At the top of WW84, we’re transported to Themyscira, the hidden paradisiacal island nation that first appeared in All Star Comics #8 back in December 1941. An Olympic game is afoot, and a pre-teen Diana (Lilly Aspell doing her own stunts) is able to keep up with the older, more seasoned Amazons, climbing to dizzying heights and using her incredible agility to conquer each obstacle throughout this Spartan-esque race. It’s Sasuke, or American Ninja Warrior, times a million.
Diana, despite her Mighty-Mouse stature compared to the adult Amazons, is determined to win. She maintains a slim lead on her equine, but one too many head turns to see if anyone might be on her tail knocks her to the ground. Her opponents pass her by and traverse toward the finish line.
Instead of hustling to catch up, the young princess uses her wits to cuts across the tropic landscape, mount her horse again and reclaim the lead. Just one spear toss left and victory is hers! But at the last second, her aunt/trainer Antiope (Robin Wright) yanks her to the ground. Aspell’s eyes say it all. She had her genetic-jackpot competition beat. Now she’s in last place. “No! That’s not fair!” she exclaims, holding back tears.
“You cheated, Diana,” Antiope responds. “Truth is all there is. No true hero is born from lies.”
Diana (Gal Gadot) recalls this tough love lesson from her coach as an adult in 1984. Now a grown woman and objectively gorgeous, she patrols a city traditionally depicted as being tarnished with dishonesty—Washington DC. Her physical strength and speed are at the utmost. With the aid of unbreakable wrist bands, a tiara that doubles as a weaponized boomerang, and a magical lasso that forces those it binds to always tell the truth, Diana swoops down undetected to help those in need, whether it’s catching a falling woman or sending thugs crashing through the roof of a police car. “Who is this woman?” a reporter asks. It’s Wonder Woman.
WW84 is director Patty Jenkins’ second go at Wonder Woman, and she nails exactly what’s at the heart of this character within the first 15 minutes. It’s not physical prowess that makes Diana a hero. It’s her upbringing; her capacity for good; her aversion to fame; her penchant for honesty; and an unwavering moral compass.
Wonder Woman creator (and polygraph inventor) William Moulton Marston weaved these themes into the character when he conjured her up some 80 years ago. His muse was his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, along with their lover, Olive Byrne.
Since then, Wonder Woman has cropped up in countless comic book stories, graphic novels, cartoons and small-screen adaptations (portrayed by Cathy Lee Crosby, Lynda Carter and Adrianne Palicki).
In recent years, Gadot’s Wonder Woman has had the unfortunate luck of sharing the big screen with other superheroes in a pair of lackluster films. She jolts the audience awake in Zach Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and is underutilized in the follow-up, Justice League (2019).
In Wonder Woman (2017), which Jenkins also directed, we get a tight-knit origin story. Artists of the original Wonder Woman comic book had the pleasure of drawing Diana kicking Nazi ass. But in an effort to differentiate her cinematic debut from Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), producers placed Diana in the year 1918. She leaves Themyscira to join American fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in an effort to end, not just The Great War, but all wars. It’s an impossible task, but so it goes with romantic heroes.
In WW84, Jenkins ups the fun. Colors pop as warrior princess Diana takes down half-witted burglars in a shopping mall with a wink and a smile. Jenkins ditches the monochromatic, muted tones found in Snyder’s somber take on the so-called “shared universe” of DC Comics characters. Instead, she has a reverence for Richard Donner who crafted 1978’s Superman into the cheerful, infectious epic that basically started the whole superhero movie craze in the first place.
And like Donner, she uses the circumstances of a previous decade to connect with her present-day audience. Recall the opening narration of Superman with the caption “1938.” Those watching the film 40 years later identified with the “fear and confusion” and “ravages of the world wide depression.” That was especially the case in grimy New York City (a stand in for Metropolis), which was crime-ridden and teetered toward bankruptcy.
Superman’s good deeds bring a glimmer of hope to that post-Watergate world; likewise with Wonder Woman in this Cold War-inspired tale. If you were to take Doc Brown’s DeLorean back to Jenkins’ 1984, it’d feel very familiar. Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) is an avaricious businessman and television personality.
“You can have it all,” he says to his young son in the film’s first act. Once Lord gets genie-like powers from an ancient magical rock, he wants more… More… MORE — including an adoring public and unfettered power.
Lord eventually takes over the White House, hacks into the airwaves and gaslights an enamored human race, handing out wish fulfillments like some televangelist Oprah Winfrey gone psycho.
Pascal hams it up as an oil magnate/Washington outsider who promises to make life better, only for things to get unequivocally worse. Unbeknownst to the public, anyone who listens to Lord’s spiel and makes a wish must pay a devastating price. Something dear to them is lost. This doesn’t matter to Lord, who fancies himself a savior who can remove the yoke of feeling like a loser.
Diana’s dorky yet loveable co-worker, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), buys into it. She comes into possession of the totem that gives Lord his powers, and wishes to be more like Diana: “Strong. Sexy. Cool. Special.” It also grants her Wonder Woman’s super abilities, sans ethics, and Barbara winds up losing the very qualities that made her admirable: Her warmth; her joy; her humanity. This geeky-lonely-office-girl goes wild and transforms into Cheetah, bent on helping Lord achieve his plan.
Diana makes a wish too: Bring back Steve Trevor, her dashing pilot beau who heroically perished in part one. It’s decades later and she’s still the single, lonely superhero. So, Steve pulls a Sam from Ghost, possesses another person’s body and— voila—Diana’s long lost lover is back. Good girl Diana also doesn’t seem to mind making love to Steve even though he’s in another man’s body without permission.
The price she pays? Her powers. Her speed and agility begin to dwindle. Bullets can now pierce her, and Barbara bests her in combat all while Lord dismantles the order of Washington DC and the rest of the world.
Diana ultimately realizes that living happily ever after with Steve is less important than being married only to her Wonder Woman persona and making sure the world is safe. This is not unlike the struggle Clark Kent has with Lois Lane in 1980’s Superman II; Or Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale in 1989’s Batman; Or Peter Parker and Mary Jane in 2002’s Spider-Man. It’s a tried and true hero trope, but it works here and Gadot has her best scene when she struggles to say goodbye to her beloved Steve—this time for good.
The big showdown with Lord occurs in the White House pressroom where he uses his powers to take more than he gives. Instead of stopping him with her fists, Diana uses her words to transmit her own message to the masses—one of love and compassion.
“What is it costing you? Do you see the truth?”
“This world was a beautiful place just as it was. And you cannot have it all. You can only have the truth. The truth is enough. The truth is beautiful. So look at this world. Look at what your wishes are costing it. You must be the hero. Only you can save the day.”
The film explicitly references W.W. Jacob’s The Monkey's Paw, a cautionary tale from 1902 with the same be-careful-what-you-wish-for theme. As it wraps, we can’t help but wish WW84could have been more. Wiig, for example, livens up the film with each beat, but doesn’t show up nearly enough throughout the 151-minute runtime. Her transformation into a full-fledged feline monster is suspended (we never get to see it). And once Diana gets her rematch, we get a CGI scratch-and-claw clash in a long-awaited live action slice of Saturday-morning cartoon nostalgia that ends all too quickly.
We also get just a taste of the 1980s. Costume designer Lindy Hemming revels in the fashion (Steve is a man-out-of-time and watching Chris Pine inquire about parachute pants and insist on wearing a fanny pack is a hoot). However, there's not a hint of 80s music on WW84’s soundtrack. If there was ever a moment for Warner Brothers to imbue a superhero film with Prince hits, this was it. Purple Rain debuted in 1984 and a plethora of awesome hits made up the year’s top 100. [insert link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billboard_Year-End_Hot_100_singles_of_1984] We feel almost deprived when we don’t get it.
Also, we’re not tipped to who didn’t renounce their wish. Does Barbara lose her powers entirely? Did any other rogues wish for super abilities and not relinquish them after hearing Diana’s moving speech? What were the lasting ramifications of Lord’s actions?
Perhaps the film’s finest fan service comes when Diana dons the winged eagle golden armor suit in WW84’s final act. It’s inspired by an outfit fantastically drawn by artist Alex Ross in the 1996 graphic novel Kingdom Come, and first comes to life in a flashback scene where Diana recalls how it belonged to an elder Amazon warrior from way back when. We see only the eyes of Lynda Carter, a cameo that would have paid off big time had we actually seen the O.G. Wonder Woman swing her sword and get a few licks in on a baddie or two. Per comic lore, the blade is so sharp it can cut Superman’s skin.
Despite the missing moments over the course of WW84, Jenkins—who wrote the script alongside comics author and DC boss Geoff Johns with Expendables scribe David Callaham—knows when to fight for the great ones. In the predecessor film, she pushed back against crewmembers who naysaid that excellent “No Man’s Land” scene. [link: https://www.cinemablend.com/news/1699309/who-was-actually-against-wonder-womans-epic-no-mans-land-scene-according-to-patty-jenkins] And in WW84, Jenkins clapped back against Warner brass after they requested she cut the film’s opener on Themyscira.
The intention was to introduce newcomers in the audience to who Diana and the Amazons are, and drive home the big lesson in the finale: [insert link: https://www.indiewire.com/2020/12/patty-jenkins-warner-bros-disliked-wonder-woman-1984-opening-scenes-1234606784/]
“So there was this wisdom there that they were trying to tell her which is not about being the strongest or the fastest, it’s about these complex observations you have to make during life in order to become a true hero,” she adds.
Another moment in WW84 is when Wonder Woman finally takes flight (up until now, she's only been able to leap in single bounds). She soars through the clouds and the film gets a renewed charge. The images feel like moving panels of Ross’ artwork courtesy of returning cinematographer Matthew Jensen. Also, the comic-book cheesiness of the plot doesn’t necessarily hurt Patty Jenkins’ film; she indulges in them. And as Wonder Woman clenches a fist, and extends one arm out as she flies toward trouble and a better tomorrow, it’s as if Patty Jenkins is telling the honchos at Warner: ‘You should've handed me—not Zach Snyder—Diana, Kal-El and any one of the Superfriends from the get-go.’ She'd be right. And it's not too late.
Anthony has over a decade's worth of journalism experience. His work has appeared in The Deal, TheMiddleMarket.com and Entrepreneur. He has also worked as an actor, producer and illustrator. He received his BA from Rutgers University where he studied English, film and theatre. He resides in Manhattan with his wife, Tess, and dog, Ernie.