Wonder Woman 1984 is huge in every sense of the word — don’t let its straight-to-streaming release due to a global pandemic fool you. While the first Wonder Woman film broke ground by giving a contemporary woman superhero free reign over the big screen as she discovered her power, director Patty Jenkins’ second superhero film ups the ante. And then some.
“I ended that first film craving a grand Wonder Woman movie,” Jenkins told Refinery29 during the film’s virtual junket. “As much as I don’t think bigger always equals better — a lot of people can go wrong doing that — I wanted to make a grand, massive tent pole for everybody, like I remember watching in the eighties when I was growing up.”
The new movie takes the ‘80s part rather literally: It jumps nearly 70 years forward in time from the first installment to 1984. Ageless Amazon Diana (Gal Gadot) is as glamorous and powerful as ever, working as a Smithsonian scholar and using her lasso of truth on ne’er do wells in her off hours. She’s clearly seen a lot over the decades, so she’s even more confident and wiser than the Diana we met in Wonder Woman. She’s as in tune with her emotions as ever, though, which means she’s still devastated over the loss of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).
After being introduced to her newest coworker, Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), Diana quickly becomes entangled with struggling, corrupt businessman Max Lord (Pedro Pascal). Now, Max is not Donald Trump, but any similarity between this slimy hustler and the current president seems at least somewhat intended. Diana comes into contact with Lord when a mysterious artefact that grants wishes to anyone who touches it begins changing reality around the globe. The massive, international story brings Max Lord and Barbara Minerva (a.k.a Cheetah) off the comic book page and into the DC cinematic universe, gives us another few more hours with Steve Trevor, and unveils Diana’s storied Golden Eagle Armour. It’s a whole lot of movie, because Jenkins would accept nothing less.
“I really believed in the story and we worked very hard on the script, and then I just wanted to go for it with every sequence; try to aim for the stars and make it the grandest, greatest spectacle you can imagine,” she said.
In a year that saw just one other superhero story on the big screen — DC’s Harley Quinn: Birds Of Prey back in February 2020 — Wonder Woman 1984’s release is a remarkable feat not just because of its scope, the return of Steve, or its unconventional rollout on HBO Max. While the first Wonder Woman made the case for more women storming the big screen in super suits by leaning into Diana’s uniquely feminine strengths, WW84 is free to simply play. The mysterious wish-granting artefact connects our heroes and villains, bringing each of their desires to the surface — and placing the good-hearted and villainous on even footing.
“The entire movie is about each of the characters suffering the same arc, and that’s because it’s universal. We all struggle with just appreciating the beautiful life that we have, because we are so caught up with what we do not have,” explained Jenkins. “The vast majority of people living in Western civilisation have enough and are caught up in what they don’t have. It can ruin their lives and cause such a destructive path.”
But what you won’t find in the complex, emotional discussions that come out of this philosophical exercise are gender barriers waiting to be overcome. Diana is no longer bursting into a man’s world — like the time she literally pushed her way across No Man’s Land in Wonder Woman. She’s coming face to face with what it actually means to be a hero and a human at the same time.
“Gender has been such a big conversation in the first batch of [women-led superhero] films — Diana’s femininity is her greatest power, maybe that’s what leads those stories to come to that same thing,” said Jenkins. But WW84 allows Diana to push beyond that initial conversation. “If heroes are perfect, the movie becomes about the bad guy, because that’s the only thing that’s changing and in flux, and it’s just logistics on the superhero side. So, I like going on the journey of seeing that superhero and the mistakes they make and the questions that you have about how to do the best job and make the right choices. It’s so gripping and powerful.”
While the film won’t be able to test audiences’ appetites the traditional way (see: rolling up to the cinema and splurging on tickets) thanks to its online release, its existence is all the proof we need that audiences are ready to let women superheroes just be on screen. At this point, the money is just icing. “It’s a loss, financially for sure,” Jenkins admitted. “But the truth is, it’s not a loss if the movie succeeds with audiences.”