Dir: Patty Jenkins. Featuring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen. 12A, 151 mins
We’ve seen superheroes break the fourth wall before. Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds’s anarchic mutant, loved to look down the lens and deliver something off-colour. It was all meant to be one, big in-joke – an acknowledgement of the implicit absurdity of the comic-book genre, where grown adults put on spandex and take swipes at each other in a car park (somehow, they always end up in a car park). But when Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince gently turns to face her audience, in a crucial (but unforced) moment in Wonder Woman 1984, she does so in earnest. She speaks to us. It feels startingly, and refreshingly, forthright.
Director Patty Jenkins has here built on the achievements of 2017’s Wonder Woman – a hit with audiences and critics, marking a sea change in DC’s then creatively inert “Extended Universe”. Her sequel is an opportunity to dig a little deeper into the superhero phenomenon, to look around and see a world bristling with pain and fear, where fantasies of godly saviours coming down from the skies provide the most direct and simplest of comforts. This may be another $200m film, belched out of the studio production line, but Jenkins’s gift as a filmmaker is her unwavering sense of humanity.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a piece of hopeful, uncynical filmmaking. And it’s ambitious enough to make up for its minor flaws – a little awkward CGI here, some clunky exposition there. Jenkins, alongside co-writers Geoff Johns and David Callaham, circle around ideas of power, truth, and desire – of what it means to be seen and recognised by the world. Diana’s look into the camera gives those ideas that extra punch.
The film opens with a flashback to Themyscira, Diana’s birthplace, and the all-female haven of the Amazons – a place of golden sand and crystal-clear waters. An elite Olympic games are taking place, as women propel themselves through hoops, ride horses, and shoot arrows. It’s a thrillingly constructed sequence, one that teaches a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) a valuable lesson: “No hero is born from lies.” Hans Zimmer’s excellent score here sees the thunder of chanting, ritualistic voices slowly melt into Eighties synth.
And so the film speeds ahead, revisiting the immortal Diana thousands of years later, in an era of hairspray, aerobics, and consumer excess. Cinematographer Matthew Jensen adds an appropriate Day-Glo sheen to these early scenes, which paint Diana as a sparkly do-gooder, who crushes guns with her bare fists and always takes a moment to inspire the kids. But, at night, she’ll sit and drink wine alone in a restaurant. Then she’ll return home to a dimly lit apartment, filled with reminders of lost friends and her lost love – Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who sacrificed himself for the good of mankind many decades ago.
A strange object falls into the hands of DC’s Smithsonian Institute, where she’s employed as an antiquities expert. It seems to conjure the unthinkable. Steve returns – unaware that time has passed. Jenkins gives them space to grow together, never prioritising cheap spectacle over the chance to develop these characters. And Gadot and Pine do a fine job of selling their twinkly eyed romance, the unwritten chapters of their relationship hanging between each syllable.
But Diana isn’t the only one brought into this artefact’s orbit. Her co-worker, Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig), seems drawn to it. She’s a shy, self-conscious woman who’s retreated into Diana’s shadow – in awe of the capable, beautiful, long-limbed woman before her. Suddenly, Barbara starts to change. She grows stronger and more confident. All eyes turn to her. Jenkins finds nuance in the way visibility can both bring women power and make them a target. Wiig masters the role – at first, it’s the dorky comedy star we all recognise; by the end, there’s a fire we’ve never seen before.
Another pawn at play is Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), a TV personality, business honcho, and flagrant charlatan. Jenkins doesn’t take the obvious bait here and turn him into a blatant Trump metaphor. He’s a purely tragic figure – an immigrant under the spell of the American Dream, who wants only to do right by his son. Pascal, in frenetic form, plays Max as a powder keg. His desperation propels the film.
And the threat feels real – Diana is indestructible in some ways, surprisingly brittle in others. Jenkins’s camera is captivated by her resilience, as it lingers on adoring shots of Diana in action. Every brazen beat of Wonder Woman 1984 feels like it’s arrived to pulverise this miserable year into dust.