starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal
screenplay by Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham
directed by Patty Jenkins
by Walter Chaw At some point, someone in some boardroom should have pushed away from the table and asked whether it was a good idea to have a subplot in their new Wonder Woman movie about a person in the Middle East wishing that colonizers would be expelled from occupied territories. (The granting of said wish subsequently leading somehow to nuclear holocaust.) I mean, with or without an Israeli actress in the lead role. Not to say it's not geometrically worse with an Israeli actress in the lead role, because it is. Look, the real wonder of WW84 is that this maybe isn't the worst thing about it. Neither is how flat it looks, or how it starts with 45 minutes of poorly-timed slapstick before shifting into absolutely deadening action sequences, a weird body-possession intrigue, and a horrifying message about how you should never wish for things because everything has consequences attached to it. With so much riding on its shoulders, the burden to be all things to all people has resulted in a vivisected monstrosity of plastic inauthenticity. WW84 additionally has one of the most beautiful people in the world--who's playing an immortal superhero--tearfully proclaim that she wants something to go right for her for once in her life. What I'm saying is, WW84 is a very particular, very limited kind of fantasy gratification that also happens to have fantasy gratification as its needlessly magical plot.
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) goes around doing good deeds in plain sight; weird how Batman has to do a lot of Dark Knight detecting to find her in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. One of the good deeds she does is break up a mall heist ripped from storyboards for The Goonies involving an ARTIFACT that grants wishes. It's not a monkey's paw, surprisingly enough, although Wonder Woman does reference the W.W. Jacobs story when she lectures someone about being careful what they wish for. The ARTIFACT is Satanic, I think--WW84 declines to come right out and say so; Wonder Woman is content instead to read an ancient cuniform to the surprise of her colleagues (who seem not to know that she's good at her day job at the Smithsonian), clasp her hands to her mouth, and inform boyfriend Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) that this ancient script tells of how a god created this ARTIFACT but for everything it grants, it takes something from you. The God of Lies, Steve. The God of Lies. If you're wondering how Steve, who died at the end of the first film 60+ movie-years prior, is alive again, it's because Wonder Woman wished that he would come back to life, and instead of granting that wish, the ARTIFACT has Steve possess some poor schlub. The ARTIFACT is also an asshole. Better would be for Steve to come back as a reanimated corpse or a housecat, but...
This raises questions about what happens to Steve's host when Steve inhabits him. They're not questions that WW84 bothers to answer, and they're not questions that Wonder Woman and Steve think to ask, even though they're supposed to be good people. If I wake up tomorrow in someone else's body, the first thing I want to know is what the fuck happened to the person I just murdered and supplanted. That WW84 appears in the same year as Possessor and Freaky further clarifies how empty it is, how morally bankrupt and thunk-by-committee it is, to its core. Later, his body returned to him, the host is hit on hard by Wonder Woman and doesn't respond to her at all, thus undermining a semi-clever early (if bloated) gag about how, when Wonder Woman shows up at a party, every single dude there is into her. WW84 can't decide what kind of feminist it is. Is the measure of a good man the one who will not ask Gal Gadot out on a date when Gal Gadot tells him he looks good and has great taste in clothes? Consider the case of Barbara Minerva (Kristin Wiig), the timid gemologist at the Smithsonian, who has the temerity to wish for the confidence and self-possession of her co-worker Diana Prince, unaware that Diana happens to be Wonder Woman. Mousy McFrumpsalot, know your fucking place. Wonder Woman teaches Barbara her place by almost drowning her while forcing Barbara to renounce her wish not to be crippled by self-loathing. She could have said that Barbara can have that without having superpowers and perfect bone structure, too, but she doesn't. I don't know if Wonder Woman actually knows that.
Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), the really bad guy in this movie, is a reality-TV star who wants to be President. Where do they come up with this stuff? There's something about how the media can control people's minds and play a major role in destroying the world. Amazing work all around. Maxwell gets ahold of the ARTIFACT and, for his first wish, wishes that he were the ARTIFACT, which is some real Jewel of the Nile shit, amirite? His dream is to be the most powerful man in the world, and so he goes around getting people to wish things on him so that he can then wish things in return from them. Eventually, he visits the 1984 POTUS (Stuart Milligan, who looks nothing like Ronald Reagan and is so not trying to approximate Reagan that I thought he was just some guy who wished he were President and, poof!, there he was--but no, I think he's supposed to be Reagan), who wishes he had more nuclear weapons. This is funny because Reagan was a demented ballsack so unhinged the Soviets prepared a first-strike strategy to jump ahead of the Armageddon. Wonder Woman later laments to Maxwell how the world was a lovely place before he showed up and started granting wishes. Was it, though? In 1984, we were all afraid we were going to die in nuclear fire. Thousands had already perished from a mysterious new illness the Reagan Administration declined to address because it only seemed to affect gay people. How many of the wishes that shouldn't have been made in WW84 were for an AIDS cure? Not every wish is selfish. I bet the guy Steve possesses so Wonder Woman can get her groove back after a nearly seven-decade drought wishes he had his life back. The joke is that Reagan wants more nukes because, as his buddy Maggie famously said, nuclear superiority is the best way to keep the peace--but seriously, folks, 1984 was beautiful. Except for anyone, really, who wasn't on par--physically, economically--with the likes of Wonder Woman and Steve.
I have more questions. I want to know why in the prologue there's this entire flashback to Themyscira about not cheating during a tournament that looks like Cirque du Soleil with a scoreboard. It can't have been to set up the moral of this story of truth being beauty and beauty truth and that's all you know and all you need know. Probably that's only the moral because, like the instructions printed on the ARTIFACT, it's a truism someone once posited was found engraved on a Grecian Urn. Probably that's the moral because an earlier draft of the screenplay had poetry in it. I want to know why Chris Pine's entire performance here is to look surprised, or how a 152-minute movie fails to build any memorable characters. And you know you're in trouble when watching nothing less than the literal end of the world doesn't raise the blood pressure. Almost more than anything else, I'm curious why this was set in 1984, unless it was just for the shoulder pads and Jazzercise sight-gags. After the first twelve hours of this ordeal, the filmmakers abandon those altogether. Did anyone notice that the aide yelling expository softballs in the Oval Office is a Black woman? ("More nukes? How?") Or that the policeman on the street screaming into his walkie, lamenting about Wonder Woman not helping and them being in trouble, is Black? There's a point at which inclusion in supporting roles, implemented without a plan, backfires spectacularly. Did I mention that Maxwell has an Asian son? I don't know why; I do know that between this and The Midnight Sky, there is apparently no upper limit to the number of deadbeat-dad redemption arcs in production.
WW84 is Superman II's plot with Superman IV's execution, from the Christ story of a superhero losing their powers to be with a lover, all the way down to a bully comeuppance sub-drama where a restored hero gets to confront their tormentor post-"super"-ing and beat them brutally. When Superman does it at the end of Superman II, it's easily the ugliest moment in an otherwise idyllic two-film arc. When Barbara does it to a rapist who hangs out on the same corner every night, looking for someone to assault, it lands a lot differently. We're meant to see this as a point of no return for Barbara, but is it actually bad to beat someone nearly to death for trying to rape a woman? Is it bad to punch a Nazi? Why doesn't Barbara ask the rapist for his take on why he's about to rape her instead of throwing him into the side of a van? Her homeless Black friend tells her to stop beating the rapist, and Barbara tells him to mind his own business. While I get how sympathetic a homeless Black man is meant to be, I think Barbara should've maybe launched the rapist into the sun.
What sort of workshop hell resulted in this tortured sequence of events? Who piped up and said, "We want a PG-13, so he can want to rape her, but our ur-villain can't kill him with her super-strength"? What sort of equivocations were demanded to soften the fate of the rapist to the point where the beating of the rapist is now the clue that this woman broke bad? Maybe in the course of beating this shithole to death, Barbara accidentally kills her Black homeless friend who's trying to stop her and, after a moment's shock, decides it was his own fault for not minding his business. Now I get it. And the catalyst for her descent is not the poor, poor rapist getting his head caved in, but this marginalized human being at the hand of the only person who ever noticed him. His name is Leon, by the way. He's played by Mensah Bediako, and I wonder what his wish was, both the actor's and that of the character he's playing. Were those wishes included in Wonder Woman's warning against wishing? Interesting how this Black homeless guy is never seen again. I do like how Wonder Woman doesn't kill people, though. That's a nice respite from the new, city-destroying DCEU Supes. I don't like how WW84 shows how she doesn't kill people by doing "The A-Team"'s thing of having people crawl out of vehicles she's destroyed or climb out of the water after being blown off their gun towers. I get it. She doesn't even accidentally kill people.
If you're keeping score, WW84 says that returning colonized land in the Middle East is bad; that a woman wishing she had more self-esteem is bad; that an abused child who witnessed his mother getting beaten wanting a better life for his own kid is bad; that Back to the Future Part II is the best film in that trilogy and the one most worth emulating in tone; that 1984 was a beautiful time in U.S. history; and that the troubles of the fabulously wealthy and beautiful are primary and deserve to be foregrounded because they are the most oppressed, generous, and misunderstood folks on the planet. There is one sequence that works, where Wonder Woman figures out, in like her 700th year of existence, that she can fly. There was a passage like this in one of Anne Rice's vampire books, as I recall. But it's cool. It's like that scene in Kimberly Peirce's Carrie where Carrie, in her room, learns that she's telekinetic. It's about self-discovery and growing confident in your body even at an advanced age. There's a sense of freedom here, a feeling of growth that this character doesn't otherwise demonstrate, and a sense of real possibility of all the ways this film could have been empowering instead of swollen and at cross-purposes. WW84 is a notes session, not a completed thought. I mean, consider how Wonder Woman knows Maxwell is bad instantly because Maxwell is more interested in Wonder Woman's new friend, the not-desirable-in-any-way Barbara. Sweet, brilliant, pretty Barbara. The overall message is that you should be careful what you wish for. I liked the first Wonder Woman pretty well and wished for a sequel that would expand on this character. I'm sorry, everybody.