“The Truth is All We Have” A Spoiler-Free Look at Wonder Woman 1984 (Film Review)
Suffering Sappho, everyone!
I had the opportunity to sit down and watch an advanced copy of Wonder Woman 1984 and let me tell you, it’s the type of movie we need after everything we’ve all been through this year. (So far…)
It has fun and heart, but also genuine moments of harsh reality. Because, well, truth is all we have.
Truth isn’t always pretty and pleasant. It can also be nasty and tiresome. The movie reflects that sentiment without dipping into the waters of depressive grittiness.
I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but I will give a warning. I will reference scenes shown in trailers and TV spots. I’ll talk a bit about the whole movie first and then about performances and comic book parallels.
(There’s a Themyscria flashback at the beginning that’s super dope and brings back characters we love from the first movie, but ultimately this is just a superb flashback with baby Diana.)
The first act of the film, which includes all the establishment, goes by quickly. You’re not hopelessly lost when you miss something, but there’s a lot of information thrown at you in quick succession. It can be dizzying.
Since this film is still in the canon of Snyder’s films, prior knowledge of the DCEU canon and some well-placed photos in her apartment let us know what Diana Prince has done since World War I. (See if you can spot Lucy Davis’ Etta Candy in the photos!) The photos are important because they try to work around the line from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice where Diana says she “walked away from mankind.” As for the Wonder Woman side of Diana, it’s treated as something like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. There are sightings but never conclusive evidence as we see Wonder Woman destroying security cameras and whatnot.
Also in this act, we get our (brief) introductions to Barbara, Max, and our McGuffin.
Barbara is introduced as a bit of a lovable klutz. She is meek and forgettable. Even Diana is seemingly disinterested at first, but once Diana has a reason to get to know Barbara, they mesh well. Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig have such natural chemistry that it makes up for insufficient further development of pre-Cheetah Barabra. Half my notes about the two of them are something to the effect of “WAS THIS SUPPOSED TO BE THIS GAY??” Because, oof, is it super gay. No, there’s no baiting and nothing is overtly explicit. They truly have super gay chemistry.
Max Lord is a culmination of every sleazy businessman from the 80s that you can think of. I’ve seen some speculate he’s supposed to be Trump or something. It’s not a 1:1 comparison, but there are influences. Because, well, he was a sleazy “businessman” in the 80s. However, there is a specific scene that seems like a 1:1, but it’s just the one. This is very much in line with his comic appearances in the 80s. Most of us now see Max with a post-Countdown to Infinite Crisis lens and it’s a bit jarring to have to remove it after so long.
The erratic pace and rapid establishing appears to be because the movie is rushing to get to Steve’s reintroduction. (Which…is a lot…and sort of disturbing if you think about it for longer than a few seconds. Diana doesn’t seem bothered by something that would REALLY bother comic Diana.)
Once Steve is back, the movie progression grinds to a halt. It’s nice to see Gal Gadot and Chris Pine’s chemistry again, but it borders on boring at times. On the flip side, the inverted “fish-out-of-water” narrative is a lot of fun. There’s a moment of Steve and an escalator that’s hilarious.
Unfortunately for me, I think Steve Trevor is extremely dull. Not specifically Pines, but Steve in general. While watching, I kept thinking “This is cute, but not what I’m here for.” It’s very well done, but that’s just my personal hang-up.
What I find odd is that except Steve (and a friendly homeless man Barbara knows) EVERY OTHER GROWN MAN with any influence on the story is portrayed as lecherous, selfish, absolutely stupid, and/or downright scum. The film is not anti-men or trying to say “women are better,” but when you notice it, you don’t unnotice it. I’m not sure what Patty was trying to say, it was just super weird.
Most of the movie’s levity and jokes are here in the second act. I typically get annoyed with overly jokey tones because it never seems like “the time and place” for those moments to happen. This works perfectly because it is exactly the time and place for it. It doesn’t feel forced and fits the tone well.
The third act is absolutely bonkers and I love it. We’ve seen a bit in the trailers, but Cheetah’s final form is DOPE AS HELL.
I don’t want to give too much away, but we get the full spectrum of Diana’s character. She will do what needs to be done. If that means fighting or sacrificing or reaching out to someone’s better nature. It’s an emotional conclusion that’s bittersweet, but ultimately hopeful.
My biggest ‘critique’ is a bit of a nitpicky one, but in terms of Wonder Woman source material, the movie would have made far more sense if you swapped Max Lord for Veronica Cale.
This film is a solid 9 out of 10 for me. I genuinely enjoyed this film. It’s visually breath-taking. It has moments of hard truth, but a hopeful tone that’s genuinely refreshing.
I’m going to talk about the performances of our central cast.
This is Gal Gadot’s fourth outing as Wonder Woman, and she’s still throwing everything she’s got into the role. She continues to capture Diana’s love and warmth, balancing that with her determination to do what needs to be done. We see much more of Diana’s personal emotions in this film and it adds another piece to love.
There’s not much to add about Gadot. She continues to exceed expectations and delivers a fantastic performance.
Chris Pine’s performance as Steve Trevor is very well done. Steve is an admirable and honorable man who thinks of others before himself. I found his “Big Damn Hero moment” in this movie far more emotional than in the first film. Like Gadot, we knew what Pine was bringing to the table, and he did a damn good job.
Pedro Pascal is a name on everyone’s lips due to his sensational work on The Mandalorian, but let me tell you, he plays an excellent villain. Max Lord is an emotionally stunted and petulant manchild who is given god-like power and becomes crazy as hell. Pascal wears this like a second skin. His performance on The Mandalorian is largely voiceover, and he delivers such an impressive performance with only VO work that a fully physical performance is even more powerful. Everything from his body language to his micro-expression is truly incredible.
But, the performance that deserves the most praise and adoration is Kristen Goddamn Wiig. Barbara starts out as a bit of a goofy character and even when she begins her Cheetahfication she has some moments of fun, but she sheds (ha, sheds) all that a little after the midway point.
Wiig, an SNL veteran, is a deeply talented comedic performer but when she makes her transition to a sinister powerhouse it’s so effective, it’s actually terrifying.
Once she becomes Cheetah, pre and post fur, there is no hint of the cute and awkward Barbara. It’s as if someone reached into a George Perez comic and pulled her straight off the page.
I don’t want to say too much more because this is a performance that needs to be experienced. I wouldn’t be surprised if this marked a turning point in Wiig’s career. The lady can certainly do more than comedy.
Alright, let’s talk comics…sort of. I’m going too deep because surprises are fun.
As a longtime Wonder Woman comic book fan, I found A LOT to love in this movie.
There’s a handful of new additions to the movie mythos that are staples of the comics. A fun thing that was first introduced in the Golden Age finally emerges and Diana does something I’ve wanted her to do for a long time.
They were wonderful surprises and I’ll leave them at that.
What I will talk about is how the movie embraces the comic versatility of the Lasso of Truth. We’ve seen the Lasso do a whole mess of stuff over the decades and the movie incorporates some of my favorites. (If I hear one more ‘Spider-Man’ comparison, I’m going to start hucking comics at people.)
The movie relies heavily on practical effects (yay!) which makes the “comic shots” all the cooler. Since they are trailer spots, I’m going to use my favorites in this piece. They’re fun Easter eggs for comic fans.
This Wonder Woman v. Cheetah moment is one of my comic favorites so needlessly to say I was thrilled to see it.
The more obvious, and most talked about, is obviously the Golden Eagle armor from Kingdom Come. The movie re-contextualizes it narratively, but it’s still so cool.
THERE IS A MID-CREDIT SCENE THAT IS SO INCREDIBLE I LOST MY DAMN MIND!
So, look forward to that, but I better wrap this up here before I reveal too much.
Wonder Woman 1984 is available on HBO Max (at no extra cost to subscribers) on Christmas Day and in theaters.