Wonder Woman 1984 Review: In Which 1984 Me Watches WW 1984
I saw Wonder Woman 1984 in a screening theater in an office building right next to a mall I enjoyed going to; it had a foot massage parlor, my favorite izakaya, and a Nespresso kiosk on the ground floor. That was before the pandemic, of course; now I have no idea what the mall looks like. I may not even have an idea anymore of what a foot massage feels like.
Are you a hero for watching a superhero flick in a cinema?
I saw the movie through my glasses and one of those cheap Chinese acrylic face shields. The screening theater was designed to hold maybe 50 people, but only four of us were allowed to watch it at the time. It was the first superhero movie I was seeing since the pandemic began, and I kept on wondering, as I held back my coughs (childhood asthma—nothing to worry about, I guess) and squinted through two layers of plastic: was I the superhero here for watching it under these conditions?
I loved the first movie. Wonder Woman was fun and sexy, and I felt that my time was not wasted when I watched it for the second time in anticipation of the sequel. I’m hardly a superhero movie fan but I grew up very well immersed in the world of superhero comics, and I’m a movie fan. I’m also a fan of the ’80s; when something that harks back to that decade comes along like Stranger Things or Cobra Kai, I feel like I’m finally one of those cool kids I wanted to be back then, like I’m finally in on the private joke that always eluded me: wealthy high school girls winking across the room as they completely ignored me, or more athletic classmates passing the ball to someone else during one of those pickup basketball games even though I was always completely wide open.
Here I was, with hot invites to a secret screening well in advance of the movie premiere—and with a Zoom seat reservation to a special press conference with the cast and filmmakers that required me to awaken at 11:30 a.m. Los Angeles time. This made me feel like a winner. More importantly, it made my 10-year-old boy, who had inexplicably become a Kristen Wiig fan during unhealthily frequent repeat pandemic screenings of Bridesmaids, excited beyond imagining. By this time, he had fully memorized Wiig’s character’s faux-Spanish speech and was fervently hoping he could bomb the call by reciting it while I asked my questions.
Why chose 1984 for Wonder Woman 1984?
Of which there were many. First, and most importantly, I wanted to ask director Patty Jenkins why she chose 1984 instead of, say, 1975, which was when the original Wonder Woman TV series aired, or 2014, which was when Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me was published, or even 1982, when X’mal Deutschland came out with its corrosively beautiful hit song “Incubus Succubus.”
Was 1984 a reference to the Orwell novel in which a totalitarian regime manufactures and controls the very truth that is fed to its hapless citizens? Maybe that was it. One of Wonder Woman 1984’s two villains, Maxwell Lord, played ably by Pedro Pascal, does acquire a total sort of power during the course of the story. He starts out as a sort of campy golden-haired entrepreneur offering empty promises to masses of gullible investors, and ends as a man of consummate power transmitting his be-careful-what-you-wish-for visage and literal molecules across the world from behind a presidential podium in a secret cold-war satellite control bunker.
The other villain is Wiig’s character, who starts out as a mousy academic researcher (all synonyms here) and ends up as the woman she has always wanted to be. Hers is perhaps the most dramatic and fun transformation—watch Bridesmaids and you’ll know why.
Wonder Woman 1984 opens with a great scene in which the young Diana is unfairly pitted against grown women in a sort of Olympic competition on her native island of Themyscira. The sequence is enjoyable and thrilling, and comes with a neat moral lesson and a wonderful (if you will) throwback to the characters and the setting I knew and loved from the 2017 movie.
Then we are brought to 1984, where, appropriately, the next action scene occurs in a shopping mall. As a teenager in the ’80s, I found everything familiar—the toy stores and the amusement centers, the food courts and the multi-level atrium. Most amusingly, I found the film-making familiar to old 1980s me; I would have loved to know what kind of pegs (oh, please, if advertising creatives use it all the time, why not filmmakers?) they employed to construct that scene.
How does Wonder Woman 1984 reflect the current ills of 2020 and 2021?
As the movie develops, Wonder Woman 1984 manages to transpose society’s most current ills to our not-so-distant past, when greed was generally good and sexism was SOP. Kristen Wiig’s character is catcalled literally each time she goes out on the street—which makes good foreshadowing for when she literally becomes a cat later on. Maxwell Gold, Pascal’s character, a desperate dreamer consumed by greed, literally becomes a dream come true; people seek him out to attain their wildest wishes, whether it is a cattle farm, or money, or more nuclear weapons than their enemy.
Setting Wonder Woman 1984 in 1984 then takes on multiple motives and meanings, the most meaningful of which (to 1984 me and 2020 me) is “how far have we really come?” In this manner, too, the movie’s external circumstances—COVID-19, the U.S. elections, the reemergence of totalitarianism in contemporary times—interacted with its story in interesting ways. Pascal’s character’s resemblance to Trump is more than obvious, and the ubiquitous demonstrations of toxic masculinity forced me to examine my personal journey in confronting my sometimes disappointingly sexist self.
The movie also restores some of our superhero’s most iconic comic book features, such as her invisible jet (an ability once taught to her that she suddenly remembers) and her ability to glide through the air, initially by using the momentum generated by her golden lasso. Some viewers may find themselves mustering an uncommonly larger measure of the usual suspension of disbelief required in action movies, but do be reminded that this is a superhero movie; the movie’s offer of verisimilitude and the viewer’s position of immersive awe are part of the contract.
How should superheroes change to reflect the now?
But in 2020, Wonder Woman 1984 does introduce new clauses to this contract: it also modulates the golden-age image of what superbeings should be to us ordinary humans. Today, we are powerful beings ourselves, in this constantly uncertain day and age where our digital selves carry so much more consequence in the world around us. A powerful truth is at stake with every post we read and share, and there are more powerful consequences to every desire we carry.
Inside or outside of action scenes, it is Gal Gadot who easily makes Wonder Woman 1984 a movie to watch. She is charming and quirky and always refreshing, and I think Patty Jenkins has succeeded very well in stopping men from leering at her; instead, her beauty—physical and otherwise—is simply something to bask in and be happy for. This is perhaps her largest triumph (and certainly Gadot’s), and the clearest departure from ’80s movies and comic books, when every almost superheroine had to be a sex object, and for almost no reason at all.
It does take a superheroic effort to accomplish all of the above within one superhero franchise, and certainly in a single movie. The news has been out for a while that the third Wonder Woman movie is already in the works. The burning question around it in my mind right now is not whether it will be as good as the first, or even the second, but whether it will be theatrically screened instead of streamed. Back in the ’80s, I strove to see all of my favorite films on the big screen. If Wonder Woman 3 does end up on streaming platforms for people to watch—mostly alone—on their laptops, tablets, or phones instead of screens that are 30 feet tall (or even 98 feet, if it’s on IMAX), how large will our superhero—and the filmmakers and superheroes who make them happen—be?