We’re so used to super-hero films ending in a flurry of fists and destruction, of the good guys pounding the bad guys into sand.
In “Wpnder Woman 1984,” the much anticipated, much longed for sequel to the groundbreaking 2017 film “Wonder Woman,” director Patty Jenkins creates a new way to tell the super-hero epic and demonstrates again how she knows the world’s greatest heroine better than anyone else.
In a thrilling prologue, young Diana (a returning Lilly Aspell) competes against her older Amazon sisters on Themyscira in an event that plays like the Olympics on steroids and learns an unexpected lesson from her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) and mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).
(Honestly, there’s a film franchise here just on the Amazons waiting to be shared with the world. Come on, Warner Brothers!)
In the “present” – that’s 1984 – Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stops a heist in a mall while protecting the innocent passersby in an exciting sequence that could have been helmed by “Superman” director Richard Donner. Jenkins has often cited him as an influence on her work, and this pulse-pounding homage is the best tribute.
Diana has built a life for herself, but she’s lonely, missing still her beloved Steve and those friends she’s lost along the way.
She’s built so many walls around herself, she’s even hesitant about befriending her new museum colleague, Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Barbara is nerdy, awkward, and envious of Diana’s poise.
Into both their lives comes Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), an infomercial TV star with designs on nothing less the entire world and his eye on a mysterious object in the museum that can grant wishes.
Diana’s greatest wish, no surprise, is to be reunited with her beloved Steve (Chris Pine).
Now it’s Steve’s turn to be a fish out of water, as he learns about escalators, break-dancing, and even cheese in a can.
As in the first film, Diana and Steve trust one another completely, are devoted to one another, and save each other from the various perils tossed their way.
Gadot and Pine share insane chemistry.
A film of the two just reading city zoning ordinances to one another would probably be the year’s most heartfelt romance. Cinema has not had a couple who pop with such genuine charm in the last fifty years, give or take.
Barbara’s gradual transformation into the apex predator Cheetah gives Wiig an opportunity to go from funny to downright scary. The CGI Cheetah is damn impressive.
Along the way, Diana learns a new skill, but demonstrates her greatest power is her compassion. She saves the world from catastrophic destruction not with a well-timed kick but an appeal to the heart. We look to superhero stories to inspire us, and Wonder Woman speaks to the best in all of us.
Flaws? Oh, sure. The flashbacks into Maxwell Lord’s life seem late and unnecessary. The film could easily be tightened by a half-hour, and yet you still may crave more closure with Barbara.
But how much does Patty Jenkins love “Wonder Woman” fans? The bonus mid-credits scene is a delight and honors the hero’s history.
Like the first “Wonder Woman,” “Wonder Woman 1984” is a surprisingly emotional experience, one you will be thinking about long after the credits roll.
“Wonder Woman 1984” is in select theaters and on HBO Max for a limited time.