“Nothing good is born from lies. And greatness is not what you think.” – Wonder Woman
It’s been a long time coming. Originally, of course I should’ve seen this film as a Christmas 2019 release, but a change of mind at Warner’s and then Covid-19 foiled those plans and thwarted every other release date announced. So here we are, not in the familiar surroundings of Cineworld, but in the more intimate surroundings of the study and my own home cinema system. It’s not ideal, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary releases and adaptability. My choice of platform for streaming the film in the limited time it’s available was Sky Store, though Amazon Prime, Apple TV etc are also options. A lucky few were able to catch the brief theatrical release before the great Dimming of the Projectors here in the UK. Even though I love seeing big spectacle films like this at the multiplex, frankly I’m just happy and grateful at this point to be able to see the film AT ALL. And that is the ultimate purpose of the movie, is it not? To be seen.
I went in to this film with the same mindset I always go into a film – spoiler free and with a wish to be swept away for a couple of hours. I feel it’s essential to go to a film without spoilers (because why WOULD you want a spoiler?) though I was aware that Wonder Woman 84, or WW 84 as it’s commonly called had attracted the usual anti DC comments. (Having said that, a lot of these comments come from people who don’t read comic books any more than I read their reviews.)
Okay, so that’s the background to this particular screening. What’s the story? Is it as bad as we’ve heard on social media?
Frankly, no. It’s not as bad as it’s being made out. Is it as near perfect as the first? No, absolutely not. It has its flaws and there are some things about it that are questionable, and just don’t work. But we’ll work our way through that process, as a close friend of mine always says. There WILL however be a need to delve into spoilery material to discuss some aspects and thus, I’ll be bringing in the Spoiler Zone. You know by now how that works – near the end of the review, there will be a countdown to a section of text that might spoil the film with some important plot details if you haven’t watched it. You are warned to stop reading at the countdown. After that, the responsibility is yours.
On we go, then.
The film opens with a breath-taking sequence showing us the mythical Isle of Themyscira, where the Amazons are holding their athletic games, involving running, jumping, acrobatics, balance, horse riding, archery spear throwing and endurance. Princess Diana as a child is the youngest competitor but takes a short cut and is removed from the competition, learning a hard lesson that victory by taking a short cut would be a lie. And that forms the overall underlying thread of the plot of the film as we flash forward to 1984, where the film takes place.
So far so good. Unlike the first film, where the scenes on Themyscira were shown in vivid colours in stark contrast to the blue-grey coldness of the world during the first world war and the ensuing psychological mind and mood shift it presented, WW84 is vibrant throughout. Both in visual tone and mood. Even though Wonder Woman’s costume hasn’t changed, it’s a lot brighter than it was in the last movie. So, we catch up with Diana in her Wonder Woman guise, saving people – but anonymously. Remember, this is eighty-four, and she’s still undercover and won’t really “come out” until she meets Superman and Batman to battle Doomsday in Dawn of Justice, around 35 years in the future – so this whole film is a flashback.
Gal Gadot cements her legacy as Diana/Wonder Woman in this film, as the script gives her more to work with. Her character has more empathy, vulnerability and emotion but still has a majestic quality. Diana has clearly learned a lot since we last saw her in WW1 and has developed beyond the Warrior Queen she was back then. I will go so far as to say that Gadot is as much the perfect Wonder Woman as Christopher Reeve was the perfect Superman and (to jump franchises to emphasis my point) Robert Downey Jr was the perfect Tony Stark.
Director Patty Jenkins captures the mood and the look of 1984 perfectly. The essence of the “greed is good” ethos as the plot revolves around the concept of instant gratification and constant accumulation. Basically, enough is NEVER enough. The film’s main antagonist Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) a delusional failing businessman with an appetite for success at any cost to anyone else is a hybrid of the business culture of the time, part Gordon Gekko from Wall Street and part eighties era Donald Trump with a similar, eventual arc with his thirst for power and influence. So, it all ties in so far.
The plot device that sets the film in motion is the cause of the film’s main problem and why it jars gratingly against the first film. Wonder Woman was based against the grim reality of WW1, and its tone reflected that. The character had to learn that despite storming no man’s land alone in a truly stunning sequence, she alone couldn’t stop mankind’s appetite for war and slaughter. Yes, it was all aggravated by the God of War, but Wonder Woman is a character steeped in Greek mythology so to accept her background, you have to accept that the Greek Gods still exist. That credibility is stretched to its limits in WW84 with the Dreamstone, an ancient artefact crated by the Gods that will grant one wish but takes a toll in return. So, whatever your heart desires, you will get, but you will lose something that most precious to you in return. After the horrors of war, this is a little lightweight and far-fetched, even for a superhero film and falls a little short of my expectations.
Villain-wise Kirsten Wiig is great as Barbara Minerva, a socially inept, clumsy pile of nerves who becomes Cheetah – but disappointingly she doesn’t make the full-on transformation into Cheetah until late in the film. However, Wiig captures the intoxicating lure of the easy path to getting what you want and then wanting more. Overall, despite being led to believe she was the chief threat in every incarnation of the trailer the film is really the story of Maxwell Lord as a failed businessman who wants more and finds an easy way to get it with Minerva as a supporting character who enables him, as he enables her.
But how does all this affect our virtuous heroine? Surely, SHE doesn’t succumb to the easy way, even after her lesson as a child in the Amazonian Olympics? Well, she unwittingly wishes for the return of the love of her life, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who died in WW1. And this is one of the elements that really doesn’t work for me. Trevor seems not to really be there physically, but has taken possession of a stranger’s body. Diana SEES Trevor, but a reflection shows someone else. With Trevor’s memories. But it’s not him. I can understand how the film has been seen as adopting a date rape scenario as far as the other guy’s consent is concerned. He doesn’t appear to have a say despite Diana and Trevor getting really intimate really quickly. Imagine the outcry if the genders were reversed. That’s not really addressed satisfactorily.
But as I mentioned, making a wish has its penalty, Diana must lose something precious – and so her powers begin to fade, leaving her more vulnerable to Barbara, who has wished to be more like Diana and gains her powers.
I think, in essence, this film reminded me of the tone of Superman 3. All the Wonder Woman elements are there, it’s not quite as broadly comedic as Superman 3, you have the definitive big screen Wonder Woman, there are some spectacular set pieces – they even find a way to rationalise Wonder Woman’s famous invisible jet in a way that I could accept (I have NEVER been a fan of that thing, it has long been the part of the WW mythos that I’ve found ridiculous) plus she learns how to fly – and the sight of Wonder Woman lassoing lightning is just amazing, but all this, all the stunning visuals are balanced against jarring things like Steve Trevor knowing how to pilot an eighties jet, when the last thing he flew was a biplane in the Great War.
Maybe it’s that we’ve been waiting to see this for so long, we built it up unrealistically, as it follows the lighter mood of Shazam, rather than its predecessor, but then Shazam is a goofier character than Diana.
Were I to give it a rating out of ten, it’d be at the higher, mid-range of the scale. Maybe a seven at the highest. It’s definitely not in the Batman & Robin/Fantastic 4 (the Josh Trank film) basement end of the measure of stupid awfulness. But it’s quite not on the Wonder Woman/Infinity War level of sprawling mythical epicenes either. It misses its mark just a little.
My advice to you would be to see the film for yourselves. It really is worth a look.
Now, to those who haven’t see it, please look away because we’re entering the Spoiler Zone, where I’ll be discussing some elements that might give away some things you’d rather not know.
Spoiler Zone in
The Spoiler Zone – You have been warned.
Things I loved
The flying armour, as designed by Alex Ross in the graphic novel Kingdom Come was perfectly realised, though Ross has pointed out he wasn’t consulted or credited for use of his design. It’s a shame it was plastered all over the trailer and poster. It would’ve been an awesome easter egg for those of us who’ve read Kingdom Come, but I guess the merchandising arm at Warner’s wanted their share of the pie.
I especially loved the tie-in story from the opening games that the armour was worn by essentially the first and original Amazon, Asteria who wore it in battle to defend all the others. And the insinuation that as Diana possessed the armour and it was a trophy earned at the Amazonian Olympics (that’s my name for it) she had re-entered the games at a later stage and won the armour fair and square.
Hans Zimmer’s score was sweeping and built upon the score he wrote for Dawn of Justice, even reprising it at one stage.
The sting. I honestly didn’t see THAT coming. It literally made my heart dance, and not in a way that’ll put me back in intensive coronary care. I loved the surprise cameo and I REALLY loved the line “I’ve been doing this for a really long time”. It was perfect.
The much maligned (by me) invisible plane suddenly made sense. She’s practically a Goddess and could channel her power to render the craft invisible. I’ll accept that. And even though I didn’t really swallow Trevor’s sudden ability to pilot a jet, I thought his explanation on his approach to flying, feeling the air current being adapted to Diana discovering her ability to fly worked quite well. Those scenes reminded me of Supergirl’s first flight in the film of (coincidentally) 1984. Another flawed film with some really inspired scenes.
Things I didn’t like
I was wondering how they’d bring Chris Pine back. Having him as Steve Trevor’s great grandson or something would’ve just been creepy. I mean who would’ve jumped into bed with your great grandfather’s girlfriend? But having him do some body swapping or worse, possession of the body of an innocent stranger was just as creepy. I know Diana SAW him as Trevor but the reflection Trevor saw in the mirror was of the stranger, sort of like Sam Becket in Quantum Leap, I guess. But somehow, it seems wrong.
The conclusion/resolution. So, the world is at the brink of destruction. Terrorist states are wishing for more weapons, the super powers want more nuclear weapons and everything is out of control and spirally toward global Armageddon due to pure greed. Solution, recant your wishes and everything goes back to normal. Yes, I know it’s deeper than that, and the lasso of truth played its part, channelling the innate goodness of Wonder Woman in convincing everyone to make the sacrifice but essentially everyone’s wish was kind of non-binding and carried no real consequence. Evil went unpunished, but everybody learned a valuable lesson and that was it?
I saw that as much a cop-out ending as Superman spinning counter clockwise against the Earth to turn time back in 1979. (Superman is to me, a perfect film up to that point. The laws of physics alone…. Don’t get me started)
But wait, with the reset, did everyone lose their memory of what had happened. And if they had, did they REALLY learn anything, if having succumbed to their baser instincts they were allowed to blissfully forget it had ever happened? Diana obviously remembered the stranger that Trevor had inhabited when she later bumped into him, but he had no recollection of her at all. (Trust me, if I had a dalliance with Gal Gadot, I’d want to remember it!)
Copyright © 2010 - 2021 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.