At the end of a year with a dearth of the usual movie superheroes, Wonder Woman flies in with her Lasso of Truth just in time.
“Wonder Woman 1984” (★★★ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters and streaming on HBO Max Dec. 25) is director/co-writer Patty Jenkins’ much lighter, somewhat campy follow up to her World War I-set 2017 hit film, though a lot has to do with the new retro time frame. While not quite up to par with its predecessor, the Reagan-era sequel returns Gal Gadot as the Amazon princess with the bulletproof bracelets, introduces a couple of worthy foes, and is a pretty fun time even if the extremely busy “1984” almost wears out its welcome at a hefty two and a half hours.
Decades after being introduced to the world of men – and years before the events of “Justice League,” where she joins up with Batman and Superman – Diana Prince (Gadot) is working incognito as a cultural anthropologist at Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian and still pining for her true love, pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who sacrificed himself in the first film. She still occasionally saves the day in her superhero gear, like when a jogger’s about to get hit by a couple of dudes in a speeding Firebird, but mostly on the down low.
'Wonder Woman 1984': All the new Warner Bros. movies coming to HBO Max
Diana also makes quick friends with a mousy new colleague, geologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), and they work together when an ancient jewel comes into the museum, with Barbara unaware that Wonder Woman has just busted up a black-market artifact ring. It turns out the rock has some extraordinary properties and is targeted by charmingly smarmy TV personality/amateur oil man Max Lord (Pedro Pascal).
A Monkey’s Paw scenario develops, where Max goes on a power trip that rockets him to the world stage and Barbara begins a gradual transformation from meek woman to the feral Cheetah. Around the same time, Diana discovers that Steve's somehow back, and they team up again (and steal a plane!) for a globetrotting adventure to stop not only Max and Cheetah, but also all-out nuclear war.
Much of “1984” is, to use the period vernacular, pretty rad. Gadot and Pine’s chemistry was one of the best aspects of the first “Wonder Woman,” and they bring so much life to the new one, as a buoyant Diana introduces fish-out-of-water Steve to fanny packs and parachute pants. Throw in a soaring Hans Zimmer score, and together the two lovebirds give the film an exciting, earnest vibe that’s the closest recent DC superhero projects have come to Christopher Reeve’s original “Superman.”
The sequel also makes strides in terms of its supervillains, after the computer-generated travesty that was god of war Ares in the first “Wonder Woman.” Both “1984” antagonists benefit from simply being more human: Pascal's Max Lord is a love-to-hate-him Gordon Gecko type who grows on you during the film, and Wiig impresses on Cheetah's turn from naive prey to apex predator. While the climactic smackdown pits Wonder Woman vs. full feral Cheetah, an earlier fight at the White House is the real pinnace of their rivalry, presenting both Gadot and Wiig as physical powerhouses.
The biggest problem with “1984” is there’s just too much of, well, everything. An extended Amazons-centric opening featuring kid Diana is cool but takes too long to get the movie humming, and some iffy visual effects mar the more massive, blockbuster-ready scenes.
Still, the action-packed, heartwarming flick hits more than it misses, especially for fans waiting through a year full of release delays. And fortunately, Jenkins is the resident Santa Claus, gifting us this holiday season – even those stuck at home – with an action-packed, heartwarming flick full of grace, goodness and a tank-flipping, whip-smacking, baddie-bashing Gadot.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Wonder Woman 1984' review: Gal Gadot returns for rousing retro sequel