TL;DR – As per the title, get ready for 80s music, fashion and the ageless Wonder Woman seeking to stop a man who has become a genie that can grant wishes for himself by granting wishes to others.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Wonder Woman 1984 opens with a tournament on Themyscira where a very young, Diana Prince, competes against older Amazons in a race involving obstacles, horse riding, and archery. It is a splendid opening act against a mythical backdrop, with Diana almost winning the race except she cheats and is thus disqualified.
Moral lesson is then imparted by Antiope who says, “You took the short path. You cheated, Diana. That is the truth. That is the only truth and truth is all there is… You cannot be the winner, because you are not ready to win, and there is no shame in that. Only in knowing the truth in your heart and not accepting it, no true hero is born from lies.”
This is a long-winded way of saying that anything that is worth obtaining is done so honestly and with no shortcuts. This is the theme that runs through the rest of the film.
Fast forward to 1984 and we see Diana (Gal Gadot) swinging into action as Wonder Woman and saving people at a shopping centre where a robbery is occurring. When she is not doing the hero-schtick, she works at the Smithsonian Institution and lives a pretty lonely existence. She does not allow herself to connect with anyone and is still heartbroken from losing Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the army pilot who sacrificed himself in the prequel Wonder Woman movie.
The two primary antagonists are then introduced into the film. First, we have Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), an awkward, shy geologist and cryptozoologist who just started working at the Smithsonian. Barbara has confidence issues and is largely ignored and forgotten by anyone she interacts with. That is until she meets Diana, who treats her with respect and dignity.
Next, we meet Maxwell Lorenzano (Pedro Pascal), a man striving to be at the top by creating a Ponzi scheme involving buying up land to drill for oil (only to discover there is no oil). People who have invested and trusted in him are now pulling the plug, and he is on the brink of bankruptcy.
When Barbara shows Diana an artefact known as the ‘Dreamstone’ and Diana reads an inscription on it that says it will grant the holder one wish, you know things are going to go sideways. Remember the only things worth obtaining are done so honestly and with no shortcuts. The fine print on the Dreamstone is that it will grant your wish but you have to pay a price unless you renounce the wish.
Both Diana and Barbara (inadvertently) and Maxwell (intentionally) make wishes. Diana wishes Steve was back; Barbara wishes she was like Diana; and Maxwell wishes to be the Dreamstone.
Steve comes back to life in another man’s body. It is an unintentionally funny moment which reminded me of the movie Ghost where Patrick Swayze’s character goes into Whoopi Goldberg’s character so Demi Moore can see him. The price Diana pays is she slowly loses her powers.
Barbara starts gaining strength and beauty like Diana. The price she pays is she slowly loses her humanity.
Maxwell becomes the genie and can grant anyone’s wish while at the same time being able to fulfil his own wishes. The price he pays is that his body starts shutting down.
Like the first film, power that corrupts is found from the gods. The DC comics showed that Wonder Woman’s powers came from the Greek gods. In the first film, Wonder Woman faced off against Ares, the god of war, in this film, she indirectly faces off against Molos, the god of mischief who created the Dreamstone.
As Wonder Woman gets weaker, and Barbara and Maxwell get more powerful, none seek to renounce their wishes even though they see the cost is not just impacting on them but the world over. Eventually, Wonder Woman does the right thing and lets Steve go. Meanwhile, Barbara turns into the villain, Cheetah, and Maxwell uses satellites to beam his message across the world telling people to make a wish and in turn he wishes for their lifeforce as payment (thus staving off his own mortality).
Wonder Woman saves the day not through brute strength but by appealing to the world’s humanity and revealing the truth. The fact that part of life is suffering but there is also goodness and hope. And that truth is all that matters. Through her lasso, she communicates through Maxwell and pleads for everyone to be a hero by renouncing their wish, to see the chaos they have unleashed, and making them realise this is the truth in order to save the earth.
While the message is noble, I found the film did not quite deliver. Maxwell is more misguided than villain. The scene where he gets the US president to make a wish is comical rather than gripping (and what the president wishes for is not ‘world peace’ but ‘more nuclear weapons’… who voted for this guy?) Barbara, on the other hand, is a character whose transformation is well done if not for the fact that Kristen Wiig cannot hope to make herself look awkward and invisible to others by merely wearing glasses and baggy clothing. And bringing back Steve via inhabiting another human being… the moral implications of that do not get explored at all.
There’s also some real holes in the plot. For example, when Maxwell beams his face all around the world and gets people to make wishes, his son Alistair wishes simply for his dad to return to him. But nothing happens, Maxwell continues on his megalomaniac wish consumption ways and Alistair is left wandering through a city that has erupted into chaos. I guess he didn’t wish loud enough?
Another example is where Steve and Diana steal a plane. Forget the fact they simply walk into a hangar and jump into a ready fuelled airplane, Steve also happens to choose a fighter jet and somehow fumbles his way to knowing how to start and fly it when his training as a pilot involved flying planes in 1918 (not 1984). Maybe the body he got resurrected into is a modern day pilot?
The film’s action sequences also come up short. The first Wonder Woman film’s scene where Diana charges across ‘No Man’s Land’ to capture an enemy trench is masterful, beautifully cinematic and adrenaline pumping. There is nothing like that in Wonder Woman 1984 and what action there is looks a bit silly; one particular sequence where Diana saves two children by lassoing a missile and then a windmill to then swing down is so blatantly green screen that you will think you are watching an old Tarzan movie. Unfortunate.
5 out of 10