We’re at a point with superhero movies where the bar has been raised to such a degree that we can’t just call them a passing fad anymore. Love them or hate them, superhero movies have evolved. They’ve developed a complexity and nuance that few genres ever gain, regardless of medium.
Plus, they make billions at the box office. Let’s not forget that. It’s why the Bill Mahers of the world won’t stop whining about superhero movies anytime soon.
Forgetting the whiners and petty nit-pickers of the genre, superhero movies have a higher threshold to achieve to be considered successful. It’s not enough anymore than to just put a famous actor or actress in an iconic costume and replay famous scenes from comics. The story, characters, and themes have to be refined and compelling.
That’s a challenge for any movie, but one that felt far more daunting for “Wonder Woman 1984.” After the success of the first “Wonder Woman” movie, which did a masterful job of establishing Diana’s origin and building her superhero persona, this sequel is tasked with building on that foundation.
As someone who loved the first movie and made it a point to watch “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max with my mom on Christmas day, I had high hopes for this movie. I wasn’t expecting “The Dark Knight” level of quality, but I was hoping for a worthy follow-up.
Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll say without hesitation that it succeeded. This movie was a beautiful, emotionally driven cinematic experience and a worthy successor to the first “Wonder Woman.”
I say that knowing that some reviews were quite scathing in their assessment of the film. As is my general rule, I never read reviews before I see a movie. As I saw with “New Mutants,” that can wrongly color your perspective. As was also the case with that movie, I was genuinely surprised by the criticisms levied against “Wonder Woman 1984.”
However, I’m not going to waste my time responding to those criticisms. I’m just going to offer my take on why I thought this movie was a worthy follow-up to the first. Like any sequel, its primary goal was building on what the first movie established. In that sense, this movie did succeed.
The setup for the movie is a dazzling spectacle. Like the first, we get a brief glimpse of Diana’s youth on Themysicra. We see her living and growing amongst her Amazon sisters, showing the kind of power and potential that lies within her. It’s a true sight to behold and one director Patty Jenkins fleshes out meticulously.
Within that setup, though, is an important theme. It highlights the importance of truth and doing things the right way for the right reasons. You cannot and should not take shortcuts to achieve your goal. Doing so will always come at a price and incur consequences. It’s a simple, but necessary lesson that kids and adults alike often learn the hard way.
That leads us directly to the main antagonist of the movie, Maxwell Lord. Played by Pedro Pascal, he comes off as the very antithesis of this lesson. He’s a con-man and a huckster, always looking for a shortcut to get what he wants. That includes tampering with the forces of the gods, which puts him in direct conflict with Diana.
At the same time, this conflict ties closely to another unfolding with Diana’s new friend, Barbara Minerva. Played by Kristen Wiig, she comes off at first as the very antithesis of Diana. She’s a nobody. She has none of Diana’s power, grace, or skill. She’s basically invisible, only ever getting attention from people she doesn’t like.
This is very much in line with the characterization of Barbara Minerva in the comics. She’s Wonder Woman’s chief rival, but she started out as a friend. She’s even sympathetic to some extent. She’s not looking to become a villain, like Maxwell Lord. She just wants a taste of the power and prestige that she sees in Wonder Woman.
She ultimately gets her chance, as does Maxwell Lord. When Barbara stumbles upon the Dreamstone, a relic imbued with the power from Dolos, the god of lies, that can grant wishes to those who wield it. However, like a typical monkey’s paw narrative, every wish comes at a price.
It closely mirrors the lesson young Diana learned in her youth, as depicted in the movie’s opening scenes. Taking any shortcut to get what you desire will come at a price. You can try to avoid the consequences all you want, but it eventually compounds. The more you try, the worse it’ll get.
Maxwell Lord thinks he has a way to avoid this. He thinks he can get everything he wants by simply making the right kind of wish. That ultimately causes a great deal of destruction. I’d go into detail, but I’d rather not reveal too much. All you need to know is that it’s not the kind of destruction Wonder Woman can stop with her fists and her sword.
What happens with Barbara Minerva is even more impactful. Like Maxwell Lord, she’s unwilling to give up any power she gains. Unlike Lord, however, she’s willing to pay any price to keep it. That’s what sends her down a dark path. It’s also what turns her from one of Diana’s friends into a truly tenacious foe.
These conflicts become very personal to Diana because she too is unable to resist the temptation. She may give so much of herself to others, but she also has desires and wishes of her own. That’s where Steve Trevor, played again by Chris Pine, enters the picture.
His death and heroic sacrifice in the first “Wonder Woman” movie was so powerful. That whole movie really sold the love that blossomed between him and Diana. Even as the years go by, his death still burdens Diana. She cannot let go of that love. She wants nothing more than to have it back.
It’s sad, but understandable. If ever someone deserved a consequence-free wish from all her heroic acts, it’s Diana. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around it. She still tries. She gets her chance to be with the love of her life again. As with everything else, though, it comes at a price.
That’s the biggest theme of this movie. Getting what you want by breaking the rules or cheating will always come at a price. Even if you’re willing to pay that price, it does cause damage to yourself and others. It’s a painful lesson and one that gives “Wonder Woman 1984” so many emotional overtones.
It’s because of those overtones that this movie works so well. Wonder Woman, by her nature, is a very emotionally driven character. Her love, compassion, and heart are among her greatest traits. They’re as strong as her fighting spirit. The first movie revealed this and “Wonder Woman 1984” builds on that.
Her greatest struggles always have an emotional weight to them. It’s not just a matter of her beating up the bad guy to save the day. One of those foes was once her friend. Another is someone she can’t defeat simply by beating him up. She has to use that uncanny compassion and heart to win the day. That’s what makes her Wonder Woman.
I would argue that’s the most important aspect of her character and this movie captured it perfectly. I really did feel for Diana as she went through these emotional upheavals throughout the story. It brought out her greatest strengths, as well as her greatest weaknesses.
Now, speaking of weaknesses, this is where I also have to levy some criticisms of my own against “Wonder Woman 1984.” I promise they’re not nearly as petty or overblown as some of the other reviews to this movie. Some have complained about the length and tone of the movie. I honestly think that sort of criticism is misguided.
I’ll still say outright that this movie was not as good as the first “Wonder Woman.” This movie was not as concise and polished, in terms of story. There were a number of “and then this happened” moments that made the story seem a bit jumbled at times. In some cases, it relied too heavily on contrivances and suspension of disbelief to move things along.
I get the sense this was done to keep things moving forward from a plot standpoint. I also think there were some difficulties in revealing the ins and outs of godly magic, which is considerably harder to do in a movie when compared to a comic.
None of these shortcomings kept the movie from working overall. Gal Gadot once again carried her role as Wonder Woman with grace and grit. She, Steve Trevor, and Cheetah all had well-developed characters that played their roles well throughout the story. In terms of the most important elements to a good Wonder Woman movie, “Wonder Woman 1984” got them right.
If I had to score this movie, I’d give it a 4 out of 5. It has some noticeable flaws, more so than its predecessor. However, Gal Gadot is still an amazing Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins is still a great director, and this world they explored together was full of dazzling wonder.
For a year that has been so bleak and dire, it’s just what we needed. For that, I thank “Wonder Woman 1984” and all those who helped make it happen.