‘Wonder Woman 1984’ is deranged and obscene

Images courtesy Warner Bros.

3/10 Wonder Woman 1984 is not a film, it is a composite abomination in the spirit of Victor Frankenstein’s blueprints, a shambling patchwork horror of not just its surface-level influences, but the insane business practices and technological shortcuts that brought moviemaking to the point that this was an acceptable product. It is a monument to the madness that for decades Hollywood has refused to stay, the next step in an intellectual property arms race that Warner Bros. lost before it even began participating in and yet refuses to concede even as it is in the process of conceding. It is the modern product of an archaic factory serving a dying business model, one that it has turned against and is now helping to cannibalize.

Washington D.C., 1984- Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, who also produces) leads the archaeology department of the Smithsonian Institute, using the position to hunt for potentially dangerous artifacts of the Greek pantheon. Along with gemologist Barbara Anne Minerva (Kristen Wiig), she discovers the Dreamstone, one of six singularities an ancient gem with monkey’s paw-style wish fulfillment powers, granting any request but at great and unspecified cost. Diana wishes for the resurrection of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the first man she ever laid eyes on who, 66 years after his death, she has refused to move on from, and Minerva, who admires Diana, wishes to become “like her,” unwittingly making herself into a physical rival for Wonder Woman.

Infomercial personality Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who has been tracking the stone for years, gains access to the Smithsonian by offering a large grant to the archaeology department, steals the stone and uses his wish to absorb its power. Lord is instantly transformed into a warlock-god who can use the Dreamstone consciously, duping people into wishes that benefit him and leveeing costs that also benefit him. He begins frantically soliciting wishes from everyone he meets, sowing economic and political chaos and striking off the Cold War in a matter of days.

Wonder Woman 1984 is the ninth movie in the DCEU franchise and second solo-Wonder Woman movie, and it is chained to the poor decisions of its predecessors and wears those chains plainly. Desperate for popularity, Diana was made into an amalgamation of Marvel’s three core heroes in her debut, which worked well enough. Similarly, WW84 was advertised as a gaudy appeal to fans of the ‘80s craze, particularly media like “Stranger Things,” Thor: Ragnarok and Atomic Blonde, even as the nostalgia calendar has already turned to the ‘90s. After widespread criticism that previous DCEU films looked like shapes in mud, WW84 has all the colors cranked all the way up in every scene, and the whole movie looks like a TV commercial.

“Life is good, but it can be better! The answer is always more.”

The events of the movie are set into motion when a crew of high-fashion armed robbers hold up a mall jewelry store that has been acting as a front for black market wares. After the robbery, one of the henchmen handles his bag of loot like a white person in a 3 a.m. infomercial, dropping his revolver. A bystander points and screams “gun!” at the top of her lungs, causing a massive stampede, which eventually leads to one of the robbers taking a child hostage to stop the mall cops from arresting him.

This finally draws the attention of our heroine, though she still can’t be bothered to show up in person – she’s quite clearly painted in with rear-screen effects so that they didn’t have to set up a wire rig on location. Unbound by any law of friction or gravity, she glides across the linoleum floors like butter across brand new Teflon, making it her primary technique to launch herself at the robbers’ shins from several yards away, and when she swings across the shopping center interior, she does so in arcs of trapeze-like grace that are completely independent of where or whether her magical golden lasso has attached itself. Every stunt, down to mundane throws, requires at least four shots to execute, turning what should be a physical scene into a chaotic and unwatchable barrage of shifting angles.

Diana will continue to be drawn into every action sequence throughout the film and will continue to make launching herself at her opponents’ feet her main weapon, even across concrete and desert sand. She will continue, up to the scene in which she simply realizes that she can fly, to swing through the air in platonically perfect arcs, whether she’s lassoing bolts of lightning or being thrown from exploding vehicles.

Diana uses her position as an ethereal agent of the narrative drawn into the frame to tactical advantage, appearing at will throughout the mall and other sets on which she appears to have never set foot. She also turns it to her aesthetic advantage, able to run down an armored caravan with her hair barely bothered. When her skin is pierced by gunfire, she is marked by a few drops of blood that remain locked in place throughout the rest of the scene, the rest of her skin remaining unblemished by any dust or debris.

Just as with Thor: Ragnarok, it is severely disappointing to find little trace of the trippy arcade imagery that WW84 was advertised with in the final product.

Wonder Woman 1984 is chained to writer/director/producer Patty Jenkins, who was initially hired for her first film in more than 10 years as a second choice to Michelle MacLaren, who was to bring several Emmys from her work on “Breaking Bad” to her big-screen debut. The DCEU began with the promise of hiring “master directors” to follow in Christopher Nolan’s footsteps as a competitive contrast to Disney and Marvel, who were giving their projects to nobodies like Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon. With this appeal to auteurship firmly ingrained in the identity of not just this series but Warner Bros. as a studio, after directing the DCEU’s first popular success in four tries, Jenkins can now do no wrong, and Wonder Woman’s fate is bound to her.

MacLaren was fired from the project due to “creative differences” and has yet to make her feature debut as a director. So much for the studio of directorial freedom.

It is chained to Gadot, who was cast not for her own movie but for her cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by that movie’s director, Zack Snyder, several months before MacLaren was hired. This is a massive problem, because Gal Gadot can’t act. She has been achingly dull to watch throughout her entire filmography. She spends most of her time onscreen emoting her own boredom, but can with great effort bring herself to the level of mild amusement. This isn’t a case where I’d prefer someone like Alicia Vikander or Alice Braga or Charlize Theron, this is a case where you could go to your local theater and probably find someone who would bring more to the role.

As usual, she’s mostly saved by the cast around her. Pine is terrific coming to Gadot’s consistent rescue once more, and Wiig, a great comic actress, holds her own in a purely dramatic role that also calls for her character to turn into a man-cheetah.  

Pascal shines as Lord, a character in obvious, constant crisis, his veneer of blustering confidence and the frantic desperation underneath it both laced masterfully into his every line. Lord is WW84’s stand-in for Donald Trump, and the crude but very effective metaphor is by far the movie’s biggest redeeming quality. He’s got the hair and the obnoxious faux-wealth and, later, more explicit trappings of America and the 45th president – the presidential seal at his back, yelling about the FTC and other agencies as a conspiracy against him and spectacular lines like “I would appreciate … no taxes, no rule of law, no limits” and “Who’s the next closest person with oil?” He even magically erects a border wall at one point.

What the movie keys in on, and this seems to be its main thesis, is Lord’s appeal to fantasy, telling everyone he sees that all of their deepest desires are within their grasp. The film posits a vote for Trump and his wild promises as a wish for a better life, which for many 2016 voters, it was – Hillary Clinton had just spent an entire year telling Americans of all extremes why she wouldn’t give them what they wanted.

The movie’s resolution is Diana turning to the camera and saying pretty much just that, you can’t have everything you want, not because of the warlock-god who will steal your life force in return, but because the desire itself is a moral failing – it works better metaphorically than it does logically.

They stole the act 2 crisis music from Kick-Ass for this scene. Thought we wouldn’t notice.

Jenkins’ body of work is so thin that it’s difficult to point to any part of Wonder Woman 1984 as her particular fault, but her role was so expansive that she should probably be blamed for all of it. I really hope her Star Wars movie goes well.

“Feminism” is historically an umbrella term incorporating a vast swath of ideologies, ranging from a radical anti-slavery stance that rejects imperialism, capitalism, imprisonment, the gender binary and anything else that obstructs bodily autonomy in even the most abstract way to the uncurious “girlboss” feminism that has been adopted by corporate America to placate a more inclusive pool of workers. But these Wonder Woman movies, long-overdue instant icons of women in cinema, fail to fall into even this broad a spectrum.

In the first film, an opening narration describes Zeus as having created women as sex objects with the explicit purpose of calming the boys down and getting them to stop fighting, a description that flies in the face of the most conservative forms of feminism and indeed the entirety of human history. Diana suffers the indignity of not being the main character in her own film, instead serving as Steve Trevor’s enforcer, a superpowered child who explicitly has no understanding of what’s happening around her. When the two have sex, is made acceptable onscreen by having Diana initiate the encounter, but really isn’t any less inappropriate for someone who clearly doesn’t understand the consequences of most of her actions.

In Wonder Woman 1984, Diana maintains a large shrine to Trevor in her apartment, and the fact that her deepest desire is for him to be alive again is literalized within the film’s plot. Instead of rising from the grave or however this might happen physically, Trevor’s consciousness snaps from 1918 into the body of some D.C. area guy, listed in the credits as “Handsome Man” (Kristoffer Polaha). Diana slowly loses her powers over the course of the film as part of this pact, Wonder Woman of all women literally trading her powers and purpose for a man who I must once again emphasize is literally the first man she ever saw and has been dead for 66 years. Diana refuses to go back on this even when it becomes clear that’s what the exchange is – Trevor, once again, is the only one who seems to have a complete grasp of what’s happening.

Apparently forgetting Diana’s upscale apartment, the pair go back to the handsome man’s home, eat his food and have sex with his body in his bed, and Trevor constantly puts him in mortal peril throughout the film. In two scenes, they acknowledge and dismiss the handsome man, with Diana saying she literally does not see him. Trevor looks in the mirror and declares the handsome man’s body acceptable as if it’s his and as if he could simply possess someone else if he wanted to.

Wonder Woman 1984 is financially chained to its planned format. This was to be the only film Warner Bros. released simultaneously on its HBOmax streaming platform, but is now the first of many. To square their theatrical performance bonuses, Warner Bros. shelled out $10 million each to Gadot and Jenkins, and likely some amount to their co-producers as well.

Success is evaluated very differently for theatrical and streaming releases, and Warner Bros.’ sudden announcement that it would release all of its 2021 movies the same day on its streaming service is the move of a company with very different priorities than the one that produced Wonder Woman 1984. There’s no telling how the studio will view its coffers with regards to this movie or any of their 2021 releases, but I’d make a safe guess it will be approached with the same denial and lack of business sense that brought it to the point of this abrupt lurch in the first place. Wolf down that cocaine, sign those $10 million checks and blame the pandemic for a business that was failing well beforehand.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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