I Wish “Wonder Woman 1984” Had Been About Wonder Woman

Major spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984 below

Two-thirds of the way through Wonder Woman 1984, Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and Zeus, the mightiest of the Gods of Olympus, finds herself wounded and being practically carried through the streets of Washington D.C. by regular human man Steve Trevor; then shuffled into an alleyway where he pleads with her to let him go, and she refuses, while humanity burns all around them. Her attachment to him is draining her powers. This after nearly two hours of Diana pining for Steve; indulging Steve in an ’80s fashion montage and a leisurely trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum while a god-honed artifact is being used by an evil businessman to take over the world; being rescued from car chases by Steve and piloted around in an invisible jet which she creates for Steve; and having the most basic plot points of the film explained to her by Steve, despite the fact that she is a world-renowned scholar of basically everything who casually reads Latin as a hobby.

Steve Trevor is the main and unconquerable problem of Patty Jenkins’ follow-up to 2017’s nearly perfect Wonder Woman origin story, but it’s not the film’s only issue. Wonder Woman 1984 is a complete mess.

And that, Diana, is why I think I could return a serve from Serena Williams.

The story itself is nearly incoherent. Like so many Batmans before it, Wonder Woman finds herself up against two villains who circle around and ultimately tag-team with each other. There’s Pedro Pascal’s Trumpian Maxwell Lord, a narcissistic con-man who wants — well, that’s part of the problem. What does Maxwell Lord want? More, basically. The concept of more, a narratively philosophical pursuit way too far out of bounds for a movie that spends 15 minutes letting Chris Pine try on fanny packs. And then there’s Kristin Wiig’s Barbara Minerva/Cheetah, who just wants a little bit of respect and attention and to not be sexually assaulted in the park on her way home at night. Both Maxwell and Barbara get what they want by wishing on a lump of citrine that was crafted by an evil god? Or something? It’s unclear. The point is that every civilization where the Wishing Citrine shows up ultimately vanishes from the face of the earth because of the greed of the leaders. The Mayans, for example, were wiped out by their own gluttony in using the Wishing Citrine and not, you know, brutal Spanish colonization.

Meanwhile, Diana and Steve exist inside a rom-com from the moment he is resurrected. (Reincarnated? Revivified? Zombied?) They dance, they smooch, they cuddle, they hold hands and watch fireworks and do the tourist scene in D.C. and somehow have unfettered access to the West Wing of the White House and a runway of fully fueled antique(?) planes that inexplicably travel at super speed. Their storyline, which is a retread of the first movie, is baffling, but so are all the plot points inside it. Nearly every scene is overly long; the transitions between scenes are thoroughly disjointed; nothing that needs explaining is actually ever explained (Where did Steve even come from? And how? And what happened to the guy whose body he took over while he was inhabiting it? How does the Wishing Citrine actually work? And why? And from whomst!); and everything is resolved without explanation or repercussion.

And the movie won’t pass the bare minimum Bechdel Test after this!

The first 15 minutes of Wonder Woman 1984 are perfect, and everything that made the first film such a narrative, symbolic, and feminist triumph. A young Diana enters a Themysciran pentathlon-like gauntlet of climbing, diving, swimming, acrobatics, horseback riding, running, and archery. She very nearly beats fully grown Amazonian warriors, cheats a little, and learns a valuable lesson about doing what’s right and telling the truth from Robin Wright’s Antiope. Then, in the present day, she descends on a full-blown 1980s mall to save some kids from some bad guys, crunching up guns with her bare fists and winking sweetly at the little girls she rescues. Things take a turn for the worse, and never recover, as soon as Steve Trevor’s memory punctures the screen.

Steve pulling Diana through the chaotic streets of the nation’s capital during a global crisis is the antithesis of the Wonder Woman William Moulton Marston and his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and their partner, Olive Byrne, conceived as a superhero superior to every other in the Golden Age of comic books during World War II. More powerful than Superman, more ingenious than Batman, faster than The Flash, better at fighting Nazis than Captain America, and above all: wiser and more compassionate than every man to don a cape or cowl. In fact, as the main man in Wonder Woman’s life, Steve Trevor assumes the role of the damsel in distress in every Golden Age Wonder Woman story, an accomplished but deeply inept pilot in need of constant rescue. Not only does Wonder Woman refuse to marry him, or even go on a date with him; she perpetually warns every woman she knows not to lose themselves for any reason to any man — just as her mother warns her.

“These bracelets, they’re an Amazon’s greatest strength and weakness,” she says to herself once she breaks free from Nazi Baroness Paula von Gunther’s henchmen. “What a fool I was to let a man weld chains upon them! It just makes a girl realize how she has to watch herself in this Man’s World!”

Steve Trevor 1984

Steve Trevor 1984

In Wonder Woman 1984, Diana cannot get enough of Steve’s boring human head. She caresses it, stares at it, pulls and pokes at it, holds it close, strokes it, pets every inch of it. But her adoration of Chris Pine’s face has nothing on Jenkins, who frames Gal Gadot behind him constantly. The camera focuses on Steve’s reception to everything, while Diana reacts to his reactions. She isn’t just riding shotgun in her own iconic invisible plane; she’s in the passenger seat of her entire movie.

In the film’s climax, as Maxwell Lord manically and incessantly begs everyone on earth to utilize the power of the Wishing Citrine, my wife glared at the TV and said, “I wish this Wonder Woman movie had been about Wonder Woman.”

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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1144 articles for us.

63 Comments

  1. SPOILERS AHEAD.

    Couldn’t agree more, this movie was a mess from start to finish. Every character is also nearly unrecognizable from their comics counterparts, and not in a good way. I understand things sometimes must change from page to screen, but a vague resemblance to the heart of the character is welcome.

    And you’re absolutely right, Diana doesn’t need Steve Trevor to remind herself of who she is. Diana Prince would never have had Barbara reach out for a friend and very nearly said no to lunch- she would have said yes, no matter her personal grief. That is the power of the character- the kindness of the compassion that sets her apart- the boundlessness of it. How on Earth this movie lost sight of that when it was one of the best parts of the first, I really don’t know.

    The first fifteen minutes and the post credits scene were about the only redeemable part of this disaster.

    (and it’s racist too- the scene in Egypt about oil? What the fuck was that?)

  2. *Spoilers*
    – I did hate that Diana wishes for Steve, a man she knew for a few weeks 70 years ago, instead of seeing her mother again. But,
    – Steve’s clothing montage was kind of fun.
    – Diana and Barbara were in love and nobody can convince me otherwise. Barbara asks Diana on a date right after seeing her, and Diana is jealous AF when she sees Barbara flirting with Maxwell Lord.
    – I hate the scene where Barbara attacks the guy that attempted to assault her because it’s framed as her being a bad guy. If Batman beat the man who killed his parents near to death, you know that it would have been framed differently.

    For Serena:
    Wonder Woman 1984 is a superhero Happiest Season because: We initially see Barbara and Diana in a relationship, Barbara has a gay BFF (Maxwell Lord), Diana and Barbara go to a party where Diana meets up with her ex-beard (Steve), Diana runs around with Steve leaving Barbara feeling alone and confused, Diana and Barbara fight, Barbara’s BFF tries to shore her up, Diana leaves her ex-beard, Diana tries to make up with Barbara.

    • This. Their civilization collapsed due to a severe drought prior to the Spanish invasion (hey, that degree in archaeology actually comes in handy once in a while), but the Mayan people are very much alive today.

    • Doesn’t hinting at queerness have to be deliberate for queerbaiting to be a thing? Everything I’ve seen and read by Patty Jenkins, including this movie, is almost hawkishly straight. I didn’t read any purposeful queerness in this movie from anyone at any time!

      • Hmmmm… I wasn’t thinking about Patty Jenkins, I don’t know anything about her. With the knowledge that WW is canon bi, I think I looked at the Barbara/Diana scenes differently. Perhaps it wasn’t purposeful; but I read it as very gay.

        I apologize if my comment came off as aggressive – that was not my intention! I was just surprised about the lack of discussion of Barbara and Diana scenes because, intentional or unintentional, they seemed very sexual to me.

        thanks for your amazing writing as always!

  3. It feels so 2020 that WW1984 sucks!

    *spoiler-ish*
    This should have been a movie about Wonder Woman and Kristin Wiig/Cheetah, their friendship-to-rivalry arc, and maybe the difference in their philosophies on power and wish-fulfillment. But instead, this whole Maxwell Lord Trumpian nightmare is sandwiched in for an extra hour+, but teaches us nothing, and meanwhile Diana can’t have both a career and a happy love life, which is feminism goals 101.

    As always in these situations, Heather, thank you for sitting through the film and articulating so well how and why it has failed its source material! I recommend watching the first 11 minutes of this movie, switching to the sex scene in Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women when Elizabeth wears a cheetah print coat, and calling it a day.

  4. Thank you for this excellently detailed review, Heather! Because of you, I’m saved from spending ~2 hours of my life on this mess of a movie.

    Instead, I’ll read the book of Emily Dickenson’s poetry that my partner gave me for Christmas <3

  5. Spot on. I loved the first WW, and was so excited about this movie, seeing it as soon as it premiered. A total fail in my book, in every way possible. Right on par for something in 2020.

  6. These DC live-action films have pretty much ruined Wonder Woman for me. I’ve never been a fan of Gal Gadot’s performance or the way they have written this character. I feel the same way about Kate Kane. I think I will stick with some of the comics and animated features.

  7. yes this exactly. i don’t know whose fault it is but somehow Wonder Woman was a side character in her own movie. if i wanted to watch a movie about a mediocre man (Maxwell Lord, in this case) who does everything wrong the whole time but still gets redeemed in the end, i would go watch any other movie. somebody, or many somebodies, involved fundamentally misunderstands Diana and Wonder Woman as a character and it’s really disappointing, especially after getting it so right the first time.

    i did however enjoy Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig’s chemistry and Barbara’s obvious crush on Diana and every outfit that either of them wore the entire time, and the glorious Themyscira scenes at the beginning. that was about it.

  8. What an absolute hot mess that was. I’ve been looking forward to it for so long and it was 100% 2020-esque. Glad I read the above comments or I would have missed the post credits scene which was the only good part of the film. I’m so mad and so disappointed.

  9. This was awful! I wish it had been more about Wonder Woman and also? More about 1984.

    Also, CAN WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT THE NONCONSENSUAL SEX THING? I guess I don’t really want to talk about it, but I don’t think it should be overlooked, either.

    Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor used some poor guy’s body for dangerous adventures like being shot at while standing on top of fast-moving vehicles, and being shot at while flying in invisible airplanes, but if that weren’t bad enough, they used his body to have sex with each other.

    I don’t know if we were supposed to feel better because of Diana’s nonsensical conversation with the man once his body had been returned to him at the end, but I felt horrified, thinking that she knew lots of things about his body but he was totally unaware of this.

    • The thing I don’t understand about that, and will never understand, is that guy’s body was completely unnecessary! It made NO SENSE to have Steve take over another person’s body when he could have just returned in his own body! They had a wishing stone that could do LITERALLY anything in a fantasy world where anything was possible. The *only* reason to have that guy’s body was if the main resolution for Diana was always going to be that she learned to flirt again???? WHICH MAKES ME FEEL BANANAS!!!

  10. Thank you. I was beginning to think I was a little mad after seeing all the good reviews. This movie, literally, offended me. I can’t believe a woman actually directed this drivel. My husband and I kept repeating all the way through “Maybe it gets better. Maybe it gets better.” But it just kept getting more and more offensive.

    The sad part is that they could have had a great story and dynamic between Diana and Barbara and had that relationship/companionship be the focus instead of reviving a dead man. Heaven forbid a woman should ACTUALLY be the lead in a superhero movie without a man to carry her. Both the primary male characters in this movie were unnecessary and uninteresting.

  11. Through my second hand knowledge of DC canon, I know that in the comics Wonder Woman beats Maxwell Lorde by breaking his neck, on camera, with the whole world watching. The setup of the finale made that seem inevitable.

    My initial reaction to the movie was that it was an episode of Supergirl with a higher budget. Reading this review and some of the comments, I guess I was more right than I realized…

    • I’m hoping that after two installments where the exec interference was considered the bad part of the movie (WW – the Ares fight, WW84 – Maxwell Lord), Patty Jenkins will be able to do the third one with minimal overhead involvement.

  12. It has all these problems and also glosses over lack of consent. She sleeps with someone with a total disregard for his consent. She and Steve have no moral compass. This film is so flawed. I don’t know how it got made.

  13. I was already impressed by AS’s ability to avoid any talks of Middle Eastern politics with the first movie and any talk of it after, but it’s more galling in this review. A film this openly racist toward Arabs and Muslims starring a former IDF soldier and not even a mention of the political implications of that? I’m kind of exhausted by the fawning over Gal Gadot on this site when the majority of other reviews, even in mainstream outlets, at least mention her past and comments on Palestinians. The closest this review gets to talking about it’s political and not symbolic value is a throwaway line about Mayans.

    • Ahhhh I was wondering how long it would take us to get here.

      If you’re not protesting the nationality of American, Chinese, British, Australian, Canadian—and also literally every single other nationality—actresses, and only the Israeli ones, guess what! You might be a racist.

      I’ve got news for you! All countries do some pretty fucked things.

      But if you’re not also writing angry comments on the Autostraddle Salute to Trans People in the US Military (and you didn’t! No one did!), then this seems a little…selective…no?

      • I mean, I’m not on the ‘cancel Gal Gadot for being in the IDF’ train because I think that whole situation is more complex than a lot of the internet wants to give it credit for, BUT-

        I mean, that scene in Egypt was pretty bad on its own (and there’s so many other ways they could have made someone look bad without resorting to racist stereotypes), and the fact that no one thought about using a racist stereotype of that group while having an Israeli woman playing Wonder Woman is a little, well, mind-boggling. Again, not Gal Gadot’s fault- more just a ‘did literally no one of the hundreds of people who worked on this movie stop and think maybe we shouldn’t be racist about this’?

      • You’re making a lot of assumptions about my politics and background and none of them are true. I haven’t commented on anything on AS so I don’t think using my comment history as an indicator of my politics is exactly fair. Yes, I’m critical of the military regardless of country. The bulk of my comment was about the depiction of Arabs and the Middle East in the movie, something not at all mentioned in the review. If that is my main issue with the film, I don’t know why you think that would translate to support or indifference for the actions of militaries who are responsible for a lot of issues in that region.

        I’m Egyptian and the scenes in Egypt were wildly offensive to me. I find it weird to not even mention them or the political implications of them in this review. Whether or not you agree with me on Gadot and the IDF, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize anti-Zionism as racism or anti-semitism. That seems to be our main disagreement and not really one you’ve approached in good faith. My opinions on Israel are not my opinions on Jewish people and if you think any expression of anti-Zionism is completely racist and warrants these condescending replies where you try to discern someone’s politics from comments, maybe you should take issue with some of the staff here. Last I checked, the former EIC, Kamala, expressed similar beliefs and she was tasked with redesigning the new political direction of the site. I don’t plan on engaging further because as I said, you are clearly not interested in a discussion in good faith.

        I’m glad we can agree the scenes in Egypt were racist and unnecessary. If it would make you feel better, this is an issue in damn near every superhero movie ever and I would complain about it in those too, but you know, AS isn’t retroactively reviewing Iron Man movies.

        And yes, I find it disheartening than on AS, a site that rarely ever covers the Middle East in terms of politics or culture, a simple expression of anti-Zionism is immediately shot down as racist.

  14. This movie is problematic for many reasons. Gal Gadot comments about palestinians, and the idf is one part. But even you look past those things it’s still a pretty meh experience. I liked some parts of it. But yeah. The first part in Themyscira is amazing and the rest is just well, how did you not get over a man in 70 years? And she doesn’t even question his appearance other than at first not realizing it’s him. She’s like well I made a wish. I feel like there’s so much to unpack it’s pointless to do it in the comments. I should add though that the Mayan thing is weird. Because my thought when I saw it was that it was about the Mayan collapse in the 8th and 9th century ad. Because that was way before europeans arrived and we still don’t really know why it happened. That is okay to speculate with fantasy I think. But it was in europe before then so how would it get there without a boat? Magic too? I don’t know, it seems more likely that they’re talking about the Mayan subjugation due to colonization (and the plagues it brought). And that sucks to erase it.

    Someone on twitter wrote that the most unbelievable thing in the movie was Gal Gadot saving arab children though and that’s something I can’t get out of my head.

    The reason I saw this movie was to explore Diana’s character more and hopefully get more scenes in Themyscira. But the movie kinda failed to deliver on that front except for the opening which like you wrote was kinda perfect. I didn’t hope the movie would deliver on Diana’s bisexuality (because I knew that wouldn’t happen). But I wanted it to. And any hints were way to vague for me. One thing I hope this movie means is that the chapter of Steve being closed for the next one.

    The movie also seem kind of self-indulgent in its throwbacks to the 80s. I mean, I guess I know why some romanticize it but it was a horribly conservative age with reagan and thatcher and i think we tend to repress the horrible stuff in favor of remembering the colorful clothes and wacky movies. We remember sixteen candles but not the AIDS crisis.

    • Hi there! If you’re shitting on people for being in the Israeli army, but not the US, Chinese, British, or any other army, you just might be a racist!

      Just checked again—didn’t see your angry comments on Autostraddle’s Salute to Trans People in the US Military! Or the article interviewing Northrop Grumman engineers! Or the essays by a trans woman in the US military!

      Only when…it’s the world’s only majority Jewish country…it’s almost like I see a pattern here…

      • I would like to say that’s my bad but I don’t comment all that much. Any other army? Really? Not all armies commit war crimes. Sure the american one does and the Chinese at least have (but not recently afaik). The British have invaded half the world, but I think the statute of limitations is a limiting factor here. Though they ought to be punished for what they did to Argentina and Ireland. The only reason I find idf particularly bad is because of the war crimes they commit. If I could prosecute anyone guilty of a war crime, it wouldn’t matter which army they belong to. They all deserve to be punished. But Israel has slowly but surely gobbled up Palestine to a shadow of its former self. Nothing that was agreed upon by the UN. The state of Palestine live in a perpetual state of international exclusion because Israel blocks any attempt to legitimize them. If the US did this to a neighbor don’t you think that warrant a reaction? And yes the US have done that to their neighbors, something they ought be damn right ashamed of. And they ought return more land they stole.

        • “The Chinese have (but not recently afaik).”

          Then you are a very ignorant person with no business opining on what “The Jews” “deserve.”

          Google “Uighurs.”

          Really loving this new colonialism where Americans and Europeans who know little about the complexities think they can adjudicate what’s right and wrong for brown people half a world away.

          • I know about Uighurs.. I just don’t hold the army responsible. AFAIK the aren’t the ones doing it. And just because someone else is doing something bad Israel deserve no blame?

            I generally hold all countries to an extremely high standard.

            The complexity of a situation is hardly a justification for killing civilians and stealing lands. And yes europeans and Americans did it first but that doesn’t make it right. What make this matter more pressing is that it is is happening now. US army war crimes happened now. If you can’t see the difference then I don’t know what to tell you. Any army being used to commit war crimes now or recently should be tried at the international court in the Hague. Regardless of where they’re from. Yes I believe thst includes the idf and a bunch of other countries. No I don’t think Jews are responsible. I think those in power in Israel have used that power to wage illegal wars and take land that they believe rightly belongs them but that doesn’t have any standing in international law. When countries do that they should be punished. Your argument is based on the fiction that I believe Israel should be punished more than other countries. No I think they should tried for crimes they have committed. If they are found innocent I think they should be acquitted just like any other court case when it comes to war crimes. The treatment of Palestinians is ultimately the europeans and Americans fault because we were part of its creation. I still think Israel deserve to exist as a free state but not at the expense of the Palestinians autonomy. I believe in two state solution, something leaders in Israel and the USA don’t. But you can’t take land from someone and then not expect them fight back.

            And like I said in another comment, I don’t empathize with soldiers to the degree that I let that empathy overshadow my empathy for the people whose lives they’ve destroyed.

          • “I know about Uighurs.. I just don’t hold the army responsible. AFAIK the aren’t the ones doing it.”

            Then, again, you are a very ignorant person who needs to spend quality time with Google. And back to my original point…

    • For sure the Netanyahu government does many fucked-up things.

      But if you literally can’t believe that an Israeli would have feelings of humanity towards Arab children then I think it’s you who needs to re-examine.

      Saying an entire nation of people (coincidentally, mostly Jewish people) lacks all feelings of humanity is a pretty dangerous thing to say.

      But very nicely in line with old tropes about Jews being bloodthirsty monsters!

      I don’t think you’d say that Bush’s actions in Iraq mean all Americans would never feel empathy for Iraqi children.

      • I can’t believe someone who worked in army that is part of one of the more brutal occupations in recent times can talk about being sympathetic to children one’s country bombs no. I honestly don’t feel american veterans from the iraq and afghanistan deserves special treatment here. They were part of why the region is messed and millions dead. Regardless of backstory, they were part of war crimes. Laws prosecuting war crimes differentiate between those that gave the orders and those that followed and there certainly is less of a moral fault, but it’s still reprehensible to take part in violence and war. Murder of children. Am supposed to feel more for the soldiers than those that get in the way of their bullets and bombs? This has little to do with whether Israel is a jewish state. I think jews deserve a state. And that europe will never be able to be forgiven for what we’ve done as a whole to jews, not just the holocaust but every single drop blood shed innocently since the jewish diaspora in europe. But that doesn’t excuse the murder of innocents. And I’ve seen children and civilians bloodied and dead. From american bombs by IDF soldiers. And nothing will ever excuse that. Regardless of what country does it.

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