I’m not convinced that Wonder Woman 1984 was not just another DC Extended Universe, big budget, franchise money grab which happened to exceed low box office expectations…after being released on Christmas day…during a pandemic. Nor am I totally convinced that this much anticipated sequel was not, in fact, some badly written piece of fan fic by some fandom rando consuming copious amounts of alcohol, illegal drugs, and possessing a weird obsession for 80’s nostalgia–fanny packs, breakdancing, and leg warmers.
So go ahead and fight me! Please, prove me wrong! And don’t just tell me that Wonder Woman 1984 is so awesome because Gal Gadot is hot! I don’t want your frat bro takes. I want receipts. Tell me the significance of the movie being set in the year 1984 and don’t try to lecture me about how it profoundly speaks to a decade of excess and greed relevant to the present time and I’m just being salty because the movie was directed by a woman.
Or tell me why was it so necessary for Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to return as the love interest of Diana Prince. But to be fair, I never liked the choice of Diana Prince and Steve Trevor hooking up in the original. It was too predictable in a romcom kind of way and felt like lazy writing to score some needless fan service points, a hedging of bets. Besides, there is a reason why the Amazons live on Themyscira off the grid from the rest of the world. Men suck. One white man in particular who inadvertently causes the death of a beloved legendary Amazon general and sister to the queen, Antiope. (But I won’t mention Steve Trevor‘s name.) And the likelihood that Steve Trevor, a white man, an American spy is not misogynistic, sexist, and/or racist on any level is even far less believable than him existing in 1914 where these social injustices were prevalent. Call me petty. But I digress.
(*side note* In historian Jill Lepore’s book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, an avowed feminist and Wonder Woman’s creator, was often at odds with editors who would have preferred the Amazon warrior play a more subordinate role as a secretary or possibly a wife to Steve Trevor or Superman. But Marston initially created Wonder Woman as Superman’s equal and not as a subservient addition to DC’s superhero sausage party. Just sayin’.)
Wonder Woman is comic book royalty, a DC legend, a Justice League OG, and she deserved better treatment than a somewhat convoluted, lackluster plot about a Reagan-era, infomercial grifter, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who nearly destroys the world with nuclear warfare by acquiring the power to grant wishes from an ancient artifact. A ridiculous looking gemstone recovered from a jewelry store in a Washington D.C. mall which we learn is actually a front for a black market operation for stolen merchandise. And we know this because, of course, there was an attempted heist which is thwarted by our favorite wedge heeled Amazon fashion plate, her glowing lasso of truth in tow as she swings here and there ultimately foiling the would be robbers and conjuring images of a certain webslinger. And, yes, it is as anti-climactic and cringe as it sounds.
Anyway, the movie segues into the pitiful origin story of DC supervillain, Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), a socially dysfunctional colleague and fangirl of Diana Prince at the Smithsonian who goes by the name of Dr. Barbara Minerva. And, no, the movie does not improve one iota as we learn that Dr. Minerva’s greatest motivation for eventually joining team Lord is because she wants to be like her newfound bestie, Diana, who is one of the cool kids. Oh, and Diana rescues Barbara from a drunken business man who attempts to sexually assault her but it’s not clear how much of that factors into Barbara’s ultimate wish to become an “apex predator”. Her words. Not mine.
Wonder Woman 1984 became that much more of a struggle for me to power through once Steve Trevor reappears in the body of another man, reuniting with Diana. Diana and Steve briefly reminisce, go back to Steve‘s apartment, have sex and later on Diana suddenly remembers as they are flying in a stolen jet that she is able to turn objects invisible and because radar technology exists in 1984 they need to fly undetected to Cairo which makes perfect sense when you think about it because Steve is a pilot from 1914, duh! Try to keep up.
Did I forget to mention that Wonder Woman can also fly and latch onto lightning bolts with her magic lasso? And I had to ask myself, have these abilities always been a thing with Wonder Woman in the DCEU or am I just late to the party? I’m still not sure how the whole secret identity works either. Are people just not willing to say anything? Plausible deniability can only go so far and then the anti-aging cream excuse becomes suspect.
And can we talk about the janky, Walmart brand, Great Value, golden body armor (some really shiny armor with protective wings that was first worn by the legendary Amazon warrior, Asteria) that Cheetah totally made light work of with a few quick slashes of her claws in the final battle scene. A fight scene that pretty much summed up the entire movie–a lot of green screen and flashy CGI but ultimately falls apart upon closer scrutiny. And it would seem that Maxwell Lord nor Dr. Minerva had to face any consequences for their actions, followed by the ending credits, a cameo by the 70’s television icon Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, as a third installment of the Amazon warrior immediately gets greenlit.
Clearly, Gal Gadot has an all consuming on screen presence as a leggy, slightly knock kneed, super heroine with an accent and a seductive Hollywood beauty aesthetic, which is all part of her charm as Wonder Woman. And I also believe the bulk of Gadot’s box office appeal is largely due to her being a woman of color. Unfortunately, she is mismanaged in Wonder Woman 1984 and is unable to escape the limitations of the white male gaze even with Patty Jenkins in the director’s chair because Wonder Woman still functions as an exotic fantasy of white men’s heteronormative desires.
Look, I’m not sure what Patty Jenkins, Warner Bothers, and DC had in mind with this latest offering other than to not to be like Marvel. It would seem that Jenkins and company are more than satisfied to check some representation and empowerment boxes for young girls while continuing the DCEU‘s record for making mildly entertaining superhero films. But Wonder Woman 1984 in a way feels shamelessly exploitative of the current moment filled with a mounting Covid body count, political instability, racial tension, and economic uncertainty. A reality that many of us are desperate to escape from to the point that some of us will go so far as to declare on Twitter that Wonder Woman 1984 was “the movie we never knew we needed in 2020” but that is the one wish that, unfortunately, this movie fails to grant.