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Review: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Is A Worthy Sequel Unfettered by Its Cynical Expanded Universe

By Lindsay Traves | Reviews | December 24, 2020 |

By Lindsay Traves | Reviews | December 24, 2020 |


Shedding the gloomy greys of its predecessor, Wonder Woman 1984, drops us in a world where neon reigns supreme, gold denotes power, and everything that matters happens at the mall. Dripping with flashbacks to the brightest of decades, we meet your friendly neighborhood Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who spends time between shifts at the Smithsonian thwarting local crime in a metallic super suit. What a freeing thing for director Patty Jenkins to put together a scene where Diana only needs to break a few surveillance cameras in order to remain anonymous, not captured by hundreds of smartphones and uploaded to Instagram. But that’s not the most important thing that setting this DCEU installment in the 1980s did; it allowed it to exist unfettered by its expanded universe.

The movie doesn’t start here with the confident Diana fighting evil by moonlight and winning artifacts by daylight. The opening of the film takes us back to Themyscira where a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) is battling in an epic round of Fall Guys against older Amazon warriors. She learns a hard lesson about truth, an ethic she will carry with her as a flimsy thread. Then, we go to the mall.

In 1984, Diana thwarts a robbery of stolen antiquities that she’s later tasked to archive at the Smithsonian, alongside her new colleague, Barbara (Kristin Wiig). Clad with curly hair and glasses, Barbara is your average bumbling super-villain in waiting, enamored by Diana and wishing to be just like her. A wish that can be granted by the museum’s MacGuffin, The Dream Stone. If there’s one thing the DCEU needed, it’s a magic stone with undefined deus ex machina powers. In the hands of Diana, a jealous Barbara, and the power-hungry oil driller huckster, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), the stone grants wishes for power, for lost love, and for the ability to set the price for wishes granted.

Reunited with her fallen beau, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Diana discovers the true nature of this magical bauble. Together, they set off to stop the power-drunk Lord and return the stone where it belongs. Guided by truth, Diana learns the dangers of “having it all,” something she must teach the greedy inhabitants of the 1980s world.

This isn’t the Diana we left behind in the first World War. Gone is the infantilizing “fish-out-of-water” story, and here is the confident and brilliant hero. Steve is no longer holding her hand. He functions as her teammate while the two remain in awe of each others’ impossible abilities while being endlessly in love. Steve’s return opens the door for a role reversal where he gets to try on his own rounds of outfits and learn about the magic of this new world. Though charming, time spent with Steve getting comfortable in his new 1980s skin is too much when placed beside the remainder of the film’s main cast doing the same.

Jenkins, who shares writing credit with David Callahan and DC veteran Geoff Johns, created a film too tethered to the plot-convenient powers of the stone to give us quality time with the two villains. Instead, we’re given drawn-out scenes of the baddies getting to understand their new powers like they’re young Peter Parker checking out their abs and the new gift of perfect eyesight well through the movie’s midpoint. Then, of course, a 2020 superheroine movie that throws back to the ’80s can’t help but steep itself in Girl Power. Though sometimes cute, the character growth centered around cat-calls and high heels feels shallow, making for a bloated and dull superhero epic that only dips its toes into themes of god complexes, unchecked capitalism, and the patriarchy.

Wiig and Pascal could play these roles in their sleep. Wiig delivers her signature nervous quirk routine while looking banging in a fitted dress, and Pascal shows off his signature bashfulness mixed with charisma. Meanwhile, Pine carries more weight than he has to since Gadot often looks lost in the CGI.

Though not the grey computer-generated storm we’ve come to expect in the DCEU, the bright CGI doesn’t work well here either. The movie benefits from being reminiscent of 1978’s Superman, but that doesn’t grant it leniency for the bizarre flying effects. Diana’s leaps and lands have no weight, and the impossible physicality is difficult to ignore. That is until she is using her golden lasso to propel her through lightning bolts. That’s truly the fullest evaluation of the film; it does so much wrong, but it’s so easy to ignore that when it does something so right.

It’s easy to pick apart the flimsy storyline, the gaudy CGI and the one-dimensional villains, but that doesn’t prevent Wonder Woman 1984 from being the superhero movie that delivers every emotion we want it to. It’s a refreshing change from its cynical cohorts, never trying to keep up with the brooding satire trendy in superhero media. Diana’s costumed caper set to Hans Zimmer’s original character score is the pure superhero goodness we want spoonfuls of as 2020 comes to a close.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman 1984 is an overdrawn monologue about truth and love with not a lot of teeth or substance, but it doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful and fun, and I spilled my popcorn getting up to cheer at major movie moments like when Diana discusses her father’s power for invisibility while aboard a plane.

Wonder Woman 1984 is now in select theaters and hits HBO Max on December 25.

Epidemiologists do not think it’s safe yet to go to theaters even with social distancing and safety measures in place. This review of a theatrical release is not an endorsement or suggestion otherwise. This film was reviewed via a screening link.

Lindsay Traves is a Toronto-based writer. After submitting her Bachelor’s thesis, “The Metaphysics of Schwarzenegger Movies,” she decided to focus on writing about her passions; sci-fi, horror, sports, and comic books. You can find her writing on Daily Dead, CGMagazine, What to Watch,, and Bloody Disgusting and can follow her work on Twitter @smashtraves.

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