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‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Isn’t Great, But Pedro Pascal Is Great in It

Pedro Pascal's performance as Maxwell Lord is one for the record books. Yes, I'm serious.

It’s Pedro Pascal’s world right now, and we’re just lucky enough to be living in it. Between The Last of Us taking millions by storm and The Mandalorian rolling merrily along for its third season (with many more in sight), the best fictional dad has reached a level of superstardom usually reserved for Hollywood icons of the past. And it wasn’t like his prior fame was anything to sneeze about; The Mandalorian was an inescapable juggernaut in 2019, enough so that Pascal joining the cast of the eagerly awaited and much-maligned Wonder Woman 1984 was headline news.

Much-maligned might be an understatement when it comes to Wonder Woman 1984. Many view the film as a narrative failure, and its controversies haven’t improved with time so far. Was this the best superhero film in terms of quality for Pascal to co-star in? Absolutely not. Did he still deliver an astoundingly refined performance worthy of celebration? That’s why I’m here.

Maxwell Lord’s Origins in ‘Wonder Woman 1984′

Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman 1984
Image via Warner Bros.

The character of Maxwell Lord debuted in DC Comics in 1987 and was created by writers Keith Giffin and J.M. DeMateis and artist Kevin Macquire. A manipulative mastermind of the highest order, Lord is a conniving businessman and an adversary to the Justice League, although he doesn’t always lack for morals. This holds true for Wonder Woman 1984‘s interpretation, where Lord fulfills the primary antagonist’s role but isn’t a traditional villain thanks to some key differentials between 1984 and its comic book source material.

For one, in 1984, Lord was born Maxwell Lorenzano. His immigrant family lived in poverty, his father was abusive to Lord and his mother, and Lord experienced targeted racism and school bullying from white students. His dream of becoming a successful businessman, and therefore wanting the symbolic, nebulous concept of “everything,” stems from having nothing for most of his life. Those are perfectly understandable and sympathetic motivations; Lord just executes his goals the wrong way

Through that wrong way, 1984 depicts Lord as emblematic of real world 1980s businessmen; think the Gordon Geckos of the world. Everyone compare the Wall Street tagline “greed is good” with Lord’s charismatically declared catchphrase “life is good, but it can be better.” Lord exists in a social landscape dominated by the idea of trickle-down economics, a political concept designed to benefit the rich while exploiting everyone else of lesser means. Lord’s quotable sales pitch advocates for excess and boils down to materialism — specifically, American materialism. The private yachts, the jets, the attractive girls, all the money and influence one can imagine; Lord’s promoting the American dream by way of Reaganomics. Lord even dyes his hair light blond, making Pascal almost unrecognizable at first glance.

Pedro Pascal Plays Max Lord Like a Sympathetic Antihero, Which He Is

Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman 1984
Image via Warner Bros.

From that first glance, something’s just a little off about this man. Even though Pascal charges his traditionally understated charm up to a vivacious eleven, his broad, white-toothed smile seems to disbelieve his own affectations. His eyes always carry a touch of reserved tenacity, of watchful caution. He’s a snake without venom because while Lord isn’t at all the image he projects, he isn’t evil. He’s flawed, using his manipulative tendencies and roguish manner when necessary because his financial debts are piling up to the point of inescapable collapse. Lord is characterized by his desperation: he’s desperate to be seen as superficially successful and equally desperate to provide for his son Alistair (Lucian Perez).

Of all the things to be said about Maxwell Lord, the best testament to his depth of character is how he genuinely adores his son. Alistair represents the selfless side of Lord’s goals. Although this isn’t openly stated in the text, once Lord’s backstory is revealed, it’s obvious that Lord doesn’t want his son to live through the same suffering. Pascal’s frenzied recklessness is too real to doubt its authenticity. Protecting Alistair, giving his son the safest and most comfortable life possible, is inextricably entwined with Lord’s search for the Dream Stone and his decision to become its physical manifestation. He wants Alistair to be “proud” of his father’s name, to want for nothing. After losing a business prospect, an almost tearful Lord promises his son that Lord isn’t a failure or disappointment at the same time he seems to be yelling it at his own deeply ingrained self-doubt.

Yes, we can chuckle in retrospect over Pedro Pascal playing another adoring and slightly immoral father. But Maxwell Lord isn’t Din Djarin or Joel Miller. Pascal’s intimacy with the young Perez is both instinctively easy and fraught with fear. He never hesitates to kiss Alistair’s forehead, clutch him close, or take his son’s face in his hands. Lord’s relentless impetuosity stems from his terror over financial ruin and the loss of his carefully crafted public image, which trace back to his love for Alistair. Without his image, there’s no money; without money, he can’t care for his child. Arguably the most powerful being on the planet after becoming the Dream Stone, Pascal makes Lord look devastated and helpless after Alistair uses his wish selflessly. When their relationship declines and Lord knows he’s hurt Alistair with his careless frustration, the instant and piercing regret overwhelms Lord’s body like a dagger to the heart. He apologizes and hugs Alistair to himself, quietly assuring him that “your greatness is my greatness” and proclaiming how “everyone will see” how wrong they were to doubt Lord’s worthiness. Pascal needs three words to mix Lord’s fears with a chilling menace that’s hard to not root for regardless of his actions.

Pascal really gets to sink his teeth into the script and shake it around once the Dream Stone affects Lord’s well-being. The suave charmer gradually grows psychologically unhinged and physically ill: sweating, shaking, stumbling on his feet, bleeding from every facial orifice. Lord knows how dangerous his path is, but there’s no other option except to push toward death if it means success. He’s waited his entire life to rectify the childhood wrongs inflicted upon him, to match America’s systematic values and ruthless power structures. His false arrogance even becomes real in his sharp, cutting stride and the shameless ferocity of his demands. Where once Lord was flirtatious and playful, he’s now cruel and mocking. There are moments when his hunger for omnipotence makes him truly threatening, not just unsettling. And once the world’s wishes flow through him, he displays a sort of deranged joy. Lord’s drunk on power, soaking in everything he’s wanted and a future replete with possibilities.

But like any superb character arc, none of Lord’s newfound powers matter when his love for Alistair cuts through the noise. Pascal lets his despair and devotion play out with the catastrophic intensity of an opera. Lord bleeds sympathy, not blood, when he reunites with Alistair. Despite his calculated intentions and willful missteps, Lord’s allowed a hopeful future and the chance for redemption.

And the reason anyone cares about his final scene comes down to Pascal’s uncanny ability to tap into universal emotions and find a kernel of relatable greatness — even in the mess that is Wonder Woman 1984. Morally gray characters making dubious choices for good reasons play to some of the actor’s established strengths, but his dedication to this role in particular shows more of Pascal’s talent and range than this corny movie deserves.

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