Wonder Woman 1984 offers an excellent 151 minutes of escapism with a shock of 80s nostalgia and a neon outlook. Patty Jenkins has worked some awesome feminist undertones within the movie, but a peculiar aspect is perhaps the departure from the “the third act epic fight” – typical in almost all superhero movies. Jenkins chooses instead to maintain Diana’s humanness through a monologue about ‘truth’ above any and all elaborate and cohesive action sequences. The prime focus here is Diana’s decision to not indulge in violence.
The movie opens with an athletic race. It sets up the rest of the movie as one involving any way to not devolve into a perfectly enacted action sequence, and, instead, places us on a path to discover the power of “truth”. Truth as a “superpower” isn’t exclusive to the immortal, punch-wielding heroes. It is an inherent and known quality to all of us. And that’s what sets ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ apart from similar movies – it builds on a superpower that resides in all of us, a divergence from ‘masculine superpowers’ of male superheroes. This feminist subversion builds upon the long, feminist struggle against war and violence.
‘Subverting tropes,’ as a concept, makes sense with a woman superhero led franchise. Superhero movies have traditionally catered to a male audience with an emphasis on superbly choreographed action sequences with much flare and destruction. ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ turns that on its head. In one of the first action sequences of the movie, we get an “I hate guns” from Diana, as she gracefully and comically stops a robbery at the mall. She does not fight in a suit designed to cater to fetishism by the male gaze. Instead, she works her way by preventing violence and destruction – protecting everyone from harm, even the bad guys. Violence (and the promise of it) are superhero movie givens, and we have become accustomed to it being used comically as well, like in the ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Thor’ franchises. This attempt to move away from the path of least resistance not only makes Diana seem more of a superhero but more human as well. Personally, it adds more of an adrenaline rush to the action sequences because Diana is trying to do the most with the least disturbance – no easy feat for the conventional superhero who thinks he is a cut above the rest. However, this tweaking of some stereotypes but not others didn’t lead to the smoothest of translations on screen, as we watched ‘Wonder Woman 84’ stumble through quite a bit of it.
The movie doesn’t subvert the idea of the antagonist in even the slightest way. The lowest point of the movie is the very weak character development of its villains, Maxwell Lord and Barbara (also referred to as Cheetah). Lord wants to be a billionaire, and in this pursuit sways further from his family. Barbara, on the other hand, wants to be like Diana – strong, powerful and popular. Their stories are woven around the maxim, “Be careful what you wish for”. They both get what they want, but at the cost of their humaneness. Diana’s story is interwoven within Lord’s and Barbara’s as she wants to be with her lover, Steve – a human tendency portrayed as such. But on screen, this is messy, entirely ridiculous at some points and even harder to keep track of. Soon enough, everyone in the world wants something and they all start getting it one by one and that’s when the chaos sets in, both in the movie and for the movie. Maxwell Lord keeps on accumulating wealth and prestige, and solving problems of world leaders to gain political favours. Barbara becomes like Diana and evolves into a hybrid of human being and cheetah, to become even more powerful than her.
Diana starts losing her power as she gains Steve back. She allows the world to turn to dust to have what she desired. This does break the stereotype that superheroes should be ‘selfless’, reinforcing a human quality of Diana’s but, it is also devoid of logic – as Diana, who tries her best to prevent wreckage, knows of the disastrous consequences better than anyone else. Yet, she consciously chose to look away, even if for a brief time period.
The movie works well by focusing on Diana as a person and exploring her journey in a world that’s changing rapidly. Diana is a human and hence prone to human weaknesses. The emphasis on not using violence makes it superior to conventional superhero movies. However, messy character development for its antagonists and some glaring loopholes render it less effective than it tries to be. In the end, we can look at it for its brilliant message of the power of truth and the feminist themes which mark it so different from all the other movies of the genre. Maxwell Lord’s words ring very true: It is good, but it can be better.