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October 2021

Wonder Woman 1984

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Warner Bros.
Release Date: Dec. 25, 2020


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Movie Review - 'Wonder Woman 1984'

by Adam Pavlacka on Dec. 25, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Fast-forward to the 1980s as Wonder Woman's next big-screen adventure finds her facing two all-new foes: Max Lord and The Cheetah.

After the success of the original "Wonder Woman," many were wondering if director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot could replicate the magic for their second outing. The good news is that they've done it, producing a sequel that delivers more of the Amazonian warrior. The story in "Wonder Woman 1984" continues to develop Diana's character but doesn't require you to have seen the original film.

When we connect with Diana, she's working at the Smithsonian and living a generally lonely life. She's successful, but she has never fully moved on after her time with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), so her isolation is self-imposed. This is in stark contrast to Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), Diana's new co-worker. Barbara is smart and caring, but she's bad with people. She's someone who has generally faded into the background, while desperately wanting to fit in.

Both women are brought together by the Dreamstone, an artifact created by the gods that grants wishes. You can have anything your heart desires, but there's a catch. Nothing comes free, and the price is always high. While both Diana and Barbara face personal struggles in the film, Barbara is much more relatable.

Unlike her comic book persona, this Barbara is a normal person. She's not motivated by power, revenge, greed, or anything of the sort. In fact, she doesn't even know the Dreamstone can grant a wish when she longingly wishes to be more like Diana. Wiig does an amazing job of keeping Barbara relatable throughout her transformation. Anyone who's ever been bullied, ignored, or pushed aside will see those feelings on display.

As Barbara gains both power and confidence, she's quickly driven not by the desire for more, but the fear of losing what she's gained. It's an interesting choice for an antagonist, and it could have easily fallen flat with a lesser actor, but Wiig's portrayal makes Barbara a sympathetic character rather than a villain.

The counterpart to Barbara and the true villain of the story is the Trump-like conman, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). Deep in debt and only pretending to be a success, Lord will do whatever it takes to win. Pascal infuses him with an over-the-top mania that borders on cartoon buffoonery but doesn't quite cross the line. Unlike Barbara, Lord isn't a tragic character because he's only driven by greed, so the moments where the movie attempts to elicit sympathy for him feel unearned. Looking back, it's almost as though Jenkins didn't want the movie to have a clear-cut bad guy, even if Lord clearly is one.

Outside of her interactions with Barbara, the best moments in "Wonder Woman 1984" are when Diana and Steve are playing off each other. Steve experiences the "future" with a boyish exuberance that is enjoyable in its pure simplicity. It's a flip from their previous outing, where Diana was the one experiencing the world of man with brand-new eyes.

If there's anything about "Wonder Woman 1984" that could be improved, it's the pacing. Clocking in at just over two-and-a-half hours, the movie has more than a few scenes that feel gratuitous. The visuals are always pretty, and some, like the fireworks flyby seen in the trailers, feel like they were shot specifically for HDR, but they don't drive the story forward. Even the first action scene, where Diana foils a mall heist, feels like this. Had the movie been edited a bit tighter, the story beats would have hit harder.

One other element that stood out was the sound mix. Despite the fact that "Wonder Woman 1984" is debuting on HBO Max, the review copy that I streamed seemed to have a full-range theatrical sound mix. While great for theaters (and folks with home theaters), it's not the best experience for families watching on a standard TV, as the difference between loud and soft can be quite a bit.

Interestingly enough, the one part of the film that's understated is the time period. If not for an early set piece in a shopping mall and the backdrop of the Cold War, "Wonder Woman 1984" could have been set in the present day. Yes, the movie happens in the '80s, but it doesn't put a whole lot of effort into feeling like the '80s. It's a minor point, but if you're a "Stranger Things" fan, the difference is immediately apparent. Whereas that TV show was a love letter to the '80s, "Wonder Woman 1984" mostly uses it for a throwaway joke about what Steve should wear.

"Wonder Woman 1984" isn't a typical superhero adventure, and that's a good thing. The real villain is a more personal one who the average viewer can relate to. Jenkins and Gadot have shown that they know what makes Wonder Woman tick, and I'm looking forward to seeing where they go with Diana's next adventure.

Score: 8.0/10

"Wonder Woman 1984" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 32 minutes. Starting on Dec. 25, 2020, it is showing on HBO Max and in local theaters where they are open.

Editor's Note: Make sure you keep watching when the end credits start to roll. There is a mid-credits scene that ties into the story and teases a potential character for the next film.

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