Yesterday, I saw Wonder Woman 1984 at the BFI IMAX screen at London Waterloo. At the time, I didn't realise that this experience will be denied all other Londoners when the movie is released tomorrow, and London goes into Tier 3 lockdown until the end of the year. Masked, we sat, separate and disinfected, watching on the largest screen possible, the return of Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, directed by Patty Jenkins, written by Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham.
The first movie is set in a time of war, this time we are presented with a world at relative peace, though that illusion is stripped away through the film. Wonder Woman 1984 is not just set in the nineteen-eighties but in some collective agreed memory of the eighties. No pieces of art, clothes, design, music is from a previous decade, everything is from the eighties, people must have thrown away everything four years older or more. There are references to Back To The Future, The Breakfast Club, War Games and more. But the most prominent eighties aspect, even bigger than the shoulder pads or pockets, is the concept of "greed is good", the lionisation of the successful entrepreneur. It runs through the whole film, beginning with Wonder Woman's experiences as a young child in Themyscira is a memorable Olympic-style triathlon-type event made up of unknown sports. And then into Maxwell Lord, played by Pedro Pascal, based on the Justice League International character, bloody nose and all, in search of the Dreamstone, straight out of Sandman lore. And there's a Neil Gaiman line from Sandman that echoes through the movie, "the price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted". You know, I do hope they use the same design Dreamstone from Wonder Woman 1984 in the Netflix Sandman in production right now.
So we have wish-fulfilment as both a good and bad thing, both the mystical form created by the Dreamstone, but also Wonder Woman living the life she chooses. She is hiding from the public gaze but intervening when and where she can. This includes one scene in a solely-eighties shopping mall with a sense of humour right out of Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie, backed by bold orchestral bursts. And it's that spirit which exhibits itself time and time again. Even with Asim Chaudhry, known for BBC3 show called People Just Do Nothing, who is just a guy with three lines in WW's museum. He gets a coffee, that's about it, and he's excellent.
But wishes lead to greed, and greed is bad, and Maxwell Lord is a Gordon Gecko-wannabe, a villain with a sympathetic past, one beaten and bullied who is doing what he can to try and survive and prosper and be a better father. But the bullied become the bully – repeated in the character of Barbara Minerva played by Kristen Wiig as a wilting wallflower, comically ignored by those around her, the only attention she does get is that she would rather not (the eighties again), and her wishes fulfilled sees her take revenge on those who would do her down. These micro examples are then reflected more widely in the world as more wishes come to past, with Egypt standing in as an allegory for more familiar political differences of its neighbour, Israel, and the effects that then has on the rest of the world. But all the significant changes and big decisions, all come down to individual human choices. We are all vulnerable and also guilty.
Oh, and while Kristen Wiig is stellar in the role, the "ignored" version of the character seems impossible when she wears glasses and is one of those "ugly for Hollywood" moments that saw me want to shout out swear words at the massive screen through my facemask.
As the Wonder Woman 1984 plot veers from the micro to the macro, the film is a rare thing, a five-act superhero movie, taking the story on more of a journey that superhero movies usually go through, so the end of the film is radically different from the beginning. And I've never seen Chekhov's White House Intern been used as a trope before. The length also gives the film a chance to let Diana enjoy being Wonder Woman, Richard Donner-like, and take advantage of the lessons of the past and the possibilities of the future. You'll believe a woman can fly.
The other significant move of this movie is bringing back Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, even as we get just a photo of the aged Etta Candy. Finding himself without explanation forty years in the future, he goes through a full-blown Captain America experience and shows that he could have probably played Cap rather well too. And whoever wrote the line about phone books never going to be replaced should get a gold sticker on their chart. Their relationship plays a lot better in this movie as well and makes the most convincing case for wish fulfilment in the film – and thus the greatest stakes.
Wonder Woman 1984 doesn't make the same impact as the original movie did; it is unfair to suggest that it might. That was a film set in war, this is a film that has to make its own war to fight against, and it feels lesser for that. But what it gains is a greater sense of joy, and of wonder. And the IMAX screen made those scenes land especially well, more so that the big fights. You need the biggest screen possible to experience that grin of hers. Gal Gadot – well, basically she is Wonder Woman now. She is relaxed in the role and fills it fully. You will step out of the cinema – or the television screen – with a grin. Depending on what the post-credit scene denied critics like me is, of course.