- YEAR: 2020
- DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins
- KEY ACTORS: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal
- CERTIFICATE: 12A
- IMDB SCORE: 5.4
- ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 60%
SEX SCORE: 2.5/5
✔️ So let’s start with positives – I would fuck the cast. Gal Gadot is sublime and Chris Pine is my second favourite superhero-movie-Chris so, yes. Definitely yes.
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. There wasn’t really anything to fantasise about..
✔️ And it easily passes the Bechdel Test! Conversations between the Amazons in the beginning don’t involve men and Diana and Barbara talk a lot too.
❓But I can’t decide if it is rewatchable. I love superhero movies and I love Wonder Woman as a character so I expect I will watch it again, but will I look it out? Will I stop scrolling if I see it on TV? I don’t know that I would…
❌ And I can’t give it a mark for sex positivity. The only sex occurs between Diana and Steve when he was inhabiting another random body, which creates so many consent issues that they shouldn’t have just ignored them.
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
STREAMING: Amazon Prime (premium rental for £15.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com
[Content warning: sexual assault, rape, revenge, misogyny, ambiguous consent]
I watch a lot of bad movies. Depending on your opinions on Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Nic Cage and other similar fine, fine actors, you could even say that I love a lot of bad movies, but I love these movies because they meet my expectations. They can’t disappoint me; only surprise and delight me when they turn out to be better than I expected. Which leads me to conclude that a disappointing movie is worse than a bad movie – the worst movie that I have ever seen is still The World’s End, the last part of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy, because it was not even close to meeting the standards set by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
This is a roundabout way of saying that I was deeply, deeply, disappointed by Wonder Woman 1984. I honestly couldn’t tell you if it’s really a bad film or not because I was just so disappointed.
Wonder Woman 1984 continues the story of Wonder Woman, jumping forward from 1918 to 1984 when Diana (Gadot) is working at the Smithsonian Museum. There, she befriends Barbara (Wiig), a quiet and awkward gemologist who is almost sexually assaulted when walking home. Diana rescues her, leading Barbara to wish she was as hot and capable as Diana. Unfortunately, she makes this wish while holding a magic stone, the Dreamstone, that grants wishes and gradually she does become sexier and stronger but also angrier and meaner, turning into a villain cat called Cheetah (I know). Diana has also made a wish holding the Dreamstone, wishing to see her dead love Steve (Pine) again and he suddenly appears, reincarnated in the body of random man (Again, I know). But, these wishes have consequences and Diana/Wonder Woman loses more of her powers the longer Steve exists until she has to renounce him to regain her strength. Meanwhile, Maxwell Lord (Pascal), a Donald Trump-esque conman, has wished that he could become the Dreamstone itself and is causing chaos across the world by granting wishes and taking what he wants in return. With the world on the verge of nuclear war, Wonder Woman persuades everyone to renounce their wishes and the world goes back to normal. Just like that.
To quote from the fabulous Bad Feminist Film Club rant on this movie, ‘what in the Hallmark fuck is going on?’
Wonder Woman 1984 is a ridiculous movie, but I could forgive that as I do love ridiculous. Wonder Woman 1984 has an overly long and unnecessarily confusing plot with MacGuffins and loose plot threads, but I could forgive that too as it’s fun to get lost in a crazy movie every now and then. Wonder Woman 1984 asks more questions that it answers (does the world know who Wonder Woman is or has she just been hiding in Washington DC since 1918? If she’s hidden, why didn’t she intervene in WW2, Korea, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam etc etc? And if she is a public figure, why doesn’t anyone recognise her? What has she been doing for 70 years? Working in the same office with everyone just ignoring the fact that she never ages?) but I can forgive that as it is possible I’ve been overthinking it.
But I can’t forgive the fact that Wonder Woman 1984 has somehow managed to destroy all of the feminist good vibes of the first movie. It’s just too upsetting!
Now, 2017’s Wonder Woman wasn’t perfect – a quick Google of its feminist credentials revealed a Guardian article calling it a ‘masterpiece of subversive feminism’ that was almost immediately followed by an alternate opinion from Slate about how they wish Wonder Woman was as feminist as it thought it was. But I remember the joyous response to that movie, and I remember how I felt when Wonder Woman charged across No Man’s Land. I remember seeing a female superhero who was finally not limited by her femininity but strengthened by it. She wasn’t a hero like a man, she was a better hero because she was a woman. She wasn’t strong like a man; she was strong like an Amazon. Strong like a woman! She was beautiful and inspiring and she was a goddess.
Whereas I didn’t feel like that during Wonder Woman 1984. Nowhere near.
Sarah Barson and Kelly Kaufman of the Bad Feminist Film Club hit the nail on the head when they described how Wonder Woman 1984 felt more like a movie made by a cis man for a female audience, rather than one with a cis woman as writer and director. Obviously, obviously, #NotAllMen but there are certain aspects that simply didn’t feel like they were written by someone who had actually experienced them.
The prime example is the sexual assault. Barbara is attacked in the park when walking home alone and this is used to demonstrate how weak she is at the beginning, but I don’t think it is handled very realistically. For a start, Diana rescues her friend from being attacked and just leaves her to walk home alone. Who does that?! Described by the Bad Feminists as the ‘number one way you can tell a cis man was involved in this,’ it was so unauthentic that it made me laugh! People who present as women know that the constant anticipation, flinching at every sound and tensing whenever anyone walks past, means that we feel vulnerable when nothing is actually happening because of everything that could happen and has happened before – and, for Barbara, has literally just occurred – but she is just left to walk home on her own.
So are we supposed to judge Barbara for wanting to be stronger after she was assaulted? For wanting to be less vulnerable? Wonder Woman 1984 presents this as selfish and unreasonable as Lord’s megalomaniacal wish for power, but I empathise with her because I know I’d want it too. I can’t blame her for wanting to be stronger so that when she is walking tall and confidently, trying to convince whatever would be attacker that she was not worth the effort, she actually believed it.
And it also grated on me that Wonder Woman 1984 chose to highlight Barbara’s transition to a villain by allowing her to take revenge against her assailant. Rape-revenge movies have existed for decades from 1970s exploitation films to 1991’s Thelma and Louise, and saw a resurgence of sorts when #MeToo changed how we view sexual violence, ‘centering victims’ experiences and exposing abuses of power,’ in revenge fantasies like I May Destroy You and Promising Young Women. But I fear that Barbara’s revenge attack being used as evidence of her psychopathy is further proof that we have reached a point when the backlash to #MeToo has swung sympathy back in favour of the attackers.
Jude Ellison Sady Doyle wrote an essay at the end of 2020 on whether there is still a place for revenge fantasies, claiming that ‘the rage of survivors was once viewed as a cleansing force; now it is regarded as potentially reactionary or selfish or just plain inadequate to the problem of rape culture.’ He feels, however, that some survivors still need fantasies of revenge, both to allow expression of their pain and to provide the closure that they don’t get from the criminal justice system: ‘They would not feel angry and powerless and ready to lash out if our response were adequate to restore their dignity and make them feel safe…If we honored that pain, the anger itself might be unnecessary. People who are already being heard don’t have to scream.’ To bring it back to Wonder Woman 1984, Barbara’s new violence does exaggerate the change in her character but I feel it’s deliberate that this occurs when she is beating on her attacker, getting the revenge that the Patriarchy doesn’t allow.
And that’s why Wonder Woman 1984 got my feminist hackles rising – so much of the plot is about punishing women for things that the Patriarchy doesn’t think we should have. While I’m talking about Barbara, I’m really bored of the mousy-woman-becomes-hot-and-so-becomes-a-bitch trope. Why are beauty and kindness so often inversely related on screen? It’s justified as being the monkey’s paw from her wish – the payment for the good that she’s gained – because plot but, again, it fits a very misogynistic pattern. The Patriarchy doesn’t like a sexy woman and they must be punished!
The Bad Feminists also pointed out that it is ‘fucking infuriating’ that Barbara is blamed for not being nice any more as it is too similar to the cis men who tell woman to smile more. Maybe she didn’t want to be nice but it was the only way that she could survive in a sexist world and now she is strong enough to be who she wants to be. Women are always being told to be more like men – more assertive, less apologetic – but, as well as being patriarchal bullshit, it doesn’t work as we aren’t liked when we do. Is Barbara’s new assertiveness dangerous? Or just unpleasant to the patriarchal structures that have been containing her before?
Obviously, I know that Barbara does become aggressively selfish and violent by the end, which I’m not condoning, but that’s because she was the villain and that’s what the plot required. But criticising her new hardness and using this as her monkey’s paw payment seems to suggest that Barbara wanted too much and should have been happy just being nice, shouldn’t have yearned to also be beautiful: ‘The lesson that you should learn [from Wonder Woman 1984] is that it’s OK that you were almost assaulted, it’s OK that no one sees you, it’s OK that you’re frumpy and all these things because you have warmth and you should be happy with that and that’s enough.’
On top of that, it feels quite regressive that Wonder Woman 1984 seems to be pitting the two women against each other, as if there isn’t space for Hot Barbara and Hot Diana. The party scenes where both have separate grand entrances in their beautiful dresses – one in black and the other in white because there’s always room for a cliche – feel designed for the male gaze and prompt direct comparison as if they were competing for male attention. It’s also difficult to ignore the fact that Barbara/Cheetah is the only main character that Wonder Woman really fights. More, she nearly kills her! There are other action scenes when Wonder Woman fights random henchmen but, of the two main villains, her beautiful golden armour and Big Fight is saved for the fight against the woman.
Interestingly, the lack of violent resolution when defeating Max Lord, the other villain, was part of Patty Jenkins’s vision. She wanted to show a different way to resolve conflicts: ‘Nobody dies, and she wins in the end with a conversation.’ And I can see why she does this. It’s exactly what I loved from the first Wonder Woman and why I valued her as a superhero – she isn’t the same as male heroes and can make change in her own, more feminine ways. But it didn’t really work in reality because it allows Max Lord to have a big emotional redemption and left Wonder Woman as a passenger in her own movie – as Heather Hogan wrote for Autostraddle, ‘I Wish Wonder Woman 1984 Had Been About Wonder Woman.’
Call me cynical, but I also don’t believe that every single person in the world would renounce their wish to save the world. That man who just got a free cup of coffee – did he renounce that? The exact mechanisms of the finale are too obscure and unexplained and really unsatisfying! Also, what happened to the Dreamstone? Has it gone? Or will it reform now it isn’t inside Lord’s body anymore? Urgh, there’s too much to complain about to worry about plot holes…
Because I’m over 2000 words in and I haven’t even got to Diana and Steve and that particular clusterfuck.
I didn’t think it was possible to undermine a character as thoroughly as Wonder Woman is undermined in this movie. Has she honestly been pining after a man for nearly 70 years? As Angelica Jade Bastien wrote for Vulture, ‘there’s something deeply sad and predictable about a female superhero so tied to a single man she’s willing to lose her powers for him.’ Using annoyingly cliched tropes of loneliness such as living alone and eating out by herself, we are led to believe that Diana has become perpetually sad, isolating herself from the world because she’s so lonely without the man she had a short affair with in 1918, and she was so grateful to have him back that she won’t give him up, even for the benefit of the whole world, and had to be persuaded that her powers are more important than being with him. What the actual fuck? For a start, can’t people be happy and alone? Also, didn’t she miss her Amazon sisters, or is it only men that inspire this kind of desolation?
This simply isn’t the Wonder Woman of the first movie who joked to Steve that men were unnecessary. This is ‘antithesis of the Wonder Woman William Moulton Marston and his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and their partner, Olive Byrne, conceived as a superhero superior to every other in the Golden Age of comic books during World War II.’ I don’t know the comics well but Hogan’s article informed me that Steve Trevor usually takes on the role of an ‘accomplished but deeply inept pilot in need of constant rescue.’ He’s supposed to be the damsel in distress, not Diana, and I hated, hated, that she was shown to be made weak by a man and that she thought for even a moment about giving up her powers to stay with Steve. It felt like another way of telling women that we can’t have it all. We can’t be beautiful and nice; we can’t be strong and happy; we can’t have a successful career/vocation and a successful love life.
It wasn’t just Steve’s appearance that was problematic – the method by which he reappeared was a frankly bizarre choice. Considering the magic Dreamstone was, well, magic, I simply can’t explain why they decided that Steve’s spirit would return in someone else’s body, credited simply as Handsome Man. Described oddly romantically by Mark Kermode as ‘a Ghost-like embrace with a mysterious stranger‘, I don’t know why he didn’t simply reappear out of thin air instead because placing him in another body creates a huge consent issue that goes largely unacknowledged by Wonder Woman 1984. It is strongly suggested that Diana and Steve have sex but, of course, Diana doesn’t really fuck Steve – she fucks the man Steve has possessed and that man is unable to consent. Is he conscious of his possession, aware of what is happening and horrifyingly unable to respond? Or is he going to wake up when Steve goes away, having lost a few days of his life with no explanation?
Patty Jenkin’s only response so far has been to endorse a fan’s defence, claiming that Jenkins was ‘playing with the body swap trope, even intentionally pointing out the problematic nature’ of classic 80s body swap movies, highlighting Tom Hank’s Big as an example of unspoken statutory rape in these movies. He also claims that it was the evil Dreamstone that was making Diana act as she did and Jenkins was demonstrating rather than endorsing this problematic relationship.
Which is all very well but…if the problematic nature of the relationship was the monkey’s paw payment, why did Diana lose her powers as well? And to be honest, if Jenkins was supposed to be pointing out problems, she should have been much more obvious about it. Why didn’t they talk about the man whose life they had stolen and question the impact on him? Does he have a job he’s not showing up for? A family he’s ignoring? A partner he’s cheating on?! And if renouncing her wish really did fully erase what they had done, why didn’t Diana check in when she inexplicably met him at the end? To my eyes, it was all too…messy and unresolved to be intentional.
This rant has proved to be longer than it should have been (even with editing, sorry!) so I wanted to finish with another quote from the Bad Feminist Film Club. They felt that it was the ‘epitome of privilege’ for the writers and creators to ‘sprinkle’ politics and social attitudes into their movies without looking at these issues more deeply. Middle Eastern politics, capitalism and the yuppie greed of the 1980s, gender roles and the Patriarchy, sexual assault; all used as plot devices ‘without thinking about the messaging or the world implications or that people might be upset…[without thinking] what messages you could implicitly be putting in this movie…from what you think might be a sprinkling of flavour.’ And Christie Lemire writing for Roger Ebert’s site described how the screenplay ‘feels like it belongs to a movie that actually came out in the ‘80s.’ It has all the problems of that decade without any of the progress or solutions that we have worked so hard for since then.
Wonder Woman 1984 is bright and fun and the acting is outstanding. Gadot shines as Wonder Woman with the same earnestness that I loved from the original. Wiig and Pascal are appropriately hammy over-the-top villains and are clearly having an absolute ball! Chris Pine is my second favourite superhero movie Chris and I always love to see him.
But it’s not enough, and that’s really fucking disappointing…
NEXT WEEK…my Disney Princess season kicks off with FROZEN