Wonder Woman 1984 review: The best superhero film to see cinemas in 2020

It has good villains, especially Kristen Wiig, ignored frump turned malevolent feline

Wonder Woman 1984
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Director: Patty Jenkins
Cert: 12A
Genre: Action
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen
Running Time: 2 hrs 40 mins

Well, we can, with some confidence, confirm the second Wonder Woman romp as the best superhero film to see cinemas in 2020. A lot of people liked that Birds of Prey thing, but a lot of people like ritual self-flagellation. Each to his own. And that was all the competition we got.

Patty Jenkins, returning for more action, has made the sensible choice to rhyme much of WW84 with Richard Donner's well-remembered Superman films. The DC Extended Universe has a few house styles and much better this playful tone than the deafening pseudo-seriousness of Zack Snyder's contributions. The current project makes no effort to connect with the wider DC universe. Get behind me, Batman. Justice League, I know thee not. It is fun until it's not. It's lively until it becomes self-important.

We begin with a moderately entertaining, stupidly overlong gymkhana in Diana Prince’s home realm – sprinting up and down hills while flinging javelins through hoops – that teaches the young Wonder Woman something or other about fair play and decency.

We then fast forward to a version of the 1980s that really, really knows it is the 1980s. You know the sort of thing. Everyone has their jacket sleeves rolled up. There is a video game arcade on every corner. You can’t move for joggers and power walkers.


Watergate complex

None of this is meant as criticism. Jenkins and her cast extract more good jokes from the references than you would get from a lifetime of Batman Vs Superman.

Look, Diana (Gal Gadot playing cautiously within her very narrow range) lives in the Watergate complex. When her old flame Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, charming) drops in from the past – almost literally; he just appears from nowhere with little explanation – he is amusingly puzzled by the fashion for parachute pants. "Everyone parachutes now?" the aviator wonders.

With all this joshing Diana has little time to actually be Wonder Woman. After a brief, early skirmish, we don't see the costume again for over an hour. But story is brewing. The film's most welcome additions are its villains. As a magician of deadpan negative energy, Kristen Wiig is not the most obvious choice for a comic-book baddie, but she is delightfully insidious as the clumsy, ignored frump who turns into a glamorously malevolent feline. Sound familiar? No, she's not Catwoman. Apparently she's Cheetah, but if DC wants to rip itself off then who are we to complain (Dr Wikipedia tells me both date back to the 1940s).

Slippery fun

Pedro Pascal, Game of Thrones graduate, has endless slippery fun with a premise that could work equally well as the basis for a 1990s Jim Carrey comedy. Maxwell Lord, swindler and infomercial magnate, happens upon a mystic rock that makes all wishes come true. He does not plump for world peace.

So far, so zany. The longer it goes on, however, the less fun and more earnest it becomes. What are we to make of a superhero film starring a former member of the Israeli Defence Forces that has an Arab character wish for his “lands to be returned” and later takes us to walled-off neighbourhoods in the Middle East? That was a genuine question. It’s hard to tell if any point is being made here. (The late, fleeting reference to the Irish diaspora is less ambiguous, but every bit as strange.)

By the time we get to the dragged out, apocalyptic ending we are closer to Superman IV: Quest for Peace territory than that of the earlier Donner projects. Still, we should have seen it coming. A jolly sentimental coda, set at Christmas, ends with a suggestion that, as we cut to the credits, Gadot is set to launch into the anthem that kicked off this year’s sorry isolation. “Imagine there’s no heaven…”

Opens on December 16th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist