Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman sequel is set, wouldn’t you know, in 1984, the year of George Orwell’s cautionary dystopian novel and the decade when greed was considered good. You might say that 1984 – be it Orwell’s or Reagan’s – isn’t so very different from today: Big Brother surveillance, rampant selfishness, a chasm between the rich and the poor…
What a relief, then, that this exuberant blockbuster opens on the island of Themyscira, with a young Diana being told that “No true hero is born of lies.” She is taught this lesson not on a blackboard, you understand. That’s no way to open an event movie. Rather, she’s taking part in a thrilling contest, the camera swooping and gliding as she scales vast obstacles, dives off a cliff, swims in the turquoise ocean, gallops on horseback across a white beach and fires arrows at targets. “This world is not ready for all you will do,” says her aunt-slash-trainer Antiope (Robin Wright). But we sure as hell are – cut to 1984 (nearly 70 years on from the events of the first movie) and another rousing set-piece set in a mall, the antithesis of Themyscira’s mountains, pastures and shimmering seas.
Diana (Gal Gadot), it transpires, now works for the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. Another employee is socially awkward, downtrodden Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, excellent), a geologist charged with dating a hoard of artefacts that have just come in – including a stone that she initially judges as fake, but soon discovers is of a worth that you cannot put a price on (not least as a MacGuffin).
Max Lord (Pedro Pascal, equally excellent) certainly sees its value, though. This slickster might seem like an embodiment of the American Dream – he heads up oil company Black Gold, and his infomercial is forever playing on TV – but he’s broke and about to be reported to the FTC for his Ponzi scheme. Now if only he could get his hands on that peculiar stone…
Wonder Woman 1984 is pretty much the blockbuster we need right now. Like DC’s 2019 billion-dollar hit Joker, it plugs into all of the loneliness and disappointment and fear and rage that so many have harboured these last few years, but gives it all a positive spin to deliver a message of love and hope and connection across all borders. To say how, exactly, would be to give too much away, but there’s a purity to Jenkins’ picture that might have felt naïve five years ago, but now feels not only most welcome but necessary.
The purity extends to the filmmaking. Cutting-edge special effects aside, this is a blockbuster that might have been made in the decade it’s set in, taking its time to establish story and characters after the one-two punch of those opening action sequences. The palette is warm and the cutting is clean; and the set-pieces, when they do arrive, prove you don’t need post-Michael Bay migraine-edits to whip up huge excitement.
Fans of the first Wonder Woman will be delighted to know that Gadot once more slides and kicks to (a variation of) her guitar theme, while her electrifying Lasso of Truth gets multiple workouts, all of them giddily inventive. And while scraps featuring Wonder Woman’s arch nemesis The Cheetah let CGI fakery creep in, a chase sequence featuring a humble taxi taking on an armed convoy in the Middle East is sensational. Might it be a tip of the fedora to the truck chase in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, just as that sequence referenced the jaw-plummeting horse-and-carriage stunts in John Ford’s Stagecoach? One piece of exhilarating choreography would suggest yes.
Also pleasing are the fish-out-of-water moments. It’s no spoiler to say that Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) returns from the first movie (just how, you’ll have to see for yourself), and there’s much fun to be had from the WW1 aviator fixing his sky-blue peepers on aerobics sessions, bum bags and modern art. Viewers’ eyes will likewise widen at a couple of scenes of pure, well, wonderment – something Spielberg excelled at in the ’70s and ’80s, but neglected by most blockbusters since. Consider all of this and then add in Gadot at such ease in the role, and Jenkins dealing with the everyday harassment of women (male oglers at parties, greetings of “Hey babe” and “Sexy”) with such a loaded lightness of touch, and you have an event movie that really is just that.
Wonder Woman 1984 lassos the truth of the here and now even as people in shell suits walk past gigantic music stores. It’s time to flip the record, it’s saying – time for sacrifice and kindness. Now that’s music to the ears.