No true heroes are born from lies.
You may remember the first Wonder Woman ending with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) flying after her full powers were finally realized during a climactic battle with Ares, the God of War. If so, you’re wrong. You’re so wrong that director Patty Jenkins and co-writers Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham decided to give you a two-and-a-half hour sequel wherein she does learn (“you just need to be one with the air”) so there can be no confusion whatsoever in the future. I kid you not. Keep your time, wait for the inevitable trilogy capper, and hope it possesses some substance because Diana’s flight is the sole takeaway from Wonder Woman 1984. That’s it. Well, she also learns to stop pining for the past too. Pun intended. Sorry.
I will say this: Jenkins and company let us know from the start that they have no idea what they’re trying to say. So when the answer turns out to be nothing, we aren’t surprised. We might actually be impressed they secured a budget this big to do so little of consequence. I’m not talking about the opening scene in Themyscira, though. That one is okay. It’s a bit stilted and generic, but we get the lesson that cheating to win taints one’s integrity to the point where anything good that results comes at a cost with a much greater price. The one in question is instead the second scene at a shopping mall where four criminals attempt to rob a jewelry store’s hidden black market antiquities room.
Two of these chuckleheads go into the store. Two stand guard. The former are giddily cartoonish with excitement upon seeing what’s inside. We don’t know why. They exit with more laughter as they throw the bags at their counterparts without warning to see if they’ll drop them (I guess the valuables aren’t fragile). Now comes a pursuit. Cops get involved. Diana appears. And suddenly one of the bag handlers drops the goods to kidnap a little girl and hang her over the balcony while chanting, “I’m not going back!” It’s pretty standard stuff until the camera pans to his accomplices’ faces of terror and their pleas for him to stop. Excuse me, what? The absurdity only gets worse when those same guys later pull guns on other children.
It’s a tonal nightmare with Gadot coming to the rescue by using her lariat of truth as a weapon. She doesn’t kill these men, but she also doesn’t ask for their surrender. It’s violence first, with a smile. She’s enjoying this … the saving lives and harming baddies. So if the first film didn’t rewrite the character from diplomat to Captain America, this one surely does. And that’s before she engages in a presumed rape scene that’s completely glossed over because the body she sleeps with is less important than the “person” inhabiting it. That’s probably a spoiler as far as how Chris Pine returns as a dead Steve Trevor, but the refusal to acknowledge what was written can’t be ignored to maintain a plot point.
Suffice it to say, there’s a so-called “dream stone” granting anyone who touches it one wish in a W.W. Jacobs‘ The Monkey’s Paw sort of way (written in 1902, so Trevor would be cognizant of it if anyone is wondering). Diana wishes for her love’s return because she’s spent the tail end of seven decades lamenting her loneliness once the last of her friends died of old age while her half-God parentage maintained her immortality. She’s been lovesick this whole time, so of course she (and the film) ignore this wish being a minefield where consent is concerned. The filmmakers’ don’t care because they want the fan service this specific relationship provides—a romance so strong that Diana would go against everything she stands for to preserve it.
Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) does too. She wants to be popular and cool and enjoys being those things too much to give them up when asked. That’s what we’re told anyway. We don’t ever really get to know her beyond stereotypical awkward klutz clichés before she’s suddenly a villain to ultimately become one more thing the film completely forgets once her use is fulfilled. And while a contrived bid for cathartic release would have us believe Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) is sacrificing himself to his drive for power at the hands of the stone, he’s pretty much a shallow charlatan from the start. So what we see is what we get and no two-minute flashback of a rough childhood is going to earn him one iota of sympathy.
That’s why I say nothing is learned by the time the credits roll besides an ability to fly. Sure there are the ham-fisted creation of an “invisible jet” and an apocalyptic nightmare of consequences to be squashed before the world snaps back to its sanitized reality, but no one grows. Maybe Diana will get back in the dating game (or not if her having the same life and zero attachments in Batman v Superman three decades later is any indication). Maybe she’ll finally close the book on her one true love. Maybe she’ll remember a woman who desperately needs a friend is dealing with some horrible personal truths and lend a hand despite the damage that was wrought. Or maybe this Diana doesn’t care about people after all.
It’s sad that the latter is probably the correct answer. But I guess it fits with the dark DC universe Zack Snyder built: the purest superhero of all succumbs to the jaded nihilism of mankind only to selfishly act towards her own benefit. I guess that’s what losing the naiveté of innocence that made her so endearing in Wonder Woman supplies. I hope not. I hope they’re able to pull this property back out from the rubble of 1984 because there was so much promise. Having Pine be naïve this time in a way that makes him a doofus is funny and the lasso-work is exciting, but they’re all distractions from a storyline that’s more interested in its wild, leap frog escalations than the emotional toil they take.
What is the wish doing to Barbara? How much of his soul has Max lost? These are questions that demand nuance and all we get is rage and son in peril as their respective reasons for Diana to save the day and discard the potential PTSD left behind. This is a woman who was so broken up by what happened during World War I that she walled herself away from life. If anyone can understand the feelings of pain and inadequacy that push Barbara and Max to the edge of sanity, it’s her. But Jenkins and company doesn’t engage with that truth. They don’t engage with Wonder Woman’s true power of compassion when her superhuman strength proves more cinematic for shallow blockbuster thrills. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
This is a major step down from its predecessor as a result. For all that entry’s flaws, it let Diana’s light shine. It put hope front and center. This one just has despair. It puts its characters in horrible positions and blinds them to the cost of embracing that fact. Not the literal cost—the negative that counterbalances the positive—but the cost they are left with when the dust settles. We see anguish in both Wiig’s and Pascal’s eyes at the end of their trajectories and the film leaves them to stew in it. Maybe they’ll rebound and repent. Or maybe they’ll commit suicide for what they’ve done. The film doesn’t reckon with those the gap between those options. Where’s the beauty in that? Why’s Diana smiling?
The simple answer is that she got what she needed. The others did too to a point, but not by choice. It’s a disservice to Wiig giving her all when the risk of losing everything arises and Pascal being an absolute comedic delight. It’s a disservice to Gadot too since it renders the character to whom she imbued such empathy into a shell-shocked husk who lost her way and hits the streets with Batman’s level of “hit first, ask questions never” when she should be giving back to the community to mitigate crime before getting that far (my partner loves Wonder Woman and she gave me the blow by blow of where the comics were ignored). Diana Prince was the outlier. Now she’s as one-note as the boys.
 © 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Clay Enos/ ™ & © DC Comics Caption: GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
 © 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Photo Credit: Clay Enos Caption: (Center) KRISTEN WIIG as Barbara Minerva in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
 © 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ ™ & © DC Comics Caption: PEDRO PASCAL as Maxwell Lord in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
 © 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ ™ & © DC Comics Caption: (L-r) CHRIS PINE as Steve Trevor and GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.