ve waited a long time to see these characters again and just being able to watch them walk and talk for a while is almost relaxing—almost as if the movie is being given the chance to breathe. However, once it crosses the two-hour mark and there’s no ending in sight, odds are you may start looking at your watch.

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Luckily, those sentiments tend to get balanced out because of the number of times Wonder Woman 1984 becomes, for lack of a better term, wondrous. Whether it’s some silly moves in an action set piece, a reprisal of the character’s iconic electronic theme song, or some spoiler revelation, there are several scenes that make the film worth the price of admission on their own (in your case, an HBO Max subscription). Even if it’s just for a few seconds, Jenkins knows how to get the hairs on your arm standing up and presses that button every few minutes helping to keep you excited and engaged.

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He’s baaaaack.
Photo: Warner Bros.
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Several of those moments come from the interactions and performances of Gal Gadot and Chris Pine as Diana and Steve Trevor. Steve, of course, died in the first film so seeing him back is a welcome addition and the manner in which he returns is damn clever. Once back, he and Gadot have solid chemistry and play up the obvious “I missed 70 years of technology” fish-out-of-water bit with great success. It’s here that Wonder Woman 1984 is as “1984” as it gets, and the movie is better off for it. Pine is as charming and charismatic as ever while Gadot somehow gets more confident and imposing each and every time she’s in one of these movies. This is her best Diana yet.

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As for the supporting cast, the highlight is Pedro Pascal. Playing the diabolical Max Lord of DC Comics fame, The Mandalorian star is both manic and scary while tiptoeing between dastardly and dashing. Comedian Kirsten Wiig is also good as Barbara, making a believable transition between her guarded original persona with the villain she becomes, but unfortunately, the script doesn’t give her as big of a role or as important an arc as Lord.

Technically, the most impressive things about Wonder Woman 1984 are Zimmer’s score and the visual effects. Zimmer takes the themes from the original score by Rupert Gregson-Williams and cranks them up a notch, while also creating several new, catchy, pulse-pounding themes that echo throughout the movie. As for the effects, save for one or two examples, they’re mostly practical, which is a welcome change from most other CGI-heavy DC films, including the first Wonder Woman. Whether it’s Diana running super fast or swinging through the air, Jenkins and the team did as much for real as possible, and the result is the film has a fairly timeless look.

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Hey Mando!
Photo: Warner Bros.

There’s so much going on in Wonder Woman 1984 it’s almost ridiculous. Different tangents get woven in and out, everything begins to escalate, and all the while themes of selflessness, hard work, bravery, and optimism are seeded along the way. Sometimes that gets lost in the weeds but by the end, you finish Wonder Woman 1984 with a nice, uplifting sense of hope and the feeling of gluttonous satisfaction—the fact that it was a little too long and a little confusing along the way is basically wiped out. Wonder Woman 1984 is an enjoyable, engrossing (sometimes to a fault) experience that will leave a smile on your face, partially because of the circumstances, but mostly because of the movie, flaws and all.

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Wonder Woman 1984 hits HBO Max and select theaters in the U.S. on December 25.

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Entertainment Reporter. NYU Cinema Studies Alum. Formerly Premiere, EW, Us Weekly, and /Film. AP Award-Winning Film Critic & CCA member. Loves Star Wars, posters, Legos, and often all three at once.

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cattarsussinus
Cat Tarsus Sinus

The last thing I need right now is another subscription service, but they've got my money for at least a month when this drops.