We’re so deep into cinematic comic book universes that it’s hard to remember what life was like when a Marvel or DC movie didn’t carry the responsibility of telling a story designed to pay off years later.
As much fun as the Avengers series has been, and as keen as we are to see what Snyder’s Justice League series will look like, there’s something very satisfying about Warner Bros’ more recent approach; they’re producing movies that have a beginning, middle and end. And that’s it. Maybe they’ll come together further down the line, but right now, they’re focussed on making movies that pay off, right now.
Enter Wonder Woman 1984.
Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is living a quiet life. She works in antiquities, avoids her colleagues, lives on her own – she’s just getting by. Every now and then she pops on her Wonder Woman outfit and takes down some minor criminals. She doesn’t have friends, or lovers. Her heart remains broken from the death of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) back in WW2.
When her klutzy colleague Barbara (Kristen Wiig) tries to make friends, Diana doesn’t want to know. At least until Barbara happens upon a strange artefact that is purported to have the power to grant wishes.
It’s the kind of artefact that would really help out Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a chancer of a businessman who has been seeking oil in sites that contain none. With his investors on his case, and a young son he’s neglecting, he’s a desperate man. And he knows exactly how powerful the artefact can be.
With three people all wishing for three different things, writer/ director Patty Jenkins explores the outcomes of people getting what they wish for. One allows for a sympathetic, if rather silly villainous journey, while another allows Jenkins to create an allegory for the #MeToo movement. And in Diana’s case, it affords her an opportunity to come to terms with the loss of her love. And, surprisingly, a narratively justified return for Steve Trevor.
It’s that journey that has the most heft. Gadot instills her character with such emotion, it’s hard to tell where Gadot ends and Diana begins – she’s as synonymous with the character as Downey Jr is with Tony Stark. You get the sense that they share the same values, and the real bonus is, Diana Prince doesn’t sing John Lennon covers.
Still, there are question marks over the female lead being so wedded to the idea of being with a man that she would consider giving up her abilities, and it is a little odd that she’s more concerned about him than her Amazonian sisters that she doesn’t seem too bothered about never seeing.
Still, that’s her choice. That Gadot and Jenkins can find such emotional depth in a movie splashed in more colour than the 80s every actually saw, and between some rather impressive set pieces, is arguably the greatest feat.
It’s a big, fun, old fashioned romp. Sure, there are flaws, particularly in the final reel as Pedro Pascal munches on the scenery and starts trotting the globe to get involved in some politically contentious stuff (the film’s confusing, simplistic take on Israel does seem like an unnecessary mis-step) and Kristen Wiig begins to resemble Judi Dench in Cats, only angrier.
Free from the shackles of an expanded universe demanding set-ups that won’t pay off, Jenkins takes seriously her responsibility as the helmer of a rare, female-led action blockbuster, and she has delivered.