In a year full of setbacks and delays, Warner Brothers’ announcement that Wonder Woman 1984 would be coming to our homes on Christmas Day was something that many movie fans were excited to hear. It’s predecessor, 2016’s Wonder Woman, came as a breath of fresh air for both the DCEU as well as comic book films in general. One of America’s most iconic female characters, audiences were pleasantly surprised with Patty Jenkins’ vision of the Amazonian goddess.
Wonder Woman (2016)’s long-lasting success
Masterfully utilizing the fish out of water trope, Jenkins’ introduces us to Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). Despite her being unfamiliar with this new world, Diana is still her own woman. She’s headstrong and hopeful, always looking to save as many as she can while choosing to see the best in humanity. Throughout the film, she is accompanied by Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy stationed in WWI London. Jenkins flips the damsel in distress trope on its head. Steve is now the damsel, while Diana is his knight in shining armor. Their love is merely a sweet part of Diana’s story in this film. It is not what defines her as a character.
Wonder Woman (2016) presents many instances of women being in control of their own fates. From the very beginning of Themyscira, it establishes that the female tropes of old comic book films and films, in general, will not be part of this narrative. This then makes WW84 so incredibly frustrating to watch.
Introducing 1984 and the dreamstone
WW84 catches us up with what Diana’s been doing via a scene where Wonder Woman catches some robbers at the local mall. We then see Diana at her job as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian in D.C. There she meets Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), and the film introduces its main plot device. Barbara is tasked with identifying some of the stolen artifacts from the robbery at the mall. One of these artifacts is the dreamstone that grants wishes when you hold it and speak them aloud. Diana, of course, indirectly wishes to bring Steve back. But there’s a caveat. The stone will grant your wish but takes your most prized possession in return. So, throughout the film, Diana slowly loses her powers. This is where the film starts to destroy the work that the first film established in its female characters.
Diminishing our leading lady
Diana wanting to bring Steve back isn’t inherently a problem. The problem is that the film presents this as the thing Diana wants most in the world. That there is no one in the world (including her mother Hippolyta or Aunt Antiope) that she wants to see more than a man she knew for 5 days almost 70 years ago. I mean, I get it. If I was with Chris Pine for 5 days, I’d wish for him back too. But within the context of this world, it just doesn’t hold a lot of water.
On top of this, having Diana’s consequence be the loss of her powers presents another problem. Her big, character-building moment is deciding whether she wants to continue being a superhero or keep her dead boyfriend. It directly ties her identity to that of having a man. The film also seems to imply that Diana has had no joy in her life since Steve’s death. She has no friends, we don’t get to see her enjoying her work at the Smithsonian, and her charming, curious qualities from the first film are gone. She’s become almost a shell of a character without her boyfriend by her side. This isn’t something that I wanted to see, or even thought I would see, happen to one of the media’s most prolific female characters in the year 2020.
An antique of a character
The film’s other female character is directly from the era it takes place in. We meet Barbara in her first week at the Smithsonian. She’s bumbling and shy, with glasses on her nose and part of her hair up in a classic 80’s half ponytail. The men at the Smithsonian ignore her, and her boss can’t remember who she is despite having hired her just last week. She’s quite literally Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle in Batman Returns. Down to the mistreatment at her workplace and the eventual feline villain persona.
Barbara meets Diana and asks her to lunch. She makes a point of saying that Diana must be so popular in her life and that she would know because she’s not popular. Barbara is a woman with incredible accomplishments. She’s a doctor with expertise in 4 different fields working at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. She’s also an adult woman. So why in the world does she care about being popular as if she were still 16? By no means am I saying that adult women cannot be shy or insecure or struggle with their confidence. It’s the fact that the writers felt the need to take this acclaimed woman who is their only other female lead and turn her into a walking 90’s teen comedy cliché.
Barbara uses her wish to be more like Diana, not knowing that Diana is a demigod. This gives her newfound strength and powers. But more importantly, she can now walk in heels. There is so much potential to talk about what it’s like to be a woman in her 30s or 40s and still feel insecure the same way that she did when she was a teen. But this movie’s not interested in exploring that. So, Barbara’s arc equates to little more than a makeover that she could easily get without the dreamstone.
Disappointment dipped in nostalgia
While Wonder Woman (2016) is not a perfect film and is mostly representative of white feminism, it’s still better than what many women had come to expect from a comic book film. WW84 regresses its standards to such a degree that it’s rather shocking to watch. Its female characters feel like relics of the past. Hollywood loves the 1980s. It’s nostalgia for the decade in recent years, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And while WW84 incorporates its iconic neon colors and quirky style, it really didn’t need to incorporate its internalized misogynistic views of women too.