WW84 Review: An Utterly Incoherent, Regressive, and Queerbaiting Disappointment
The sequel to the often called revolutionary “Wonder Woman” (2017) is gonna leave you begging for the credits to start rolling.
This story contains spoilers for the newly released Wonder Woman 1984 (2020).
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In the summer of 2017, Warner Bros. released the first Wonder Woman movie into theatres — and it was revolutionary. It had a well-written woman as the main character — a "strong powerful woman" who was not a stern empty vessel of muscles, but who was empathetic and loving above all else.
The Hanz Zimmer score was exhilarating and complimented its iconic action sequences. It had a great, but still relatively simple, story that was not overridden by its subplot romance. The film became instantly beloved for its contribution to comic book movies and the refreshing representation of women in film.
This last Friday, the sequel, Wonder Woman 1984 (directed by Patty Jenkins, written by Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham), was released onto HBO MAX and selected theatres worldwide.
A General Summary
Set in the '80s, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is "living quietly" and, according to the official synopsis, only does heroic acts incognito. Of course, incognito means running and swinging around in her Wonder Woman armour with no mask or any sort of disguising feature, in front of hundreds of people at the local mall.
While living this very secret life, Diana also runs a reputable research department where she curates a collection of archaeological artefacts. In this department, we meet the movie’s supposedly main villain, archaeologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), also known in the comics as The Cheetah.
When the FBI acquires many ancient archaeological artefacts, they contact Diana's department to help identify them - they specifically want Barbara's help.
I do just want to be petty for a moment and point out how we never hear about the FBI after this is announced—I mean we don't even see just one agent in sunglasses watching in the background. This—mentioning something rather big and then never returning to it—is quite a common theme throughout the film.
One of these artefacts is an ancient Monkey Paw-type artefact. It's essentially a wishing stone that unbeknownst to the wisher will create dire consequences.
Diana wishes for Steve to come back to life. Now, why is she still mourning and lingering for a man that she had a fling with for a couple of days nearly seventy years ago? Your guess is as good as mine. After recently having been assaulted in the street at night, Barbara wishes to become like Diana; "strong and sexy".
This stone has also gained the attention of a power-hungry businessman/television personality (sounds familiar?) Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) who is at the brink of failure and bankruptcy. After seducing Barbara, he steals the stone and uses his wish to become it.
This gives him the power to grant people wishes while simultaneously taking their most valuable possession or trait from them. Creating instant chaos, and Wonder Woman's goal becomes to take him down and get everyone to renounce their wishes.
Plot Holes So Bad That Not Even Flex Tape Could Seal Them
A common thread throughout this film is that it feels like a different person has written each scene. As if someone just assigned the scenarios from the outline to random, amateur writers, and then compiled their first drafts and didn't edit it at all.
But unfortunately, this film was allegedly written by three professional Hollywood scriptwriters. Knowing that somehow just makes this awful plot and dialogue even worse.
The movie is riddled with Ex Deus Machinas, a lazy write-out where hen the characters are written into a corner, and the writer saves them with some ridiculous happenstance. One of the most absurd ones were when Diana and Steve stole a plane from an aero museum to fly to Cairo.
A couple of things there already - Diana says they can’t just go on a regular plane since Steve doesn’t have a passport - but how do they know that the man he is occupying doesn’t have one? Why does this museum expo have fully functioning and fueled aeroplanes ready? How does 1918 Steve Trevor know how to fly a modern plane? No bumps in the air whatsoever? And how does he even know how to get to Cairo? They didn't plan for this whatsoever, and yet it all goes perfectly.
But those are minor issues compared to the fact that when the radar that is tracking them starts beeping, Diana suddenly and very conveniently knows how to make things invisible. Sure, Jan.
Now, I can't possibly go over all of these plotholes—I will let CinemaSins deal with that—but the one thing that I just couldn’t stand was when our characters would start acting in completely contradictory ways to how they were thinking only two scenes ago. So let’s talk about these characterholes.
Characters are supposed to drive the plot. They are supposed to be fleshed out, active, and conscious. But in WW84, the plot pushes the characters. One of the most glaring examples of this is Barbara's villain origin story.
Diana, Steve, and Barbara are researching the stone’s origin; yet somehow we skip the part where they bring up the fact that this stone has some wild, magical powers. For whatever reason, Barbara seems completely cool with this even though she (to our knowledge) hasn't had any prior interaction with any magical objects.
But after consulting a Mayan shaman (because Mayans can only be in movies if they are shamans) and finding out that they have to renounce their wish to destroy it, Diana and Barbara both initially refuse to do this. Barbara doesn't want to give up on her newfound strength and empowerment, and Diana doesn't want to give up on Steve. This is verbally stated, yet Barbara now disappears to buy black eyeshadow to square up against Diana.
The next time Diana and Barbara see each other is at the White House. Maxwell has managed to control the President's power, and Diana and Steve are attempting to stop him. Barbara appears in her new villain fashion and fights against Diana to protect Maxwell.
But why? Why has she so suddenly become a villain? Why is she fighting against Diana even though they want the same thing? The only other thing we have seen of Barbara in between this and the shaman scene, was her beating up the man who attacked her the other night, and who then tried to sexually assault her again. How does standing up to sexually violent criminals make you a villain? Her motivations do not make sense, and Diana's response to her character shift doesn't either.
What the stone is supposedly taking from Barbara, according to Diana, is her humanity. I wouldn't have a massive problem with this had it not been because Barbara wasn't painted as some overly loving Disney princess before this. Not more so than the average person, at least. Diana starts to lose her powers to the stone, making sense as they are an essential part of her identity.
Barbara's actions aren't outrageously "inhumane" either. Sure, she throws guys at the wall, but she isn’t barbaric. She doesn't seem to enjoy it either. Her entire "villain origin story" is honestly just irrational and incoherent.
It almost feels as if the writers had written this empathetic, funny, intelligent, and heavily insinuated queer woman - and then mid-script, they remembered that she is supposed to be the villain. So they did a 180 on her persona and simply couldn't be bothered to rewrite the first act.
This is starting to remind me of some painful memories surrounding certain Targaryen queen. ..
The Wasted Potential of Barbara Minerva
I don’t have anything against Kristen Wiig, but I don’t think she was the right cast for this role. Not only does she just act the same way she does on SNL, but she is also just another white addition to an already very white cast.
Barbara is portrayed as the typical nerd who’s clumsy and wears glasses. For whatever reason, her disability to walk in heels is a significant part of her identity. After her wish comes true, she goes through the age-old, sexist, Ugly Duckling transformation (check out this excellent video essay for more info). She can suddenly walk in heels, doesn’t need her glasses, and the office people start paying attention to her. It is a tired cliché.
The whole “moral of the story” of the film is that wishing for something to happen, is not the truth, but just cheating and a shortcut. It is greed - Diana’s greed for Steve, Maxwell’s for wealth, Emir Said Bin Abydos’ for control.
Since Barbara wished for a 2-in-1 (to be like Diana; sexy and strong), the focus of her wish is put on her appearance and from-nerd-to-bad-bitch transformation, instead of on her ability to defend herself from misogynistic violence. They desperately try to paint her as greedy and self-obsessed rather than a woman who just doesn’t want to be afraid anymore.
If you were excited to see The Cheetah in action, you will be sorely disappointed. Not only does it take over two hours for her to show up as The Cheetah, but the logistics behind her transformation are... clunky and questionable.
Sure - we have seen her complimenting cheetah print one time, but saying "I wish to be an apex predator" sounds incredibly silly. If there had been a scene where we saw her admiring cheetahs, it would make a little more sense. But because she liked a stiletto? Come on now.
Plus, her cheetah form looks like a rejected character design from Cats (2019). I would attach a picture, but it seems like the studio is well aware of the visual crime they have created since they have released near-zero imagery of it.
So, the actual Cheetah was underwhelming. But Barbara's character in the first thirty minutes is pretty pleasant. Mainly because it seems like she is about to become Diana's new love interest—from the moment she first met her, she seemed head over heels for her.
She even asks her out for lunch. The two laugh, and the flirting is oozing off of the screen. Barbara is flustered, and while looking directly at Diana, she says that she is constantly in love. Diana tells her that she thinks she's funny and that she hasn't laughed this much in years.
I have seen a lot of queerbaiting throughout the years. But usually, it's relatively subtle enough for a generally conservative hetero audience not to notice it. But the chemistry between these two characters was unlike anything I have seen in a long time. On a romantic tension scale, this was on Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper at the Oscars level intensity (10/10).
But of course, they just couldn't risk that precious overseas box office. Instead, they had to swoop in with a man from the dead to save the canonically bisexual Wonder Woman from the wraths of same-sex love.
Let the Dead Rest in Peace, Please.
The day after Diana made her wish; a stranger shows up at a gala she is attending. It turns out that Steve has been resurrected from the dead and is currently controlling another man's body.
Why did the stone bring him back in the vessel of a different body? Please don't ask, 'cause we don't have any good answers.
And where did the consciousness of the man that Steve is currently hijacking go? Oh, you mean this very real human? Yeah, we actually can't be bothered to worry about that.
So what about his life - what kind of consequences will this have? We don't care about that either, sorry lol.
How is it in any way, ethically okay for Diana to be having sex with the body of a man who is not conscious or consenting? Is- is someone talking? Sorry, I can't hear a thing!
Now, there is no reason for Steve to be in this movie. I love Chris Pine. In fact, the only part of that I genuinely enjoyed was when he was trying on different '80s outfits; probably partially because it has absolutely no relevance to the frustrating plot.
But it just feels so weird to have her still linger for him these several decades later - as if her life isn't worth anything without him in it. Has she not grown over what for many is a lifetime? Has she not changed, moved on, in any way? How come they are both the exact same people, the exact same couple, as they were seven decades ago?
I'm all for the love and whatnot, but it just comes across as a very regressive concept. After all, the franchise is called "Wonder Woman", not "Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor". His appearance feels forced. His character isn't put to any use and purely functions as eye candy and the occasional comedic relief.
When Diana decides to renounce her wish and let go, it is only for "the greater good". It is not because she has learned a lesson about moving on and living in the moment. It is not because she realises that she is a different person and that the two don't fit the same way anymore.
It's not because she knows that him being there isn't really him. It is not because he has changed from how she remembered him. It is not because of any character development or growth, it is entirely because she is the good guy, and that's what good guys do.
This same lack of character development goes for Barbara as well. Instead of Diana talking down to her, she should be telling Barbara that she doesn’t need to be like Diana; that she just needs to find this power within herself. Instead, Diana opts to electrocute her; an excellent way to get your message across.
Wonder Woman 1984 had an incredible opportunity for showing a woman loving woman relationship on the bigger screen than ever seen before. Diana is canonically bisexual in the comics, and comes from an island that only consists of women where that would be the standard!
This could have led to a beautiful relationship and lesson for Diana to learn that as an immortal she has to let the past be, or else she will never enjoy the present. To learn that love is infinite and can present itself in so many ways.
A Confusingly Sympathetic Parody of Donald Trump
Although you would assume from the trailers and synopsis that The Cheetah is Wonder Woman's ultimate villain in this movie, that baton is passed very early on to Pedro Pascal's Mr Maxwell Lord. Maxwell is a television personality known as "the oil guy", and for his catchphrase: Welcome to the future. Life is good! But it can be better.
He is a sleazy businessman with a company at the brink of collapsing after failing to satisfy his investors with the oil revenue he pitched them. Divorced and in disarray, he also keeps on neglecting his son, Alistar.
As we will find out, Maxwell is a Latino immigrant. He changed his name, probably as soon as he was able to, and was determined to be the American Dream. A self-made millionaire. He wants his son to see him this way too - he wants to show him what is possible. And in this, his drive that will eventually turn into world-ending greed is rooted.
In analysis, separate from watching the actual movie, it is quite a powerful story. But through WW84's execution it becomes too large and loses its humanity.
Not to mention that the similarities of this portrayal to Trump are undeniable. Gal Gadot swears that Maxwell was not intentionally inspired by him, and I do believe her, but that doesn't mean it doesn't leave a bit of a sour aftertaste.
Racists Stereotypes and a Lack of Diversity
This is a remarkably white cast movie. There are two minor roles portrayed by black women - an unnamed Amazonian who wins an Olympic-like competition in the opening scene and Diana's co-worker Carol (Natasha Rothwell), who we see for just around three minutes altogether.
A few other BIPOC characters, including Kelvin Yu's Jake, are also thrown to the side and play a little to no importance for the story or the main characters. That is except for the gross and very prominent misrepresentation of North African and Middle Eastern people.
Maxwell's ultimate goal is to become the King of Oil. Once he has become the wishing stone, he takes to Egypt to meet the oil tycoon, Emir Said Bin Abydos (Amr Waked).
The following sequence preserves all sorts of horrificly racist stereotypes about Arabs, as well as Diana's very own white saviour moment. For a much better breakdown than what I can provide, please read this article by Roxana Hadadi:
For more information on the misrepresentation of Middle Eastern and North African people in the media, please also click through this infographic:
So the Writing Was Bad, How About the Visuals?
Cinema is, first and foremost, a visual medium. So if the plot is simple, and the characters a bit basic, I can sometimes forgive it if I still find myself swallowed by the lighting, cinematography, and other effects before me.
A classic example of this is Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) - the story isn't what is captivating about it. It is the revolutionary neo-noir imagery that painted it and made it into the cult classic it is today.
A few modern examples off the top of my head are Doctor Strange (2016), and Pacific Rim (2013). I am not saying that these movies' scripts are necessarily bad. I'm just saying that it isn't the writing that keeps you watching.
But Wonder Woman 1984 doesn't have that. Even though they set it in the neon '80s, the cinematography is relatively flat and insignificant. There was an excellent potential for a visual feast with the setting, but they didn't play with it in any further way than by showing the occasional legwarmers.
The CGI in the film looks rushed, which makes you wonder considering the fact that its release was pushed back nearly a year (it was initially set to be released on Nov 1. 2019). The fight scenes look odd, and the car chase that was supposed to emulate the same thrill from the No Man's Land scene from the first film - which has come to be one of the most iconic action scenes in CBM history - felt like any other stale, generic action sequence.
I will say that there are a few pretty cool Wonder Woman specific imagery though, including her using her Laso of Truth to swing between strikes of lightening. Unfortunately, that's a very brief moment. You also have her golden eagle armour, but it doesn’t enhance or give her any new abilities - there is no reason for her to be using it at all. When she is flying free, she looks incredibly stiff and uncomfortable, which takes you away from an iconic moment.
A Waste of $200 Million, Let Alone $14.99
Somehow, this movie which had an incoherent plot, cheesy dialogue, mediocre acting, plain cinematography, and half-hearted CGI and action scenes, had a budget of $200 million. This was a less than average blockbuster, that probably wouldn't have felt as shit had it not been because of the predecessor's precedent.
I love Wonder Woman's character and what she stands for. I am (excluding this) a big fan of Patty Jenkins; she used to be a big inspiration for me as an aspiring female filmmaker. I am not criticising this movie as a hateful incel fanboy - I am criticising it as a fan who loves this character, and feel deeply dissapointed by this result. Not only was it cinematically underwhelming, but it was morally repulsive.
If you are considering getting an HBO Max subscription, then go for it! But don't do it to watch this movie. It's simply not worth it.
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Evita is a Glasgow based writer and podcaster creating food for thought conversations on all things culture, trends, film and TV.
For more content, follow her on Instagram @MalinEvita, and listen to her podcast with filmmaker Shania Bethune, Making It: Women in Film, available on all major podcast platforms. Season two airs February 5th.