Wonder Woman 1984 is cheesy, fun and utterly doomed

Warner Bros/DC Comics

Wonder Woman 1984 was originally supposed to be released in December 2019, and it shows: the plot concerns a failed businessman turned television personality who – through greed and hubris – takes the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation.
The film, a sequel to the 2017 origin story Wonder Woman, stars Gal Gadot as Diana Prince (aka Princess of Diana of Themyscira, aka Wonder Woman), who is keeping a low profile – foiling the odd low-level crime while working in the archives of the Smithsonian museum.

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The events of Wonder Woman’s other appearances in the DC Extended Universe – in Batman vs Superman and Justice League – are still years in the future. But it’s been decades since the events of her first standalone film, set during the First World War, and Prince still pines for American pilot Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), whose death still haunts her. That changes when her Smithsonian colleague Barbara Minerva, a klutzy gemologist played by Kristen Wiig, chances across a dangerous artefact with the power to grant the bearer anything they wish for.
Max Lord, a sleazy oil baron portrayed with over-the-top glee by Pedro Pascal – best known for brooding behind a mask in The Mandalorian – also has his eyes on the object, and it’s up to Prince to stop him. From there, the plot unfolds pretty much as you would expect – hitting pretty much every 80s trope along the way.
The setting (1984, if you haven’t guessed – although there’s nothing Orwellian about it) gives the costume designers the opportunity to have a lot of fun – there are leg warmers, pastel colours and poorly fitting pinstripe suits galore. Unlike Captain Marvel, for instance, which offered a relatively understated take on the 1990s, everything here feels very overdone: there are close ups on leopard print heels and boxy sports cars. It feels more like a pastiche than an accurate portrayal – but then maybe that’s just what the 80s really were like.
The plot is also a grab-bag of 80s stereotypes: there’s a Cold War missile strike, a romcom makeover, some light body swap comedy and even an outfit selection montage. But if there’s an overriding moral message to take from the movie, it’s a repudiation of the rampant consumerism that defined the decade – greed is bad, we’re told, by the end. Only love can save us.

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The end result is a movie where the tone feels slightly off – not only in terms of current events (the world has changed a fair bit since its originally planned release date), but also when compared to the other titles it shares characters and a universe with. Where Marvel can skip between genres with ease, DC’s attempts to do the same seem disjointed – bogged down by the gritty template set by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, and devoid of the levity and humour that are an important part of the formula.
Despite those flaws, this is a visually arresting and fun way to spend a couple of hours – it’s got the high-energy fight scenes, and a soaring score by the legendary Hans Zimmer. It’s made for the big screen, and in normal times, it probably would have done reasonably well at the box offices. It may even have been enough to tempt some people back to the cinema, even during a pandemic.
But in the United States and many other territories, WW84 is being released straight to home-streaming service HBO Max, a move which sent shockwaves through the industry. That service doesn’t exist in the UK, so it’s a good old fashioned theatrical release on these shores, albeit one with social distancing measures in place: you must cover your face at all times, except when you’re stuffing popcorn into your Covid-19 hole.
The timing could not have been worse. From December 2019 to summer 2020 and finally, December 2020. The new UK release date, December 16, coincides with millions of people moving back into Tier 3 restrictions, which will force the closure of cinemas and massively reduce the potential audience. It leaves WW84 trapped in a strange no-man’s land – a film about 1984, about the anxieties of 2019, hamstrung by being released in 2020.

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Amit Katwala is WIRED’s culture editor. He tweets from @amitkatwala
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