WARNING: SPOILERS FOR WONDER WOMAN 1984
The day after Christmas, my friends as I sat down to watch the new Wonder Woman film Wonder Woman 1984 (or WW84 for short). And… God help me… I kind of… liked it? No, I actually did like it. Very much.
As the film progressed, my friends began to absolutely hate what they were watching on the screen. The viewing turned slightly into a roast with them pointing out all the logic flaws. I also had to agree that some of what I was watching didn’t make much sense. I mean, Wonder Woman rides on a damn missile in one scene. But at the same time, I couldn’t hate it. My critic brain was screaming at the television, but the child in me was absolutely delighted. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but after some thinking, and a second watch, I think I have discovered my feelings on the film.
Now, let me backtrack real quick here. I must preface what I am about to say because I feel it is important to discuss my feelings on the first film, even if briefly. The first time I watched the 2017 Wonder Woman, I was left disappointed. Everyone praised this film, and what I saw was a very strong first two acts, that was let down by a CGI wrestling match of an ending. The material, in my mind, deserved a more fitting ending. Something less bombastic, and more simple. Batman v Superman, this is not.
And so I went on not really hating the film, but not really liking it either. Then, earlier this year, I saw trailers for Wonder Woman’s new film. It looked… well… different from the first; that is for certain. Did it look good? Honestly, I didn’t think so. It looked like it was struggling with tone, bad humor, and some rough CGI. But as a lover of comic book films, and knowing with almost certainty that this new film could not be as bad as Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, or Justice League (all of which I had made myself sit through), I decided that I would give this new film a chance.
I knew that I would probably want to re-watch that first film in order to prepare myself for Diana’s newest adventure. And so my friends and I decided to have a double feature day! Upon re-watch, I must say that I do enjoy the first film far more than I did on that initial watch. The strengths remain as strong as ever, and its weakness did not seem so glaring in hindsight. I was happy with the film, and actually looking forward to watching Diana in the 80s.
And so we started the sequel. It opens on a massive Olympic style game where a young Wonder Woman is competing. Okay, not bad, not bad. Diana then comes in with a narration talking about truth and how she wished she had realized her life lessons back when she was a child. Ummm, alright. Pretty on the nose here, but it’s whatever. Diana is a very genuine character who has a lot of heart and love, so I can accept that. Cut to: 1984. We have jumped past the first film and are now in our new setting. And ohhhhh boy is it 80s! The music, the colors, even the acting. Yes, you heard that right. The acting itself felt 80s. As in OVER THE TOP. Gone is the cynicism of modern day life, replaced by a jovial lust of every element of life. From everyone. When a jewelry thief grabs a small child and uses it as cover in the films opening mall sequence, literally EVERY SINGLE PERSON in that mall is horrified, his fellow robbers included. We are treated to (or suffer through, depending on your point of view) a long moment where everyone turns and witness this horror that is about to be committed, only to have Wonder Woman swoop in at the last second and save the child; met with thunderous applause by the spectators. This moment would fit right at home in the early Richard Donner Superman films. It throws away all logic, and focuses on the emotion of that moment, maybe even to a fault.
A film that says “damn the logic! Have fun! Let the goofy comic book films be goofy.” “Ohhhhh,” my brain thought. “This is a SILVER AGE comic book movie.”
A film that says “damn the logic! Have fun! Let the goofy comic book films be goofy.”
This film screams 1950’s era storytelling with a “Dreamstone” MacGuffin granting people their greatest wishes, only with terrible side effects. A monkey’s paw. Honestly, I found this approach very refreshing after having sat through a decade of typical comic book villains. Maxwell Lord’s wish to BECOME the Dreamstone itself was very clever. And by doing that, we get a very different kind of villain. He may be a schemer and a con man, but he isn’t bombastic. He doesn’t start with a plan for world domination. He isn’t oozing with villainous malice. He’s a television personality. A vacuum salesman. He’s, well, fun. And the transition of Barbara from meek forgettable goof, to strong confident woman, and finally to apex predator is also handled in an interesting way that feels fresh. Again, these are wishes gone wrong, not some sort of medical experiment or villainous plan for world domination. So none of these characters start out with the intent to be bad guys. Instead, they start as people who mean well, but are then left to deal with the consequences of their actions.
I mentioned above that the first film ended on a bombastic slugfest. Which is still one of my complaints about the film. I know that Wonder Woman is strong, but her character and personality lend to a much more thought provoking and insightful ending than her black and blue suited male counterparts. And low and behold, this sequel understood that. The film does indeed have a climactic showdown with Cheetah. And yes, the CGI still isn’t great, but the action is exciting, and certainly different than Diana’s fight with Ares. However, this is not the full climax. No, the actual big climax of the film is her attempts to stop Maxwell Lord from granting the entire world’s wishes. But because he isn’t a typical villain, punching him won’t stop the problems at hand. The President of the United States has wished for more nuclear missiles. How is hitting a con man going to stop that? It won’t. No, it’s going to take something much bigger. She needs every single person on the planet to renounce their wishes, Maxwell included. That’s a tall order. How do you get an entire planet to agree that they have been selfish? By lassoing Maxwell with the Lasso of Truth, Diana is able to speak the truth to the entire world. She shows everyone on the planet the error of their ways and then pleads for them to see what their wishes have cost them. And with the truth exposed, the world does the right thing. Every wish is renounced and peace is finally restored. Maxwell also takes his wish back and reunites with his son, the thing that was taken away from him. The film even uses the song “A Beautiful Lie” from Batman v Superman during the scene. It’s a brilliant reverse, giving us the “Beautiful truth” instead. And this is where it all clicked for me.
This is not a Zach Snyder film. In fact, this film feels like the antithesis of BvS. Something far less cynical and moody. This isn’t even a Marvel film. This is a kid’s film. You heard me. Wonder Woman 1984 is a kid’s film. Not like a Barbie movie or Mickey Mouse. This is a film that takes comic books back to their original intent: to teach children life lessons. This film was written in a way so that children struggling in their lives can watch it and look up to Diana as a shining example. A beacon of how to act in dark times. To learn that sometimes, the truth hurts. Sometimes, you must take the hard path because in the long run, it’s the better path. Simply put, this film was not made for a lot of the people that go to see comic book films. No, this was made with a younger audience in mind. An audience that sometimes needs films like these to learn life lessons that maybe their family cannot teach them. This is a morality tale. And I can see why many people disliked it.
Simply put, this film was not made for a lot of the people that go to see comic book films. No, this was made with a younger audience in mind. An audience that sometimes needs films like these to learn life lessons that maybe their family cannot teach them.
Today’s comic book audience is filled out by people like me: men and women in their twenties and thirties (and up) who grew up with superhero cartoons and comics and are finally seeing their childhood heroes on the big screen kicking ass. But we’re older. We don’t want to be taught a lesson. We already learned our lessons when we were kids. We must recognize that not every superhero film is targeted at us older audience members. WW84 took a big chance by actually talking to the youngsters in the theater. It isn’t concerned with telling a symbolic tale about a damaged billionaire realizing he’s gone off the deep end. This isn’t about an alien learning the consequences of his strength. This is a tale that simply says “Hey kids, sometimes the truth is hard, but it’s necessary.” And that’s all it wants to be.
In the end, WW84 is a joyous embrace of the Silver Age of comics. A time when the good guys were good, the bad guys were bad, and the heroes always won; with you learning a life lesson along the way. Some of the dialogue may suffer because of this. It’s not as nuanced as many would like simply because it’s talking to the younger theater members. And if I’m being completely honest, it is too long and some of the moments still don’t make logical sense. There are parts that the critic in me hates. But the child in me? The child in me loved it. The child in me cheers when Wonder Woman saves a kid in a mall full of screaming patrons. The child in me cries when Maxwell learns his lesson and embraces his child. And the child in me is lifted up by the film’s message. Is it hoaky? You better believe it! But I think if you recognize that this film is meant to be for a younger, less cynical audience, the kid inside of you might actually have a good time.