'Wonder Woman 1984' Is Not Good
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Let’s address the giant CGI cheetah in the room: Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84) is a mediocre movie. As a huge fan of the first feature-length Wonder Woman film, I was ready to once again be dazzled by the dynamic duo that is Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot. And I was dazzled--that is, by the meandering haphazardness of this cinematic hot mess. I probably should’ve started to worry when I realized the plot centers around asking a crystal penis for wishes, but I kept my hopes up. That was a mistake.
Here’s the thing: It’s okay that this movie isn’t great. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If men are allowed to keep churning out unexceptional superhero movies, then women should get to as well. That’s right. I’m here running on a platform of female mediocrity. Think I’m wrong? Did you see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)? How about Green Lantern (2011)? Batman & Robin (1997)? Call me when women have made the same number of subpar superhero blockbusters as men have. It’ll take us a while to catch up. For a while now, women (mostly wealthy, white ones) have been allowed to take a stab at endeavors traditionally considered the domain of men. The catch is that their efforts have to be so exceptional that everyone can’t help but begrudgingly acknowledge their value. That’s bullshit. I’ll know we’ve reached true equity when women are allowed to fail in male-dominated spaces and get the opportunity to try again.
So why was WW84 so aggressively “meh”? Let’s get into it.
At the beginning of the sequel, we find Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in 1980s Washington, DC, where she’s working as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian and continuing to fight crime as Wonder Woman. After stopping an attempted robbery at a shopping mall, she returns to work to find out that the FBI has asked her colleague Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who later becomes supervillain Cheetah, to identify some of the antiquities the robbers were trying to steal. This includes an object later revealed to be the “Dreamstone,” which has the power to grant wishes. Diana accidentally brings her old boyfriend Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) back to life, Barbara wishes to be like Diana, and then when the stone falls into the hands of villainous businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), chaos ensues.
The movie completely lacks the historical grounding of its predecessor, which was an indelible part of the storyline’s power. Who can forget the iconic no man’s land scene? Or Diana heroically liberating the small town of Veld from the Germans? Whereas the villain-induced chaos of the first movie was fueled by the very real history of World War I, these same elements in the sequel seem to be spun out of thin air with no deeper context or meaning. I figured out pretty early on that the reason they needed to put the year in the title was so viewers would have some clue as to when the film takes place. As a historian, I will admit I’m pleased to be able to point out that a lack of history is part of what caused this sequel to fall flat.
Speaking of a lack of meaning, let’s talk about the film’s core lesson: Be careful what you wish for. Seriously? I’m not saying it’s a bad lesson, but it’s a tired one that’s not exactly blowing any minds. Here are some unintended takeaways that are much more captivating:
- Be nice to the weird awkward girl at work, because one day she might turn into a hot feline killing machine and come for you.
- Any time someone asks you a question that starts with, “don’t you wish…” the answer is always NO.
- Steve is basically useless, except for his central, comedic-relief-inducing personality trait: not knowing what anything is or what the hell is going on.
- If an unhinged man screams “YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL!” to a woman, he’s probably right.
Perhaps the biggest letdown of WW84 was the much-anticipated dynamic between Wonder Woman and her canonical arch-nemesis, Cheetah. Watching Gadot and Wiig gal-pal it up on Instagram gave me high hopes for their on-screen relationship, but the sparks were anything but flying. The dinner scene attempting to showcase Barbara and Diana’s blossoming friendship doesn’t even scratch the surface and doesn’t feel believable. The time between their night out and Barbara morphing into an amped-up Regina George mostly involves Diana calling her on the phone and telling her to do things. Um, I know these two work together at the museum, but I’m pretty sure Diana isn’t Barbara’s boss. Toxic work environment, much? Barbara’s storyline is also completely dropped at the end. All audiences get is a single shot of her staring morosely at a sunset. But this was a perfect opportunity to depict Barbara realizing that she doesn’t need a magical wish to present herself in the way she wants and own her power as a brilliant archaeologist. I know Diana electrocuted her during their showdown, but I think they could’ve worked things out, thus ending their storyline on a note about the power of women’s friendships.
Before I conclude, let me say this, if you think I’m a “bad feminist” for criticizing this movie, don’t @ me. Feminism isn’t, never was, and never will be about blindly supporting women and their endeavors regardless of the quality of the product. While I’m at it there’s no such thing as “bad feminists,” only people who straight-up aren’t feminists, but that’s a different rant for a different piece.
Look, WW84 kind of sucks, but it’s fine. It provides two-and-a-half hours of entertainment, which counts for a lot during a pandemic. And it’s still always nice to get to watch a big superhero movie with a woman at the center who isn’t subject to the male gaze. The Wonder Woman sequel is certainly not the tour de force that was the original, but this installment still has its moments, and I for one am not turning down some powerful Jewish woman representation on the big screen. Hopefully, the third movie will recapture some of the magic of the first, but in the meantime, let’s get #WhatHappenedToBarbara trending on Twitter.
How to cite this page
Klebe, Larisa. "'Wonder Woman 1984' Is Not Good." 7 January 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 29, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/wonder-woman-1984-review>.
Great piece. GG still has a better batting average than Thor.