1984. It’s an era recognized by its shoulder pads, synthesizers, and scrunchies. 1984 also happens to be the colorful setting for the newest installment in the DC universe, Wonder Woman 1984, released on Christmas day last week. From the mind of Patty Jenkins, director of the first Wonder Woman film, we get yet another movie following Amazonian Warrior, Diana Prince, played by the charming and endearing Gal Gadot. The film made history last week, becoming the first movie to release simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, setting a record with $16.7 million in box office sales in the U.S. and Canada.
Yet, despite the film’s star studded cast, two hours and thirty-four minutes of screen time, and a 200 million dollar budget, the film falls flat on multiple fronts, leaving viewers with yet another forgettable superhero movie churned out from the DC universe.
Wonder Woman 1984 follows a much less exuberant Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) than we might remember from the first movie, her heart still broken over the death of her first love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). She now works as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., specializing in ancient Mediterranean civilizations, while crime fighting as Wonder Woman in her off hours. While at work, she meets the mousy and insecure new employee, Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristin Wiig). The two bond over their shared dissatisfaction with their lives, as Barbara starts to idolize and envy Diana’s beauty and confidence.
The film starts to pick up speed with the introduction of a strange and seemingly worthless gem – later revealed to be the “Dreamstone” – inscribed with a Latin phrase about wishes. While holding the stone, Diana wishes that Steve was alive, unknowingly bringing his soul back to life in another man’s body. Barbara later makes a wish as well, asking to be just like Diana, thus taking on Diana’s beauty and confidence, while inadvertently inhabiting her superpowers as well.
Meanwhile, failed businessman Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) visits the Smithsonian, claiming to be a wealthy donor, but actually laying the foundations of a trap to get his hands on the Dreamstone in hopes of saving his failing oil company. At a gala for the Smithsonian’s donors, Max uses Barbara to get his hands on the Dreamstone, making his own wish to gain the stone’s ability to grant wishes, while also allowing him to take whatever he desires from others in return.
As Max grows in power and influence, a trail of chaos and destruction is left in his wake as his wish granting triggers worldwide instability and conflict. The impact of Max’s actions are noticed by Barbara, Diana, and Steve, who work together to discover the Dreamstone was created by Dolos, the God of deception and mischief. The trio realize that, while the stone grants a wish, it also exacts a toll, taking what you most hold dear. Diana compares the stone to “The Monkey’s Paw”, as they realize the only way to reverse the damage done by the stone is by renouncing the wish or destroying the stone itself.
As a result of the stone, Diana begins losing her powers, Barbara begins losing her kindness, and Max begins losing his health. The impact of the stone continues to grow, leading to catastrophic consequences on a global scale. Steve makes the ultimate sacrifice, encouraging Diana to renounce her wish so she can regain her powers and save the world. After a teary speech and passionate kiss, Diana returns to her Wonder Woman form, this time with the added power of flight – a beautiful homage to (the once again deceased) Steve and his love for flying planes.
Naturally, the movie ends with an intense boss battle, between Diana and Barbara – who made another wish to become an “apex predator,” turning her into the infamous Wonder Woman villain, Cheetah. Diana zaps the newly transformed Barbara with bolts of electricity, then defeats Max with a rousing and inspirational speech about how the best part of humanity is our collective wish that one day things will be better.
The end….two hours and thirty-four minutes later.
Now, I know people have been critical of Wonder Woman 1984, some reviewers going as far as calling it an “empty spectacle” that lacks the distinctive charm of the first movie. And while I wish with every fiber of my being that I could disagree with them, I’m going to have to side with the mass populous on this one. I wanted to love this movie so much, but the plot holes, non-existent character growth, and dialogue that lacked both life and quirk, made it difficult for me to get invested in this film.
Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. There was a delightful nod to Wonder Woman’s iconic invisible jet, an intriguing performance by Kristin Wiig, and many, many fanny pack jokes by Chris Pine. But there was also a great deal that disappointed me about the film – the biggest culprit? Diana herself.
Diana’s character, both in the first Wonder Woman and throughout her many iterations, has always perfectly blended strength with femininity. It’s what allures so many female fans to her character. She never sacrifices her femininity for strength, and vice versa. Her power is displayed in impressive fight sequences, as well as in emotional interactions. Yet this iteration of Diana felt vacant, fueled instead by her yearning for a man who died seventy years ago. Forcing all her motivation, focus, and character arc on a man is a disservice to everything Wonder Woman has ever stood for, and feels extremely out of character for a superhero known for her emotional independence.
While the chemistry between Gadot and Pine is charming and seamless, the film uses this, as well as Steve’s naïve observations of the modern world, as a crutch to maintain interest in the film. As Angelica Jade Bastién perfectly articulated in her WW84 Vulture article, “There’s something deeply sad and predictable about a female superhero so tied to a single man she’s willing to lose her powers for him.” Furthermore, the utter lack of any sexual chemistry between them only makes the film more lifeless, taking away Diana’s sexual independence almost entirely. This is another great disservice to her character, especially considering Diana has always been honest about her sexuality and is one of the first canonically bisexual superheroes in the DC universe.
It was clear the center of the storyline was Steve and Diana’s relationship, most likely because they wanted Chris Pine to reprise his role in hopes it would boost views, yet Jenkins had an amazing opportunity in the script to set up a relationship between Diana and Barbara. Both Diana and Barbara begin the film lonely and isolated, by choice and by circumstance, respectively. The two connect over this shared experience of feeling alone, forming a bond quickly in a short amount of time. If they had explored this bond and allowed the two women to further it past friendship, it could have created an especially engaging dynamic as Barbara looses her kindness and empathy – the very things that attracted Diana to Barbara in the first place. Plus, who doesn’t love a lovers to enemies plotline?
Diana herself said in the first movie, “Men are essential for procreation, but when it comes to pleasure… Unnecessary.” Meanwhile, Gal Gadot has confirmed that, in her interpretation of Diana, she believes “[Diana’s] a woman who loves people for who they are. She can be bisexual. She loves people for their hearts.” While I understand audiences might not be ready to see their beloved Wonder Woman explore a queer storyline, Gadot and Jenkins teasing at her sexuality without letting the character outright confirm it on-screen reeks of queerbaiting. Personally, I’m tired of large franchises dancing around their character’s identity, afraid to offend the wrong audience and lose money.
My disappointment with Diana’s romantic journey aside, the film also struggled with its script riddled with plot holes. For example, I absolutely do not believe Diana would be morally okay with the idea of Steve’s soul permanently taking over some poor man’s body. The moral implications of this scenario are fairly heavy – this man’s body and life was stolen away from him, and it seemed like Steve and Diana were absolutely fine with the sacrifice Steve’s existence had on this man. It doesn’t feel very in character for Diana, who has always relied on her strong sense of right and wrong.
Furthermore, the ending felt rushed in it’s execution, despite lasting seemingly forever. You can see the haphazard writing glaringly in Max’s journey. I genuinely couldn’t tell you what Max’s motivation was with garnering power. Did he truly think granting all of humanity’s deepest wishes would make the world a better place? Or did he thrive off the chaos he created with every wish he granted? I could not tell you, because the movie never gave Max a chance to justify his actions. Despite the talent of Pedro Pascal behind the role, the haphazard writing did a poor job of dictating whether Max was supposed to be a sympathetic villain, or a truly evil villain – instead letting him fall somewhere in between, leaving audiences disappointed and confused by the final act of the movie.
I went into the film excited for the promise of a colorful 80’s aesthetic and captivating cinematography, yet I was disappointed once again. The brightly lit 80’s setting lacked any visual intrigue, and there were moments I forget it was set in the 80’s entirely. The fight scenes, which were dynamic and exciting in the first Wonder Woman, were often overshadowed by cheesy visual effects that took away from the fight choreography, instead of enhancing it. The movie could have relied on the beautiful and fantastical Themyscira to boost the aesthetics, but both Themyscira, the Amazonians, and Robin Wright were criminally underused in this movie. And don’t even get me started on Wiig’s visually unsettling CGI Cheetah, which felt like a reject design from the 2019 Cats movie.
The most bizarre choice of the film is the clumsy attempt at including the #MeToo movement into the plot. Crude comments, objectification, and sleazy attempts at hitting on Diana seem to follow her wherever she goes, a quality that is transferred to Barbara after she garners Diana’s powers. And while the attempt at making an empowering statement on harassment was there, the execution was messy and a bit problematic.
First off, there is no world in which I believe Diana Prince, Goddess and Amazonian warrior, would ignore men making disgusting and sexist comments to her face. While her treatment at the hands of men does highlight the everyday sexism most women face, Diana consistently does not react to their words or actions. She is polite and almost resigned to their behavior. Which is, understandably, what most normal women do when confronted with a creepy, entitled man leering at them. But the issue is, Diana is not a normal woman. She has the power, strength, and invulnerability to do what most women can only fantasize about, but unlike the rest of us, Diana can fight back – without violent consequences. Why include a plot line surrounding men who feel entitled to Diana’s body, if not to let her display her power and put those men in their place?
In Helen O’Hara’s upcoming book, Women vs Hollywood, she speaks about this #MeToo inspired choice, saying “I think this film makes great strides forward in portraying harassment as a reality. The party scene gets across the feeling that it can be wearisome and distracting, while remaining entirely credible. I hope that gives men watching the film some idea of the sheer irritation factor that can be involved in that sort of low-level harassment.” While she does make a good point about the tiresome nature of that kind of behavior from men, I wish the film displayed the consequences of “low-level harassment” – a term that I think downplays the discomfort and trauma that goes along with any form of harassment, big or small. The only time we even get a glimpse of men being punished for their disgusting behavior is when Barbara physically attacks the man who attempted to sexually assault her earlier in the film. While she objectively takes it too far, beating him into unconsciousness, her victory does not feel like a victory. It feels like a punishment for Barbara instead. It’s meant to highlight Barbara’s lessening empathy, as if the film is trying to tell us: If you fight back, you become the very monster you were punishing in the first place.
At the end of the day, Wonder Woman 1984 was an entertaining film. Will I remember anything about it next year? Probably not, and that’s where my issue lies. Patty Jenkins and the entire cast and crew had the chance to make something special. They had the colossus that is the Wonder Woman franchise in the palm of their hands, and they squandered it by taking the safe route and creating a film that is ultimately forgettable and uninspiring.
I was certainly disappointed with Wonder Woman 1984, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have hope for the next installment of the series. For now, I can only pray that Wonder Woman 3 learns from the mistakes of its predecessors and makes bolder and more conscientious choices in the future. Until then, I’ll rewatch the first film, and appreciate what made me fall in love with Wonder Woman in the first place: Robin Wright charging into battle in Amazonian armor on an island full of lesbian warriors.