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Notes On A Film: Wonder Woman 1984

I consider myself a feminist – equality for everyone makes sense – and have discussed the positive aspects of female comic book creators and why diversity is a good thing. I say this because I don’t want this review to be seen as coming from a negative place – I was dissatisfied by aspects of the first film, and its sequel is a worse and more problematic movie that left me disappointed, which is not something I wanted. I think that Gal Gadot makes a perfect Wonder Woman and I want great films for the character and continued success in male-dominated superhero cinematic universe, which is what saddens me even more. The positive reviews that accompanied the film seem to be more about the fact that it was a big film that was the first to be seen in the cinema after the lockdowns, rather than the quality of the film itself.


Brief plot summary: after a flashback to Diana as a child taking part in an Amazonian race, the film goes to 1984; Diana secretly fights crime and works in her civilian identity at the Smithsonian Institution, where she meets new employee Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a socially awkward geologist/cryptozoologist. Barbara is asked by the FBI to examine some stolen antiquities, one of which intrigues Diana: the Dreamstone, which grants the holder a wish (but takes something in return, as in The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs). Barbara wishes to be like her new friend, Diana, not realising it will give her superpowers; Diana wishes for the return of her dead lover, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Meanwhile, Max Lord (Pedro Pascale), a con artist and oil tycoon who has been looking for the Dreamstone, gets his hands on it and uses his wish to become the Dreamstone, so that he can con people into wishing for things he wants by touching them and then naming the payment he will take in return. Lord begins to go crazy with the power and wants more, trying to find new ways to get everyone to wish for what they want so he can acquire it all, not caring for the effect it has on the world …

The first thing to say is that this is a long film (151 mins) with five action scenes (the Amazonian race, the mall sequence, the Egypt road sequence, the White House fight and final fight between Diana and Barbara) and little in the way of humour. That’s quite a slog. The film is set in the 1980s but instead of a modern film with a period setting, it feels like a comic-book film that was created and made in the 1980s, ignoring the sophistication and development that has happened in the past 40 years – the Dreamstone? Really? I know it’s an item that exists in the comic books but it’s the sort of dumb thing that would be used back then, not now when the world of entertainment has moved on and become more sophisticated (I lay the blame at co-writer Geoff Johns, but I’m probably wrong). It’s also illogical – why is it that Barbara gets Diana’s powers without any explanation, yet for some reason when Steve is resurrected, it has his spirit/soul/whatever take over the body of another man, presumably removing the host’s consciousness? If you’re going to use hand-waving magic, then there is no need whatsoever for anything else, especially an explanation that raises some ethical issues about consent for the sex between Diana and Steve.

Steve Trevor arc had dramatic and emotional weight in the first film, so there’s no need for the character to return just because Gadot and Pine had chemistry onscreen. It’s also depressing: in the ensuing 66 years, Diana hasn’t had any significant emotional connection, so her wish is for her dead boyfriend of a few days from decades previously. Also, why have the central focus of Diana’s wish be a man? She’s an Amazonian princess – her adventures shouldn’t revolve around her love life. Why couldn’t she wish to be able to return to Themyscira? Surely that feeling was more significant? She only knew Steve for a short while. For a feminist icon, Diana doesn’t always come across as feminist.

A small point: the film is set in the 1980s but there are very few time-specific tracks. That does not make any sense. I don’t particularly like a lot of music from then, but there was certainly plenty of it to be used in a film based in 1984.

One of the good aspects of the film is Wiig, who is great as the awkward Barbara but with some of Wiig’s likeability bringing warmth to the character and then the transition to the powerful Barbara with Diana’s strength and speed and confidence. She plays both parts really well, but then she gets saddled with being true to the comic books by wishing to become ‘an apex predator’, because she must become the Cheetah of the comic books. Not only does this not make any sense, but it also results in the terrible CGI version, looking like cosplay from the recent Cats movie and wasting all the effort that Wiig has made in her portrayal of the character.

The dominant promotional image from the build-up to the film was the golden armour that Diana wears; personally, I thought it looked rather silly, but presumed that it would have a big role in the film. However, it is donned in the final section for all of 10 minutes for the fight with Barbara-now-Cheetah, who proceeds to tear it to pieces. What was the point of it?

Max Lord is portrayed as the ne plus ultra of American greed of the era (based on that of a certain narcissistic, racist, bigoted, dyslexic, quick-tempered, nappy-wearing, Wotsit-haired, idiotic businessman who would have made more money if he’d put the millions he got from his father into a savings account) and Pascale does a great job in the role, but the attempt at rationalising his actions (his dad beat him and his mum, as shown in flashback) and then no consequences for nearly destroying the world through his stupidity and greed is frustrating as a narrative. Lord renounces his wish so he can be with his son because his son is in danger, not because he’s destroying the world, and then that’s it – no arrest or aftermath.

By the way, the manner in which Lord discovers the satellite system the American government has that can take over all televisions which he uses to ‘touch’ everyone so he can acquire more power – as a set of whiteboards in the Oval Office when he cons the president into making a wish – is laughable and should have been blocked by all executives or screenwriters who saw that in the script. It’s ridiculous and has no place in a film made in this decade.

The final showdown has a nice touch and positive idea – instead of fighting Lord, Diana talks to him about renouncing his wish and be happy with what he has, only for the reveal to be that she’s talking to the entire world and getting them to renounce their wishes, which is the only way to stop the Dreamstone from destroying civilisation as we know it (as it has done to previous civilisations). It’s an uplifting moment, true to Diana’s character and her beliefs; however, it’s also complete nonsense because there is no way that everybody renounced their wish, no matter how good her speech was, thus negating the result. It’s so frustrating.

I was hoping for so much more from this film. The world needs good Wonder Woman films – she’s a great character, the shining light in the DCEU and Gadot is perfect for the role; this film was a meandering, dull, archaic, silly, disappointing mess. It should have been better, and I take no joy from writing negative things about it. I hope the next film is better.

Rating: DA

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