The Rumors Are True: “Wonder Woman 1984” is Bad

Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman 1984”

Happy New Year!

Okay, so I hate to start off 2021 by shitting on a film…but also I don’t because I love the opportunity to write a bad review. Even if that means harshly criticizing Patty Jenkins, a filmmaker whose work I loved in Monster (2003) and even in the first Wonder Woman (2017).

Wonder Woman 1984 was just a mess. The storytelling was disorienting — in a bad way, not a Memento way. I never really knew what the point was, who the real villain was, or what Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) mission was. For much of the film, our primary antagonist, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), seems like an imperfect, insecure businessman who just wants to be his son’s hero. Thus, he fails to be a convincing villain because we, as an audience, never truly want him to fail. However, when he turns himself into the Dreamstone, he becomes inexcusably selfish and disgusting, which prevents us from completely sympathizing with him, either.

The film’s other villain is Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a PhD-educated researcher at the Smithsonian who the film immediately establishes as an insecure, kindhearted, yet consistently under-appreciated wallflower. This overdone characterization of the educated woman immediately annoyed me, because:

  1. What a stereotype! Just because a woman is educated does not mean she is a disheveled, unattractive mess. Wonder Woman/ Diana Prince is the only female depicted as both sexy and intelligent (read: multi-faceted), and she’s literally a superhero. I expected more from a female filmmaker than to make such one-dimensional generalizations.
  2. It reminded me of an Amy Schumer joke about Rosario Dawson not being considered attractive at first in Zookeeper because she was wearing khakis. Pretty spot on, considering Barbara Minerva looks more or less the same in her oversized sweater as she does in her tight dress.

Minerva, like Lord, is also an unconvincing villain. Having witnessed the way she’s alternatively ignored and harassed by men, the audience is inclined to sympathize with her when she attacks the man who tried, more than once, to rape her. Based on the horrified reaction of her homeless friend, we are supposed to conclude that Minerva has gone off the deep end, but this isn’t effective. When Wonder Woman fights Minerva later on, we should be rooting for the superhero but instead feel sympathy towards the villain — and, consequently, ambivalence over who wins this fight.

This villain issue is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to Wonder Woman 1984’s sloppiness. The film simply tries to do too much.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in “Wonder Woman 1984”

Is it a romance between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine)? If so, it’s far from satisfying, because the characters’ chemistry throughout the feature is lacking except for a few scenes during which they either wax poetic about their love or roll around in bed together.

Is this an adventure film? It’s a superhero movie, so I know it’s supposed to be about the action, but the fight scenes are boring, completely lacking in suspense and high stakes.

Is the film a political statement about the 80s? It tries too hard to depict the decade’s technology and aesthetic, and as a result its temporal grounding ends up kitschy and overly on-the-nose. It also rubbed me the wrong way to see Gal Gadot, a real-life veteran of the IDF, fight a bunch of Arab characters who could not have possibly been depicted in a more Orientalist, racist, and anachronistic way (they’re all obsessed with oil, toting weapons and wishing for nuclear arsenals, or they’re poor. There exists a middle class in the Middle East, people! There are buildings in the Middle East — not just sand dunes. These are damaging stereotypes. As a woman of Middle Eastern descent, I know).

But the most baffling part of the movie is the end. We have no context as to where Wonder Woman is when she fights our villains, and her conversation with Max Lord at the end is cheesy and nonsensical. What does, “You cannot have it all, you can have the truth and the truth is enough,” mean? I’d love to know, because it seems like that’s the moral of the story. It’s clearly some weak (at best) reference to the prologue of the film, when young Diana (Lilly Aspell) is told to value the truth above all else, but this message which bookends the film is relevant in no other place. Its presentation at the end of the film is also so cryptic — accompanied by a brief nonsensical montage of upsetting footage around the world (i.e., poverty, atom bombs) — that it induces eyerolls and nausea than revelations.

The movie also contains a sequence during which everyone around the world retracts the wishes they made on the Dreamstone because of the airing of Diana and Max Lord’s speech on TV. I know there is some statement here about the global dependence on television during the late twentieth century, but come on. The idea that everyone around the world was watching this broadcast at the same time, and that everyone was so touched by Diana’s speech that they took back their wishes, is incredibly far-fetched — even for a superhero movie.

And what happens to the Dreamstone? Who exactly created the Dreamstone, and what is Diana’s relationship to this mysterious god of chaos?

Do we ever get a satisfying conclusion about this magical stone upon which this entire film is based?

No.

We don’t.

The only part of this movie that got me hyped up was the scene during the end credits, when Lynda Carter (the original Wonder Woman) makes an appearance as presumed-dead Amazon warrior, Asteria. I am psyched at the notion of Lynda Carter making her superhero comeback, and would much rather watch an Asteria-centric addition to the franchise than sit through another Gal Gadot vehicle.

I mean, guys. You know a film is bad when the end credits are your favorite part.

Lynda Carter’s cameo in “Wonder Woman 1984”

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