Movie review: Wonder Woman 1984

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A stylized gold Wonder Woman emblem sits on a red background. Pixy

Superhero sequel underwhelming, but still entertaining

by florence hwang, contributor

Making a sequel to 2017’s critically-acclaimed Wonder Woman is a hard act to follow, but director Patty Jenkins certainly gave it her best shot. The first one was an origin film, explaining Diana Prince’s beginnings and journey to becoming the heroine she is known to be. Wonder Woman 1984 introduces her archrival, The Cheetah, and villain Max Lord.

The opening scene of Wonder Woman 1984 shows Diana as a girl competing in a hotly-contested race against older Amazonian women in Themyscira. Prince is in the lead for most of the race, but her moment of cockiness nearly gets her eliminated. In the end, her quick thinking gets her back on her feet again, but her Aunt Antiope (played by Robin Wright) does not allow the young girl to win by cheating: a hard lesson about sticking to the truth. The idea of truth is also a major theme in the film.

In the first film, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) faced off with the God of War, her half brother. In the sequel, she faces off with a new archrival, the Cheetah (played by Kristen Wiig) and has to contend with Max Lord (played by Pedro Pascal) in order to save the world.

The sequel is set in the mid-1980s, and the movie looks back on that era with an optimistic, carefree tone. Steve Trevor’s (played by Chris Pine) perspective on the ’80s after coming from the early 1900s also pokes some fun at the trends and fads of that era, such as the costumes, which were on point. Some of the fads are still cringe-worthy, including the big hair and shoulder pads and parachute pants (Trevor asks if everyone who wears these kinds of pants parachutes). There is a fun montage of him modeling different outfits displaying the fashion trends of that era.

But what was lacking was more era-appropriate music. While there were some famous tunes featured in the film, there could have been more. Music has the ability to transport people to almost any time. And there is so much classic 80s music that would have made the film feel more authentic. (I suspect the lack of pop music from this time period may have something to do with paying licensing fees.) However, the sets were done well, particularly the scene shot in the shopping mall with period appropriate décor and stores.

I wish there was more backstory for the Cheetah and Max Lord. While villains don’t usually gain admiration or empathy from the audience, it would be nice to have some more depth to their character development to enrich the plot.

Both Lord and Minerva are depicted as losers who want to be transformed. Lord wants power and success in his business while Minerva wants to be beautiful and more like Prince, who still looks ageless and stunning while saving the world. Lord is also trying to provide a good life for his son (I sense a theme going on with Pedro Pascal being cast as a parental figure, like he is to Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian).

Wiig is portrayed as an awkward, brilliant zoologist who works with Diana at the Smithsonian Institute. Minerva has unkempt hair, glasses and unflattering, frumpy outfits: an attempt to make her seem like an unattractive outsider who is desperate to do anything to fit in. This portrayal is meant to underscore the drastic change she makes to become the villain. Minerva undergoes a makeover and goes shopping for new clothes. She also discovers her newfound powers and tests her limits by going to the gym. It was somewhat similar to Prince when she was discovering the outside world, like going shopping for clothes or eating her first ice cream cone.

Likewise, Max Lord projects himself as a big shot on TV, but really, he is anything but. He appears to be successful as a television personality in the oil industry, but he is struggling to make bill payments and to keep his business, Black Gold Cooperative, afloat. His motto, “You can have it all” reflects the wealth and prosperity mentality in the 1980s when materialism was celebrated and something people wanted to ultimately achieve. This motto is central to the movie’s theme: to have everything you want comes at a cost. According to DC comics, Lord has telepathic persuasion, something which isn’t entirely made clear in the film. Now knowing that he has this ability, the film makes much more sense.

There are differing origin stories for the Cheetah. According to Wikipedia, she has “powerfully ferocious human-cheetah hybrids with great strength, agility, and deadly claws and fangs” which challenges Wonder Woman’s abilities. One of the explanations of where Minerva gets her powers is that with the help of a tribal priest named Chuma, the ancient plant god Urzkartaga’s caretaker. Minerva drinks a potion made of human blood and berries and leaves made from this ancient plant, which gives her the superpowers of a Cheetah. Max Lord’s backstory is shown later in the film. Wonder Woman 1984 offers an alternative source for Wiig’s transformation. That’s all I’ll say.

The first film Jenkins’ directed empowered women because it showed a demigod conquering entire German armies during the First World War. Prince is still a strong role model in the second film, but there is still the familiar trope that if a woman is to be successful, she must be smart, beautiful and fashionable. Minerva was already beautiful to begin with. However, it is still refreshing to see a female villain who can rival Wonder Woman’s prowess and strength.

The relationship between Prince and Minerva seems rather rushed. And considering Minerva’s role as the main villain, there should have been more time spent in fleshing out this dynamic. It felt like Lord’s role was more of a major threat in the film than Minerva. Also, the characters seemed to be more two-dimensional than those of the first movie. 

Wonder Woman 1984 is a good film, but it had potential to be so much more. While this sequel wasn’t quite as good as the original, it still delivered on high entertainment value with its well-executed action sequences, quality acting and special effects. The special effects were outstanding, helping make the fight scenes jump off the screen. And there are the usual campy jokes throughout the film. Maybe because it is a comic book movie, I can overlook the two-dimensional characters and cheesy plot. It was still enjoyable to watch.

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