Like its predecessor, "Wonder Woman 1984" is a zippy entertainment that fizzles out in a chaotic finale.
Gal Gadot is surer and funnier in "1984" and director Patty Jenkins showcases her appeal better, particularly in the two- or three-person scenes that are the new movie's strength. We already knew her rapport with boyfriend Chris Pine was screwball-comedy-good (he's back, courtesy of a time warp) but she also vibes well with Kristen Wiig, who plays a shy colleague named Barbara Minerva, who undergoes a transition to feline villainy much like Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in "Batman Returns."
Jenkins opens with a breathless prologue with young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in an Olympic-style steeplechase on Themyscira that involves archery, running, horse jumping and diving. It's beautifully staged so it's always clear what's going on, even though dozens of women are competing.
It ends with a lesson from Diana's warrior aunt (Robin Wright). "This world is not yet ready for all that you do," says Wright, citing "acts of bravery like patience, intelligence and the courage to face the truth."
Those words hang over the movie, which finds the adult Wonder Woman (Gadot) having to balance dating with, you know, saving the world while also figuring out how to help Barbara see that she was a better person before a "dream stone" (the rules of which are never entirely clear) made her into the power-mad Cheetah.
Jenkins also has a lot of fun with the "1984" part of the movie, a reference not to the George Orwell classic but to the era when we thought turquoise went great with lemon yellow and that heavily teased bangs brought us closer to God.
When things come to a head in the final half-hour, Jenkins loses control. With Cheetah and a seemingly coked-up ally (Pedro Pascal) bent on world domination, WW has to tame them in scenes where the special effects fall flat because it's sometimes hard to tell where Jenkins wants us to look.
I wish I could watch a stunning sequence set during July 4 fireworks on a big screen — at a drive-in, actually — but "1984," premiering simultaneously in U.S. theaters and on HBO Max, is the perfect movie to test opening blockbusters on streaming services. With a protagonist who would rather show you the error of your ways than beat you up, its message is a good one for everyone to hear: that the most potent superpower is kindness.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367
Wonder Woman 1984
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for violence.
Streaming: HBO Max.