Review: Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

I honestly can’t tell you for sure whether I would have seen Wonder Woman 1984 in a movie theater had it been released in 2019 as originally planned, or if its June 2020 followup release date hadn’t been canceled by COVID-19. All I can say with certainty is that I’m glad my first viewing was at home rather than the local multiplex. Because I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it nearly so much surrounded by a crowd of my fellow comic-book geeks. 

 

And I say that for two reasons. The first is one scene in particular that occurs about halfway through the movie’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime. I won’t spoil the particulars for you, other than to say it’s a moment that was obviously intended to pluck the strings of nostalgia for old-school Wonder Woman (and indeed Super Friends) fans. But it isn’t a wink and a nod, as little 

nuggets of fan service like this normally are. Instead, it’s a moment of personal triumph for Princess Diana of Themyscira—one that drew a great big (but quiet) grin out of me, not only for the nostalgic sugar kick but also the integral story beat it represents within the movie.

 

And quite frankly, the barrage of cheers I’m almost certain are rippling through cinemas here in the States when that scene plays out (diminished though they may be by half-sized crowds and the like) would have ruined that moment for me. Or, if not ruined, at least colored my own personal reaction to it. Watching it play out on HBO Max, though, with only my wife by my side and my 85-pound pit bull sprawled out in my lap, I got to form my own emotional attachment to that moment, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

 

The other reason I’m glad I saw the movie at home rather than at the local IMAX boils down to quality of presentation. Say what you will about flicks of this nature being designed for the crowd experience, I’d say a far more 

1984 AT A GLANCE

The much anticipated super-girl sequel arrives in both theaters and on HBO Max with enough sugar kicks to more than satisfy the comic-book crowd.

 

PICTURE     

The film leans heavily on high dynamic range and wide color gamut, and HBO Max presents it all in 4K without any obvious flaws in the delivery.

 

SOUND     

The Dolby Atmos mix provides some beefy home cinema demo material, with a very Hans Zimmery score taking your speakers for a near-constant thrill ride.

crucial ingredient of this one’s success is the overall audiovisual impact. And a lot of that comes from liberal application of high dynamic range and wide color gamut, something only a handful of cinema screens can deliver. (Last I looked, I think there were something like 200 Dolby Cinemas worldwide and roughly the same number of IMAX Laser screens around the globe, none of which are within driving distance of me.)

 

From nearly beginning to end, WW84 leans heavily into the ’80s aesthetic, with Day-Glo colors dominating its palette almost to the point of hilarity at times. What’s more, one of its few action set-pieces takes place at night, and although I didn’t find HBO Max’s Dolby Vision presentation of that showdown distracting in the slightest, I was almost distracted by my musings about whether or not I would have been able to follow any of it on the low-contrast, dimly lit screens down at my local AMC.

 

I guess I’m somewhat burying the important takeaway here. We’ve all been curious about whether or not HBO Max would do 4K HDR right in this, its first outing with the modern video format. And the answer to that is a resounding “Yes!” I couldn’t find a single visual flaw in the delivery, and any nits there were to pick were subjective quibbles with the cinematography and special effects (many of which seem to be intentionally laughably bad). There’s also the fact that WW84 seems to have been shot with a deliberately soft look, so you shouldn’t expect razor-sharp edges or super-fine details. But you can see from the fine grain that all of this is inherent to the 35mm negative and not a problem with the transfer.

 

The Dolby Atmos track also shines, especially if you’re looking for some beefy home cinema demo material. Granted, a full 70 percent of the mix seemingly consists of Hans Zimmer’s score Hans-Zimmering the hell out of every speaker with unbridled intensity. As much as that would normally annoy me, it works for this movie, if only because WW84 is so delightfully and unapologetically cheesy from start to finish that subtlety in any aspect of the presentation would have seemed out of place.

 

And I don’t mean that as a sort of back-handed compliment, mind you. Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t just use the ’80s as its setting; it uses the style of storytelling common to action movies and comic books of that era to guide its tone, its pace, and indeed its narrative. And I’m totally here for it.

 

My only real gripe about the story is that it’s a little too densely packed for its own good. Director Patty Jenkins seems to have had a million ideas for how to follow up her 2017 breakout hit with a story that covered almost none of the same ground in almost none of the same ways yet still felt connected to the original. I just wish she had left a few of those ideas in the first draft of the screenplay. Trim 30 pages from the script and it would have been nearly perfect. As it stands, we have to settle for merely very, very good.

 

I say that, though, assuming you’re at least of an age to appreciate so much of the material that inspired Jenkins and co-writer Geoff Johns. Tonally and narratively, WW84 owes a lot to both Superman: The Movie (1978) and Batman Returns (1992)—and yes, I know it’s hard to imagine common ground between such disparate cinematic efforts, but this movie manages to find it.

 

But if you didn’t grow up on movies of that era, or at least experience them in your formative years, I can’t help but wonder if Wonder Woman 1984 might feel just a little too over-the-top, a little too cheeky, a little too fantastical. 

 

I honestly can’t know. But the good news is, as long as you’re willing to face the needlessly convoluted gauntlet of signing up for an HBO Max account and signing into the app, you can watch the movie to your heart’s content for the next 31 days before it disappears for a while in preparation for its actual home video release.

 

Will I plunk down my hard-earned dollars to buy the movie when that times comes? You bet I will. Again, it’s not perfect, but I liked this sequel even more than the first Wonder Woman movie, and it’s exactly the sort of goofy and good-natured escapism I need in my life right now.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

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