“I have thoughts about the new Wonder Woman movie. I should blog about them!”
::one week later::
Let me try to get this all down:
First thing: Patty Jenkins keeps making superhero movies with plots that can’t be resolved with punching and that’s sort of a problem.
In the first movie, Diana (since the words “Wonder Woman” are never spoken in either movie, it feels weird to call her that) is determined to fight and kill Ares, because she believes that will end all war. Obviously, this is nuts but, for his own purposes, Steve Trevor (and his pals) basically go along with her.
Steve spends much of the movie trying to convince Diana that she doesn’t understand the new world she’s entered. Diana, meanwhile, believes that she sees it very clearly, and that she has the moral agency to change it. Diana changes the world just by being in it. It’s true that she can’t stop all wars and remake the world of men into a paradise through the act of killing her half-brother, but her insistence that she can drives the movie and keeps in in-genre.
And I have more to say about that, but it doesn’t fit here.
In the second film, it’s Steve who becomes the outsider, learning about the new and wondrous world of 1984. Except there’s no dramatic tension there. When Diana enters WWI-era London, she’s expecting to see another paradise and to meet warrior generals like the ones she left behind in Themyscira. She very much doesn’t. When Steve jumps 70 years into the future, he’s simply wide-eyed and delighted. There’s no dramatic conflict between his expectations and his environment.
Personally, I really liked the joy in those scenes. My wife was bored as hell.
Steve also gets a complimentary outfit montage that Diana got in the first movie, but again, the scene doesn’t really convey anything about the relationship between his character and the world he’s found himself in. It’s just played for laughs.
The first movie spent a lot of time talking about what people deserved. Did the world of men deserve an army of Amazons riding out to save them? Did it deserve Diana herself? Do people deserve to be saved? Does “Dr. Poison”? And let’s not forget “May we get what we want. May we get what we need. May we never get what we deserve.”
Diana herself starts off the film believing that people would be good if Ares were killed, and finds herself reluctantly allied with thieves, smugglers, liars, etc. They’re good people doing bad things for good ends, and she’s convinced that she can save them.
The second movie centers itself on capital tee Truth, and I’ve seen a lot of viewers confused about why having a wish come true is equivalent to a lie. I want to try to break down the argument the film is making:
* Want: Baby Diana wants to win the race
* Truth: Baby Diana misses one of the markers by taking a short cut
* Outcome: Baby Diana is not allowed to win because, in truth, she did not run the full race.
* Want: Barbara wants to be confident and popular
* Truth: Barbara is not those things.
* Outcome: Barbara becomes confident and popular without doing the honest work of changing herself
* Want: Adult Diana wants Steve back
* Truth: Steve is dead
* Outcome: Bringing Steve back via wish is a denial of the truth that he is gone.
Which, according to the logic of the movie (as I understand it) a wish makes untrue things true. Which is dishonest. And being dishonest means you told a lie.
Although if you want something you don’t have and work hard to get it, that’s a truthful way to make an untrue thing true, I guess?
Note: I’m explaining the reasoning here, not justifying it. It’s a weak driver for the story–so weak, in fact, that they had to add in the Monkey’s Paw aspect, which wasn’t even established as part of the wish-making until way too late in the story. When Max Lord was granting wishes and telling people what he’d take in return, I was playing catch up, wondering what the hell he was talking about.
Poor “Wish I had a coffee” guy. The stone took his most valued possession in exchange for a cup of joe.
Anyway, I wouldn’t be nit-picking all of this if WW84 were a better movie, and I suspect it would be a better movie if all this was simplified and integrated better. I would say I wish it had been, but there’s literally nothing of value I would sacrifice for that wish to be true.
Plus, there’s that awful shit about Steve taking over someone else’s body, fucking someone with it, and putting it in mortal danger. Did Hallmark Movie Guy consent to all that? I’m sure he didn’t.
Not to mention the ending, which gives Diana someone to punch (poor Barbara) for the penultimate conflict, but used empathetic pleading to win the final conflict.
And honestly, it’s more believable that the daughter of Zeus could show up with a magic lasso than that every human being could see nuclear missiles rocketing skyward and not one of them would choose to let the world burn. Have these people never opened Facebook?
Part of me was convinced that the plot would be resolved when Diana killed Max (like in the comics) but the Patty Jenkins version isn’t like that. Her Max is another mislead mortal who needs to be loved, and to put his love for his son above everything else.
The movie would have been better served by a plot problem she could punch. Even if she ended up battling Max, because he’s the dreamstone now and has to be destroyed, and Max is wildly empowered with the strength and life force of half the world. And they’re smashing around the room before finally coming into contact with the golden particle tube. Then Max sees his son and wants to save him with a wish, or with the power he has stolen. But Diana, who is losing this fight, holds him in place. The whole world is going to die, and it’s Max’s fault.
Which is when Max renounces his wish, effectively destroying the dreamstone and saving the world.
I’m sure someone working on the film thought of that ending but discarded it. I’m also pretty positive they ditched it because they wanted the emotional uplift of an ending where everyone in the world is moved by Diana’s words and comes together for the greater good. Sadly, they sent a movie about that world into the one I live in, where large percentages of the population are narcissists and psychopaths.
I can look past unrealistic fantasy worldbuilding for the sake of a fun story (see: Lucifer) but WW84 hadn’t won me over and couldn’t reach me with this ending.
Before I wrote and posted this, I wanted to watch it with my wife. I’m pretty sure she’s never read a Wonder Woman comic and I’m definitely sure she didn’t know who Cheetah was, let alone Max Lord.
Her take: It was awful. Too long. Not visually interesting enough. No exciting fight scenes. Too much Max Lord and not enough Barbara Minerva.
I liked it more than she did, in part because it wasn’t nihilistic like the early DCEU films, in part because I enjoyed the joyful parts of the performances, in part because I just like superhero movies.
Anyway, I’m glad Jenkins is making a third WW movie, even if the sophmore slump was painful. Sorry to say I can’t see myself watching this one again.