WARNING! This review contains spoilers. If you have not seen Wonder Woman, we recommend you watch it first!
Patty Jenkins has reprised her position as the director of another Wonder Woman film yet again. While Wonder Woman 1984 advertises flashy colors and the ‘80s style of Americana, the film suffers from common superhero movie tropes. Despite the film’s lack of smart visual methodology, it delivers a fundamental theme that will pierce the audiences’ heart.
The opening scene of Wonder Woman 1984 features a young Diana Prince struggling to keep pace in an Olympics-like Amazonian competition. The movie then transitions to 1980s America, where Diana works at the Smithsonian Institute with Barbara Minerva. Scattered among boxes of artifacts, Diana and Barbara discover a wishing rock capable of granting requests, but only at the personal expense of its owner. Diana unintentionally wishes for the resurrection of Steve Trevor.
In a moment of weakness, Barbara is seduced by the wealthy donor Maxwell Lord and is tricked into giving up the wishing rock. In reality a failing businessman, Lord takes the wishing rock and requests the transfer of power from the rock to himself. As a result, he becomes a successful businessman. Lord discovers that the U.S. has a worldwide broadcasting satellite through which he can assume total control of the world. Diana and Steve confront him at the White House and discover that he is working with Barbara. Later, Steve recognizes that his return is draining Diana’s powers and convinces her to renounce her wish. In a heartfelt moment, Diana is forced to lose Steve again in return for strength. Directly afterwards, she proceeds to the satellite headquarters where to find Lord. However, she is met by Barbara, who uses the stone to transform into ‘Cheetah.’ Following a conflict between them, Diana uses her Lasso of Truth to communicate to the world a message: though life brings suffering, people must cling to the truth regardless.
The beauty of cinema lies in the way experiences and emotions are conveyed through visual cues. Cinematography, color palettes, editing, sound, and many more features make up film as a visual medium. Rather than relying on verbal explanations and simple exposition, film should illustrate fundamental themes, drawing audiences deeply into the complexities of personality and emotion.
Cinema does not need a message to convey. As David Lynch once said, it “is a thing that deals with things beyond words.” Though people may infer meaning from a film, the foundation of good filmmaking is grounded in the experience that stretches beyond the screen into the heart of the audience. Films should aim to provide something the elements naturally omitted by books. As a visual medium, it should seek to rely on visual methods to convey meaning rather than literary ones.
WW84 suffers from such a methodology, containing much exposition-riddled and disruptive dialogue. I think that Jenkins, Johns, and Callaham – the credited writers, should have trusted their audience to discern what is going on in each scene. The characters explain verbally what should have been demonstrated through action, showing a distrust in the audience’s ability to follow the basic plot.
This is most painfully evident in the number of scenes dedicated to elaborating and over-dramatizing the wishing rock’s powers. While comic books and comic films often involve popular proverbs, such as the well-known “be careful what you wish for” of the wishing rock, it is necessary to dilute the dramatics so that the message may be more effectively translated into film.
As for its cinematography, although WW84 contained a few good shots from the credited cinematographer Matthew Jensen, the work follows the common trend of unoriginality in other superhero movies. Smart camerawork involves the strategic positioning of the camera to move seamlessly between sequences. While editing, cuts should only be used to divide emotional beats. As seen in WW84, bland editing contains cuts between each line of dialogue, detracting from the natural continuity of the scenes.
Aside from these issues, WW84 has a heart of gold—illustrated through dialogue, character arcs, and visual imagery. Diana’s character serves to highlight the idea that a light of truth persists, even amidst great suffering. Although this is a predominantly wordless inference, the viewer senses Diana’s loneliness and personal struggles throughout the film. Seeing her eat dinner alone surrounded by happy couples demonstrates this theme—a visual storytelling method which director Patty Jenkins should have emphasized throughout the film. Rather than relying on verbal explanations of themes, visual representation better serves to draw the viewer into the suffering and reconciliation of its characters: the very purpose of a motion picture.
It is also important to highlight the similarity between Cheetah’s and Lord’s characters. Both have histories of being ignored and abused by the greater part of society. Flashbacks of Lord’s challenging childhood reveal a disruptive life at home and an equally harsh experience at school. Barbara’s recollections reveal sexual harassment and intentional ignorance to her cries for help. Both characters carry with them the common suffering of the human experience: loneliness, hopelessness, and victimization. Life is not easy and humanity is riddled with suffering, however, the key distinction between Barbara, Lord, and Diana is that Diana’s suffering compels her to love her enemies rather than turn to violence for redemption. This part of Diana’s character is displayed in her interaction with Steve during their pursuit of Lord at the White House. While White House security fires at them, Steve takes a sword from the wall before Diana tells him: “Leave it. It’s not their fault.” Diana is conscious of the danger this causes for both of them, but she also recognizes the value of human life – even life belonging to her enemies. As Patty Jenkins stated in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, “[Diana] doesn’t punch people in the face. That’s not the most effective way to stop something from happening. And she doesn’t stomp on somebody’s chest to get information. She’s not that kind of person.”
By empathizing with her enemies, Diana is able to minimize the damage caused by those who take on Barbara and Lord’s sense of justice: an act of love saving everyone in the third act of the film. Diana explains to the world that they are not alone in their suffering.
To learn more about this particular analysis, take a look at HiTop Films’ Wonder Woman 1984 is (Kinda) Wonderful.
In retrospect, this movie involves implications for our lived-out faith. Wonder Woman is a superhero to whom Christians can relate. The film’s message about choosing love over a fight can be likened to Christ’s message to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39 ESV). Power doesn’t necessitate personal reprisal; rather, it should lead to empathy for our enemies. In this way, we have a true chance of saving them. In my opinion, although Diana’s character arc fails to redeem the film, it was a fair attempt at demonstrating the most important aspects of cinema. While plot elements draw you into the created universe, the art should move the viewer to a unique emotional experience. Despite its moral lesson, WW84 failed to produce a memorable experience for myself. I was not reminded of why the relationship between Diana and Steve mattered, an issue further expounded by the ridiculous clichés and stereotypes throughout the film. In this way, Wonder Woman 1984 represents the best and worst parts of the superhero genre. The film displayed the humanity of Wonder Woman in such a way that its themes lean into a universally relatable sense of human emotion. On the other hand, the distracting CGI, the wishing rock cliché, the Cheetah stereotype, the disenchanting plot, and the lack of visual elements throughout made this film exceptionally average. Its binary dimension accentuated a dissonance within the experience that it aimed to provide but did not achieve. Wonder Woman 1984 had the potential to be a great movie, but its shortcomings were strong enough for this to not be the case.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not proport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.