The year is 1984. Wonder Woman lives peacefully among humans as Diana (Gal Gadot), a curator of artifacts within The Smithsonian museum. The world around her is vibrant and excessive, and the desire to achieve greatness is palpable.
This is the initial setting of Wonder Woman 1984—the highly anticipated follow-up to the first Wonder Woman film that smashed box offices in 2017. In the sequel, our lasso-wielding protagonist has moved on from the First World War and now finds herself in the height of the Cold War, fighting against wider-reaching cataclysmic forces.
In the beginning of the film, Diana attempts to maintain a low profile, only using her powers as Wonder Woman to stop local crimes. She spends her days working at The Smithsonian, where she soon discovers an ancient stone with strange powers. It’s only after the stone gets stolen that grasp the extent of the artifact’s force.
Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a failed businessman who steals the stone, and Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), an attention-hungry accomplice, both gain prophetic powers and begin manipulating the world into their warped idealized creation. Although Diana’s strength is dwindling, she must use her power, intelligence, and resilience to fight against Lord and Cheetah, whose threats soon take on the world stage.
As Wonder Woman battles against these rising antagonists, themes of loss, grief, and loneliness permeate the film. Although decades have passed since losing her past love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Diana still experiences intense grief and loneliness. Not only does she ruminate over Steve’s death, but she also grieves for her friends and family in Themyscira, whom she can no longer visit.
These themes of loss and isolation are particularly fitting in the Covid-19 era, where the pandemic has caused endless amounts of destruction and separation. So, even as Wonder Woman grapples against supernatural forces, we have familiar grounds to empathize with her struggles. The film demonstrates how one can accept feelings of grief and learn to live with, rather than against, them. This optimistic message develops gradually throughout the film and leaves the audience feeling hopeful for their own futures.
The exploration and ignorance of truth also features prominently in Wonder Woman 1984. We see it in Max Lord’s lies of grandeur to his son, deluding him from recognizing what matters most. No matter how hard we imagine a world in which we achieve all our dreams, the truth always prevails. This theme ties in with the notion of denial. Throughout the film, Diana has difficulty accepting Steve’s untimely death. By recreating his presence through a falsehood—Steve literally inhabits another man’s body—Diana finds comfort and happiness. However, this reunion is built on a lie and delusion, and won’t last forever. Diana has difficulty accepting this truth and struggles to justify the cost of her denial. The film casts a damning picture on truth’s vital importance, showing how lies are detrimental to oneself and others.
On a technical level, the cinematography successfully captures the liveliness of the 1980s through the use of vibrant, saturated colour and excessive fashion styles, symbolizing the overflowing optimism that characterized the decade.
Throughout the film, Gadot successfully conveys Wonder Woman’s internal struggle to do the right thing while grieving the loss of a loved one. Pascal and Wiig also offer stunning performances, each conveying an intense and frightening lust for power. Through these characters, Wonder Woman 1984 explores the fragility of power and how it can infiltrate and obscure one’s moral compass.
Despite its moving performances and resonating themes, Wonder Woman 1984 earned mixed reviews from audiences and critics alike, a great step-down from the near-universal praise of the first film. For some people, the sequel’s storyline felt excessive and cliché while for others, it lacked high-intensity action sequences and breathtaking cinematography. After years of mounting expectations created from a beloved origin film, Wonder Woman 1984, while serviceable for many, was almost destined to disappoint.
Despite these critiques, avid Wonder Woman fans praised the sequel for its accuracy to the comics and for depicting Wonder Woman and Cheetah as flawed and relatable characters. Although the story has some plot holes and inconsistencies, Wonder Woman 1984 admirably explores Diana’s vulnerabilities while still being fun, grand, and lighthearted.