Fast forward to the 1980s as Wonder Woman’s next big screen adventure finds her facing two all-new foes: Max Lord and The Cheetah.
If you remember the ’80s, not only were you really there but you probably can’t look at a lightning striped, cap-sleeved t-shirt on a bloke without having terrifying flashbacks.
That said, one of the lightest scenes – in what is a classic blockbuster overflowing with drama, love, spectacle and a great big dollop of earnestness – is Steve Trevor’s quick change fashion parade in front of Diana, when he has to find an outfit to help him blend in with the future.
This sequel is fabulously ’80s, from Frankie Goes To Hollywood playing at a glitzy party (Welcome To The Pleasuredome, of course) to Barbara Minerva’s shiny leggings and Steve’s crash course in bumbags (fanny packs, for my American readers).
Its plot too hinges on how that decade played out, as a feeling that anyone could achieve their dreams became twisted into success at any cost: through sleight of hand, bombast, and, in the case of Trump-like businessman Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), TV.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a brightly-coloured delight. There are certainly a few raggedly edges. It’s long, and feels it; and the plot flounders towards the end. But it is also a charming end to a shockingly difficult cinematic year.
Patty Jenkins’ film has two complex women with superpowers standing in opposition to each other, though a seemingly unstoppable force leaves Diana (Gal Gadot) fighting for everything.
Now living a lonely existence in Washington, Diana’s apartment is dotted with reminders of friends now long-dead. Working at the Smithsonian, specialising in cultural anthropology and archeology, her interest is piqued by a citrine stone with a strange inscription, sent to the museum by the FBI after it turns up in a blackmarket haul of antiquities. It’s being examined by fellow researcher Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a mousy gemologist who is always pushing herself into the background before anyone can do it for her, and the two women are soon on the way to friendship.
Both women are lonely enough and human enough to make mistakes – and to want to keep hold of what is precious to them even if it harms the greater good.
For Diana that is Steve Trevor, who died in the first film yet is back with her in 1984, after she wishes for him on the stone. (He has to inhabit the body and apartment of a 1980s Washingtonian, he of the classic 80s wardrobe, though we only see him as Steve. Other Steve would be considered impossibly handsome, were he not only ever appearing in a mirror opposite impossibly, impossibly handsome Chris Pine.)
For Barbara, what she yearns for is power itself. She’s dazzled by Diana’s poise and, it must be said, her ability to walk in heels. A quick wish on the stone “to be like Diana: strong, sexy, cool, special,” and she’s swapping A-line skirts for shiny leggings and – yes! – her glasses have come off. Yet she also knows she’s always only a stumble or a bad fashion choice away from old Barbara, desperate to be liked.
Still, Barbara luxuriates in her gradual transformation, whether holding court at work as her team hang on her every word, beating up an oafish repeat harrasser, or dressing in leopard print and suede heels, which she can not only walk in but fling men across the room in.
(Steve’s introduction to modern society is a bit Forever Young and though it lightens the atmosphere it’s a little overdone at times. Would he really be so surprised by an upgraded subway train?)
Feline Barbara competes as villain with Lord, who is terrible at business but knows how to harness the power of TV with his thick strawberry blond haircut and cringeworthy catchphrase. He’s compellingly awful, but would be pitiable if he wasn’t so unmoved by the harms his actions cause.
The dreamstone was destined for Lord, whose own wish is to be the stone itself – which means that it is he who grants wishes and he gets to claim from them too, increasing first his wealth and then his superpowers. Burning through investors at a rate of knots, he clasps their hands and grants their wish, while taking from them whatever helps him (initially oil though he doesn’t stop there).
As Max grants the wishes of the most powerful, like the story of the monkey’s paw (mentioned many times) there’s always a downside. An Emir asks for his ancestral lands back and a giant wall appears, cutting off the poorest from fresh water; meanwhile the Russians say they will accept the Emir’s claim, to the fury of the Egyptian government. Then a Reagan-like US president tells Max he wants more nuclear weapons, which leaves the Russians poised to retaliate, a speeded-up arms race that threatens mutual assured destruction. (No ’80s action blockbuster is complete without a nuclear stand-off and a wailing siren.)
There are some terrific big screen moments, from Diana’s fun fight with a group of Home Alone-esque robbers in a shopping mall to a firework-filled flight through the sky on the 4th of July. The opening sequence, with Diana as a little girl competing with adult Amazonians on Themyscira, is breathtaking. Later, a suit of armour strong enough to push back the whole of the world has her resembling a shiny angel.
It’s impressive, far more so than Barbara’s Cheetah, who looks like a big tufty next to this gorgeous golden creature, part glamazon and part C-3PO. (Maybe Cats this time last year has put me off humans-as-felines for life, but though Wiig is mesmerising and moving – her performance will connect with anyone who’s ever been the misfit, watching sad and baffled as others glide effortlessly by – by the time she’s truly Cheetah there isn’t much time for proper conflict.)
Gadot is fantastic, nuanced and human: Diana has to really work as her powers ebb away, convincing herself she can both defeat Lord and Cheetah while still holding on to her most precious possession, Steve. It’s an impossible outcome for a superwoman whose powers rest on truth.
This is a big, colourful and shiny experience, and, like the decade in which it’s set, massive and sometimes messy. But it’s also a blockbuster that’s filled with little human stories, just like the real world. And just like the real world it shows there’s always a reason people act the way they do.
Note: There is a post-credit scene though it wasn’t included in the versions screened for press. If you want to know what’s in it, I will pass you over to my friends at Get Your Comic On who know all about it…
Read my (spoiler-filled) article Wonder Woman 1984: the truth is out there.
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