Apart from being a much-anticipated sequel, “Wonder Woman 1984” had a lot of significance when the business of movie exhibition was in a forced transition period.
Now in its regular HBO run — with showings Tuesday, May 25, and Friday, May 28 — the Gal Gadot-starring adventure directed by fellow returnee Patty Jenkins became the yardstick by which Warner Bros determined whether it was viable to profit from placing a new movie on the HBO Max streaming service at the same time it opened in whatever theaters were available in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. That turned out to be promising enough for the studio to do the same thing with its entire slate of 2021 releases.
With its expected action set pieces, “Wonder Woman 1984” clearly was designed to be seen first on big screens … but the fact is that many people get their initial exposure to movies at home, where they likely would have watched this for the first time anyway, pandemic or not. The ultimate question is whether a film is entertaining, wherever one watches it, and the “Wonder Woman” follow-up fills that bill.
Here, the setting does indeed advance to the mid-1980s, when the Amazonian heroine’s alter ego Diana Prince (Gadot) is in America’s capital working at The Smithsonian. So is an envious colleague (played by Kristen Wiig) who gains superpowers via a stolen but recovered artifact, which then is swiped by a business titan (Pedro Pascal) for his own nefarious purposes.
As sequel stories go, “Wonder Woman 1984” is a pretty good one, with Jenkins and DC Comics staple Geoff Johns among its writers. It also finds a way to bring Chris Pine back as Wonder Woman’s love Steve Trevor that’s at once fantastical and sensible within the boundaries of the tale and the genre. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen also reprise their roles as the maternal figures to the title character.
While the personal subplots play fine in any medium, the one area in which viewers might wish they’d seen “Wonder Woman 1984” in a theater first is the special-effects-driven material. Bear in mind that four decades ago, certain world threats existed that aren’t as consistently prominent now (though they still loom in the background and occasionally resurface); the script smartly makes use of those, generating spectacle that remains best-seen on a giant screen.
Still, “Wonder Woman 1984” gets the job done, to the extent that another sequel is in the works. Like James Bond (we think, since his latest caper still awaits its release), she will return.