Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Wonder Woman? Writer-director Patty Jenkins’ “WW84” evokes the spirit of Christopher Reeve’s Superman films for the sequel to the 2017 film starring Gal Gadot as the mild-mannered Diana Prince who transforms into the world’s greatest female superhero. With a bit of hocus pocus, Chris Pine magically returns as love interest and ace pilot Steve Trevor, and Kristen Wiig joins the cast as archenemy Cheetah. Feeling like I’m bound by the Lasso of Truth, let me say that the action film you’re expecting doesn’t arrive until the final act. First, Jenkins gets all up in your feels with a sentimental comedy focused on the characters and 80s fashion but not music. Dang, no “Careless Whisper.”
The opening scene transports us back to Themyscira, home of the Amazons, as we watch a young Diana (Lily Aspell) compete against grown women in Olympic-style games. There’s plenty of thrills and over-the-top CGI effects that lead to our future little superhero learning a valuable lesson about cheating. While little Diana throws a hissy fit after she’s disqualified for taking a shortcut, it feels like the first of many subtle jabs at 2020’s political state.
Fast forward to 1984, pre- “Me Too” era filled with catcalling men, Sony Walkmans, Pontiac Firebirds, parachute pants, breakdancing, and fanny packs, all of which make it into the narrative written by Jenkins along with former CCO of DC Entertainment Geoff Johns, and “Zombieland: Double Tap” scribe Dave Callaham.
Unfortunately, none of the great music from the era is featured in the film. It’s 1984 so it would have been great to hear Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” as Diana and Steve fly over D.C.’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display, or Ollie & Jerry’s “Breakin’… There’s No Stopping Us” when Steve sees kids breakdancing for the first time, or given all the sentimental moments, a touch of REO’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” For me, Killing Joke’s “Eighties” would have made the introduction to 1984 so much better as Wonder Woman saves a pedestrian from joyriding teens in a souped-up Firebird. We are however treated to Hans Zimmer’s rousing score.
So, what’s Diana Prince doing in the eighties after saving the day during WWI? Well, apart from the occasional heroic Wonder Woman moment, Diana leads a quiet life. She dines alone, reminisces about her deceased love Steve, and works at the Smithsonian where she meets nerdy Barbara (Kristen Wiig), a bumbling archeologist who goes unnoticed by the staff. In fact, a supervisor doesn’t even remember hiring Barbara.
Wiig is perfectly cast as the introverted prehistorian who is befriended by Diana before she’s transformed into Wonder Woman’s nemesis Cheetah. It all happens thanks to a stolen citrine stone that grants one wish per person but not without a price. “The Mandalorian’s” Pedro Pascal plays a rich, fraudulent, scheming television personality named Maxwell Lord who wants to get his hands on the stone to take over the world. His character seems to be modeled after someone familiar. Could this be another jab at the current political climate? Let’s just say I would not have been surprised with an end credits sequence that takes place in 2016 as Maxwell runs for President.
The supernatural stone is also responsible for granting Diana’s wish, bringing back her true love WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who injects plenty of comedy into the story as he marvels at 80s technology (escalators) and embraces the fanny pack. Watching Pine try on clothing from the era is fun as he rejects outfits raided from Duran Duran’s closet.
The first two-thirds of “WW84” coasts along as Diana and Steve get reacquainted while Barbara and Maxwell begin transforming into villains. There are spurts of action here and there, but Jenkins keeps it at a minimum waiting for the finale to open the floodgates. Gadot and Pine are terrific to watch during the film’s sentimental comedy mode and Wiig is much better as the bumbling archeologist turned sexy extrovert — after wishing to be more like Diana — instead of the CGI Cheetah she eventually becomes who is only as menacing as the cast of 2019’s “Cats.”
While some people looking for a straight-up superhero action flick may compare the lead up to the finale as too many appetizers before the main course, Jenkins has never been one to follow anyone or anything’s lead. Not everything works and a few minutes could have been sheared off the film’s 2 ½-hour running time, but “WW84” is a pure delight thanks to Gadot whose warmth and sincerity validates her Diana Prince/Wonder Woman persona. You don’t need an all-out action assault to make this superhero film fly. On the other hand, Pascal’s character is way over the top and his plan to take over the world is a bit “meh.”
“WW84” resembles the Superman films with the late Christopher Reeve as Diana Prince embodies the same virtues as Clark Kent, both Gadot and Reeve have a knack for delivering authentic performances as righteous individuals. Watching Wonder Woman “ride the air currents” or basically fly feels like a tribute to Reeve especially when she takes that right arm pulled back stance while soaring through the clouds. When the character was created in the 40s, she needed an invisible jet to get around, but DC Comics eventually gave her the ability to fly especially in the 80s when WW went through a reboot.
It’s funny how around the same timeline as Wonder Woman 1984, Reeve’s Superman was also dealing with a wealthy corrupt tycoon (Robert Vaughn) who wanted to take over the world’s oil supply as does Pascal’s Lord. That was “Superman III” which also featured more comedy (thanks to Richard Pryor) as does “WW84.” It must have been that decade, which thanks to the fanny pack can never be taken seriously.
The action sequences will look great on an IMAX screen and those who feel safe enough to visit a movie theater will benefit from the big screen experience but “WW84” is also premiering simultaneously on HBO Max on Christmas Day as part of the new deal Warner Media struck with the streaming platform to release all its films in 2021 day and date with cinemas.