Wonder Woman 1984 Review: Sequel Floats On One Wing – The Returning Gal Gadot

Wonder Woman 1984 Review: A still from the film. (courtesy gal_gadot )

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal, Kristen Wiig, Robin Wright, Lilly Aspell

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)

Flight is easy, says Steve Trevor, the dishy American pilot who is Diana Prince’s love interest. It is “wind and air”, he adds. All you need to know is how to catch it, ride it, and join with it. But is that all there is to flying high? Certainly not when the flight path is as challenging as the one that Patty Jenkins’ 2017 megahit Wonder Woman set for the sequels.

Wonder Woman 1984 manages to be a smooth cruise only intermittently. It floats on one wing – the returning Gal Gadot. Sturdy as that wing is – Gadot is doubtless in top form and she is backed up well by Kristen Wiig as the nerdy Barbara Minerva who acquires Wonder Woman-like strength but loses her humanity – a two-and-a-half-hour film needs much more.

WW84 (written by Jenkins with Geoff Johns and David Callahan) struggles to find genuine inspiration when Gadot isn’t doing her number – swooping down in her red-and-blue Golden Eagle armour to save humanity, soaring above the mundane to peddle her super-heroics or reining in criminals with her glowing lasso of truth.

The film proffers old-fashioned escapist entertainment that isn’t exactly electrifying. It passes muster because it the mix has the classic ingredients of a superhero film – a lot of drama, an emotional core, some wit, and a whole lot of wish-fulfilment that extracts a price from the onscreen beneficiaries and the audience (by way of a willing suspension of disbelief).

WW84 manages a decent take-off – it starts in the magical Utopian island of Themyscira in a flashback prelude that reveals a key rite of passage in Diana’s evolution before it transports the audience to a consumer frenzy-driven Washington DC of the mid-1980s – but it never scales the dizzying heights of the earlier film.

Despite several rousing action sequences and the high-drama licks, WW84 rests less on wind and air than on an ordinary-looking antique stone with extraordinary qualities – a Macguffin that propels the confrontation between Wonder Woman and her two principal adversaries.

Like all superhero movies, WW84 is a simplistic, morally earnest fairy-tale yarn. It hinges on the forces of truth, love, justice and true heroism – represented by Wonder Woman (Gadot) and Steve (Chris Pine), who has surfaced in the Cold World era after perishing heroically in World War 1 at the end of Wonder Woman – taking on a villain whose sole wish is to wield power over the entire world. There is no room here for irony or cynicism, the staples of contemporary superhero movies, but there is ample social commentary.

The villain, Maxwell Lord, is a television personality selling gossamer dreams (“Life is good, but it can be better,” is his favoured punchline), a failed businessman and a delusional hustler who, when he acquires the power he seeks, makes a complete hash of it. Doesn’t Lord remind us of a man who is about to demit office (in the same city that WW84 is set in) as the world’s most powerful man? Actually, Maxwell Lord, whose ambition far outstrips his ability, reminds us of many other such clueless megalomaniacs running their nations ragged.

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Lord, played with rather broad strokes by Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal (of The Mandalorian), does not acquire the aura of invincibility that could push Wonder Woman all the way against a wall and force her to tap into her unique strengths. If anything does unsettle Diana, it is the emotional upheaval and moral dilemma that Steve’s return causes.

Wonder Woman, in WW84, isn’t vengeful at all. All she is interested in is saving humanity from the chaos unleashed by Max Lord. Forgiveness comes easy to her – she isn’t out to kill but to heal and give even her enemies the chance to repent. Not such a bad idea in the context of the kind of year that 2020 has been for mankind – and for blockbuster cinema.

Gal Gadot is a charmer who can act too. She articulates agony, altruism and assertion all in one sweep without losing her balance. The handsome Chris Pine serves to brighten up the proceedings when the action slows down in the film’s middle portions devoted to the joy of a woman reunited with a lover who she lost in World War I.

In the lively prologue, Young Diana (Lilly Aspell, who played the same role in Wonder Women at the age of 10) learns a lesson in playing straight and fair early in a multi-discipline competition against older Amazons in Themyscira. She moral tip she receives from her stern aunt-mentor Antiope (Robin Wright) stays with her all through the film. “A true hero is never born from lies,” Young Diana is told.

We then catch Diana in the American capital city that has been overrun by flashy and fast cars, in your-face clothes, tomahawk hairstyles, and other garish era-defining accoutrements. Diana, who works with antiquities at the Smithsonian Institute, does her best to stay out of the limelight.

When she isn’t taking care of the precious artifacts of the Smithsonian, where she is a senior cultural archaeologist, she saves pedestrians from speeding vehicles or stops shopping mall heists. But her saviour act is done incognito. But that is only until Max Lord surfaces and the Dreamstone passes into his control. The world needs saving again.

The foiled robbery – the target is a jewellery story, which, it turns out, is a front for an illegal business in rare antiquities, is the trigger for the film’s ensuing proceedings. The Dreamstone, a part of the shopping mall haul, reaches the Smithsonian.

A new hire in Diana’s department, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a nerdy, under-confident woman, idolises her and wishes to be like her. Her wish comes true, thanks to the ancient citrine stone she is tasked to look after. Her admiration turns to resentment, adulation to rivalry, and she herself mutates into the “apex predator Cheetah.

In a year in which moviegoers have been starved of big screen entertainment, Wonder Woman 1984, out in the Indian multiplexes on Christmas-eve, delivers bushels of it. Not all of it holds water, but why complain when Gal Gadot shoulders her part of the deal with all the flair at her command. She pushes WW84 above the passable mark.

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