Wonder Woman 1984, My Rambling Review

How Diana Prince Got Her Groove Back… Without Consent

Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

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Close up of Diana Prince looking concerned and confused.
“Wait, am I the baddie?” (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

(Major spoilers. This is not the kind of review that helps you decide if you should watch a movie, this is for people who’ve seen it and are wondering if everyone else is as disturbed as they are. Though, I think there’s a good chance this movie is going to not do very well, so maybe you want to read it instead of watching the movie.)

In the terrible Justice League movie, there’s a scene where Wonder Woman laments that she loved a man… once. That movie, set in the 2010s, implies that she has not loved another man for about a hundred years.

Consider that she knew Steve Trevor for a total of maybe one month, possibly even less, and slept with him once. Are we to believe immortal Diana never develops enough wisdom or perspective that enables her to move on? I think almost all of us have moved on from our first love, and we did so in way less time than Diana has.

On the one hand, why not? She’s an individual character, and not every woman has to represent all women. If she happens to be the type to get hung up on one guy, that’s just her. But, on the other hand, I feel like Hollywood doesn’t really offer enough variety of depictions of how women deal with love and sex for us to separate her out from standard tropes. Women in most pop culture who have multiple lovers are often portrayed as emotionally broken. See: Jessica Jones.

There’s a deep sociopolitical well to dive into about what Wonder Woman’s love life says about culture and women. But I’m just going to say that narratively, it’s a missed opportunity. It would be so cool to have the equivalent of a female James Bond, who sleeps with a new hot guy every movie. Each one could be a different A-list male actor who dies heroically fighting side by side with Wonder Woman, because her type is the type to do that. Could be fun.

But, no. We have a woman who has had sex once in her life and can never get over it, because, you know… women.

“I’ll never love again.” (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

And don’t think I’m exaggerating. In a critical moment of this movie, when Wonder Woman has to decide between staying with Steve or saving the world, she chooses to say goodbye to him, but in doing so, she looks in his eyes and says, “I’ll never love again.” Barf.

Unfortunately the issues with Wonder Woman don’t stop at what her love life might say about women in pop culture.

In that same critical scene when she has to choose between Steve or the world, it’s him who convinces her to make the right choice. So she’s the less heroic of the two. Yeah, I get she’s supposed to be human under all the power, but she could have had her moment of weakness and recovered without having had to be talked into the right choice by a man.

But, it gets even worse. Her choice to even be with Steve is done in a way that really diminishes Diana’s moral character. To the point where you could even consider her to be some kind of sociopathic monster. Steve too, for that matter.

Steve looks at his reflection in the mirror and sees the nameless guy whose body he is casually abducting.
Nameless handsome guy being denied his agency. (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

The crux of the story is a magic artifact that grants wishes, and Diana wishes for her long lost love Steve to come back to life. The way in which Steve is brought back is by having his soul or spirit or whatever magically inserted into the body of some random guy who isn’t even named. When Diana looks at this nameless guy, she sees and hears Steve. Which might just be her, because when Steve looks in a mirror, he sees the face of nameless guy.

How’s that work? Is nameless guy’s spirit or soul just dead and gone now? Did Diana’s wish kill an innocent man?

The audience wonders this, but Diana and Steve don’t. They go to nameless guy’s apartment, and not only do they never stop to wonder, “what happened to this guy whose body we’re using? Is he okay?” they laugh casually about little things, like how many pictures nameless guy has of himself. They play dress up with the clothes in nameless guy’s closet, eat the food in his fridge, and fuck in his futon. They treat the whole thing like it’s a big fun game, and not, you know, possibly a form of rape to use a person’s body for sex without their consent.

Not to mention they take nameless guy’s body across the world into combat situations that could potentially destroy it.

If Diana said right at the beginning, the moment she knew Steve was in nameless guy’s body, “look, I’ve gotta figure out how to get this random innocent guy’s life back, but just for one night I want to be with Steve,” then I could see that as being a moral choice tempered with a little human weakness.

Instead, later on, Diana whines that she does so much for everyone all the time, why can’t she just have Steve, because it’s the only thing she’s ever asked for. Except, the only time we see her using her powers earlier in this movie, she beats up some jewelry thieves with so much ease and flair that she seems to be enjoying it, so she doesn’t seem too put out by her crime fighting. And she’s constantly being pursued by both men and women who want to date or befriend her, with all the potential for social events or travel or whatever fun adventures might come from acting like a human and interacting with people. So it seems it’s her saying no to all the potential joy the world has to offer, so her focus on getting this one specific thing in place of anything else just seems selfish.

Diana is a horrible person in this movie.

Diana Prince with a serious and concerned look on her face.
Diana Prince immediately distrusts Max, for no good reason other than she’s just kind of joyless for most of the first act. (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

And I loved her in the first movie. To be clear, when I talk about how good the first Wonder Woman movie, I’m really talking about just the second act. From when Steve and Diana arrive in London up to the night Steve and Diana get it on in a French bed and breakfast. In between those moments, it’s maybe the best, new, novel, and engaging depiction of a super hero I’ve ever seen. Before London, on Amazon island, is just kind of trite, and in the third act the movie devolves into a boss battle fought with arbitrary lightning powers.

One of the things that made that second act in that first movie so great was the range that Diana had. Yes, she’s the most kick ass warrior in the world, but she likes ice cream, thinks babies are cute, she makes her opinions heard to the men who struggle to listen, and she likes to dance... She’s full of humanity that makes her a fully dimensionalized person we want to root for when she goes into battle.

Here, in this movie, she’s sometimes aloof, sometimes mopey, sometimes serious, and it’s all within a limited range of seriousness. The few breaks in her ice seem to be the most minimal attempt to try and humanize her, but it doesn’t work. The one time she laughs at Barbara’s jokes doesn’t make up for all the time we see her staring wistfully at airplanes because she misses Steve so much. Immediately after laughing at whatever Barbara said, Diana immediately goes into talking about her ex.

Diana seems to have changed into a cheerful person by the end of the movie when she bumps into the guy that she used as a meat puppet for her dead lover’s spirit for a few days. I guess we’re supposed to buy into the idea that she’s got her groove back after banging Steve for a second time? Is that supposed to be her arc?

Diana Prince smiles as she looks over the body of the man whose body she used without his knowledge for a few days.
Diana Prince smiles as she sizes up her unknowing conquest. (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

In that moment, there was a question of whether or not she would maybe hook up with nameless handsome guy, but whichever choice she makes, she comes across as a terrible person. If she goes with him, it’s like she’s doing it because she’s hanging onto the memory of when he was possessed by the guy she actually likes. If she doesn’t go with him, then it’s like she’s totally fine with the fact that she can just dispose of him after using him as a prop for her own needs.

It’s all just gross.

Although I don’t know if I can get past Diana being a sociopath about using other people’s bodies the way she did, I could have looked past the problematic implications of her hundred year obsession with the one guy she fucked once. I could have also forgiven Diana being reduced to being a flat, warrior princess character with no particularly likable personality qualities. If nothing else, I’d hope to be able to just forget all that and let my male gaze take over and watch a hot super heroine go around beating up bad guys, because that’s my fetish.

Sadly, this movie doesn't deliver on that either. All the action scene choreography in this movie is terrible. In the first movie, when Wonder Woman rises up over the trench to cross no man’s land, it’s exhilarating. There are no moments like that here. When Wonder Woman fought German soldiers in the French village, the combat choreography was excellent. When she slid across the floor in slow motion, it was exciting.

Here, they really lean on her using her magic rope as the main component in three quarters of all the action. Which makes no sense because a rope is not a combat weapon, at all. And in any case, it doesn’t behave like a rope, it’s actually a weird stretchy tentacle. She uses it to grab a bullet out of mid air, she uses it to stretch kilometers ahead of her to catch on to a plane in flight, she uses it to slingshot herself into the air similar to how Spider-man uses his webs.

Wonder Woman uses her rope to swing from a bolt of lightning.
Nevermind how she’s doing this, why is she doing it? She can fly anyway. How does this help her? (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

At one point, for absolutely no particular reason, she starts grabbing lightning bolts with her rope and swinging from those. What?

Bouncing around with her weird yellow glowing stretchy tentacle, all her associated movements become all the more awkward for it. But the rope can’t be blamed for all the flaws. Even without the rope, none of the movement rings true. There’s no weight or balance, Diana, and later her nemesis Cheetah, just flip around like weightless CGI avatars.

At one point, Diana and Steve go to the Smithsonian to select a war plane to steal like they’re shopping for tables at Ikea. It’s only when they’re on the runway that Diana remembers there’s a technology called “radar” that’s been around for about forty years, so they’ll probably get shot down. But no problem, she can make the plane invisible. It’s a ridiculous moment for a power reveal of this much significance. I think the intention might have been to play it for comedy, but, it just felt like sloppy storytelling.

Diana sits in an airplane and conjures up some magic between her hands.
“Oh, by the way, I can totally cast magic spells.” (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

The funny thing is, it could work. She mentions that it’s the same kind of magic used to hide Amazon island. Maybe this was an obvious connection done before in the comics, but personally I had never before drawn a line between the island and the jet. I’m not sure it’s even cannon that the island is invisible, or just hard to find. But, in the movie the island is decidedly invisible, so the idea that she could have an invisible airplane based on the same magic actually makes sense.

But, they should have foreshadowed it instead of just dropping it in. They could have had the opening scenes of the movie maybe show Diana trying to master that power instead of showing us Amazons playing American Ninja Warrior.

Amazons running around through some kind of obstacle course.
Amazonian Ninja Warrior. (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

We could have dropped Amazon island altogether, since all we learned from it is how Diana was taught that cheating is bad, a lesson so obvious I was willing to take it as given that she knows it.

Maybe they should have taught her something about consent.

The movie could have just started in the eighties. Or any other time from roughly the 1960s or after, because there’s nothing about this movie that absolutely needed to be in the eighties. I guess the producers really wanted to play the same over the top eighties game that Stranger Things has been playing. When Diana went to London in the first movie, it felt like a historical setting. Here, it feels like a comedy sketch about how zany the eighties were.

Anyway, one of the two main enemies in this movie is Cheetah. Apparently there are some fans who consider Cheetah to be Wonder Woman’s arch nemesis, but I never bought into Cheetah as a credible threat, let alone an arch enemy.

Back in the Golden or Silver age of comics, heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman were super powered people, stronger and faster than the rest of us, but within bounds. Back then, a woman dressed in a cat suit who was a little speedy and had scratchy fingernails was kind of a fair fight.

Since the seventies or so, and the way they’re depicted in recent movies, heroes like Wonder Woman and Superman have powers on the level of gods. Which makes a Cheetah powered villain seem completely nonthreatening. Cheetah seems more calibrated to Batman, Wonder Woman should be fighting Darkseid.

Barbara walks through the white house while Max looks at her in fear and awe.
This is a super villain look that works. (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

This movie kind of addresses that. Sort of. I don’t know Cheetah’s origin in the comics, but in this movie, an insecure woman named Barbara wishes she was like her beautiful and sophisticated friend Diana, which unwittingly makes her like the super powered Wonder Woman. That makes Barbara a credible threat of equal power. When they fight in the White House, it’s a believably equal battle, though they don’t quite go head to head enough for it to be satisfying.

Weirdly, later on, Barbara says she wants to not be like anyone else, but be her own “apex predator”, which is a weird thing to say or want. I thought she wanted to be popular and pretty. In any case, somehow this gets interpreted by the wish powers as meaning she should be like a big cat. Lucky for her the wish magic didn’t decide sharks are the real apex predator because maybe then she’d just suffocate on the ground she stood.

Cheetah stands on some kind of balcony and tries to look intimidating.
“Memory… all alone in the moonlight…” (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

No one in the movie ever actually refers to her as “Cheetah” but after a second transformation just before the final battle, she becomes all furry and has a tail. She looks about as scary as a disgruntled member of the cast of Cats.

Which is too bad. I really liked Kristen Wiig as Barbara the villain before that point. While she’s just sort of an anti-Wonder Woman, in her tan thigh high boots, ripped stockings, and smudgy eyeliner, she’s sexy and intimidating. If the makers of this movie hadn’t felt the need to tie her to a character from Wonder Woman’s comic book legacy, Barbara would have been a far better nemesis, one that could come back in future movies.

Speaking of stronger, since Barbara wished to be even stronger than she was before, and before she was as strong as Wonder Woman, then shouldn’t she be stronger than Wonder Woman when they fight? And if she’s stronger, then how come when the water they were fighting in got electrified it was Barbarah who got stunned and not Wonder Woman? How did Diana know she wouldn’t be stunned but Barbara would?

Max smiles while being filmed in front of the White House seal.
It would be too easy to make some kind of reference to saying, “This is the way.” (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

Anyway, the real source of all the trouble in this movie is not Cheetah, but the guy who plays Mandalorian, whose star must be rising because he seems to be in everything these days. He’s playing Max, who’s some kind of oil tycoon wannabe who’s failing and desperate. He’s heard about this magic wish artifact and thinks it’s the way out of all his problems. When Max gets his hands on it, he wishes to have the ability to grant wishes himself, and it makes for kind of a neat power for a villain. He has to manipulate people into wishing for things that he wants for himself, plus each person has to give up something he can take.

Max gets more powerful with every wish granted, though it seems to be destroying his health. Eventually he manages to tap into a military television broadcast system to grant everyone in the world a wish. It’s a little vague how exactly this all works, but that’s fine. What matters is that when everyone gets their wish, it throws the world into chaos, as all wishes have unintended consequences. At a certain point, nuclear missiles start getting launched, so it could be the end of the world.

To counter this, Diana manages to hijack the broadcast signal to speak to the whole world and convince everyone that they should give up their wish. She gives a long heartfelt speech that tries to make a case for having the world as it is because the truth should be enough because it’s already beautiful… or something to that effect. It’s a really forced attempt to connect the problems of wishes to the lesson about never cheating that she learned in the opening scenes, even though they’re not really the same issue.

Close up of Wonder Woman as she tries to send a message of hope to all people on Earth.
“Give up your wish, or I’ll have to speak to your manager.” (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

The thing is, I’m pretty sure that there are people out there who are being oppressed, violated, or tortured who wouldn’t think the truth is beautiful. People who are refugees, and victims, and slaves. People who have every right to be angry at the world, and it might be their wish that the world burn. I don’t feel like these people would be so easily convinced to give up their wish by a rich and privileged woman from the first world who tries to make her case using the kind of vacuous platitudes you see in inspirational quotes on Instagram.

Wonder Woman had one wish credit since she renounced her previous wish, so she could have made a new wish that everyone’s wishes never happened. That might be bending the rules of how wish powers work, but I wish I’d merely had logistical questions about this movie, instead of the moral problems it carelessly dropped in my lap.

PS, for people who like small movie errors:

This movie is supposed to take place in 1984, but the building with big screen in this shot from Tokyo wasn’t built until 1999. I think the smaller screen and some of the other buildings weren’t built until even more recently.

Qfront building at Shibuya crossing in Tokyo.
This image of Shibuya crossing in Tokyo is probably from 36 years after 1984. (Image copyright DC comics and Warner Brothers. Used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

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Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

I don't post often because I think about what I write. Topics include ethics, relationships, and philosophy.