Three years ago, I very vividly recall going to the cinema to see Wonder Woman.
It was a screening in the afternoon, and the whole experience – slipping away from work while the kids were in school, paying extra for the fancy seat, hitting the road two hours later knowing that I could possibly bend metal if push came to shove – reminded me how great movies can be going.
Superhero franchises are mainly produced for men by men, but this movie, directed by Patty Jenkins, felt like a rare exception.
Sentimentality for a commercial beast of this scale was always always going to be misplaced, like celebrating the “empowerment” of women pole dancing in male-run clubs. It was almost regrettable how gratifying – even moving – it was to see a woman at the core of a $150 million film.
If Wonder Woman didn’t feel cynical, it was still formulaic and subject to the normal requirements; in a suit that ends at the butt line, it is difficult to picture Batman fighting crime.
And still, it seemed to me, you might have said that there was a woman in charge.
If there was a slightly sexual aesthetic in the battle scenes at the beginning of the film, then other women were the target audience. It wasn’t about guys, for once. Cut to the release of Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas Day in the US.
The film was released simultaneously in theaters and for streaming on HBO Max due to the pandemic, and although the budget had risen to $200 million, most other information remained consistent with the first film, with each passing year Jenkins directing, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and Chris Pine looking more like Tom Hollander than the Love Interest.
Many women I know sat down that afternoon ready to lose their hearts again, particularly those with young daughters, and vaguely wonder if they should start strength training. It’s a huge, dumb film, not an arthouse adaptation of Mary Wollstonecraft’s essays.
Even, not only disappointing is the fact that it’s so bad, it’s infuriating.
It’s not just that the script is bad and that in the first half of the film, after a promising opening scene, hours seem to pass with nothing happening.
It’s not like, for long stretches, Gadot has nothing to do but passively gaze into space and lament her dead boyfriend.
It’s not even that WW 1984 committed the supreme sin of recruiting Robin Wright, putting her in gladiatorial garb, and then for the first five minutes of the film dispensing with her services.
It’s the fact that all these shortcomings are framed in the arrogant, deceptive manner of a movie that claims to condemn the very thing that we are selling…. Funnily enough, Wonder Woman 1984, as if attempting to wash a predominantly conservative film into a fast liberal spin cycle, delivers an anti-capitalist message towards the end. It implies that the issue with the U.S. and the world is that no one wants to function anymore; they just want to snap their fingers and see their dreams come true. Wonder Woman herself learns this lesson the hard way when she wins the desire of her heart for a brief period of time – no, not world peace, a cure for cancer, or, as in the first film, the defeat of an evil overlord, but the return of her dead friend. Here’s a woman who can use her wrist shields to stop bullets, but yeah, hello, let’s give the helpless guy not only two-thirds of the movie, but most of the battle scenes and the job of saving the superheroine. The worst thing about Wonder Woman 1984, though, is probably Kristen Wiig’s role.
To prevent spoilers, I will keep it ambiguous, but her sincere desire is to conquer the shame of being a dowdy nerd that men overlook in order to be more in tune with someone who looks like Gadot. The movie punishes her relentlessly for harboring this superficial, delusional fantasy, while encouraging the hell out of the belief that male attention is the only standard that matters for women. If a director who has been fairly interesting in the past has been forced back into the formula by the extra $50 million budget, why should that surprise anyone – and it’s at least in line with the genre conventions. The nagging thing is that the offense is even worse by using faux-feminism and other social justice tropes in the service of a reactionary film.