It was long believed that a big budget, female superhero couldn’t carry the box office. And then, in 2017, “Wonder Woman” came out, and disproved that notion. To date, it has grossed $822 million worldwide. No doubt buoyed by the #MeToo movement, the DC franchise had many champions. I was one of them.
When I saw it in the cinema, I felt a surge of emotion when Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) threw off her cloak and climbed out of the trench to fight off the German soldiers with nothing but her bullet-repelling bracelets, her shield, and lots of courage. Wonder Woman stands for many things: Truth and justice, and she seems like the perfect hero for our times.
Now comes the bubble burst. Like most superhero fans, I’ve been looking forward to the sequel. At my house, we had a countdown to Christmas. HBO Max obtained the rights to the sequel, “Wonder Woman 1984”, and decided to make the right business move — to release the sequel online the same day (Christmas) as it was being released in the cinema. (I haven’t been to the cinema since March, and I don’t intend to go back anytime soon). In anticipation of its release, I rewatched “Wonder Woman”, the night before, and found a lot to complain about. These were things I had probably glossed over, or didn’t notice, because of the significance of the film. I had gotten swept up in the moment.
For instance, I generally don’t like superhero love stories; I’m much more interested in the bigger issues that these types of films can address, but I was OK with it in “Wonder Woman.” Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) was charming, and he and Wonder Woman had good chemistry. But when he died, at the end, I thought, good, now she can move on and can develop into who she needs to become. But that isn’t what happened. Sure, 70 years later, she shows up, saves the day with her lasso and gravity defying leaps and bounds, but as a person, she is still emotionally stunted. She’s still pining for the first guy she had ever met, and with whom, she had spent, maybe, a week?
She goes to her day job, saves lives and busts criminals, but there’s something missing. She isn’t complete. Until — I am trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, but if you’ve seen the trailers you know this — that same love interest comes back into her life. (The way this occurs is concerning from a moral perspective, and yet, it is never addressed in the film as anything other than comic. But if you think about it, it’s disturbing how this “vessel” is treated.) And then, because of Steve Trevor, she is able to gain several new very important super powers, and she has one of the biggest revelations in her life. For me, that’s problematic. Wasn’t there a better way for her to accomplish these things than just having the guy you killed off in the first film come back? It’s lazy. Really lazy.
Beyond the fact that “Wonder Woman” couldn’t be fulfilled and complete without a man, there are plenty of other things to complain about. But first, what is the film about? What is its raison d’etre? As the title suggests, it’s set in 1984. Diana is working as a specialist in antiquities at the Smithsonian. (She was working at the Louvre in the last film and during “Justice League”.) Early on, she meets another highly educated woman, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig).
Even though she is also very accomplished and has multiple degrees — she’s a gemologist and cryptobiologist, among other things — she’s presented as a clumsy loser; she’s a woman who can’t walk in high heels and is ignored by everyone, but mostly men. After, she spills the contents of her briefcase, no one has the decency to stop and help her pick things up.
When she gets a hand from the always glamorous Diana, a woman who has that “just walked out of a salon” shiny hair and clothes that make her look like she’s minutes from a photoshoot, she latches onto her and wants to become friends.
Barbara comes off as overly needy, but Diana, being a decent person, extends her more kindness and they grab a meal together. What do these two very intelligent, modern, and accomplished women have to talk about? Their work? Their travels? Their love of languages? Big ideas? No. They talk about what all women talk about, apparently, clothes, being desirable, and their ex-boyfriends.
Meanwhile, an artifact arrives at the Smithsonian — there was a heist in a mall, which gives us a chance to really lean into those wacky 1980s stereotypical images, during which the bad guys obtain a mysterious citrine-based stone. It grants magical powers is all I’ll say. And things go downhill from there. In more ways than one. (“Wonder Woman 1984,” could be subtitled “Watch What You Wish For” or “A Modern Take on The Monkey Paw.”)
In short, “Wonder Woman 1984” has a litany of problems: In two-and-a-half hours there is no real plot, no character development, the female characters are reduced to being objects of the male gaze, and Wonder Woman gets most of her powers and her sense of self from her association with a man. So much for “female empowerment.” #MeToo, my bottom.
I haven’t mentioned the “villain,” Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), because I’m still not even sure what this guy wanted or what he was doing. I think he embodied greed and lust for power, but his character was just a cartoon character. He’s a pyramid schemer/oil tycoon wannabe who is a single father who isn’t paying child support. His kid, by the way, is only there to serve the needs of the plot. No real believable relationship exists in this film. And why it was set in 1984 is beyond me. The 1980s nostalgia has translated into big money — thanks to “Stranger Things” — and I guess it let them joke about clothing styles and set the opening fight in a mall. It also let them indulge in yet another “hilarious” fashion show montage. Parachute pants? Does everyone jump out of planes in the 1980s? Watch out. Your sides might start splitting!
Patty Jenkins (who also directs again), Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham are responsible for this mess of a screenplay. Jenkins has some noteworthy projects in her past — she wrote and directed “Monster” (2003), which was about Aileen Wuornos, the prostitute who murdered several men, and has directed episodes of TV series, “The Killing”. Both of these projects have strong female characters, so I expected much more from “Wonder Woman.” Whomever is at fault, and I think all are to blame, it’s a huge disappointment. What a missed opportunity on so many levels.
Despite the mostly negative reviews, “Wonder Woman 1984” has been doing phenomenally, and Warner Brothers has greenlit and fast tracked the next installment. I hope they employ some new writers, because if they keep with this trio, I might skip it. Could they at least let Wonder Woman get bloodied up and dirty? Does her hair always have to shine and be perfectly coiffed? I guess gritty and real isn’t in DC’s bag.
As a side note, to get the “Wonder Woman 1984” experience out of my mind, I rewatched “Captain Marvel,” and it reminded me that 1) you don’t have to sexualize your female superheroes, 2) that you can have a strong female character who comes into her own on her own, 3) that she can interact with male characters without them falling in love, and 4) that Marvel actually knows how to make good solid movies that you can watch a dozen times and still find new ways in which they are great.
DC can make all the money it wants, but it continues to prove that it has no idea what it’s doing.