The mileage one might get out of Wonder Woman 1984 is dependent entirely upon how much one might be willing to put up with and forgive. That is, admittedly, a rather large ask. In the grand tradition of superhero sequels, this is a film that insists that everything be bigger and more bombastic. Consequently, everything also tends to be a lot dumber than it was in the original.
Suffice it to say that that this film is exceedingly stupid. This is a film whose inciting incident is literally the unearthing of a magical stone that grants wishes. It’s the oldest, most trite trope of all time, and it serves as a perfect metaphor for the general tone of the rest of the movie. Wonder Woman 1984 is a film over-reliant on tropes, filled with half-assed characterization and plot points, and bursting with a long series of half-baked ideas.
And I fucking loved it.
Every critical wall I tried to erect around the film while watching it was immediately crashed through by director Patty Jenkins’s over-the-top presentation that only gets more over-the-top the longer the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime continues. You can sense the visceral joy that Jenkins, as well as star Gal Gadot, exudes throughout the film, which makes it easy to forgive much of the film’s more ham-fisted moments. Throughout it all, I could only think to myself, “This is so stupid,” while grinning wildly and basking in the film’s unapologetic commitment to comic book camp and absurdity.
Coming off as something of a pitch perfect blend of Richard Donner’s Superman and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, Wonder Woman 1984 is a hodgepodge of superhero styles and aesthetics, walking an extremely fine line between dumb fun and just plain dumb. For me, it was delightful. Mileage will absolutely vary from audience to audience.
As implied by the title, Wonder Woman 1984 moves Princess Diana (Gadot) from the battlefields of World War I to the selfish wilds of the 1980s. Having long resigned herself to the loss of her great love, pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), she has settled into working at the Smithsonian and engaging in some light superheroics on the side. Things start getting a little hectic when her co-worker, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), is assigned to help the FBI identify some stolen artifacts being sold on the black market, including the aforementioned magic wishing stone. When the stone winds up in the hands of nefarious businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), Diana must move quickly before his plans put the world into jeopardy, a plan that is complicated when it’s discovered that Barbara has made an unfortunate wish of her own.
It’s the kind of cheesy, ridiculous story line that feels ripped from the cheesy, ridiculous era of 1980’s comics. Jenkins has managed to take that feeling and aesthetic and translate it perfectly into the cinematic form, leaning into the genre’s more ridiculous aspects and playing it entirely straight faced. Normally, this is the kind of tactic that might turn me off, especially in an age where we’ve accepted that comics and superheroes can be used to tell Serious Stories. And yet, Wonder Woman 1984 is so absurdly fun that I found my usual jaded defenses becoming quickly short circuited.
The film begins with two action set pieces, the first taking place in the past, with young Diana engaging in a race alongside her Amazon sisters, with the second bringing us to the film’s present day, with a wild and over-the-top heist sequence, deftly foiled by Wonder Woman. From there, things only get more ridiculous, with each new scene and set piece becoming more ridiculous—and ridiculously fun—than the last.
Veterans of the franchise, Gadot and Pine seem more than comfortable stepping into their characters again. Pine, especially, seems to be having a lot of fun with his fish-out-of-time character who finds himself suddenly alive nearly 70 years after his death. Gadot, for her part, always relishes in her portrayal of Diana, and that’s no different here.
However, it’s the newcomers who seem to be having the most fun. Wiig plays the mousy Barbara as awkwardly as is necessary, even as she begins transforming into Wonder Woman’s archnemesis, Cheetah. She’s the perfect stand in for the nerd with a power complex that comics have been trying to fight for decades, and the giddy joy she, as an actress, feels at getting to kick ass is palpable. Pascal, meanwhile, chews through scenery like an uncontrollable monster let loose in the city. There’s an unabashed exuberance to his performance, as if he finally feels unrestrained by his The Mandalorian helmet behind which he has spent much of the last two years.
All of this adds to a film that is admittedly uneven and imperfect, but which is also so joyously fun that it’s easy to forgive if you let yourself. While there will no doubt be a loud contingent of naysayers decrying the film for its absurdity, don’t let them stop you from feeling the wonder. Truly, this is just the perfect, ridiculous, stupidly fun film that ensures this nightmarish year ends with a bang.
Wonder Woman 1984 is now available on HBOMax and in theaters.