As far as the DCEU goes, Wonder Woman (2017) is clearly one of the highlights. Filled with great characters and iconic moments, it was undoubtedly a monumental step forward towards female representation in the contemporary action genre. Its sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, which has been released in cinemas where possible, (as well as on HBO Max) is a rather large disappointment. It’s not the worst film by DC standards, as it is pleasant enough to sit through thanks to its optimistic tone and bright aesthetic, but what good there is cannot save it from its convoluted story, dull characterisation and downright harmful ideas and messages.
Set in the titular 1984, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is balancing her double life of being a part-time superhero in secret and part-time professional mourner for Steve Trevor. However, when a magic rock that grants wishes is discovered, Diana finds Steve (Chris Pine) restored to her. Simultaneously, her co-worker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wigg) wishes to be as strong and powerful as Wonder Woman, slowly becoming so at a terrible price. The rock is sought after by failing businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who seeks to grant people’s wishes whilst taking what he chooses in return, unleashing global catastrophe in his wake.
If that all sounds ridiculous, well, that’s because it is. Clearly, Wonder Woman 1984 aims for a lighter tone than most modern superhero movies, embracing the 80s aesthetic and going for a campier version of Richard Donner’s Superman. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, and it does make this film a pleasant experience to sit through. But, just like the wishes granted in the film, whilst it seems to give you what you want, it gets very unpleasant very fast.
The main issue that Wonder Woman 1984 faces though, is that of characterisation. Mainly, because no one has any. Describing Diana as a professional mourner was rather generous, as her whole character arc in this film is built around Steve and wanting him back. This means we never get to see her develop a relationship with the outside world and learn more about her as a person, just a boring arc about her missing him. Unsurprisingly, this goes exactly where you’d expect and doesn’t allow her to really do anything interesting. Steve, meanwhile, has nothing to do except to listen to the meaningless exposition and occasionally throw a punch, as Barbara slowly morphs into villain form for no other reason than that the film needed to end with a one on one CGI fight scene. Because, of course, that was what everyone liked about the first film.
The story of Wonder Woman 1984 is equally all over the place. Exposition is dumped without ever actually building up to anything and story threads get introduced only to go nowhere. Whilst it does have a clear thematic centre, this falls away with only a couple of moments of thought. Leaning on things like the people of the period as being greedy, excessive and never being satisfied to the point of destruction, all do match the film’s 1980’s setting. However, these points easily get broken down as the film portrays every character in the same light, where want is synonymous with greed. The film’s eventual message of ‘be happy with the world around us’ is overly simplistic and so out of touch with the issues of the time period, such as the AIDS crisis, crackdown on Civil Rights and the growing inequality of the time.
There are other issues that the film faces that I’d need more time to really develop. Some are minor, like the inconsistency of CGI quality or some clear pacing issues in the second and third act. But there are also some big, unexpected issues with Wonder Woman 1984 that really leaves a sour taste. The bizarre choice of having Steve occupy someone else’s body rather than just coming back to life, result in some horrific implications. This is since the body Diana proceeds to have sex with cannot consent to the interactions. Though never addressed, it offers a grim message about the protagonist which the movie seems entirely okay with glossing over. The film is also frequently happy to use racist tropes and stereotypes in its portrayal of Arabic characters and culture that you’d expect more from a film made in 1984. I’m not the right person to discuss this, but I recommend listening to The Middle Geek’s podcast on the film which goes into far more detail as to why the film’s racism should not be glossed over.
The reaction to Wonder Woman 1984 has become increasingly divisive since its wider release. Whilst there is stuff to like in this film, especially considering it’s being released during a pandemic where people crave escapism, the fact is that this is a disappointing sequel and a bad movie. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch the No Man’s Land scene from Wonder Woman to get the sour taste out of my mouth.
Words by Mischa Alexander
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