Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984 fortunately doesn't lean too heavily on the date reflected in its title. Rather than trying to earn easy laughs via endless mid-'80s references, the movie instead utilizes some key political traits of the era – particularly tensions with Russia and the fight for control of the world's oil – to fuel its story. And there is a lot of story here. All the various threads tie together, though, leading to a superhero adventure that's not afraid to take on big ideas. The original Wonder Woman was terrific. Because of its gutsy, go-for-broke approach, I like this one even more.

Gal Gadot returns as Diana Prince. She works at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, where she becomes friendly with a mousy new colleague, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Together, they're looking into the origin of a mysterious artifact that initially appears to be worthless. Aspiring oil tycoon Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) knows better. He realizes the stone possesses the power to make dreams come true, and tricks Barbara into giving it to him. Now with the ability to fraudulently elevate his status in life, Lord begins manipulating world events so they fall in his favor. The power rush blinds him to the fact that he's creating instability that could end the world altogether.

Diana and Barbara have their own encounters with the stone. The latter's wish leads to her evolution into the notorious supervillian Cheetah, the former's to the resurrection of love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). That's right, the late Steve is back, and he's got to adjust to living in what he perceives as a futuristic era.

Wonder Woman 1984 has a difficult task. It must keep tabs on Lord's diabolical plan, Diana's efforts to foil him, her romance with Steve and all its inherent repercussions, and Barbara's transition from insecure introvert into fierce warrior. That leads to a lengthy 151-minute running time. Director Patty Jenkins keeps the pace tight, ensuring it zips right by. She hits a good balance between the requisite action scenes and more personal moments. Especially gratifying is the way time is spent developing the friendship-turned-rivalry that brews between Diana and Barbara. The finale has a bigger payoff because of that attention.

Gal Gadot has already proven to be an outstanding Wonder Woman. She shines again in the sequel, which provides increased emotional factors for Diana to face. The actress gets to dive into the character's vulnerabilities, most potently in an unbroken shot that has Diana running down a city street, crying as she prepares to launch into battle. WW84 creates a nice parallel between Diana and Barbara. Whereas one begins strong and then has to confront her own areas of fragility, the other begins in a position of weakness and turns tough. Kristen Wiig is excellent as Barbara, funny in the early scenes before showing unexpected rage later on.

Pedro Pascal, meanwhile, boosts Wonder Woman 1984 with his delightfully deranged performance as Lord. He was born to play a comic book villain. Pascal makes Lord unhinged in the most fascinating, darkly comic ways. At the same time, we still sense the human being hidden beneath the narcissism. Superhero movies are packed with megalomaniacal bad guys, yet Pascal approaches the concept with such an original, offbeat take that the trope feels fresh in his hands.

Action sequences in WW84 deliver plenty of thrills. A desert chase, a White House brawl, and a climactic Wonder Woman/Cheetah fight are all beautifully staged. The movie wisely puts a lot of emphasis on the arcs of the characters, but doesn't short-change the viewer when it comes to excitement. Stunts and fights are used to back up what's happening personally with Diana, Barbara, and Lord.

The question with comic book movies is always, How serious should they be? Some feel they should be light and disposable, whereas others prefer them dark and heavy. Wonder Woman 1984 straddles the line. It definitely offers a lot of escapist fun. It also addresses themes of self-confidence, loss, and the thirst for glory some people have. Consequently, the movie is as substantive as it is enjoyable.

out of four

Wonder Woman 1984 is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 31 minutes.