Finally, Wonder Woman 1984 has arrived. I never knock anyone for taking any precautions they feel necessary during these times, but it was nice to see a nearly full theater for what I am sure was supposed to be a summer blockbuster. There were two empty seats next to me, but otherwise my row, and the rows behind and in front of me, were full. It was a refreshing semblance of normalcy after so long a time without it. As for the film itself, well, it was alright. Perhaps I enjoyed it more because there was an actual crowd in the cinema. Despite being somewhat of a loner, I enjoy people and seeing their reactions to things. It is partially why I like going shopping on Black Friday. It may, like the movie, suck in general, but there is a certain thrill in the air, a seasonal thrill of hope. Hope can be a powerful tonic in the darkest of times, and that partially explains today’s film.
In describing Wonder Woman 1984, I am going to deviate somewhat in my tried and true formula. As I was alluding to at the end of the previous paragraph, there is a nugget of a message in this movie that bears a deeper analysis, and makes it at least passable to watch, unlike its predecessor in the franchise, Wonder Woman (2017), and other recent DC offerings. Hence, I would like to address the problems with the sequel first in order to give more time to what I liked about it. The problem with the first one was partially the history, but also I found its supposed female empowerment message to not be as present as some believe. Because it is set in 1918, there was no moment when Diana (Gal Gadot) takes on the issues facing her sex in that day. Instead, they go with a broader, hey, look, its a powerful woman taking on ultimate evil, angle for the film’s theme. Great, but not entirely original. Fast forward almost seventy years, and apparently there is even less of a feminist agenda in Wonder Woman 1984, which is, of course, ridiculous. And there is no narrative reason, again like the first, for setting this one in the mid-1980s, other than to give a nod to the late 1970s Wonder Woman television show. It is both subtle, and blatant in an end-credits scene that features Lynda Carter, who played the title role on the show, as Asteria. So I guess because the show was still popular in the 1980s that is when decided to set this movie? Speaking of popular superheroes from that era, when we finally get to 1984, we see Wonder Woman running around Washington DC, quite literally, stopping all manner of petty crimes being committed in the area. It smacked of the Superman movies of the same era as the Wonder Woman show in its hokeyness, not to mention its over-the-top commitment to everything ’80s. Speaking of hokey, one of the sillier aspects of Wonder Woman’s character that had been present in comic books, subsequent cartoons, and the television show, is the fact that Wonder Woman has an invisible jet. Somewhere in the preceding decades they realized how dumb of a concept that is and decided to just give her the ability to fly on her own. Yet, they decided to address both these things in the most slap-dash way possible. If you have only seen previews of this film, nothing will be spoiled here. That will come later. Anyway, Diana, and the miraculously alive Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), have to fly to Egypt in order to stop the designs of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). But they need to be able to do so in a jet that any lackey with a functioning radar can spot. The solution? Something about how Diana had seen some god on Themiscyra make things become invisible, thus she disappears their (stolen) plane. But later on, they decide, nah, enough of that nonsense, she can just fly now because Steve seemed to suggest it was possible. Okay. . . . Another completely unnecessary aspect of this film was Steve himself. Once more seemingly just because, they have him occupying the body of another person, which slowly morphs into Steve before Diana’s eyes, and yet still looks like the other guy to everyone else? Huh? Why not just have him appear as Steve Trevor?Why was he in even in the film? He literally served no purpose other than possessing the ability to fly . . . although the last time he was alive it was 1918 and jet propulsion was still almost thirty years into the future. Maybe the concepts are the same? *cough-no*
The one aspect of Wonder Woman 1984 that is fascinating and stupid at the same is the so-called Dreamstone. It is a magical gem that possesses the ability to grant one wish to anyone who comes in contact with it. There is the inevitable catch, though, as it exacts a price on anyone who makes a wish. Hopefully you can understand just how dangerous would be such an item, and why somebody like the shady businessman Maxwell Lord would want to have it as his own. He had been trying to get an oil company off the ground, but his investors were backing out when his prospective fields turned up dry. In yet another unexplained plot twist, he had found out about the ancient wonder gem and had been trying to obtain it for some time. When he does finally get his hands on it, his wish is to become the stone itself, taking the power of it into his own being and with the ability to determine the price each wish exacts from the person who makes it. His only desire is obtain wealth and influence over the entire world, and, surprise-surprise, he becomes corrupted by it. He begins small by getting people to wish things for him that he would like for himself, such as his oil fields to begin producing. But the more wishes he grants, the more of a physical toll it takes on his body. Thus, because the United States government has a secret broadcasting satellite that can override all signals on the planet (because, why not?) he gets the president to allow Lord access to it. Somehow the signal being sent out to everyone in the world, “touching” them, in other words, means they can all make their desires known to him, and he can grant them despite not physically being in their presence. Now, who would not want their one wish to come true? The problem is so often those desires are not exactly the most enlightened. Take prayer, which is in a limited sense wish-making. I know of many people, myself included, who have prayed for things that we wanted to happen, only to have them not come true. This is because God is not a Dreamstone. God has a wisdom that is beyond our comprehension. Does He have the power to grant anything we ask? Of course. But if that were all there was to God, then there would be no need for Faith. When we have a prayer answered, it is something that will lead us to something bigger, something that will bring about a change for the better, and hopefully bring us closer to God. There is no purpose to wishing for a new bike for Christmas and having that magically occur. It obviates the hard work of parents to get the money needed for that item, and the closeness that comes with the gratitude for such a present. Even Diana is guilty of such trivialities when she unwittingly wishes to have her long-dead lover, Steve, brought back to life when she comes in contact with the stone. Setting aside the nonsense of her being still hung up on a guy who she knew several decades previously for all of about a month, she has to come to realize that we cannot always instantly have what we want. Actually, I really liked this aspect of the story because it humanize the goddess. Even she has limits, but in order to tap into the limitless she must let go of her selfish desires. Ultimately this is a lesson the entire world must come to realize, both in the movie and (I would posit) in real life because the alternative is utter chaos.
Hence, the Dreamstone in Wonder Woman 1984 is a flimsy plot device in that it becomes a magic wand that makes anything possible, but it is a wonderful illustration of the dangers of being granted whatever you want. I could go into other Biblical examples of the corruption of power, from David on up. The point is that expediency is not the best route. The character who best exemplifies this is Barbara Minvera (Kristen Wiig). When I first saw that the famous Saturday Night Live comedienne was going to be one of the villains, and the one with which Wonder Woman was mainly going to have to tussle, I was frankly puzzled. Now that I have seen it, I enjoyed her performance immensely. As a new employee of the Smithsonian, and brought in to study the Dreamstone along with Diana after it is confiscated from robbers who were trying to steal it for Lord, Barbara wishes to be just like Diana. She does not realize that her co-worker is Wonder Woman, but slowly discovers these powers after her wish is granted. In the process, the shy, slightly disheveled but good-natured Barbara becomes a vivacious butt-kicker who is reluctant to give up her newfound abilities when they figure out what Lord has done and how to stop him. Doing so would mean that Barbara would go back to being unnoticed and little regarded, thus you can understand her motivation. She truly is the most fleshed out character in the film . . . but then they had to make her into some “apex predator” cat woman, somehow. For the whole movie the rule with the stone is one person, one wish. But then in the climactic moment when Wonder Woman comes to stop Lord, Barbara comes out looking like Cheetara from ThunderCats (look it up, you will laugh) when moments ago she was her normal self. No explanation. Just, bam!, Cheetara.
One might look at names like Lord in Wonder Woman 1984 and think there is a subtle dig at Christianity. After all, he is trying to obtain God-like powers, but doing so for selfish purposes. To me, it is just a last name, though who knows? Maybe there is a small conspiracy in that name. I would put nothing past Hollywood. And given some of the perplexing aspects of this film, it could very well be the case. However, the lessons about power and the dangers of wielding it actually earn the movie my cautious recommendation. What saves the day, after millions of people around the world make their petty wishes and the resulting bedlam that occurs, is when Lord realizes that in order to save his son he must renounce his wish to be the stone. Now, what happens to the Dreamstone, or Barbara, or Lord, or how everyone picks up the pieces afterwards so quickly, is frustratingly not addressed. But in the end, getting such cheap results is a lie. “Truth is all there is,” as the movie says, and that is God.
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