“Wonder Woman 1984” Movie Review: Enjoyable But Highly Problematic

Wonder Woman 1984 movie review
Steve and Diana in “Wonder Woman 1984” (Image: Screengrab)

Wonder Woman 1984 is a superhero movie that can easily fit the 65-75% range on the movie reception scale. Along with making you enjoy certain moments, it will leave you wondering about how this film could have been a lot better with a few tweaks.

This review of Wonder Woman 1984 contains spoilers. You have been warned.

Trigger Warning: This review of Wonder Woman 2 mentions sexual assault.

As someone who enjoyed the first Wonder Woman movie, I have been waiting for the sequel to be finally released. Now that I have watched it, I can understand why this latest Diana Prince-centric offering has the audience divided. This isn’t the ‘warrior’ Wonder Woman certain fans might expect. Patty Jenkins, who directed Wonder Woman 2 and also co-wrote the story, decided to explore the ‘peacemaker’ aspect of Diana’s personality.

Diana in 1984 is still dealing with losing Steve Trevor and trying to continue doing good while keeping her identity a secret. Why place Diana in 1984? I have no idea. There were rumors about how the script would use Diana to show support for the queer community dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic during that time. As a queer feminist icon, that would have been an amazing narrative to explore in a solo film starring Wonder Woman. But, unfortunately, Jenkins and her creative team had other ideas. There was no mention of the LGBTQ+ community in the entire movie (from what I can remember).

Placing Diana in 1984 did allow the film to offer a lot of ’80s inspired looks. So, if you’re into that, I think you will enjoy the overall visuals and campiness in this film.

The premise of Wonder Woman 2 deals with a mysterious wishing stone. Along with the introduction of such a supernatural artifact, Diana strikes a quick friendship with newcomer Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig).

Barbara’s your typical trope of what Hollywood thinks an older unpopular woman is supposed to be and act like, down to her close to tripping because she decided to wear heels at work. The way everyone ignores her, even when she needed help to pick up papers from the floor, made me roll my eyes. I don’t know about you, but I have NEVER seen employees act like that. Even if someone doesn’t offer a helping hand, they will at least look at you and ask if you require assistance (while silently wishing you say, “No, thank you” to them).

Diana’s everything that Barbara wants to be. So, not realizing that they’re holding the wishing stone, the two make their wishes. Diana’s wish brings back Steve Trevor (more on that later) while Barbara’s wish to become like Diana leads her to acquire super strength, super reflexes, etc.

While that’s happening, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) is looking for the magic stone. He’s a struggling businessman who wants to make it big and become something his young son will be proud of. His actions are justified by how he was bullied as a child and wants others to never hurt or say anything bad to him.

Maxwell steals the stone and what follows is Diana and Steve trying to stop him from granting numerous wishes and wreaking havoc. Of course, the fulfillment of wishes comes with a cost. To keep Steve around, Diana’s losing her powers while Barbara’s losing her humanity by becoming stronger.

The main narrative is about being brave enough to accept the truth. Yes, the thought of your desires being magically granted is tempting. But such an occurrence will only cause chaos. Humans have to find their inner power to make the change they want to see in this world.

If you’re into a film that has Diana moving on from Steve and helping others to accept the truth, I think you will enjoy Wonder Woman 2. If you’re expecting a superhero romp featuring epic action sequences, you will be disappointed.

There’s an action sequence that occurs in Egypt. I’m not from that region or Jewish, but having such a storyline did give rise to certain talking points related to real-world issues you should consider reading.

The final battle with Maxwell is basically Diana using Talk-No Jutsu. And Barbara as Cheetah (the transformation, unfortunately, occurs offline) is turned into Maxwell’s bodyguard instead of a formidable opponent for Diana.   

The best part of this movie is the opening sequence that features a young Diana competing in a challenging obstacle course. It showed young Diana understanding the importance of truth (which is bigger than all of us) and how true heroes don’t take shortcuts or cheat (someone should tell that to Bruce Wayne, ha!).

I don’t know about you, but after watching Wonder Woman 2, I think Warner Bros. needs to look into making a Wonder Woman movie that takes her on a mythological quest, similar to what one might expect from Hercules. I want Diana to take on all of the Greek Gods and beasts while exploring her skills as a warrior and a peacemaker.

Now we’re on the portion of my Wonder Woman 1984 review where I talk about Steve Trevor’s problematic return and how this film handles sexual assault. Please proceed with caution.

The wishing stone made Steve return to Diana by transferring his soul into the body of another man. While I’m okay with souls using dead bodies to walk around, I have an issue when a soul takes over the consciousness of someone already alive. With Steve possessing another person, who is credited as ‘Handsome Man’ on IMDb, the original conscious is implied to be in limbo. There’s never a moment where the original soul is trying to fight with Steve’s soul to regain control.

Personally, I would have been okay with such a narrative choice. My problem is what Diana decides to do when the Steve-possessed body finds her. Diana knows that she’s not interacting with Steve’s real body. She knows that Steve’s soul is “borrowing” someone else. And still, an iconic hero like Diana not only kisses Handsome Man’s body but also sleeps with him!

I couldn’t believe what I was watching as Diana and Steve grew intimate. They both knew they were using another man’s body (without consent) in such a manner. The entire thing was poorly handled. The film told us that Handsome Man had his own life as an engineer before Steve’s soul took over. And after Diana renounced her wish, the closing minutes showed Handsome Man with no memory that his body had been intimate with her. Some have likened this to the blackout experienced due to date-rape drugs and how the victim might never fully realize what really happened to their body during that time.

As far as Wonder Woman 2 is concerned, using someone else’s body like that is okay. I can only imagine what the response would have been like if the roles were reversed and a character called Beautiful Woman had her body treated in such a manner.

There are already certain people online making jokes about how Handsome Man should feel lucky his body got to sleep with Wonder Woman even if it was without his consent. Such jokes link to instances of how men getting sexually assaulted aren’t taken seriously and are told to get over it, especially when gorgeous women are involved.

In my opinion, Wonder Woman 2 handles instances of sexual assault in a very problematic manner. Steve’s return aside, there’s a scene where Barbara’s about to be sexually assaulted by a drunken man while walking alone at night. Diana comes to recuse her, which makes Diana being so nonchalant about being intimate with another man’s body that Steve’s possessed more outrageous for her character.

After Barbara gets her powers, the same man tries again and this time Barbara beats him up. However, the entire scene is framed in a manner that makes it look like Barbara did a bad thing and that she should feel ashamed. Sorry, not sorry! No one should ever feel ashamed when it comes to standing up to rapists.

Such a mess!

I’m disappointed that certain critics and viewers have been brushing such narrative choices under the rug and pretending that Wonder Woman 2 has no faults because they want it to succeed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Steve coming back to meet Diana by being inside another person’s body. However, couldn’t he have possessed someone who just died? Why not make Handsome Man be Diana’s (kind of serious) boyfriend before Steve took over to make Diana and Steve being intimate with each other not so problematic?

Options were present to address the issues of consent when telling such a story. But it’s clear that Jenkins and her creative team just didn’t care.  

Other thoughts and questions:

  • The pieces of paper appearing and disappearing from Barbara’s suitcase during shots was funny. The editing team should have handled that better. 
  • Giving Diana the ability to make objects invisible made no sense to me. Her invisibility power didn’t even come up again to do something grand after she used them to turn a jet invisible.
  • She finally figured out how to fly by herself! Yay!
  • Barbara’s wish to become an apex predator was quite general. It would have been funny if the stone trolled her and made her turn into a shark or a killer whale instead of a cheetah.
  • Yes, to Lynda Carter getting a cameo as a legendary Amazon. 

I close my review by saying that I wish Wonder Woman 1984 was more than the problematic mess we got after years of waiting. Diana Prince and her fans deserve better.

Wonder Woman 1984 was made available to stream for HBO Max subscribers on December 25, 2020.

Let me know if you have watched it.

Useful resource – https://www.rainn.org/ 

Author: Farid-ul-Haq

Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.

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1 thought on ““Wonder Woman 1984” Movie Review: Enjoyable But Highly Problematic

  1. Yeah, it feels sad that as WW fans we waited so long for this movie and THIS is what we got. Not terrible but could have been better. And without questionable consent issues.

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