Wonder Woman 1984 feels like a breath of fresh air, not just because it arrives on streaming and digital platforms at the end of a tumultuous year but also because it approaches its superhero mythmaking from a new perspective. Shedding the violent skin of a genre that revels in destruction and brutality while dressing it up in a plastic pastiche meant to imitate children crashing action figures into one another; instead opting to create a superhero that feels heroic, in the most genuine sense of the word.
A throwback to Christopher Reeve’s Superman, Wonder Woman glides majestically across the screen disarming bad guys, crushing their guns in her hands, or in another scene ripping the steering wheel out of a truck and telling the henchman to brake. Wonder Woman is nearly immortal, and she has fought in battles. She fought in one of our wars. She has suffered her own trauma and her own loss. And yet, she carries herself as a superhero should. Regal and graceful, disarming the villains rather than attacking them. And even when she does get into her own cinematic action set-piece shenanigans, it comes from a place of self-defence. She has no intention of inflicting harm upon anyone. Compared to Avengers: Endgame last year, Wonder Woman 1984 feels downright novel in its approach, returning to a serene simplicity that the genre severely lacks. Gal Gadot returning to the role of Wonder Woman reinstills the pillars of a genre that got so lost in the weeds of its adolescent perspective that it has failed to interrogate its toxicity.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a brightly lit superhero spectacle about a magic rock that can grant wishes that fall into the wrong hands and becomes dangerous, devolving the world into chaos and destruction, setting things up for Wonder Woman to save the day. Yes, the film is as silly as it sounds. This kind of fantastic approach that feels so uncynical as it approaches a cartoonish naivete can be a turnoff for some, as Patty Jenkins embraces the inherent silliness that comes with the material. But at the same time, she uses this poppy aesthetic to interrogate these weighty themes about the abundance of greed that overtakes the American culture until it becomes the culture.
There are three major players in the movie, and the plot is driven by their actions as their stories intersect around a magic stone that grants wishes. But for every wish it grants, it must take something in return. We have Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, living a semi-lonely life in 1984’s Washington D.C, working at the Smithsonian and fighting crime in her downtime. Through the pictures in her apartment, we come to understand that she got to live a full beautiful life with the friends she made in the first movie, but all of them are gone, and she lives alone. Inadvertently she brings Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) back to her by making a wish in the presence of the stone. Next, we have Barbara Minerva, played with effortless charm and ferocious menace by Kristen Wiig, a nerdy colleague of Diana who investigates these ancient artifacts. Her wish is to be more like Diana, but she asked for more than she knew, which leads to a transformation. And last but not least, we have Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal who commits to every scene with a vigour), a Latin con-man, clearly modelled after Trump, who is in pursuit of oil and power to garner the American Dream for him and his son. As is the case with magical wishes in movies, things rarely ever go as planned.
The relationship between Diana and Barbara, bolstered by the chemistry between Gadot and Wiig, feels effervescent and charming. The laughter they share radiates from the screen, making Barbara’s eventual turn into Cheetah all the more heartbreaking because we are teased by what could have been if things broke differently. This relationship doesn’t feel as expounded upon as it could have been. However, Gadot and Wiig’s electricity allows them to fill in the gaps of a relationship left unexplored.
Patty Jenkins and her casting department made the very intentional decision to cast a Latino man as their Trump analog. They infused the character with humanity and nuance that Trump lacks, allowing them to create a character seduced by the American dream as he attempts to assimilate to a culture that rejects him. Still, his attempts at assimilation feel like an imitation that never quite feels whole. Maxwell Lord’s real name in this film is Maxwell Lorenzano, but it has been changed to Maxwell Lord to make him fit in. The performance feels performative. A man who is after power because he is an American, and greed has consumed this culture. A con-man after oil because it will garner him the power and respect he desires, but what he wants to do with that power he does not know. His motivation is to assimilate to American culture by participating in the greed that defines our culture. All we want is more.
The film takes place in the 80s, not so it can thrive on nostalgia, but because Maxwell Lord is born from the consumerism that defined the decade, and you can very quickly draw a straight line from Lord in 1984 to Trump in 2020. However, Maxwell Lord feels human in a way that Trump does not. Lord feels recognizable. He is not the villain of the piece. He is a victim. An immigrant builds this image of himself, all the while losing his own identity in the process. A father with a son that he ignores to develop his empire, not understanding the cycle of trauma that he is perpetuating as he gets lost in this character. Even when Pedro Pascal floats in and out of his American accent, it feels purposeful, as if this facade is cracking. And Pascal’s performance is one for the ages. Perfectly campy as he delights in this man’s delusions, yet still allowing him the room to feel real. Maxwell Lord is the kind of character that any immigrant will be able to recognize because this feels all too real in our communities. America is a very self-indulgent country, where to claim to be American, we must first renounce our own country of origin. America needs to come first, and it feels like the Maxwell Lord character has bought into the American myth. Power and status seduce him as he grows further and further away from everything that keeps him grounded. It is a beautifully campy performance that meshes well with the delightfully sincere tone that Jenkins is after.
Steve Trevor in this film is a manifestation of Diana’s greed, as she tries so desperately to hold onto the love that they shared, yet in her heart knowing that they cannot exist like this. Steve Trevor is brought back via the wishing stone, and how he returns may present some ethical issues but what is undeniable is the chemistry that Gal Gadot and Chris Pine share, picking up right where they left off in the first film. However, unlike the first film, this is not presented as a romance. Steve Trevor confronts Diana about her selfish desire in order for her to move forward and become the superhero that the world needs her to be. It creates a beautiful story opportunity to explore the intense emotions of a first love that could not last and learning to accept what you cannot change. There is a moment between them that will bring tears to your eyes because it feels so achingly beautiful. The first Wonder Woman was an epic romance. The sequel is about the emotions felt after the romance ends.
A struggling father tries to smuggle himself into the American dream by modelling himself after a Trump figure. A goddess wrestles with her selfish desire for love. A well meaning woman loses her humanity as she wishes to be more than she is. Jenkins packs a lot of power and potency into a film that can just as easily get by on charm and charisma. While she may have bit off a little more than she could chew, it feels nice to watch a superhero movie that carves its path and walks to the rhythm of its own drumbeat rather than follow the trend of what’s popular. Trends that feels market-tested and calculated within an inch of its life, until all we’re left with is a corporate checklist that feels hollowed out. Wonder Woman 1984 feels like a return to Christopher Reeve and Linda Carter’s era, and more recently, Sam Raimi’s Spiderman and Joel Schumacher’s Batman. These films cared about the person under the costume as much as the hero on the surface. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s dominance of the comic book movie genre, this pop aesthetic has been muted out of the genre altogether. Superhero movies are afraid to look goofy. Wonder Woman 1984 reminds us that we should expect more from a genre that has lost its perspective.
When Wonder Woman flies in this film, she glides through the air and feels the wind in her hair and allows the action of flying to feel poetic instead of realistic. That is the difference between Wonder Woman 1984 and the other movies within the genre. Superhero movies try to feel realistic and palpable, essentially muting the fantasy to make these heroes feel like they can exist in the real world. Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t care about realism. This film is pure fantasy. It is that fantastic approach that makes it feel more human than a lot of these other movies because the emotional weight behind her actions matters more than the physical weight of her movement. The action in this film does not feel like children smashing action figures into one another. It is majestic and beautiful, as the titular hero glides through the air and disarms bad guys, with a lasso of truth as her only weapon, shedding the sword and shield from the first film. It has been a long time since there has been a superhero on screen that was worth looking up to and aspiring to emulate. Wonder Woman is that hero, and Wonder Woman 1984 is the movie that other superhero movies should emulate.
Review: Wonder Woman 1984
Wonder Woman 1984 is a brightly lit superhero spectacle that reminds us of the potential of these stories when they are allowed to be human
Characterization of Wonder Woman
Fresh approach to a tired genre
Relationship between Barbara and Diana not as fleshed out as it could be