By Ian Walter (Toronto, ON, Canada)
Wonder Woman Cements Herself as First Female-Led Superhero Franchise with WW84
There is a lot to enjoy about Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman in both the origin film in 2017 and this sequel in 2020, and director Patty Jenkins understands the history and significance of the classic DC Comics character. That said the latest installment clocks in at just over 2.5 hours and has some script/dialogue issues which is not uncommon in comic book films. When we first meet Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in live-action, it is a cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) which sets the tone that she is pretty bad-ass. In Wonder Woman (2017), Diana is reminded of her past when a photo and letter is received from Wayne Enterprises addressing her involvement with World War I in 1918.
Diana teams up with US Captain Steve Trevor and falls in love while working together to take down Ares, God of War. Though the villain was nothing to write home about, the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (Trevor) constitutes as the emotional core of the film. Fast forward to 1984, another period piece serving as the setting for the latest sequel, and Diana finds herself at another major moment in her hero’s journey where she has to define who she is.
This time around, we are introduced to several villains who are certainly more dynamic than Ares in the previous outing. Pedro Pascal crushes his role as failed businessman Max Lord, committing to desperation and mania as he pursues the Dreamstone (a clever McGuffin that grants the user a wish… at a cost). This creates a message that is sort of a cross somewhere between ‘Be Careful What You Wish For…’ and ‘No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.’ The object allows each character to fill a void that they feel they are missing, but also exacts a toll that is not sustainable.
The other antagonist is Barbara Ann Minerva (played by Kristen Wiig), who is your classic loser who gets imbued with powers and becomes a vengeful villain trope (similar to Michelle Pfeifer’s iconic portrayal of Catwoman), although something doesn’t quite land with her character. Perhaps it is the predictable antagonist angle mixed with the fact that she more or less takes on the characteristics of an evil version of the hero until at least the third act, but something about ‘The Cheetah’ leaves much to be desired.
The film opens up on a lengthy flashback sequence where Diana competes with older Amazons in a challenge where she ends up taking a shortcut in order to win. Her victory is cut short when her aunt Antiope prevents her from finishing – exclaiming that “no true hero is born from lies” – and reassuring young Diana that her time will come. This introduction is fun, but not entirely necessary, as we see the story pick up in 1984 where Diana is working at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., as a senior anthropologist. Once the Dreamstone is uncovered by a foiled robbery attempt, it becomes an object of temptation for everyone involved. Diana wishes to get her love Steve Trevor (Pine) back, who returns as a soul inhabiting another man’s body. Barbara (Wiig) wishes to be popular and formidable like Diana, not realizing that this would grant her powers similar to Wonder Woman. Maxwell (Pascal) sees himself as a failure in the eyes of his son, and wishes to become the embodiment of the stone, gaining the power to grant wishes and steal something from the wisher in return… everybody knows you can’t wish for more wishes!*
This sets up the central conflict of the film, where neither party is willing to renounce their wish for fear of returning to a life that is left wanting. Max Lord steamrolls ahead, granting wishes in order to recover his health which is failing as a cost for making the wish in the first place. Barbara is flexing her newfound powers, but sacrificing her own sense of humanity in the process. Diana is happy to have her lover back in some form, but is losing her own abilities as a cost of doing business with the Dreamstone. Pine and Gadot snap back into the magic that they shared in the first film, although admittedly this time around it feels off given the fact that Steve has to borrow some poor soul’s body to be with Diana. As time passes and the global stakes ramp up, it becomes clear that Wonder Woman is tasked with a higher purpose of saving the world, and that clinging to love lost is preventing her from ascending to the superhero level that is required of her. As the villains double down on their wishes, Diana is able to renounce hers once and for all and focus on the final fight for humanity, taking flight in the process.
After besting The Cheetah in combat with her legendary armour of Asteria, she advances to face Max Lord who is busy broadcasting his wish-granting/life-stealing abilities to the entire world as Earth’s military superpowers prepare for nuclear war in Max’ wake. Diana is able to reach out to those who have wished upon the Dreamstone and convince them all to renounce their wishes on principle that the world is already a beautiful place with all of its flaws. This leaves Max, who must decide to renounce his wish if he is to stop nuclear war and save his own son. In a concluding sequence, the world continues to turn; and with a peculiar choice, Diana shares a moment with the man whose body was snatched to carry out her flight of fancy. A mid-credits sequence reveals Asteria to be played by none other than Lynda Carter (the actress who originally portrayed Wonder Woman in 1975), claiming to have been doing this for a long time as a nod to the character’s rich history in pop culture.
While there will likely be a third film to mark this a Wonder Woman trilogy, there should be an emphasis on a script that really reflects the trajectory of where this story is going overall, as these films have had serviceable plots but nothing that has truly felt unique to comic book films or superheroes. WW84 is an improvement on the original Wonder Woman film, but there are still elements in the screenplay and dialogue that feel like there’s still something missing. Patty Jenkins is an ambitious director who has proven that she has what it takes to bring one of the most iconic female superheroes to live-action, and I look forward to seeing her vision play out in its entirety.
My issues with the dialogue are mostly with curious writing choices such as establishing that the wishes are actually more like *curses; but then having Max Lord use the word ‘wish’ positively during his emotional reconciliation with his son, Alistair. The renouncing of wishes is also motivated by the fact that the Dreamstone is a product of the God of Lies, Dolos, carrying with it nasty penalties for each wish as opposed to the more traditional notion that the wish in itself is a misrepresentation of a hotfix for one’s shortcomings and that real salvation is to come from within. There is still a positive message overall with these Wonder Woman films, but a more cohesive through-line is needed to really hammer…er…’whip’ it into shape.
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