We’ve been waiting for this. Originally scheduled for Christmas last year and then several more dates back in the mists of 2020, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 eventually lands in cinemas this Wednesday. And only cinemas. Warner Brothers aren’t, at the time of writing, planning to make it available online as well, despite the closure of a substantial number of cinemas on opening day. Under normal circumstances, the film would have been one of the year’s Christmas blockbusters. Now it stands alone and, while the big screen is exactly where it belongs, it now also faces an unexpected struggle to bring in audiences.
Yet this still could be the movie we’ve been waiting for to tempt people back into cinemas, in the areas where they’re open. At a time when we need some action packed, emotionally uplifting entertainment, Wonder Woman 1984 ticks pretty much all the boxes and does it in endearing style. 1984 finds Diana Prince working for The Smithsonian in Washington, where she’s joined by new colleague Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Barbara’s asked to discover more about a mysterious stone and, at much the same time, the establishment is paid a visit by Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), known to everybody for his cheesy TV commercials promising rich rewards to anybody investing in his oil company. His interest in that stone is even greater, and it soon becomes apparent to Diana that he has greater ambitions than anybody could have imagined. At the same time, her dearest wish appears to have come true – the return of her one true love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).
Wishes – good and bad, hence the regular references to being careful what you wish for – are at the centre of the film, although explaining how would take us perilously close to spoiler territory. But, for the most part, the film doesn’t treat the idea too seriously. In fact, the first two thirds of Wonder Woman 1984 rejoices in a decidedly irreverent and self-deprecating tone. The humour is gentle and knowing – the tramp in the park, reading Waiting For Godot – and there are aspects which are so far-fetched they generate amusement all on their own. How, for instance, does Diana manage to walk – let alone run – in those extraordinary stilettos? And how, when he’s been in a spectacular crash which demolishes his windscreen, does Steve emerge without the slightest scratch on him? This is not a film that demands a great deal of thought. In fact, it’s best to avoid thinking about it too much. That would simply spoil the fun.
And it all works beautifully up to a point. It’s only in the final act that Jenkins stumbles, as the tone becomes more serious and, even though she holds on to the inspirational note that surrounds Wonder Woman herself, she allows the pace to slacken. The final show-downs are overlong and, while impressive to look at, feel more contrived than the rest of the film. Thankfully its heart – and it has a big one – remains intact so that the end brings a sense of satisfaction and the warmth of that goes with lifted spirits. Which, let’s face it, we could do with right now. Gadot and Pine reprise their roles from the first film and still make an appealing partnership, but Pascal gets perilously close to stealing their thunder. 2020 has been his year, what with The Mandalorian and Netflix’s forthcoming We Can Be Heroes, on top of this. He relishes playing the bad guy and, sure, he goes over the top occasionally, but it all adds to the entertainment value.
A sequel that’s part of a major franchise and has a whole lot riding on it can be a tough call, and Jenkins has done an impressive job with this second outing. The more frivolous, humorous tone remains intact – if only it were there throughout – and, apart from it being overlong in the final stretch, this is a thoroughly entertaining experience, one designed to lift our spirits and well as excite and amuse. And it couldn’t come at a better time.
Fantasy, Adventure | Cert: 12A | Warner Brothers | 16 December 2020 | Dir. Patty Jenkins | Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal, Kirsten Wiig.