December 24 (The Guardian) – This long-delayed sequel to 2017’s hugely enjoyable superhero romp Wonder Woman was originally slated for release last Christmas, but it may be just the tonic we need right now. Combining the colourful charm and romance of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman with an empowering 21st-century gender-flipped sensibility, it shifts the action from the battlegrounds of the first world war to the bumbags and rolled-up sleeves of the US in the 80s.
The result is an entertaining (if somewhat overlong) adventure that once again owes more to the fun-loving spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future than to the dour DC drudgery of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Justice League.
As WW Jacobs’s tale The Monkey’s Paw tells us, wishes can come true – but at a terrible price. When a mysterious ancient stone turns up at the Smithsonian workplace of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), its powers are initially hidden. But when self-conscious, socially awkward gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) dreams of being more like her new friend Diana (strong, cool, beautiful), her imaginary makeover somehow becomes a reality. Meanwhile Diana, whose heart has remained broken since the loss of airman Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), finds herself wrapped in a Ghost-like embrace with a mysterious stranger, rekindling the flames of undying love.
Only failing businessman, fraudster and TV personality Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, oozing desperate huckster smarm) knows what’s going on, fired by a growing megalomania that will take him to the White House, and bring the world to the brink of destruction…
From a sweeping Themyscira prologue in which young Diana is taught the importance of accepting defeat with grace (“nothing good is born from lies”) to scenes in which Lord rants like a blood-raged tyrant from the presidential podium, it’s hard to imagine a more apposite time to be watching WW1984. When our heroine declares: “I hate guns”, you can almost feel the outrage from the ranks of the National Rifle Association – the same people who would have happily bought into Lord’s empty promises of “finally having everything you always wanted”.
Yet for all its satirical bite, director and co-writer Patty Jenkins’s lively action-fantasy never feels preachy or sour. On the contrary, what shines through is the sense of joy at presenting the world with an action hero to root for, someone whose fundamental decency harks back to a bygone age while also looking forward to a brighter future. Just as Christopher Reeve made Superman’s iconic fist-forward flying gesture his own, so Gal Gadot’s collection of carefully choreographed runny-spinny-slidey moves are as immediately identifiable as a classic 80s dance routine. She really is very good in a role that requires not only physical strength and emotional agility (watch her breeze inspirationally through an early confrontation with some off-the-peg bad guys) but also the ability to sell an unfashionably uncynical heroine in an age of moral torpor.
While some sections of the globe-trotting plot strike a baggy, backward-looking note, it’s the smaller moments that make this fly, particularly when the film uses fantasy to turn horribly real everyday harassments into moments of air-punching triumph. Wiig is perfectly cast as the wallflower who becomes a Venus flytrap, her combination of comic timing and dramatic chops ensuring that her character never descends into caricature. The result may not be perfect, but its uplifting spirit reminds us of the genetic link between superhero movies and screwball romcoms – all the while retaining an admirably straight face.