Gal Gadot once again straps up her high heel boots and becomes Wonder Woman for a second time in Wonder Woman 84, the sequel to the 2017 smash hit Wonder Woman. The movie is plagued with regressive tropes about women in a movie that is supposed to empower women in a feminist superhero film. Not even Pedro Pascal’s stellar performance as Maxwell Lord can offset the horrible missteps this film makes in intensely cringy script, an incomprehensible geopolitical backdrop, and the upsetting use of digital fur technology.
One of the few super heroine movies out there in a sea of testosterone-fueled comic book movies, it’s expected that this movie would be under scrutiny and uphold a higher standard than set by the first movie. This was supposed to be the movie – female warriors kicking ass. And despite the distinctly third act whiff that Wonder Woman seems to mess up every single time, the resulting movie was fun, if not simple and straightforward.
Wonder Woman 1984 is set almost 70 years after the first movie. Diana Prince hasn’t aged a day being an amazon and daughter of Zeus, and moved to Washington D.C., where she took up a job at the Smithsonian, using her weekends saving children in the mall and rescuing brides that fall over bridges. The entire time mourning the loss of her wartime partner Steve (Chris Pine), who sacrificed himself to save the world. All the while ignoring the fact this would be long aged and died by now or extremely old next to an ageless amazon. Diana is soon joined at work by Barbra Minerva (Kristen Wiig), an awkward, frumpy, and lonely gemologist; among a few other disciplines, who finds herself in possession of a wish-granting citrine rock. Diana, while examining the rock inadvertently wishes for Steve; while Barbra’s greatest wish is to be “sexy” and powerful, like her new friend Diana.
Before her granted wish, Barbara has a very typical Hollywood homely look. Several layers of clothing, all baggy, wears glasses, messy hair, and socially awkward. Suddenly after the wish, she transforms her current wardrobe by removing some clothing and suddenly finds tailored, well fitting clothing, and magically has a sense of balance on heels, and magically doesn’t need glasses. The boring, “ugly girl in glass” trope is so old and played out, flashbacks from every teenager movie and most telling, a DC movie from almost 30 years prior, Batman Returns ala Selina Kyle’s transformation into Cat Woman, plays through. This transformation feels out of place in a movie based around an empowered woman like Diana who wears whatever she wants and has a fashionable era appropriate attire.
Barbara’s eventual transformation into the feline supervillain Cheetah, who is a great enemy of the comic version of Wonder Woman, eventually becomes her “apex predator” self through wishes, turns into something of an eyesore with PTSD flashbacks to Cats. Also proves to have little to no resemblance to the comic book version and provides little to no resistance to Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman herself just doesn’t seem anything like the ultra-feminine warrior from the previous movie. Diana is supposed to be bisexual, especially with her queer-baiting lines on how Amazons don’t need men for pleasure, you’d expect to have her find someone else, anyone else after 70 years with her very brief romance with Steve. However, she is still single, and with no suggestion of being romantically involved with someone else. A flat, one-dimension love story about Steve Trevor makes for a boring movie, especially with a rather interesting chemistry between Cheetah and Wonder Woman not allowed to be explored shows what could have been.
The cumulative results of Wonder Woman 1984 felt like two steps backwards from the forward step that Wonder Woman made prior. The hero is still a powerful woman, and while the movie misses several opportunities to subvert demeaning tropes to women it falls short. It’s no longer enough at the end of 2020 or summer, for a female superhero to suit up and fight a giant CGI character just like all the other male characters. The lack of feminine progress makes you wonder if it’s no longer just an exception but the rule.
Positively, Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t pander or condescend to its female audience, but doesn’t seem to acknowledge them either. I was expecting an inspiring tale of woman versus the world and I didn’t get that. Even her romance felt flat and uninspired, her end game sacrifice felt uninspired and not emotional. I didn’t feel any emotional tug to rally behind the titular character like the first movie. Maybe the female heroine just isn’t ready yet, at least not with DC. Maybe take some lessons from movies like Aliens, Terminator, or even Hunger Games. Those are strong women that can do it all, and they are all heroes, even the DC animated universe did better at giving Diana Prince a strong feminine warrior energy that once again just couldn’t be matched in live action.