In some ways, I’m a little surprised by the harsh reception to Wonder Woman 1984, relative to similarly middling superhero movies (Joey’s review is here). It has most of the flaws that have been creeping into these blockbusters for the last decade or so, and I suspect one reason why so many critics have been slagging this one more is the lack of the “communal experience” in a traditional theater that otherwise wearying, over-plotted, noisy big spectacles can hide behind.
I am, however, still pondering some troubling questions the movie doesn’t really bother to answer. Questions like…
Whose Idea Was It To Make Middle Eastern Politics In The 1980’s A Major Focus?
So this movie takes place in 1984. During this time, Iraq and Iran were locked into a brutal war that lasted for eight years, triggered when the former invaded the latter nation in an attempt to conquer its oil-rich provinces in the wake of their recent revolution (overthrowing a brutal dictator installed by, um, us). By the end of the conflict, roughly half-a-million people had been killed. This was also the year of Operation Meghdoot, one of many skirmishes between Pakistan and India that resulted in thousands of deaths, and the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which sparked riots that left tens of thousands of Sikhs murdered.
My point in bringing all this up is to wonder if, maybe, this movie shouldn’t have hinged a major escalation of stakes on a Middle Eastern head of state wishing for “all of my land to be returned, and for all the heathens who dare trod upon it to be kept out forever.” Seems like needless salting of some historical wounds for no good reason, ya know? Especially with an IDF veteran in the lead role?
I’m aware of how big tentpole movies are more determined than ever to be taken seriously and want to touch on relevant issues to feel more important to the culture. But much like how Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald brought up the Holocaust without explaining why the wizarding world did nothing to stop the extermination of millions of marginalized people at the hands of the Nazis, or how Joker recreated the urban unrest of the 1980’s while deliberately avoiding any mention of the racial tensions that sparked that unrest, if you’re not prepared to truly engage with these painful subjects, it’s usually not the best idea to bring them up just to illustrate trite themes or as mere plot devices.
But amazingly, that’s not even close to the most morally bizarre implication WW84 doesn’t seem to want to confront. That spot is arguably reserved for…
So Did Steve Trevor Consciousness-Rape His Unwitting Host, Or…?
When Diana makes her wish to bring her twue wuv Steve Trevor back to life, he doesn’t just pop into existence out of nowhere. He takes over the body of some other man in order to be brought back from death. Not only that, but Steve apparently knows full well about his takeover of this man’s body and even knows some basic details about his life… and laughs it off.
I’ll admit, as far as bringing characters back from the dead, this is way less “cheap” than the ways Marvel movies brought back Nick Fury and Loki. For that, I tip my hat to Patty Jenkins and Geoff Johns (who has a knack for clever fanservice). But… this is a little disturbing, right? Fulfilling Diana’s wish effectively killed a man and it doesn’t even momentarily give her pause. And she’s the hero of this movie! What happened to the guy’s consciousness? Is it a Get Out “sunken place” thing where he gets to watch helplessly as this undead guy is blown away by the sight of breakdancing and escalators (even though the first escalator was installed in 1896) and smooching this woman who is responsible for him being locked away in a mind prison?
I really can’t stress enough how little this movie seems to care about this Black Mirror-esque nightmare scenario. Not even the barest amount of lip service to what feels like should be the central moral conflict of the movie. It doesn’t even manifest as the monkey’s paw curse; it’s Diana’s powers that are stripped away from her. Not the horrific violation of someone’s body and mind.
Seems downright villainous, the more I think about it. Then again, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t on this movie’s wavelength at all when it came to recognizing villainous acts. Which is why I wondered…
Does Barbara ‘Become Evil’ After She Beats Up A Sexual Predator Or After She Goes Through A Pat Benatar Makeover?
So it seems like most people agree, regardless of the rest of the movie’s failures, Kristen Wiig is funny and cute and having a blast as the secondary villain Barbara Minerva. Which isn’t much of a surprise since Wiig always delivers even when the movies she’s in don’t. My only question regarding her is… when exactly were we, the audience, supposed to know she’s become a villain, “officially?”
Because it seems like her big Turn To The Dark Side moment, with the swelling sinister Hans Zimmer music and everything, is when she beats up the sexual harasser who assaulted her earlier in the movie. Now, I’m no proponent of extra-judicial violence, but in a glossy indulgent popcorn movie being released at the tail-end of a year in which the nation was collectively terrorized by a serial sexual predator, maybe it’s okay for us to, just this once, not be made to feel bad about a violent, dangerous man getting roughed up a little? Especially since an almost identical scene happened more indulgently and less justifiably in Superman II forty years ago?
Or maybe I’m reading it wrong and it was her enjoying all the positive attention she was getting from men? Maybe it was her dressing sexy and being more confident in herself? Are we supposed to just take it on faith that Barbara wanting to be more like a woman she admires is an ipso facto villainous desire? This actually brings me to my final question…
Are We Seriously Not Supposed To Wish For Things Or Want Something Better For Our Lives?
In the climax – which, to this movie’s enormous credit, is not just a typical CGI-leaden fight scene in the sky, so sincere kudos to it for that – Diana sagely reminds the world that “everything has a price,” which is… technically true, but the way it’s framed in this story really heavily implies that the price is literally never worth paying, which is why presumably everyone who made a wish has to renounce it by the end of the movie.
And I get the whole “monkey’s paw” story is one of the oldest ones in fiction, but also, is that a story we need to keep imparting on people, unchanged and unchallenged? Getting something you really want is always a “lie?” By 1984, there were an estimated 300,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS at the time, and it would be another three years before the Reagan Administration made any public acknowledgment of or effort towards addressing it. So it’s probably reasonable to suggest at least one person who heard that wish-granting broadcast near the end of the movie wished to no longer be infected, right? Or maybe even wished for a cure that could be shared with the entire world? Do they have to renounce that, too? “The world is beautiful as it is!” Not really, Diana. If it wasn’t already made clear earlier in this article, the world actually totally sucked for a lot of people in the 1980’s.
Also, isn’t it kind of alarming that in a movie directed and co-written by a woman, feminine strength and feminine power seemingly exist in inverse correlation to each other? Barbara wants to be strong, beautiful, and confident just like Diana for the price of her kindness and humanity, and Diana wants the love of her life at the price of her superpowers.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it seems like Johns and Jenkins are telling women that they can be powerful or they can be loved, but they can’t be both. In fact, you shouldn’t want anything better for yourself, because that’s living a lie. Just accept that some women are Amazonian demi-goddesses and other women are frumpy nobodies, and aspiring to be anything other than your preordained identity in society is akin to “cheating” in a weird triathlon tournament.
Maybe that should’ve been the tagline for the poster – Wonder Woman 1984: Know Your Place!
Anyone want to weigh in on these questions in the comments?