• Ben Erickson

Wonder Woman 1984

Review originally published in January 2021 issue of Film Score Monthly

Wonder Woman 1984 (stylized as WW84) is the ninth film to be released in the DC Extended Universe, with Patty Jenkins resuming her post as director and Gal Gadot portraying the titular character Diana Prince. They are joined by Diana’s love interest, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the exuberant Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), and the gawky dweeb-turned-predator Barbara Minerva, a.k.a. Cheetah (Kristen Wiig) who, in the midst of the ‘80s, must each confront their deepest desires.

WW84 is the third film of the DCEU to be scored by Hans Zimmer following Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with additional music provided by David Fleming and Steve Mazzaro. Zimmer was announced as the composer back in 2018, replacing Rupert Gregson-Williams who had scored the 2017 Wonder Woman. Even then audiences were calling for a female composer on a female-led production, putting into question the efficacy of Hollywood’s push toward equality, to say nothing of Zimmer’s silent complicity. But I’ll stop myself there at the risk of biting off more than I can chew.

The Wunderfrau score uses an überorchester, the proportions of which enter the realm of spectacle with agreeable efficiency. Zimmer’s prowess in attaining a hyperrealistic musical state remains unmatched. All the better given WW84 was clearly intended to be the Thor: Ragnarok of the DCEU, with Jack Kirby levels of visual acid and glamour, yet the style is remarkably… modern. It is energetic and has sparkle enough to match the ‘80s zeitgeist, to be sure, but if I am being honest I had expected something more trippy in keeping with Motherbaugh’s futuristically retro score for Ragnarok. This may be just as well since there are a few excellent things I had not expected, too.

Right from the off, “Themyscira” and “Games” deliver an infectious curiosity about the score that harkens back to the composer’s early career in a comforting way. The music, dancing in ⅞ time, is full of wonderment, as though looking through the eyes of a child (or rather, hearing with a child’s ears). The recurring ⅞ time signature not only foreshadows the return of the Wonder Woman war cry, originally written by Zimmer for Batman v Superman, but also functions as part of the deep, underlying structure of the score as a whole. “1984” continues with a buccaneer quality in the rhythms, invigorating the plucky, spritely string melodies and charging brass fanfares above.

Perhaps fittingly, it is the war cry’s electric cello riffing that most aptly captures the retro spirit of the day. The war cry itself has matured into the now definitive Wonder Woman theme, with only two statements heard in its original guise (“Open Road” and “Radio Waves”). It was also the only theme to survive the composer turnover as Gregson-Williams’ themes from Wonder Woman were dropped. Normally, I might get hung up on the continuity lapse, but with all of the blockbuster franchises these days I almost prefer the variety. New themes include a misleadingly chipper jaunt for Max Lord (“Black Gold” and “Anything You Want”), a motif for Cheetah (“Cheetah” and “The White House”) taking the form of an elephantine roar, not unlike the Prowler theme compiled by Daniel Pemberton for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and a love theme for Steve and Diana (“Wish We Had More Time” & “Already Gone”). The love theme is breathtaking. Simply marvellous. Led by warm strings, it revisits the sense of old-fashioned romance first encountered in Gregson-Williams’ “Trafalgar Celebration” and convincingly renews Diana and Steve’s passion for one another.

There are a couple of other truly stunning moments, including “Fireworks”, an exultant, euphoric performance of the Wonder Woman theme as our protagonists reach heights untouchable, and “Already Gone”, the final recapitulation of the love theme. The violently impassioned end of the latter nicely parallels a scene from the first Wonder Woman (“Hell Hath No Fury”) in that Diana experiences a, shall we say, spiritual breakthrough in the midst of an emotionally devastating crossroad. This is not to say the music is without its flaws. The first Wonder Woman score was, to my taste, considerably warmer in tone, whereas the score for WW84 is by contrast much more aphotic and moody. Closer in tone perhaps to George Orwell’s 1984. (I jest, it does not come near to that level of dystopic fear, though it would be fair to say it can be crestfallen at times).

This moodiness notwithstanding, the hopefulness embodied by Diana is equally well represented in the music. I do not seem to be as enthused about the score for WW84 as some – at least, I do not view it as a wonder cure allaying the ravages of a difficult year – but I find it quite lovely all the same. That many are experiencing a power in this music greater than the adversity present in their own lives speaks to the score’s curative properties. And this, to my mind, seems worth celebrating.