This Blu-ray review contains plot spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984
Thanks to COVID-19’s new normal for movie screenings and releases, the first Superhero Hype review for Wonder Woman 1984 arrived courtesy of an official Warner Bros. app for iPad. The second viewing came on HBO Max the first day it streamed, which led to one or two buffering issues. Now, finally on a 4K disc, it looks glorious; a reminder that 4K streaming is more compressed than 4K physical media. Some have questioned the point of the movie’s opening sequence in Themyscira. But there really is something special when seeing it in clarity so intense that every twig and blade of grass pops out, and every foot in the sand kicks up a palpable dust cloud. HBO Max is great, but the true fan needs to see it this way.
Not that visuals alone justify inclusion, of course. Diana needs to learn that taking a shortcut means not doing the work. It’s not ingenious if she misses one of the markers she was supposed to hit along the way. Some misconstrued the scene as penalizing Diana for creative thinking, when instead it meant her skipping a step that was crucial. And that ties into the whole theme — getting something unearned frequently comes at great cost.
By now, the plot of Wonder Woman 1984 is known to everyone who saw it in December and January. Huckster Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) obtains the powers of a magical wishing stone, causing Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to inadvertently wish her long-lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) back to life. Meanwhile, her klutzy new friend, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), accidentally wishes to be as powerful as Diana, unaware that doing so will give her super powers. Once Diana realizes what’s going on, she understands that Lord’s insatiable greed, combined with the wishes of everyone he meets, will inevitably lead to societal collapse. But can she renounce her heart’s desire in order to set an example?
Had Wonder Woman 1984 come out a month later, it might have been received very differently. Scenes featuring riots in the streets in front of the White House, initiated by people wishing for things that aren’t, play out a new way in light of recent events. The movie was always a critique of ’80s excess, and how it affected the Cold War among other things. Now, it feels like an explicit rebuke of a sort of selfishness that refuses any concessions toward a better society. It’s nigh impossible to imagine a hypothetical Wonder Woman 2021 in which everyone would renounce their wish. Not when even wearing a mask during a pandemic is considered too great an imposition.
But that’s not what the online discourse focused on. Following an initial wave of reviews praising the movie’s positivity, a swift backlash ensued. Much of it centered around two aspects: the Middle-East politics it depicts, and an ’80s-style body-swapping plot point. For the former, it helps to not expect that the DC Universe is the real world. Indeed, there are strong hints that the vaguely Reagan-esque president is just somebody who wished to become president and suddenly found himself there. The rest of it should be taken with equal seriousness — or lack thereof.
As to the latter, Steve Trevor finds himself in another man’s body, and modern viewers unused to the trope reacted in horror. Steve has hijacked the man, and everything he does uses that body without consent! Except that, for all intents and purposes, that man is dead. He’s gone. The only way he can come back is for someone to wish Steve’s return had never happened, at which point anything done with the man’s body in the meantime never happened either. Is it horrible that he died for a while? Absolutely! The moment the possibility of renouncing wishes comes up, Steve gets this immediately. Diana remains in denial because she wants to, but not for long, and her defensiveness is pointedly unbecoming. Seeing Barbara refuse to give anything up shows Diana what not to do, however, and she comes to her senses. Yes, even Wonder Woman is susceptible to temptation.
On the one hand, it’s best to let people interpret these and other moments however they choose. On the other hand, it feels like a missed opportunity to not have a Patty Jenkins director commentary explaining the choices. Yet DC movies just never come with commentary tracks. But considering that Marvel Studios offerings usually do, a clear impression forms of which has the stricter corporate message control.
Different parts of the movie drag on repeat viewings, but two moments never lose their power. They’re the key emotional beats, sold entirely by the actors involved. The first comes when Diana renounces her wish, essentially leaving Steve to die again. (Let nobody claim Gadot can’t act after watching that scene.) The second, when Maxwell Lord reunites with his son and confesses all of his faults. In both cases, characters who thought they had it all must break down in order to become truly better. And that’s like life.
Still, nobody’s likely to change their strong opinions at this point. But anyone who liked the movie needs to see it in such clarity that a viewer can count every strand in Wiig’s wigs. Or notice the energy particulates in Wonder Woman’s lasso-generated shield.
The primary extra, a nearly hourlong documentary on the making of Wonder Woman 1984, focuses heavily on the primary cast members, and story ideas. The original villain, for example, was the Duke of Deception, before everyone decided they didn’t want another god. Instead, Jenkins, Geoff Johns agreed about what they wanted to see in a villain, before realizing Maxwell Lord fit most of the criteria, and could be adapted to fill the rest.
“Small but Mighty” spotlights the amazing Lilly Aspell, who plays young Diana in the prologue and in the previous film. The then-preteen did all her own stunts, and indeed, far more of that Amazon obstacle course was a for-real practical set than most viewers would think. Aspell and the cast naturally had the help of wire harnesses, but everything else about that course took few shortcuts. Less interesting is the DC FanDome “Meet the Amazons” panel, which only talks for 30 minutes about things we actually see in the “Small but Mighty” spot.
The mall fight and the desert convoy chase get their own scene spotlights, which may prove the most fun for film buffs. In the case of the mall, an empty facility gets all decked out to become nearly fully functional, and rigged with harnesses and wires on everyone. In the case of the car chase, it’s fascinating to see how many parts of it got shot separately and even statically, cutting together to create a clean narrative.
Just for fun, Gadot and Wiig appear in two featurettes about their friendship. One plays more serious, the other resembles a sitcom opening sequence. Maxwell Lord’s full infomercial is here, as are a gag reel, and a re-edit of the ’70s TV show intro using movie footage and new animation. Aside from having no commentary, it all makes for a decent package.
One minor nitpick, common to all DC releases: the pop-up menu doesn’t always load on the disc. When that happens, the only solution is restarting. There really ought to be a better formatted alternative.
But the main reason to purchase this disc remains the ultra-clear presentation. When Steve and Diana fly through fireworks, the HDR looks so sharp it’s like a 3-D motion simulator. Yes, yes, decent extras; but the movie itself becomes all it should in this format.
Movie grade: Still 4/5
Wonder Woman 1984 is out now on 4K Blu-ray.
Recommended Reading: Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 1
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