Wonder Woman 1984…

After ages of waiting and what seems like a million release dates, Wonder Woman 1984 is finally out. As someone from an area where cinemas are pretty freely open and as a fan of movies and comics, and as the father of a family of girls who loved the first movie…well, you can bet your boots we were in theatres pretty darn early into the run.

A couple of hours later, we all emerged, a bit worse for wear. Wonder Woman 1984 (or, as the cool kids say, WW84) is an overwhelmingly ridiculous, and in many ways, astoundingly stupid movie. It’s been a while since then, but it’s taken me this long to organize all these thoughts into something loosely-coherent.

Multiple Massive Spoilers Coming

Yet I will say it’s a movie that has its heart in the right place. There’s quite a meaningful and well developed theme underneath all the nonsense, which I have a lot of respect and appreciation for. The movie is all about embracing the reality of life because it’s the truth versus just looking for the easy solution because you want it. It honestly shows the danger of just living on the basis of wishes and displays the selfishness that many of us could have, which would make us wonder (as one of the characters does) what could possibly be wrong with just getting what you wish for.

Beyond that, though, the movie is indefensibly ridiculous.

The movie is about some sort of magical Dreamstone which Diana explains away as being created and sent to earth by some mischievous evil gods of yore, which grants people wishes…but with a catch. What’s the catch? Well, something random, it seems. But always something bad. Baaaaad. (Not unlike the whole experience of wanting to see this movie but then having to deal with actually having watched it).

The rules seem to be that you have to be touching the stone, and you can only make one wish. Before she knows what it is, demigoddess Diana / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) unwittingly wishes for her dead lover, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine’s character from the first film) to be returned to her. However, she suffers the unexpected consequence of losing much of her power and strength. And, in the film’s most celebrated and widely discussed bad choice, Steve comes back to life by actually inhabiting the body and life of an otherwise totally normal dude (credited only as “Handsome Man,” and played by Kristoffer Polaha).

As many have discussed, while having kicked this guy out of his own body to who-knows-where, Steve and Diana become intimate, and go into a multitude of dangerous and potentially lethal situations, never seeming to spare even an instant’s though as to what’s happened to this man, what might happen to him if Steve is killed, if anyone is worried about his sudden disappearance around the 4th of July celebrations, or if he’d be bothered to be used sexually without consent. Plus, presumably there’s a whole bunch of security footage at the White House that shows him running around and beating up security officers–seems like he’s likely to have some problems once all this is over!

It’s a pretty distracting issue–not only is their behavior pretty inexcusable, but the movie never even acknowledges that any of this is a problem, or has Diana and Steve question their choices in any way, or even recognize that the situation is not so great for the Handsome Man. Ultimately, Diana does choose to renounce this wish, but not out of concern for the Handsome Man, but because otherwise she won’t have enough power to fight and defeat the bad guys.

The pity here is that the whole thing is so utterly unncessary. This is a film about wishes being fulfilled supernaturally. There was no reason Steve couldn’t have just appeared, or been pulled from the past, or even grown up magically in a field of daisies. Instead, we are just left to imagine that Diana wished him back to life, but only if he had his own apartment and clothes.

The whole thing derails Diana’s character badly. Heroes should have flaws, obviously, but I feel like it really steals away from them if are depicted as outrageously selfish and immature. Scenes where she gets to move into full-blown cliched histrionics and lament that it’s all so unfair because the universe won’t let her just have “this one simple thing” just make it worse (remember, that “one simple thing” is that her dead boyfriend should come back to life after 65+ years. Is that really so much to ask for? Yes, Diana, yes it is.)

Maybe the movie was hoping nobody would notice any of these problems, but that obviously did not come true–lots of people have taken the film to task for it. Some, though, have defended it all by saying it’s an example of the 80’s body swap trope. But uh, that’s way worse–because are we saying that Handsome Man got swapped into Steve Trevor’s 65 year old dead boy? Horrifying!

Meanwhile, the nerdy, mousy and extremely unattractive Barbara Minerva (Kristin Wiig–she wears glasses and has frizzy hair, so she’s completely hideous) is envious of Diana’s confidence and wishes to be like her. She does, in terms of confidence, super-strength, and the ability to walk in high heels without tripping. But, she loses her compassion and warmth in the process, and becomes a bit of a sociopath.

The problem is we never really see this compassion and warmth–we just hear about it from Diana (unless you include a tacked-on moment where she gives a homeless guy some food). Instead, she is just set up like the living embodiment of two cliches duking it out for dominance. How many times have we seen a mousy woman with bad hair transformed into a sultry siren before the movie is over? How many times has the awkward nerd in a superhero film been revealed to have a jealousy-filled psychopath lurking beneath the surface? Impressively, Barbara gets to be both.

And finally, there’s wannabe successful businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who has heard about the Dreamstone (somehow) and knows all of its abilities and limitations (somehow) and manages to romance Barbara into giving it to him (or he distracts her with romance and steals it–the movie seems to show depict both of these events at once). He wishes to become the Dreamstone, which doesn’t turn him into a rock as one might imagine, but rather disintegrates the stone and puts all its power into Max. This means that anybody who makes a wish while they are touching him gets that wish, but Max gets to take something of there’s in return. So Max starts tricking people into expressing wishes that are actually beneficial for himself while shaking his hand or whatever, and at the same time stealing things that he wants back from them.

It’s a pretty devious plan, actually, although it inevitably ends up looking just a bit, well, silly as nuclear weapons and giant walls start appearing out of nowhere, depending on what people wish for. The bad consequence for Max is that every time he does this, he becomes sicker and sicker. Apparently, he sustains himself by stealing people’s health back from them–he doesn’t, however, just get someone to wish him back into wellness, which is the approach I might have taken.

There some worthy moments in Wonder Woman 1984–the film is shooting for the cheerfulness of the original Christopher Reeve Superman film, and sometimes those moments land–there is a nice bit where Diana learns to fly, for example. But many times it just comes off as a bit too cartoonish to take seriously: there is a sequence at the start where she stops some robbers in a mall (“Hey look! It’s the 80’s!”) that struggles to stay on the right side of the line between good-natured heroics and lame-humored cornball action.

But whatever positive stuff there is is badly lost in the midst of a whole host of problems–a story full of narrative pot-holes, forced assumptions and unnecessarily slow pacing. It takes forever for the film to get all of its players in the right position. Then it forces things along in some strange ways when it wants to speed things up. There are a variety of fully-fueled airplanes sitting around Diana’s workpace at the Smithsonian, for example, and Steve can fly jets with an international range all because he was a World War I flying ace.

Diana explains a new power to turn things invisible with a quick aside about “stuff the gods did”, and actually justifies the whole business of the Dreamstone in a similar way (although she is assisted by modern day Mayan guy who also handily fills in some gaps). At another point, the US President (unnamed, but presumably intended to be Ronald Reagan, played by Stuart Milligan, who also once played Richard Nixon in Doctor Who) just conveniently turns out to have a bunch of slides sitting around his office which explain a critical satellite technology that will allow Max to touch everyone on earth (???!!), which is important for his powers to work. And finally, there are couple of quick flashback scenes thrown out at the end of the movie in a lame attempt to justify a gigantic character change that Max.

Max’s whole character arc certainly needed another pass through the scriptwriting software. He spends most of the movie brazenly traveling the earth, granting wishes and stealing treasures, and leaving nothing but chaos behind him. He doesn’t care a whit that he destabilizes the Middle East, turns Washington DC into riot-filled nightmare city, and brings the world to the bring of nuclear war as long as he gets what he wants. He doesn’t care when it looks like millions of people are about to die, so why should I believe that he is suddenly willing to give it all up to save his son (who, to be clear, is amongst those millions). At first it looks like the film is going to bypass that by having it be the rest of the world that unites to turn the situation around, but in the end it tries to have its cake and eat it too by having dramatic scenes where everyone in the world renounces their wish, and also a dramatic scene where Max renounces his wish, with both somehow being critical to the eventual triumph of good and truth over evil and lies.

Except…that it’s also clear that even though renouncing wishes makes anything gained from an actual wish go away–like the giant walls in the Middle East or the extra nuclear weapons–it does not make the consequences of those wishes go away. So there are still scars in the ground where the walls were and there is still rubble (including a bicycle?) in the field where Max finds his son at the end of the movie, and thus we can assume there is still massive political, social and religious upheavals all over the planet. Even more so, any pre-existing nuclear weapons that got launched in the whole debacle, according to the movie’s logic, still were launched. Property that was damaged was still damaged. People who got beat up or shot during riots were still hurt or killed. The world is still a disaster, even after Max and Barbara have been defeated.

Obviously, that’s not the intention of the film, but that is the logical out-working of it. And so that is part of the story’s many, many weaknesses.

Still, after all that, I did have a level of enjoyment watching the film. Where I was able to shut of my brain I could at times enjoy the cartoonish visual poetry of seeing Gal Gadot jumping around grabbing onto lightning bolts with her lasso. I think Chris Pine was as good as he could be in the movie, and Kristin Wiig was quite good when Barbara was in creepy mode (my friend Rod thinks that her wishing to be “an apex predator” was ridiculous, but I was all right with that, but maybe it just because I knew she had to turn into the Cheetah at some point). And ultimately, if Wonder Woman 1984 is good natured but ludicrous and brainless, that still puts it at about the midpoint if one is ranking DCEU movies, so I guess it could have been worse.

Some final nerdy notes:

• The opening sequence of Themyscira were fun, and a handy way to have Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen appear in the movie again. Apparently, Lilly Aspell, who played Young Diana, did all her own stunt work!

• Barbara’s character arc abruptly disappears at the end of the movie. It’s presumed she renounced her wish because we see she’s human again, but why would she? And did she revert to original state, or to her “first wish” position of having Diana’s strength? Again, one presumes she’s back to normal, but we are left with no choice but to presume it.

• Simon Stagg has turned into a regular “go-to” guy for when DC TV shows or movies need a generic businessman. In this movie he’s the investor who is pressuring Max. He was also in the second ever episode of The Flash, where he was killed by the Reverse Flash (who was disguised as Harrison Wells at the time).

• What happened to Coffee Guy? He was the first first person to make a wish in the movie, for a cup of coffee. And his wish came true! What dark price did he have to pay for wishing for his treasure without being willing to put the work into it that was necessary to make it all based in truth? Hopefully he’ll get his own HBO Max spin-off series where we can really explore his story.


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