Needless to say, I’d have done it better.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a superhero film set in 1984 about a woman named Wonder Woman, who fights crime and patriarchy in heels and an armoured bathing suit. It is a sequel to an earlier film, which was about Wonder Woman winning World War I.
This review will contain spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984, but honestly, all superhero films have the same plot, so there’s hardly any danger of your missing out on anything by knowing how it ends going in.
The general premise of the film is that it is now 1984 and Wonder Woman is living in Washington D.C. and working at the Smithsonian, where she is an historian/anthropologist/linguist/vigilante. She works with a woman named Barbara, who later becomes the villainess Cheetarah, and also encounters the even more villainous and even more horribly named Max Lord, a vaguely-motivated loser of an oil baron who has no money and wants his son to love him, which of course the son already does, because it is a movie. A magical wish-granting stone gives Barbara superpowers, brings Wonder Woman’s useless dead boyfriend back to life, and turns Max Lord into an omnipotent (by human standards anyway) wish-granting monster, until eventually the truth prevails and the world is saved from World War III.
This is one of those stories that, the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. It relies on the premise that all humans are fundamentally selfish and small-minded and, if given the power to ask for anything, all of them would only ask for things like fame or wealth or power. And though it is no doubt true that some, even many, might do that, I find it somewhat unrealistic that no single person on earth wished for world peace or justice for all or something equally saccharine. This creates many plot holes with regard to how Lord’s powers work that the film doesn’t explore because it thinks its audience will forget about them before the end when he willingly gives up his powers when he realizes that ending the world will also kill his beloved child, who could have been a decorative cat for all the impact he has on the narrative before this point.
This is also somewhat problematic narratively because Lord is given far too much screentime leading up to the end of the film, often to the detriment of Wonder Woman, but he still isn’t a properly written character. Were I writing him, I’d have focused on his upbringing somewhat more, and his steady corruption by the capitalist world in which he’s been forced to work to ensure that his son doesn’t grow up poor as he did. But those foci were absent, and the film suffered for it.
Another aspect which harmed the narrative was the forced and unnecessary inclusion of Wonder Woman’s useless boyfriend. He was mercifully killed at the end of the first film, only to be tragically brought back to life in this one so that he could do absolutely nothing except fly a plane for a brief period of time. His inclusion in the story creates a narrative in which Wonder Woman is incomplete without a man in her life (the little one will not stop pestering me until I indicate that this would, in fact, make her simply Wonder Wo), which is a starkly unnecessary message in a film ostensibly about female power and autonomy.
Of course, the film is not actually about that, or else Barbara’s descent into villainy and the loss of her conscience and humanity would not have been indicated primarily through her choosing to physically assault her (two-time) would-be rapist, in what starts as self-defence. Though yes, it was unnecessary for her to kick the man several metres into the street and beat his face in, he was, in fact, attempting to rape her. The film’s commitment to a particular patriarchal form of nonviolence means that she is to be frowned at by the audience for such an action, even though it is in no way wrong, let alone damning. She then allies herself with a dangerous man who doesn’t care about her, and it is only when she renounces him (losing the powers that let her defend herself) and ceases to be a threat that the audience is once again encouraged to sympathize with her. There are many things that can be said about this character, her queer-coding, and the connections between sexuality and power and the male gaze, but suffice it to say she was not well written and what autonomy she is allowed is a very male ideal of women’s autonomy. As well, her cheetah costume looked terrible.
Finally, I must object to the film’s aesthetic. I personally do not find the 1980s to be a particularly interesting time period in world history, and this film gains nothing but problems for being set at this time. I could care less about the overall continuity of the larger franchise, but it being set in the past forces several other films to account for why nobody has ever mentioned the day that an evil wizard nearly ended the world in 1984, which alone is not worth the headache if you ask me. The relevance of the 80s is purely aesthetic, and feels very much like a surrender to the fact that now in 2021, young people and people who were there alike are enamoured with this time period for no real reason. They don’t even fully commit to the aesthetic choices beyond a few outfits and hairstyles, leading one to really wonder what the point of it all was.
For all its many flaws, Wonder Woman 1984 is not a bad film. It is entertaining as long as you don’t think about it too hard, which is why it absolutely discourages you from thinking about it too hard. It is on par with the first film, which was also mediocre. But point me at a superhero film that isn’t and we’ll talk. If you’re going to see one, it may as well be one about a woman.