As the follow-up to the expectation-defying Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman 1984 has a lot to live up to. How will it present a story about Diana (Gal Gadot) in 1984 Washington D.C. if she spent a century in seclusion? Can director Patty Jenkins take the visual language she developed in the first film to new heights? How is Steve Tevor (Chris Pine) back, despite exploding over Europe in 1918? While we may not have answers to these questions – they are better served by being answered in the film itself – we do know a fair bit about the movie. Let’s take a look at what has been uncovered thus far.
From the moment it was put into production, Wonder Woman 1984 has not been shy about its Reagan-era setting. With the arrival of malls, digital watches, infomercials, and Atari, the film will feature a number of key cultural milestones and artifacts for comedic and dramatic purposes. But beyond the leaps in technology (and popular films), the 1980s represents something crucial to Jenkins. Beyond Wonder Woman’s association with the time period – thanks to reruns of the Wonder Woman television series starring Lynda Carter – the director told the audience at the CCXP fan event in Decmeber that the ‘80s were “the height of our civilization.” Considering the way movie studios mine films from the decade for modern entertainment, we’re inclined to agree with her.
But beyond that, there was an incredible inequity brewing underneath the conspicuous consumption, blockbuster films, and power ties — the sort of thing Diana must have been appalled to see. Of course, it remains to be seen if the screenplay by Dave Callaham, DC mainstay Geoff Johns, and Jenkins will address that issue or use one of its villains as a simpler conflict.
For her part, the Amazonian exile is “quite lonely,” according to Jenkins — although the film will feature some sort of Themyscirian flashback with both Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright returning as Hippolyta and Antiope — but continues to help out where she can while avoiding the increased presence of security and news cameras. Which means, to some extent, the film will maintain the idea from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that she hid from the world following Steve’s death.
Despite his very heroic end, Steve is back in this installment. In fact, Jenkins said the story “couldn’t be told without Steve Trevor.” While we do not know the exact mechanics of his resurrection, we’re happy to see him (and Pine) return, as he was part of the first film’s magic. This time, though, it is clear Diana will be teaching him about his own country after being out of circulation for nearly 70 years. Movies were silent and Lenin was in power when he died, so Ghostbusters and the Cold War will only be the start of his culture shock.
But one thing we also noticed in the film’s first trailer, released in December, was the revelation that Diana spent some time with Steve’s family after the war ended. The pictures of Diana on the Trevor Ranch only begin to tell the story we hope gets a little more meat when the film premieres.
Diana’s life in 1984 will not just revolve around simple crimefighting. Her opponent here is Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). The character was introduced to the DC Universe in 1987 as an ambiguously virtuous but occasionally villainous multi-millionaire with mind control powers (yet susceptible to telepathic suggestion himself) and a plan to reform the Justice League. The heir to a family fortune, he finally chose true villainy at the turn of the century. In the comics, Diana killed him, but he made sure his death at her hands would be broadcast to the world, inspiring a movement against Wonder Woman.
While something so public is unlikely in Wonder Woman 1984, it is clear from the trailer he will use the power of television to broadcast his ideas (and maybe telepathic commands?) to the world. Jenkins referred to him as the “King of Infomericals selling a dream to the public” and “very much a man of his time,” so we’re inclined to believe a certain mesmerism is afoot. The glimpses of him we’ve seen so far also give him that used-car-salesman-on-a-local-TV-ad vibe. He may not be as polished as the Max of the comics, but Jenkins assured fans at CCXP that Diana has “never met anyone like him before.”
And his real plan in the film? That remains to be seen.
While Diana has faced off against the Olympian Gods, Darkseid, and would-be successors over the years, her best enemy is Cheetah. Introduced as a debutante with several personas in 1943, the character would evolve into a capable archaeologist with an interest in Diana’s Themyscirian roots and artifacts. And as those years went by, she also emerged as Wonder Woman’s archfoe. Jenkins described the film’s version of Cheetah, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), as both “sweet” and “Diana’s friend” as the film begins, but those qualities will reverse by its conclusion. Also, she mentioned Barbara’s eventual Cheetah form is a mixture of practical make-up and CGI, so expect a costume reveal in the film’s second trailer.
And like Max, we’re unsure of Barbara’s motives, but perhaps her comic book counterpart’s initial obsession with Diana’s Lasso of Truth gives us something to work with. So much so, we’d be willing to think her friendship with Diana is entirely a ruse. Also, since villains typically team up in superhero movies, we expect she may offer Max a crucial element missing from his plan.
Except for a handful of moments in the first trailer, Wonder Woman 1984 continues the renaissance of practical costumes, environments, and stunts. According to Jenkins, much of the film will be “real people in real environments,” even if one of the shots in the trailer looked to be an entirely computer generated thunder storm.
While speaking at the CCXP fan event, Gadot said, “We shot most of it… It was not easy to do, but it was amazing.”
And that sense of reality, even from just one trailer, sets Wonder Woman apart from many of the earlier DC films in the current cycle. The spirit of verisimilitude was there in the original Superman and appears again to some extent in films like Shazam! and the first Wonder Woman – both stories that benefited from having one foot in reality – while films like Justice League and Aquaman required more extensive use of CG elements. That said, we appreciate the level of dedication it takes to put real people into tougher stunts and to resist the impulse toward widespread CGI in any given shot.
Although, it is pretty cool to see Diana swing off that CGI lightning.
Wonder Woman 1984 opens on October 2, 2020.