'Wonder Woman 1984' is the perfect holiday gift, but it's still not an all-time classic

Gal Gadot’s second solo adventure is better, benefits from nostalgia and two memorable villains, and features some of the best

click to enlarge Finally! "Wonder Woman 1984" introduces the invisible jet, one of the most iconic tools in the arsenal of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, left). - Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics
Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics
Finally! "Wonder Woman 1984" introduces the invisible jet, one of the most iconic tools in the arsenal of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, left).

There’s a moment about midway through the ridiculously long “Wonder Woman 1984” where director/co-writer Patty Jenkins introduces one of the most iconic props in DC Comics’ lore, the invisible jet flown by Diana Prince (Gal Gadot).

As Diana sits and her reanimated soulmate Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) pilots the plane through a gorgeous kaleidoscope of bursting fireworks, I watched, stunned, with a huge grin. It’s as close as a DC superhero movie has gotten in more than 40 years to matching the thrill of seeing Christopher Reeve take flight with Margo Kidder in 1978’s “Superman.”

Following the character’s solo introduction in 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” Jenkins and Gadot have returned to deliver a gift to fans and, more importantly, female fans of all ages, as the year of COVID-19 and global lockdowns winds to an end.

Wonder Woman 1984
3 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 151 minutes
Opens December 25 on HBOMax and in theaters

“Wonder Woman 1984” is a better movie overall, but as with every DCEU (DC Extended Universe) film released since 2013, there are issues that prevent it from being an all-time classic.

The elements that work best remind us why we love comic book movies.

Whether it’s an intricately-staged and magnificently realized sequence that closes the second act, where Wonder Woman disrupts a convoy in the Middle East and flips a tank end-over-end, or relishing the introduction of a surprisingly honest and organic relationship between Diana and Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), aka Cheetah, “Wonder Woman 1984” sends your imagination into geeky hyperdrive.

Wiig plays goofy and awkward to perfection, but after Minerva casts a wish on the Dream Stone and wakes up with newfound confidence and enhanced abilities, her head to toe physical transformation is equally solid.

Both villains in “Wonder Woman 1984” are better, and more believable, than Diana’s antagonist, Ares, the God of War, from the first film.

Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord, a relatively new figure in DC Comics canon, gets his mustache-twirling moments, but he also reveals unexpected death as a single father struggling to raise his son.

click to enlarge Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, left) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) meet cute in "Wonder Woman 1984" - Clay Enos/DC Comics
Clay Enos/DC Comics
Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, left) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) meet cute in "Wonder Woman 1984"

It’s also nice to see Pine return from his surprise death in the first film, but his re-emergence, which also tracks back to the Dream Stone, comes off a bit clunky at first. Luckily, Pine and Gadot’s chemistry, coupled with their character’s rich backstory, smooths the rough edges quickly.

The stone itself, whose origins date back to Mayan civilization and before, is a decent McGuffin, even if it reminds you most of an Infinity Stone from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Basically, the stone grants the deepest wish of anyone holding it, but at a significant cost, which creates yet another worlds-ending race against time once Maxwell Lord gets his grubby mitts on it.

That “Wonder Woman 1984” is so much better means that its missteps also are much more apparent, none more so than the DCEU’s continued tinkering with Wonder Woman’s core powers.

Less than an hour after gloriously introducing her invisible jet, Diana basically takes flight without it, soaring across the sky while awkwardly adjusting her arms over and over. First, it’s one fist. Then both fists forward. Then no fists as she dive-bombs through a cloud.

The point is this: Why the hell is she flying?!? Why isn’t she in her damn jet?!?

The film clumsily tries to suggest that Diana is using her lasso to harness lightning and then coasting along the upper currents as a result, but it looks and feels unnecessary.

Early on, during the fantastic opening sequence, which is basically the non-fatal version of “The Hunger Games,” as practiced on Themyscira, the secluded island where Diana and other Amazons were born and raised, Diana is told, “no true hero is born from lies,” after she cheats to win a competition.

Jenkins returns to this central theme throughout “Wonder Woman 1984,” which is admirable and an awesome lesson to instill in younger viewers.

But Jenkins also refuses to allow any opportunity pass to have Diana as Wonder Woman interact with young girls of all colors and creeds, whether she’s thwarting a robbery, scooping children out of harm’s way or taking a second to wink at a young black girl whose life she just saved.

You almost feel the weight of responsibility that Jenkins is trying to shoulder here, and it’s an enormous burden to saddle any hero with, male or female. I’m not saying the message is bad, but it shouldn’t be so obvious.

Speaking of obvious, by its very title, “Wonder Woman 1984” promises a return to one of the greatest years in the greatest decade in recent history. And Jenkins stuffs her movie with subtle nods and in-your-face totems, whether it’s an early Apple desktop computer, a multi-tiered shopping galleria or a changing room montage while Pine tries on memorable (and outdated) men’s fashion.

Put it this way, I felt like “Captain Marvel” embodied the 1990s far better than “Wonder Woman 1984” does the mid-80s.

And while this sequel succeeds in making Wonder Woman feel as important, if not more so, than her Justice League colleagues, it also lacks any sense of its overall place in the DCEU. It’s great as a stand-alone feature, but the reason the MCU is so successful is that Marvel figured out a way to include connective tissue between all of its first 23 films.

Finally, to end on a high note, make sure you stick around during the credits for the best surprise of all, a most welcome and sincere nod to the woman who first held the golden lasso and who for many fans will always be the most wonderful.

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.

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About The Author

John W. Allman

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films...
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