Runtime: 2 hours, 31 minutes
Director: Patty Jenkins
Written by: Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, Dave Callaham
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen
By Valerie Kalfrin
With its message of kindness and empathy, “Wonder Woman 1984” offers a soothing balm in a pandemic-weary year, even if getting there is a muddled journey.
A regal and radiant Gal Gadot (“Justice League”) returns as Diana Prince, a superhero known for her sincerity as much as her golden lasso of truth and deflective gauntlets. When we last saw the Amazon princess in 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” she’d defeated Ares, the God of War, and stopped World War I. She also lost her love, U.S. Air Force pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, TV’s “I Am the Night”), after he detonated a plane full of nerve gas bound for London. Unable to return to her idyllic kingdom of Themyscira, Diana has lived among us ever since.
But instead of showing audiences whether Diana has inserted herself into other world events, such as World War II or the Cold War, “Wonder Woman 1984” gives her a more personal story during the age of Day-Glo, jelly shoes, and the ethos of excess. After an entertaining flashback to an Amazonian contest featuring Diana’s mother (Connie Nielsen) and aunt (Robin Wright), Diana stops joyriders from hitting a jogger and foils gun-toting jewel thieves with both athletics and aplomb in a sequence that calls to mind Superman’s night of good deeds in 1978’s “Superman: The Movie.” She tells one thief before coolly disarming him, “We won’t be doing that today.”
News reports have no idea who this “mysterious female savior” is, which might make viewers wonder if she moves as often as the “Twilight” vampires to keep her identity a secret. Diana now works as an expert in archaeology and antiquities at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. But beyond photos and mementoes of Steve and her other cohorts from the World War I mission, this immortal has few friends. She dines out alone.
Returning director Patty Jenkins, who co-wrote the script with DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham (“Zombieland: Double Tap”), leans into Diana’s relatable isolation. But the plot becomes unnecessarily convoluted with an element that seems more at home on the 1970s “Wonder Woman” TV series. The FBI asks for the Smithsonian to identify some recovered antiquities, including a stone that grants wishes with consequences, similar to the short story “The Monkey’s Paw.” Naturally, Diana wishes she could see Steve again.
“Wonder Woman 1984” bubbles with warmth and romance whenever Pine and Gadot are together, thanks to their effortless chemistry. Watching Diana introduce him to Pop-Tarts, passenger jets, and escalators is as endearing as Steve treating her to ice cream in the original film. But for some reason, the film resurrects Steve by having him take over the body of a Handsome Man (Kristoffer Polaha of TV’s “Castle” and “Condor,” billed as such). The film makes clear that the audience and Diana see Pine but everyone else sees the Handsome Man, like the Warren Beatty scenario in 1978’s “Heaven Can Wait.” But the situation raises questions about consent, plus ignores just who this guy is. Is he possessed? Has he no family? Does no one notice he’s flying around with an Amazon warrior?
The film also loses some emotional stakes by devoting ample time to two antagonists. Would-be oil tycoon Max Lord (Pedro Pascal of “The Mandalorian”) hunts for the wishing stone to grant him the wealth and respect he’s always craved. Pascal intriguingly plays Lord as creepy, desperate, and oddly sympathetic, but the rules about how the wishing power works seem to fluctuate as he uses more of it.
Meanwhile, Wonder Woman’s longtime comics antagonist, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig of “Saturday Night Live”), aka Cheetah, envies Diana’s strength, beauty, and ability to walk in cheetah-print heels. Barbara wishes she could be just like Diana, gaining strength, agility, and super speed. But the women’s budding friendship gets short shrift, which would have made their clashes more tense and satisfying, the eventual CGI claws and tail notwithstanding.
All that said, “Wonder Woman 1984” has some touching moments that perhaps hit stronger at the end of 2020 than had the film premiered during a regular summer. (It’s currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.) Diana and Steve have some affecting moments, and in a genre full of fisticuffs and fantastical stunts, it’s heartening to see that compassion unravels all the chaos. It doesn’t hit the heights of her 2017 debut, but “Wonder Woman 1984” reminds us of what makes this enduring hero so wonderful in the first place.