By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comic book hero Wonder Woman returns to the screen on Christmas Day with a hefty mission: bring holiday cheer to pandemic-weary audiences, provide a boost to struggling movie theaters, and lure new viewers to the HBO Max streaming service.
Set in the over-the-top, neon-infused 1980s, "Wonder Woman 1984" is the biggest movie so far to land in theaters and on a U.S. streaming service at the same time. The plan was prompted by the coronavirus pandemic that has crushed moviegoing and kept many cinemas closed.
While Hollywood studios are waiting until next year to unveil most big-budget action spectacles, AT&T Inc's Warner Bros decided to go ahead with a worldwide release of "WW84" in theaters alongside HBO Max, the streaming service it recently launched in the United States.
Starring Gal Gadot in the title role, "WW84" had originally been scheduled to hit the big screen during the summer. Director Patty Jenkins hopes the shift to Christmas will lift spirits over the holidays.
"It's incredible to finally release it at a time that it might bring joy into people's lives," Jenkins said in an interview.
In the sequel to 2017 blockbuster "Wonder Woman," Diana Prince is trying to live a quiet life during an era of excess, but she soon finds she needs to help save society from itself.
Prince also is reunited with Steve Trevor, the love interest played by Chris Pine, despite his character having died at the end of the 2017 film, which was set in World War I.
Gadot said the new installment aims to provide a hopeful message and "show what we would like the world to be." Jenkins insisted on minimal use of computer imagery for battle sequences, Gadot added, forcing actors "to up our game."
"This is the hardest movie I've ever worked on," Gadot said.
Many film critics lauded the movie as an escapist adventure, according to the Rotten Tomatoes website, which said 87% of reviews gave the movie a positive score.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Alicia Powell in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)