“Welcome to the future. Life is good! But it can be better. And why shouldn’t it be? All you need is to want it. Think about finally having everything you always wanted.”
In 1917 Patty Jenkins teamed up with Israeli actress Gal Gadot to create one of the best comic book movies of all time. Wonder Woman had everything. It sported a really good lead actress surrounded by a really good supporting cast. It had a grand scope but still gave us characters at the core with wonderful chemistry and heart. We got plenty of action and huge set pieces without giving up anything in the trenches. It was easily the best superhero film of the decade and the best DC/Warner hero film since the 1978 Donner Superman movie. But the trouble here is that Jenkins already had an incredible formula going here but couldn’t resist the temptation to want everything. There was a tremendously high level of expectations here, and as I’ve frequently opined: expectations kill. There are still a lot of the elements that made Wonder Woman so great here, but the film strays in ways that end up taking away from those great elements, and we end up with a very mediocre follow-up to a truly great film.
It’s 1984, and in the 40 years since Steve Trevor (Pine) died and Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gadot) has fallen into a functional funk in her life. She’s a scientist at the Smithsonian, and she’s adapted to the outside world quite well. But she goes through her life still feeling the sting of her loss. She’s just now coming into her own as a superhero, and we get a look at her fighting crime around her. She functions quite well but surrounds herself with artifacts and mementos from the events of the first film. On the job one day she meets Barbara Minera (Wiig). She’s new and a bit of a stumbling mess. The FBI has asked the Smithsonian to analyze an artifact from a heist Wonder Woman stopped at a local mall. It stumps them both, and Diana translates its inscription to reveal it was some kind of wishing device. She doesn’t take that seriously and secretly makes a wish she never expects in a million years will come true. Barbara also makes a wish to be more like her confident friend Diana. Of course, both wishes are fulfilled. Steve Trevor shows up in another guy’s body, and Barbara discovers she got far more than she expected when she asked to be like Diana.
We learn that the discovery of the artifact was engineered by a man named Max Lord (Pascal). He’s been searching for it for a long time. He’s a failed businessman and con artist who wants to be on top and is known for infomercials that promote having it all. The artifact is just what he wants. His wish is to actually become the artifact. Why limit yourself to one wish when you can have everybody’s wishes? The new power allows him to have others make wishes for him and have them come true. Of course, he manipulates the wishes to stuff he wants and exacts the price that must be paid for every wish. Both Barbara and Diana learn they have paid prices for their wishes. Now Max Lord is going to use a secret government communication satellite system to get the entire world to wish with him. How can he be stopped? That’s where the film kind of becomes a bad episode of Barney the Dinosaur. Everyone, including Diana, has to take back their wish. That’s a bit too touchy-feely for such an action-packed superhero film.
The film’s premise isn’t an altogether terrible idea. Using a decade that’s easily defined like the 80’s offers the chance to do some creative things. The trouble is it’s not terribly original right now. The X-Men have been doing historic decades for five films now, and the recent Captain Marvel took the action back to the 80’s and did it also with a strong female hero, and they did it much more successfully. The 80’s stuff gets pushed over the top so that instead of a nostalgic trip it becomes a Saturday Night Live skit from beginning to end. Jenkins just can’t take the foot off the gas, and the film ends up looking more gimmick than solid movie. It was certainly a clever way to bring back Chris Pine and his Steve Trevor character. I’ll give them that, no problem. It leads to some emotional beats that stand right up there with the original film. But it all gets diluted with the gimmicky 80’s overload and the whole idea of fighting a villain by use of your wishes. The result is some powerful character moments, but an overall weaker film by a significant margin.
Gal Gadot continues to be the best part of everything that’s good in this film. She doesn’t let these new camp elements change her approach to the character. You can just tell she’s giving her all every second she’s on-screen. The film brings in some popular elements of the Wonder Woman mythology like the invisible jet and her ability to fly. These are going to stand out as great moments to fans of the character. Having comic writer Geoff Johns be a part of the script helps to maintain that comic atmosphere and deliver those wonderful splash pages and iconic moments. Kristen Wiig is a dynamic addition to the cast with a Cheetah character that has been both hero and villain in the DC comic book world. The actors share some terrific chemistry, and there’s certainly room for the two of them to be paired again, most effectively on the same side next time. Pedro Pascal turns Max Lord into too much of a camp character. He’s a great actor and delivers some good stuff here, but he’s a bad fit, and it’s a bad take on the character. You really just can’t take him too seriously no matter how “powerful” he becomes. His character starts to wear on your nerves by the time it’s all over.
The film has some tremendous stunts and f/x. I love that Jenkins wanted to do as much practical stuff as she could. There’s a lot of wirework here, and it adds a bit more authenticity to the action scenes. There’s still plenty of CG here; that can’t be helped any more. But the film has a bit of an extra punch because of the time and effort to do things as much as they could in front of the camera.
One of the bright spots of the film almost didn’t happen for a second time. The Amazon Games were originally going to be a part of the first film, but there just wasn’t enough time both in the production budget and ultimate running time of the film. It was finally filmed for this movie, but Jenkins had to fight to keep it as the studio execs were not to keen on the idea. Fortunately it remains, and it’s a really strong prologue to the movie. It also introduces us to young Lilly Aspell, who plays a young and precocious Diana. She’s really a find. Her energy and passion are contagious, and you’ll fall in love with this little hero rather quickly and hopelessly. I hope we see more of those moments in the future. Great job, kid.
Wonder Woman 84 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and 1.90:1 all for the IMAX presentations. The changes are not distracting, and you won’t even notice them. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 50 mbps. The film was shot on 35mm and 70mm so maintains a native 4K source, and that makes a huge difference here. The 80’s environments mean an extra vivid splash of color. The mall scene is just like a dish of brightly covered candies. The clothes and shop signs deliver a rainbow of colors, and they all look absolutely reference. It’s like watching through a window at the mall. Colors are a bit warm and bleached in the externals which make for warmer colors against the colder sharp interiors. Details are amazing and the establishing shots are quite breathtaking. Textures really show up in the costumes and the environments. The big road warrior scenes are so sharp that the CG and wirework come through flawlessly and provide quite a punch. The HDR-enhanced contrast is working overtime, and black levels are deep, moody, and endless. The shadow definition is remarkable and shows up during some dark scenes were Cheetah and Diana fight underwater.
The Atmos track defaults to a really solid 7.1 mix. The surrounds are going to be busy throughout. A lot of the action takes place in complete 360 degree environments and immerses you solidly into the action. It’s often aggressive and loud. The score doesn’t have quite the same bite. I was disappointed that the Wonder Woman theme was more orchestral and didn’t sport that killer electric cello it had used up until this point. I missed it and hope it returns again in the future. Subs reign throughout. The room will shake as trucks are sent flying wheels over hood. The remarkable thing in all of this is how well each of these sounds is separated enough to not only pick it all out but feel that it is placed properly along the way. There’s a lot of attention to detail here, and it pays off. The dialog always cuts through, and you won’t find a more balanced mix anywhere.
The Making Of Wonder Woman 1984 – Expanding The Wonder: (36:23) Plenty of behind-the-scenes footage can be found in this typical making-of feature. There’s a lot of input from cast and crew, and it’s a little more informative than usual and less love-fest. Highlights of the feature cover cast, set design, costumes, locations, stunts, and a beat-by-beat look at the big plot points.
Gal And Kristen – Friends Forever: (5:10) It’s apparent that the two ladies got along well and became friends along the way. We get to hear them talk about the relationship, and there’s plenty of examples of their playful silliness throughout the production.
Small But Mighty: (10:44) Meet Lilly who played young Diana. She’s having the time of her life, and it’s great to see her behind the scenes. There’s some footage from her audition performance.
Scene Study: take a look at two of the action scenes a bit more closely: The Open Road (6:11) The Mall (5:03)
Gal & Kristy Having Fun: (1:12) More footage of the ladies having a blast set to a song they made up on the set.
Meet The Amazons: (21:28) Tiffany Smith hosts a virtual get-together of the women who played in the opening Amazon Games.
Black Gold Infomercial: (1:38) The entire ad from within the film.
Gag Reel: (6:26)
Wonder Woman 1984 Retro Remix: (1:40) It’s a fake trailer for the film made in splashy 80’s styles and set up a lot like the 70’s television show.
There is no question that Patty Jenkins and company were up against a lot of barriers. The expectations from the first film make it almost impossible to meet, and sometimes that gives one extra freedom to just go for it, because chances are it’s just not going to compare favorably. Then there was the pandemic that made the release schedule a nightmare, forcing the film to eventually street to weak box office and ultimately to live or die through streaming. None of that could have been foreseen or prepared for by anyone connected with the film. As the release date got pushed back, Jenkins succumbed to the temptation to “tweak” the film a little more. Haven’t seen the earlier cut, so I can’t say for sure if it improved or hurt the film, but I suspect it didn’t improve it at all. There’s no question that Jenkins has good instincts with this character, and I would certainly trust her with another go at the franchise. I hope she rolls it back and doesn’t set out to compete with the first film. A film isn’t better because it’s bigger, faster, or stronger. It’s better when the audience cares about what they see and can suspend their disbelief long enough to see a compelling story. We really do want to believe that a man … woman … can fly. You see, “Greatness isn’t what you think it is.”