We’re always shown the past – the 70s, 80s, whatever it may – to be full of colorful clothes, freethinking hippies, hypnotic synth music and strip malls. Wonder Woman 1984 felt like none of those things. It has more in common with 2020 than 1984 – started full of hope and ended utterly underwhelming. At its best, it was a middle chapter in a thick novel where nothing happens and the author sidetracks into the details of numerous things that will never make an appearance again that you get through nonetheless because it began so well and you hope the end will be the same. At its worst, it was a DCEU movie.
I make this statement through some context or the other once every six posts – I love superhero movies. In spite of the comment a sentence ago, I don’t hold anything in particular against DC movies. In fact, I grew up without any mainstream TV and never saw the animated DC or Marvel movies nor did I read any comics. The movies introduced these heroes to me. I hold no bias arising from nostalgia or am I a loyalist who froths at the mouth from any deviations from comic book storylines. I just like these movies and if they work as a good movie, they work for me. But the trend has been that while the movies from the MCU, pardoning one or two, have always felt exciting and full of rewatch value, none from the DCEU, pardoning Man of Steel and Wonder Woman have had the same effect on me. I don’t feel like re-watching any of the other movies nor do I have I felt like they were 100% worth the money and time I’ve spent on them. I was really hoping WW84 joined to the former list, but no.
Path of the Hero.
I really liked three things in the movie – the opening sequence in Themyscira, Diana’s first flight (even though it deeply hurt the aerospace engineer in me) and the musical cue of “Beautiful Lie” from Batman v Superman towards the end. Interestingly, that musical cue is the only thing connecting this movie with the rest of the DCEU ; otherwise this is entirely a standalone movie in all its rights. Her showing up with Asteria’s armor would’ve definitely made the cut had she donned it for more than 3 minutes and if they hadn’t spoiled all of those 3 minutes in the trailer. I think a lot more character moments would’ve worked had they not been so vague. For instance, her having to lose Steve a second time made for a very emotionally intense moment but it basically left her as the exact person she was before he showed up – unable to move on. She even explicitly says that she’ll never love again to which he responds that he hopes that isn’t true. I think it would’ve progressed her character arc a bit more if she left in a place of closure and acceptance, if her choice to let Steve go had not come from her arms being twisted by impending global apocalypse. They do show her sort of smiling at the guy whose body Steve inhibited towards the end but what is that smile supposed to mean? Is she thinking of moving on, is that a first step towards personal growth ? Or is she just remembering Steve’s dress up montage from earlier? Like I said, its vague. The movie was sort of a – “Hey, here’s a story that happened to Diana once”. That’s cool if we were watching ‘Adventures of Wonder Woman Season 2 Episode 6 – only on HBO Max’. But as a feature film, a sequel at that, you come to expect a story that happened to our hero that progressed their growth as a person from point A to point B. The movie takes you across America, Egypt and Russia, but Diana stands still.
Path of the Villain.
While the path of the hero turned out to be a circle, the path of the villain(s) is very slightly uphill. Minerva starts out as a typical dork stereotype. She’s clumsy, invisible to all her peers, somehow has eight different specialties from college, super kind to the homeless and wants to be cool. Max Lord is a businessman who wants to make it big using the shortest ways possible, stuck in a bad investment about to lose his company and his idea of being a successful father to his son. They get their powers from the dreamstone to transform into sexy, cool person who everyone wants to bang and the Genie from Aladdin but with Instagram’s terms and conditions, respectively. You could almost forgive Minerva – she just wanted to be ‘cool’ like someone else she saw at work. Don’t we all? But that someone turned out to be an amazonian warrior princess and on top of that the dreamstone also takes her ‘goodness’ away. You can’t really blame her at all and we see her story in real life all the time. So many seemingly harmless people turn into peak assholes when they come into fame and success even without a catch-22-dreamstone sucking away their goodness. Cheetah, to me, was totally believable and sympathetic even. Max Lord on the other hand only left me confused. Maybe I didn’t understand it right or the movie didn’t do a good job at explaining his motives. Was “making everyone’s wishes come true” his goals/ideal all the time? Did he start out to be a wholesome person who just wanted to get rich, be a good daddy for his son and make everyone around him fulfill their desires? And somehow those desires got corrupted by the dreamstone? Or was he evil all along and the only reason he’s giving away wishes to literally everyone is because he gets to take something in return? If it was the former, then in my eyes, he makes for a good antagonist. If its the latter, then he’s just a bad guy who does more bad things because of more power and that kind of one-dimensional villains are generally a sign of lazy writing.
A movie review isn’t supposed to have these many question marks now, I don’t think. And this is what I mean when I say the movie was too vague in its screenplay. The paths of the two villains ends in total redemption though. Both of them, along with every single person in the world it would seem, are moved by Diana’s speech (yes, that is the actual ending) and renounce their wishes. Was it a refreshing change from CGI-fest climactic battles that are a plague of the genre? Yes. But did it feel a wee bit underwhelming? Also yes. I get the idea here. Heroes are meant to be a symbol of hope and goodness, not just strong people who punch a lot. Diana inspiring the whole world to look at the chaos that their wishes have caused and not take the short way out to the finish line sounds really good and idealistic on paper. But I hope it had played out on screen in some other way rather than a bright light giving a speech. It reminded me of this common trope in recent Tamil movies where the hero conveniently appears on TV or in front of the press and gives a moral science lecture for 15 mintues. No. That’s not good screenwriting. Show, not tell.
Path of the Thingamajig.
Giving the movie the benefit of the doubt, assuming it is just me who didn’t get it, then the real villain here would be just the God of Deception who made the dreamstone and let it loose on the world. Both Minerva and Max Lord would then become victims of circumstances and I really like those kind of villains. They are after all mere mortals who were going against God-magic that’s been ending entire civilizations purely by toying with man’s desire and greed. What chance do they stand? These situations makes for a complex challenge to the hero because a hero can’t beat up a villain if they know its not the villain’s fault.
So the stone ended the Indus Valley civilization, the Romans and finally ended up with the Mayans. But where did the “Black Gold, Max Lord” receipt come from? Does that imply Max Lord was already in possession of it previously and then somehow lost it? But if he had it before, why didn’t he start granting wishes then? I definitely feel like I missed something in the movie here. At first I thought a wish-granting stone was extremely corny and lacked creativity. But then it was revealed that it actually gives and sneakily takes something away too and just like that, it developed more depth and Diana’s entire story line.
Nonetheless, it is a superhero movie with some larger than life action set pieces and a happy ending. The movie does have its moments even though almost all of them featured in the trailers. The invisible jet was a nice surprise even though I just could not accept that Steve can just figure out how to fly a brand new plane no matter how good of a pilot he’s been in his day. Diana’s first flight looked good, not as good as Clark Kent’s first flight from Man of Steel, but was still good. It even attempts at some social commentary with someone wishing all Irish to ‘go back where they came from’, this other dude in Egypt building a wall to keep outsiders out of his kingdom and the USA and Russia never getting enough of having enough nukes. It has very limited but genuine humor here and there and not from explicit jokes or forced-one liners. That was a relief. So I wouldn’t really suggest skipping it but I don’t think anyone would ever watch it more than once even if forced to. Any poor performance in the box office would be easily explained away using the HBO Max release and the pandemic, so I doubt if the studio or the filmmakers would get any possible motives to make changes for the next movie, which has already been green lit. But hey, it’s going to have Gal Gadot and I will go see it, hopefully in the theaters that time but I’m really hoping the DCEU progresses enough by then to make Wonder Woman do something other than being good and pining over Steve Trevor. I think it was smart to have placed this movie in 1984. Because now that would mean Bruce Almighty hadn’t come out yet and these guys weren’t aware of the catastrophic effects of universal wish granting. Or is Bruce Almighty in the DCEU timeline actually a movie based on a true story from unexplained events during some two days back in their history? Just my ideas for some terrific world building.
Also, remember the guy who wished for coffee in the beginning and drank it? Did it come out of him when he renounced his wish? Or did it just vanish from his system and he just felt a surge of sleepiness from out of nowhere? WW84 leaves us with way more questions than it bothers to answer.