It may take more than a superhero to save 2020, but that doesn’t stop Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) giving it her all, in the wide-eyed spectacle that is Wonder Woman 1984. The fact that the film opens on the very day that yet more cinemas across the UK are forced to close due to tier changes might limit the reach of her golden lasso, however. A pity, because this dayglo romp, with its thrilling set pieces and optimistic depiction of a humanity which is able to accept personal sacrifice for the greater good, is exactly the kind of heady escapism we need right now.
Wonder Woman clearly doesn’t have great timing, as evidenced by the fact that in this instalment she finds herself living in the mid-1980s. While not the Orwellian dystopia it might have been, Washington DC in ’84 is certainly a hellscape as far as fashion is concerned. Patty Jenkins, who co-wrote as well as directed, has a lot of fun with costumes. The film is awash with Lycra and passive-aggressive pastels. Other elements of the 1980s cultural landscape are less thoroughly mined. Music, in particular, feels like a missed opportunity: early on the film uses Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” to punchy effect, but then largely steers clear of authentic ’80s pop ephemera in favour of a generic sweeping Han Zimmer score.
The villains, at least, are in tune with the era. Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a turbocharged yuppie. A television huckster with a camera-ready personality and a precariously balanced Ponzi scheme, Max has mainlined the “greed is good” ethos of the aspirational era. With the help of an ancient artefact, he attempts to pull off the ultimate bait and switch: granting the wishes of the world’s citizens, but extracting their most valuable asset in return.
As evil plans go, it’s not entirely worked through, and before long Max is grinding his teeth and bleeding from the ears. Meanwhile, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, bringing comic timing and dramatic chops to the role) is a klutzy scientist who trips over her words and stumbles in her high heels. Her wish to be more like Diana is granted. But what starts out as a Desperately Seeking Susan-style identity hijack ends up as Cheetah: all claws and malice, but devoid of Wonder Woman’s secret weapon, empathy.
As for the heroine herself, whom Gadot has fleshed out satisfyingly as a character living with loss, she too has a wish: to be reunited with the love of her life, US military pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). And in this central relationship, the film demonstrates the real superpower of the franchise: an emotional articulacy that is worlds away from most other comic book movies.