This has been a weird couple of years for superhero films. It’s been almost two years since the last Marvel movie hit theaters and in their absence DC has stepped up their game up, proving they’re more than simply dark and gritty superheroes pining over mothers named Martha and misogynistic clowns. First came Birds of Prey, a colorful story of girl power that gave Harley Quinn the spotlight she so desperately deserved. That was followed up with The Harley Quinn animated series, which was easily one of the most raunchy, self-aware and hilarious animated superhero shows ever made. Now comes Wonder Woman 1984, which was originally supposed to hit theaters back in June 2020, but after screening on HBO Max and theaters simultaneously is now hitting 4K UHD. For those keeping score this is the third female led DC Universe film, meanwhile Marvel yet to release their Black Widow film.
Wonder Woman 1984 picks up as you’d expect in the decade of decadence where we catch up with Diana Prince AKA Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who has been living amongst humanity now for 60 years, and has taken up residency in DC working for the Smithsonian. In this installment of the Wonder Woman saga, we are introduced to Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a Trump surrogate — part infomercial star and part scam artist — who’s after a stone that offers the bearer the ability to have their deepest wish granted. This fact comes to light when Diana is examining the stone at the Smithsonian offhandedly wishes for her love, Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), to return and he does — in a manner of speaking. Meanwhile, her awkward coworker, played by Kristen Wiig who has mastered this aesthetic to a T, wishes to be “just like Diana” and gets way more than she bargained for. From there it’s the classic horror of the “monkey’s paw”, where no wish quite pans out as expected, paired with a ham-fisted metaphor for Trump, makes WW84 easily one of the most relevant and audacious superhero films to date.
In a fun power dynamic shift, flipping the fish out of water story of the first film provides WW84 with its emotional core as Diana rekindles her relationship with Steve Trevor while educating him this time on the importance of parachute pants and breakdancing. This narrative thread is the flaw in Diana that is exploited by Max Lord enabling him to execute his plan of trading up wishes for raw power, much like that guy who traded up a paperclip until he got a house, which of course has Max trading up into the White House. This all transpires while Diana is conflicted about taking out Max, because by doing so she would lose Steve yet again.
This film barrels through its two and a half hours like a well oiled machine, and that’s no doubt because director Patty Jenkins has been quietly toiling over it during the ensuing two years of delays. Jenkins executes some of the most graceful and awe inspiring action sequences committed to comic book celluloid and in the process brands her own personal stamp on the genre. While the film cribs the candy-colored ’80s palette you’d expect, Jenkins relies primarily on a traditional score instead of leaning on the needle drop crutch. Gadot , who has grown into the embodiment of the Wonder Woman character, holds her own against a scene stealing, pudgy blonde Pedro Pascal. Better known as Star Wars’ Mandalorian, Pascal will no doubt catch you off guard as he not only humanizes the antagonist, but also somehow manages to lay down a path to redemption as well.
I was just floored when I popped the UHD for the first time, since I had only seen the film previously on streaming services in quality that varied by bit rate and device, even in what they claimed was 4K. In another throwback it’s very apparent the non-IMAX sequences (which make up about 90% of the film) were shot on 35mm film. WB didn’t DNR the grain away either leaving the viewer with an experience that was further period appropriate. The transfer has that celluloid warmth and grain, combined with HDR used to accentuate that 80s color palette. This presentation is coupled with a plethora of REAL EXTRAS, which is another thing you don’t see that often anymore! You get the regular featurettes you’d expect, but also a gag reel and some bigger deep dives on production, and scene deconstructions. My favorite on the disc had to be, the featurette on Lilly, the 10-year-old stunt girl who played young Diana and did all of her own stunts for the Themyscira Games sequence.
Unlike the majority of super hero directors, Jenkins actually has something to say and not just about feminism and female empowerment, though there is plenty of that. With WW84 she has tasked her superheroine with trying to make this world a better place, while showing that anyone could be seduced by the power of lies. The message here is ultimately one of hope and that’s a very welcome commodity in 2020. WW84 is a near perfect superhero film that outshines the original with its infectious sense of joy and optimism and nuanced deconstruction of the power of truth and how that can be a tool of good or evil. Because if any fictional superhero could save 2020, it was Wonder Woman.
As a fan of the superhero genre, I am confounded by the lukewarm and downright hostile reception to Wonder Woman 1984 I’ve seen over the last few months since the film was released. The film was the first to hit HBO MAX day and date streaming for free thanks to the COVID pandemic, and had previously sat on the shelf and been delayed for almost two years; and I think that might have been a factor that possibly hurt it. The film is also an unapologetic message film about the power of truth with its Trump surrogate that possibly felt a little too on the nose for some, which coupled with its home debut that I think might have tarnished how people viewed it. Since streaming up until this point had been a dumping ground for studios. Or I think it could be just the fact that its message of female empowerment may have been a bit too much for some comic book fans.
I also have to wonder much like the film’s theme of “being careful what you wish for”, for years so many DC fans clamored for something “different” as opposed to the bleakness of the Snyderverse and similar to Birds of Prey, this film is the pure antithesis of that. Its fun, its bright, and above all hopeful while also digging into the campier bits of the character — invisible jet anyone, stuffed beaver and hyena named Bruce? But why are these films are so divisive to fandom? I am not sure if for Wonder Woman it’s because we’re used to seeing films like these in theaters, where they somehow trigger our suspension of disbelief in a different way? Or it could be and I hate to say this but comic book films and sci-fi, fantasy that empowers women seem to hit this psychological barrier with some fans. I don’t know, but it was my third time watching it and I still think it’s pretty great.