This follow-up to Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is still stuck with fitting into – or at least not contradicting – the struggling DC film universe. In 1984, a couple of generations after the WWI-set first film, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) – who is never referred to as Wonder Woman, even in the X2-style title of the film – has a self-contained adventure that almost feels like one of those comic book ‘imaginary stories’ in that it goes through quite a lot of plot and then packs it all up at the end with the biggest undoing of progress since Superman turned back time in the creaky finish of the 1978 film. Though we get a ton of action, a lot of characters, and some iconic moments of Diana in flight or golden armour, in the end nothing really happens – which makes this a rather weightless, frictionless superhero blockbuster.
It raises the spectre of the world ending in 1984, which of course can’t happen – but it also uses its magical premise (it’s about three wishes) to tease character development that then gets taken back since the onus is on the three main characters to give back their gifts for the greater good. The magic mcguffin is a gem that grants wishes … Diana wishes that Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) were back from the dead, making the pilot (who possesses some random handsome dude) a man out of time in ‘80s fashions … Dr Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), an unappreciated museum functionary, wishes she were like Diana (whom she only knows as a supermodel-gorgeous civilian) and is then surprised to have super-powers, eventually mutating into a take on one of WW’s main comics foes, the Cheetah … and Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a grifter would-be tycoon, wishes to become the wishing stone, vampiring off others’ wishes in order to become a global power player.
The second act gets busy with a wish making a wall sprout up in Egypt and the US President (Stuart Milligan) – who we could neither confirm nor deny was Ronald Reagan – wishing for more nuclear weapons nearer Russia, thus prompting a soft-focus version of the nuclear brink-of-doom subplot of that 1980s comics game-changer Batman The Dark Knight Returns. The action set-pieces are a flashback to WW’s childhood – in comics, she used to be called Wonder Tot (Lilly Aspell) … a skirmish with gem thieves in a mall … a road chase with armoured cars in the Egyptian desert, that demonstrates Diana’s granted wish has also involved being depowered (as happens quite often to superheroes in sequels – cf: Superman 2) … a nicely-shot night-time scrap between Diana and the Cheetah, with magic lasso and power cables … a big fight in the White House that’s not as cool as the Nightcrawler scene from X2 … and that golden armour gambit, plus some moments where Diana takes on the power of flight (we also get a version of one of the silliest, sweetest elements of the comics – the invisible jet) and a lot of determined striding.
Gadot impresses as the compassionate heroine, and this reverses the set-up of the first film by having her embedded in 1984 – though without much of a life that would require her to maintain a secret identity – and Steve wonderstruck by breakdancing, jets, parachute pants, etc. Wiig and Pascal are okay as not-very-bad baddies. Scripted by Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, it’s at once cynical – all the wishes of ordinary people are venal or self-serving, when in 1984 a ton of people would have wished for world peace or an end to famine – and idealistic – in that when their mistake is explained, everyone in the world backs down (a horrible lesson of the last few years is that people who wish for things that turn out to be terrible still wish for them). It’s big, long, well-crafted and Gadot’s smile covers a lot of script cracks … but it feels slightly disappointing, maybe because I ended up watching it on an awards-qualifying screener link rather than in a cinema (I had a ticket, but the show was shut down). I’ve no problem with a softer, lighter supershow – Shazam pulled it off wonderfully – but this too seldom connects emotionally even as it wears its heart on its bustier.