‘Wonder Woman 1984’ lacks substance, falls short of expectations

Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) after stopping an attempted robbery. (Fair use from Rolling Stone)

The newest Wonder Woman movie, “Wonder Woman 1984,” was one of the most anticipated movies of 2020, and its HBO Max release made it easily accessible during the pandemic. Despite critics’ glowing reviews pre-release, the movie proves disappointing, as it fails to follow a coherent and engaging storyline.

“Wonder Woman 1984” follows Diana Prince, played by Gal Gadot, adapting to a modern life in the 1980s and working in the Smithsonian while fighting as Wonder Woman in her free time. Diana’s new life is thrown into disarray as she reunites with old flame Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, and faces off against villains Maxwell Lord, played by Pedro Pascal, and Barbara Minerva, or “Cheetah,” played by Kristin Wiig.

The main issue with the movie is its poor character development, which is especially evident with antagonists Minerva and Lord. Minerva’s storyline centers around wanting to be pretty, confident and strong like Diana–and does so by buying a new wardrobe and taking off her glasses, a totally new and never-before-seen trope. However, her villain arc begins when she is nearly sexually assaulted and decides to join Lord to get revenge. Meanwhile, Lord’s villain motivation is simply to provide a good life for his son that he himself did not have due to the poverty and racism he experienced while growing up. WW1984 attempts to make the point that people with good intentions can make mistakes, but by making them the villains at all, it comes off instead as villainizing people reacting to trauma.

WW1984’s pandemic-era message that humanity must reject selfishness to survive seems out of place in the ‘80s setting. The time period does not add much to the movie and just seems like an obvious attempt to appeal to the popularity of shows such as “Stranger Things,” with call-outs to things like parachute pants and fanny packs. Overall, the Cold War should have played more of a role in the plot, but those tensions are only mentioned a few times.

The movie’s message was buried underneath a dozen half-finished story lines. The biggest fight scene is supposed to show off Diana’s strength by introducing new armor that holds significance to her people, but that significance is mentioned once, and there is no weight behind it. The flashbacks to Diana’s childhood, the reference to Wonder Woman’s famous invisible jet and the appearance of ex-Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter all add nothing to the plot and just lengthen the movie’s runtime.

Although director Patty Jenkins was celebrated for her use of diversity in the first Wonder Woman movie, that diversity seems to be lacking in WW1984. Lord, originally white in the comics, is played by Latino Pedro Pascal. However, that is the only diversity casting they attempt, and it comes off as insulting that one of the only diverse cast members is one of the villains.

WW1984 also attempts to deal with the idea of sexual assault throughout and fails miserably. Minerva’s near sexual assault seemed to have motivated her to become a villain, but other DC heroes have reacted to much less in their origin stories and been branded as heroes. Minerva could’ve easily become a hero that protects others from the trauma she experienced, but instead she is branded the villain because she could not forgive and forget her assault and wanted revenge.

That is not the only mishandled plotline, either. Steve Trevor, Diane’s past lover, comes back to life by borrowing someone else’s body. During their reconciliation, the scene in which Diana has sex with Trevor in that stranger’s body comes off as incredibly problematic, as said stranger could not consent to having his body used in such a way. This stranger is shown later in the movie greeting Diana as if he had just met her, oblivious to the fact that she had violated him previously. Furthermore, the assault is treated like an inside joke for the audience.

WW1984 is held together entirely by Gadot and Pascal’s acting. Many have attempted to defend the movie by claiming that at the surface level it is a fun movie, and normally that might work, but the movie was designed to be an action movie with a serious meaning, and it is hard to ignore how badly that was portrayed. The movie is essentially a long, rambling essay without a very coherent thesis statement that does not have a satisfying conclusion.