In a year largely without superheroes, it’s wonderfully fitting that Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984” emerges at the very end, helping rescue us from this period of misery and despair.
Originally scheduled to open in thousands of theaters in June, “Wonder Woman 1984” is opening Christmas Day in just a few theaters and on HBO Max for safe home viewing.
Many have been upset by the news that Warner Bros. will follow the same release pattern with its entire slate of 2021 movies — is it the death of cinema? — but in this case, on this Christmas, it feels right, and even generous.
Early sequences in the movie may be lost on viewers that don’t remember the 1980s or have never seen a movie from that decade.
It begins in a shopping mall, reeking of the decade’s excess, as bad guys rob a jewelry store, looking for black market goods in the back room. The crime goes awry, and one panicked thug kidnaps a young girl and dangles her over the railing of one of the mall’s upper levels.
Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) springs into action. Attempting to keep a low profile — but, fortunately, not succeeding — she zips around the multi-story structure, swinging her golden lasso, rescuing shocked shoppers and catching the villains.
Filled with color and a kind of gluttonous innocence, it’s an exhilarating sequence that feels like everyone in the world is gets the run of a candy store for free.
But the robbery is only a catalyst for the real story. Diana works at the Smithsonian Institution — being immortal makes her a great historian — in Washington D.C.
A newly hired co-worker, the awkward, nerdy Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is in charge of examining artifacts uncovered by the robbery. One is a wishing stone. A minor character touches it, wishes for a coffee, and lo and behold, a coffee arrives. But, pay attention: He burns his tongue on the hot beverage.
Diana touches the stone too, and that brings back her true love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Pine is very funny playing fish out of water here, awed at the wonders that 1984 has to offer. But he also brings moments of real poignancy as it becomes clear that this starry-eyed romance cannot last.
While it lasts, however, it’s entirely refreshing to see an onscreen relationship in which the man is not threatened by a powerful woman.
The film’s fourth major character, failed entrepreneur Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), has been seeking the stone. When he touches it, he makes a most unusual wish. The world begins to change in chaotic and terrible ways. And Barbara does too, becoming Lord’s wicked henchperson.
Gadot seems even more comfortable with her role than she did in the groundbreaking, smash-hit 2017 original. Like Superman and Captain America, it’s a tough role, and it requires a balancing act of nobility and humanity. Gadot pulls it off with her lithe, poetic movement and a twinkle in her eye.
A story about wishes is perfect for her brand of appealing goodness. It’s timely, too, given that there’s more at stake here in 2020, less taken for granted. It’s easy to wonder while watching: What might I wish for? The end of COVID? Or a million dollars?
One of the movie’s best jokes, by the way, is that many white men in 1984 end up wishing for Porsches.
As the 151-minute movie moves toward its showdown, it eventually loses some of its sparkle. Bright pastel colors turn to darkness, and the fight scenes become a little more weighed down with chilly digital visual FX.
Max Lord’s final stand takes place — for no reason at all — on a lighted, circular platform illuminating his face from below and — again, for no reason — wind blowing all around him. It feels, perhaps deliberately, like something out of an ’80s movie but, given the serious nature of the scene, seems more dumb than delightful.
But for the most part, Jenkins turns in a bright, energizing movie, exciting and funny and likely to provoke both laughter and cheering from living room couches.
Like “Bill & Ted” and “Trolls” have been during this pandemic, Diana Prince is a much-needed tonic. She’s a role model with the power to evoke an array of reactions, from beaming pride to happy sighs.
Wonder Woman 1984
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal
Written by: Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, Dave Callaham
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Running time: 2 hours, 31 minutes