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Wonder Woman: 1984 •••

Greg Scott
Wonder Woman: 1984

Wonder Woman: 1984

Wonder Woman: 1984

scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we’re catapulting ahead 70 years in the story to that exciting Orwellian year of 1984. I’m not sure why, though.

Because we need to appeal to children, quasi-children and Baby Boomers alike. I’m a little unsure if I’m qualified to review WW84 as I haven’t seen Wonder Woman 2 through 83. But let’s recap anyway:

We’re on Themyscira and our hero-to-be Diana Prince, just 10 years-old, is participating with other grown Amazons in some type of grueling athletic competition. Diana is holding her own and is actually leading toward the end when she makes the mistake of looking behind her while on a horse galloping at high speed. A branch knocks her down and she appears destined to lose. However, she finds a shortcut to the finish line and is about to win when her Aunt Antiope grabs her, removing her from the competition, to teach her a lesson about honesty.

Flash forward to 1984 and we meet our own Diana Prince, now a grown woman and well-adjusted to the modern world (in comparison to her naivete in WW:1). Prince works in the archeology department of the Smithsonian Museum where she bumps into newcomer Barbara Minerva. Barbara is a nerd, wears glasses, is clumsy and socially awkward. She literally bumps into Diana and reveals she is studying a wishing stone.

No sooner does Barbara wish for Diana’s poise and strength, and Diana wishing for her lost love Steve Trevor, does failing oil mogul Maxwell Lord arrive and steals the wishing stone. He wishes to become the wishing stone and starts granting wishes that will increase his wealth. And… we’re off.

I really like how the movie opens with a very telling flashback to Diana Prince in her youth. We witness a key moment in her process of transforming into a hero. Greg, you and I have argued that the hero’s journey is the human journey, and all of us on the journey are called to transform from neophytes into grown, mature sophisticates. Some of us grow more than others, of course. But we all evolve.

During this flashback, we hear Diana’s talk about how limited our vision is when we are young, and how we all have a vast ignorance of all the things we need to learn. “Looking back, I wish I had listened, wish I had watched more closely and understood.” Diana is expressing a sentiment that we’ve all entertained at one time or another. Don’t we all wish we had more wisdom when we were younger? “Sometimes,” she says, “you can’t see what you’re learning until you come out on the other side.”

Young Diana’s athletic competition sets the stage for WW84’s recurring theme about the importance of truth-telling. Diana’s youth and inexperience lead her to make an error that throws her off her horse, and she cheats to get back on top of the race. Aunt Antiope teaches Diana an important life lesson about honesty, about being your true self rather than someone else’s version of who you are.

“The truth is all there is,” Antiope says. “You cannot be the winner if you are not ready to win. And there is no shame in that.” There is some great life wisdom here, for sure. Our early life experiences, especially the painful ones, are designed to prepare us for mature living. Perhaps most importantly for those of us who tend to beat ourselves up too much, there is no shame in our failures. These setbacks are the necessary stumbling stones for growth.

And then the kicker: “No true hero is born from lies.” That’s great stuff. So Wonder Woman 1984 gets off to a great start, with action, adventure, and wisdom. After this amazing start, I was ready for an amazing movie.

Wow, Scott. I think it took me as long to read your intro as the 11-minute movie prologue itself. This is a harbinger of everything wrong with WW84. It’s far too long. The pieces parts of the film don’t work together (much as the ending to WW1). There is a complete suspension of logic which threatens to break our own suspension of disbelief. Still, I liked this film.

There’s a lot of hate on the interwebs for WW84. My assumption is that people want Marvel-type stories: very action-based. I think this incarnation of the Wonder Woman character is about love as a weapon against hate. WW is forever saving children from harm. Her deepest desire is to see the man she loved and lost. And she’s always thinking about how people feel. Even the ending is an anti-action event (Despite a round of fighting with Wiig). If you look at WW’s super power as compassion (not physical strength) – this movie makes total sense. But if it’s all about her costume, lasso, kicking ass and taking names – you’re not going to like this version of Wonder Woman. Me, I’m enchanted.

There are so many preconceptions about what a superhero movie should be. IMHO, this was a Christmas Card to little girls. Wonder Woman’s superpower is love and compassion. That’s a pretty rare commodity among superheroes. This is a film not for adults, especitally not for adult men, but for little girls. If it were edited down to 90 minutes and fixed a bit for a PG (rather than PG-13) rating, it would be the perfect superhero film for girls ages 5-13. Yes, the pacing is bad. Yes the internal logic is wonky. Yes, we’d like to see more scenes with Wonder Woman kicking ass. But the ending with a very chatty Gal Gadot convincing the world to renounce their wishes in favor of love – THAT’s the point of the film. IMHO, this incarnation of Wonder Woman has super powers – but her supreme power is love and compassion. If you watch this film from the point of view of a 5-13 year old girl, I think you’ll see a different movie.

Greg, I agree that this movie is bloated, running two and a half hours, with many scenes – such as the opening athletic competition scene – dragging on far beyond necessary. I would say that 45 minutes of this film could have been left on the cutting room floor.

I also agree with you that there are definitely some positives. The theme of honesty, brought up in the opening scene, is the key take-home lesson about us all trying to lead a mature, healthy life. We learn that the artifact Dreamstone was created by Dolos, the god of lies, treachery, and deception. Many of the characters in this movie are living a lie, with appearance conflicting with reality. Even Chris Pine isn’t really Chris Pine, an insult to those fans pining away for Chris Pine. Throughout the movie there are falsehoods and pretenses leading to grave consequences for everyone’s well-being.

The negatives of the movies extend beyond its excessive length. For one thing, the plot is a bit too predictable. Greg, it was fun watching the film with you because you were able to predict, with uncanny accuracy, what was going to happen next. That’s never a good sign. Within seconds of being introduced to Barbara, you pegged her to become the villain. Yes, the hero’s journey has a pattern to it, but good storytelling offers enough variations to surprise us. Wonder Woman 1984 didn’t quite have enough freshness and novelty to it.

Here’s an example. The movie was a textbook illustration of what we might call “the law of opposites”. This is the trope of people starting out one way and evolving into the opposite way. We see the law of opposites at work at work in predictable buddy hero movies, in which two people start out hating each other and end up liking each other. In WW84, Barbara is a meek, weak nerd who becomes the strong villain.

You’re spot on, Greg, about Wonder Woman’s true power being her compassion for others. Many times in this film she expresses concern for the well-being of others, especially innocent others, whether they be children playing in the street or security personnel who happen to be protecting Max, not knowing Max is the villain. I’m not in agreement that this movie being geared toward young girls — after all, any message about love and compassion is a message for all of humanity.

 

The biggest complaint I’ve read online is how Chris Pine’s character inhabits “Handsome Man’s” (that’s his actual screen credit) body. Then Diana Prince has sex with him. There’s a lot of concern over whether that’s some sort of rape. Where is Handsome Man’s family? What of his job? What about his agency over his own body? Yeah, I hear you. I think the only reason for Trevor to take over another man’s body is so that he has a ready stash of food, clothing, and shelter. We needed a place for him to do his 1980’s version of Diana’s 1917 version of the clothing montage. Regardless, I view this as a fantasy film and didn’t think twice about this plot point. Get on with it America, we have bigger problems than Handsome Man’s agency.

I truly love Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Her super powers and desire to save the world spawn from love and empathy. Virtually every other superhero (men) derive their power from deep wounds. Batman lost his family to crime. Superman lost his entire world to a supernova. Iron Man suffers PTSD, a (literal) broken heart, and is a narcissist. Captain America wanted to kill Nazis. The list of male toxicity as a basis for heroism is long and revered.

But in this version of Wonder Woman, we find a hero who is completely altruistic. She is born of her mother’s love. She wants everyone to live together in a world of harmony. I really, really, like this superhero. And I’ll forgive the flaws in her films (which are so small compared to every other DCU movie) just to watch her wink at a little girl she slid into the waiting arms of a teddy bear.

It pains me to say this, Greg, but I agree with your ratings here. The movie is good but not great, and so 3 Reels out of 5 seems about right. It seems the screenwriters had a few too many gaping plotholes and ethically dubious acts, such as Diana’s physical relationship with Handsome Man’s body without Handsome Man’s permission. Still, I enjoy WW84’s emphasis on truth-telling and honesty as being key determinants of heroic transformation. I also enjoy Wonder Woman’s androgenous approach to superheroism, an approach that combines the best elements of toughness and strength with warmth and compassion.

Greg Scott
Wonder Woman: 1984