So I finally figured out why this movie is called Wonder Woman 1984. That’s because it takes its inspiration from the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero movies that are adaptions of the comics in name only. I’m looking at you, Supergirl, which came out in 1984*.
Yes, before superhero movies took over the world, we got movies like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and the Spider-Man and Captain America TV movies (and Superman III and the Cannon Captain America too, while we’re at it).
In 1984, we were lucky if we got a great superhero film.
In 2020, we forgot what that time was like.
Directed by Patty Jenkins from a script she wrote with Geoff Johns** and Dave Callaham, based on a story by Johns and Jenkins, this is a movie that people have really hated with a passion. So many people have said that it’s campy, but they really have no idea what that word means. This is in no way the 1960’s Batman TV series. It’s not Barbarella. We could only dream that it could be a tenth of a percent as campy as Danger: Diabolik or Flash Gordon***.
It’s the very definition of a movie that has no idea what it wants to be, the story that it wants to tell or how the characters will learn or grow along the way. It only hamfistedly smashes plot points — Honesty is good! Lies are bad! — with all the subtlety of Obnoxio the Clown.
It all starts in the home of the Amazona, Themyscira, where a kid version of Diana Prince competes against the older Amazons and learns that cheating won’t get her anywhere. This is generally called foreshadowing, but again, this is a plot point hammered home so completely that even Bizarro would find himself saying, “Me not get it!”
We move to 1984, sixty-six years after we last saw our heroine in the last movie, and she’s spent the decades pining for Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who sacrificed himself to save everyone from a bomber filled with poison. Now she’s the senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian, working alongside the mousy Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig) when she’s not foiling robberies at malls that look so garishly 1980’s that Nightwing’s first costume would fit right in.
Trust me. I was in the 1980’s. I was eight when they started. Everything in here is exactly the 80’s marketing people think the 80’s are. Anachronism abounds to the point that I was expecting Rip Hunter to show up and ask Wonder Woman to fix things. “Diana! Operation Wolf came out in 1987, not 1984! Per Degaton is ruining everything! The Cro-Mags didn’t release The Age of Quarrel until 1986 and that kid already has the shirt! Cronos is destroying the time-space continuum! That man is walking a goldendoodle, which wasn’t bred until 1990! Monarch is back!”
That’s when this film’s McGuffin comes into play. The Dreamstone can give anyone their wish. Wonder Woman wants Steve back. Barbara wants to be Diana. And Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) wants it all.
Yes, Max Lord. The guy who was behind the Justice League International before coming back to kill off Blue Beetle and ruin the DCU for so many people in Countdown to Infinite Crisis.
While this isn’t a mainstream character, it doesn’t have to be. But the truth is, Wonder Woman 1984 is more Max Lord’s movie than it is Diana’s. He’s the one that takes the journey, who changes and becomes a better person at the end once he sees where his bad decisions have taken him. And much like 1984, the year when comic book movies had nothing in common with their print inspirations, he’s Max Lord in name only****. He’s more Donald Trump than L-Ron’s best pal, but that’s completely intentional.
Within a few days, Lord has pretty much ruined the world with wish after wish*****. Barbara has wished to become an apex predator, a term nobody used in 1984. And Diana has realized that Steve — in another man’s body that had sex with Diana without consent, which was a major issue with so many people and something that while upsetting is also something fictional with no way of happening in our reality and to be blunt, we got bigger things to be upset about in 2020 — shouldn’t be back from the dead.
And that’s pretty much it.
The biggest sacrifice — Steve going back to death — is made by Steve more than Diana. Barbara never gives up her wish, gets electrocuted and still lives. And Max actually comes out as the person who learns the most, telling his son that he is not a good man.
Maybe it’s the amount of horror and exploitation films that I watch on a regular basis, but movies are best between 66 and 75 minutes. This one goes near double that and I already told you the whole story in a few paragraphs. It drags. And drags. And then drags some more for good measure.
It also doesn’t have any real reason to be set in 1984 other than the title and “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood getting used in one scene. And yes, to be completely OCD, this movie takes place on the Fourth of July and that song was released until October 29 of that year.
It’s also a $200 million dollar movie that has effects that feel unfinished (just look at the kids turn into obvious dummies when she saves them), a final fight scene that makes the end of Ang Lee’s The Hulk look well lit and invalidates much of what we knew of Wonder Woman in Justice League, which claims that she was in hiding the whole time. As for those who claim continuity doesn’t work, the old DCU was the most continuity heavy universe ever. Ask Ambush Bug. And continuity is a major reason why the MCU works so well.
That said, Gal Gadot is fine as Wonder Woman, for all she is given to do. Kristen Wiig is playing Kristen Wiig and if you told me that this was the same character she was essaying in the Anchorman sequel, I would have believed you. And I guess Pascal is fine, but by the end of this movie, I was moved to ennui and struggling to say anything nice.
I mean, go back and watch that fight scene in the mall. It has almost sitcom level mugging in it. I mean, the worst part for me was when Steve is amazed by an escalator and a subway train. The first movie was set in London during the First World War and all of those things existed there at that time. Maybe Steve is just a moron.
There you go. I’ve spent more time figuring this movie out than it really deserved. Let’s get back to Jess Franco movies, people.
*But some really great comic films came out in 1984. One is based on a comic strip that not many people know called Sweet Gwendoline by John Willie and that would be the strangely great The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Yik Yak. The other two aren’t based on any comic book but get the tone perfect and those would be The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension and The Toxic Avenger.
**Who actually wrote some decent comics every once in a while, like DC’s JSA.
***Which is the answer to the question, “What are Sam’s two favorite comic book adaptions?”
****Just like how its mentioned that the Dreamstone comes from Dolos, The Duke of Deception, who was the first major challenge that Diana faced pst-Crisis.
*****One of those wishes is to get his company back from Simon Stagg, who we all know — I’m joking, like four or five of us know — is the father-in-law of Metamorpho.