Wonder Woman 84. Oh, good Lord.
I have not yet seen Shazam, Joker, or Birds of Prey (and probably never will, as I have better things to do), so I can’t say for sure that Wonder Woman 84 is the worst DC movie of the 21st century…but it’s certainly on the bottom of the pile. (Okay, that’s unfair. Whedon’s Justice League is the worst DC movie in the 21st century…probably the worst DC movie ever…thank god we won’t ever have to think about it again soon enough.) And just a fair warning, I don’t care about spoilers, especially with a movie this wretched. So if you want a quick recommendation: DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH THIS MOVIE.
So let’s go with what was good about DC movies before this, including the first Wonder Woman, and why this fails in every respect to meet that previous bar.
Be it the social and political commentary of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy or the heavier philosophical themes of Snyder’s work–Man of Steel is a discussion of the flaws of Plato, Dawn of Justice a discussion of the failings of Nietzsche, and Justice League likely a discussion of the errors of Ayn Rand–the DC movies for the last few years have been of heavier thematic material. I think even Snyder’s original story for the first Wonder Woman was clearly more in-depth (likely a deconstruction of Calvinism that got a little muddied by being given to a different director). They asked serious questions and dealt with people as they really would act in such overblown situations.
Not that there weren’t bad moments in the last few years of DC. Green Lantern was such a rushed joke that they forgot to write a second act, and Superman Returns was cut short before Signer’s proposed trilogy got going (probably for the best, we’d all feel weird if we liked a series of films made by Singer). But there has been an effort to make movies that were more than just stupid comic book films that boil down to pew-pew-pew EXPLOSION! “[shallow catchphrase that sounds good the first time but becomes more idiotic every time you hear it].” Not saying that’s how anyone is making comic book movies right now…but…well…you know. Most of the last ten years has been an understanding that these stories are archetypal and have the potential for significant depth, and that maybe you should try and give these stories that kind of depth. Has it been everyone’s cup of tea? Not really. But it’s not like the shallow films weren’t there for people who wanted that too.
But the idiots at Warner started thinking that “hey, maybe we can make more money if we dumb these things down.” And so you got Birds of Prey and Shazam and Aquaman and massive studio interference in (a process that seldom if ever results in anything good) in Suicide Squad and Justice League. Luckily it sounds like most of those buffoons got booted out of Warner because the quality version made money, but trying to beat Disney at its own game was doomed to fail.
But even still, we can appreciate these less cerebral films for what they are. They were never intended to be deep and so they don’t fail.
Wonder Woman 84, however, seems like the bastard child that started out deep, got ruined by studio interference demanding a stupid movie, and then had some final edits to try and make it deeper again. A Frankenstein’s monster of art that never quite figures out what it wants to be and thus fails to be deep fails to be entertaining, fails to be satisfying, and fails to be worth watching.
Let’s look at a few examples.
There is an inordinate amount of time spent on introducing the revived Steven Trevor (Chris Pine in what I will say is one of the better performance of his abysmal career) to to the 1980s. There are scenes having him try on various stupid 80s outfits and showing him the technology of the last 60 years. It is a direct parallel to getting Diana an appropriate attire in the first movie and her wonder at the marvels of the world outside Themeyscira—the problem that those served previous functions. Steve couldn’t have her wandering around London in her armor, and she refused to wear anything she couldn’t fight in, so still served a point for the plot—where as Steve trying on outfits was all about fashion, so no addition for the plot. Each time Diana stopped to marvel at babies or cars or ice cream, Steve kept pushing her forward as they had a job to do—Diana giving Steve a tour served no purpose and was them ignoring the significant issues in the world that needed to be dealt with. Maybe they’re both stupid and unnecessary, but at least they served the plot in the first movie. And while I haven’t timed them, it felt like Steve’s wardrobe changes simply took longer.
And while they’re a lot of little things like this: cheap jokes and silly moments that served no point other than fan service and the lowest common denominator of entertainment, it certainly isn’t the worst part of the film. And nothing is more disgusting than Diana’s costumes change near the end of the film into the ridiculous gold suit of armor that was designed to sell more toys and Halloween costumes than serve any real plot point.
The worst part is that this movie, for the first time in years, felt like a comic book in the childish ways it depicted people. Green Lantern may not have been written well, but it wasn’t because of the actors making the characters seem like cartoons. I mean, maybe those movies I haven’t seen have just as poorly depicted characters, but nothing I have seen is as bad as the characters of WW84. Diana, a 3,000+-year-old woman, isn’t just foolish in her desire to keep Steve without having to give up saving the world; she’s in full-blown denial. She doesn’t even spend time trying to find a loophole to control her powers and Steve (something that would have made a much better second act); no, she spends three-quarters of the film merely denying that this is a problem that has to be faced.
Then there is the villain. A cheap, two-bit conman from the worst parts of the 80s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous…there are apparent attempts to make him Trumpish, but he’s too articulate, actually likes his child when the plot calls for it (as opposed to us having to question if he’s raped his child), and has a mild ability to plan…so any superficial attempts to make him like the Orange Idiot fail to understand why the wannabe tyrant is evil and need to be put in prison. But the fact that somehow this vile person who is willing to grant wishes involving nuclear weapons and murder would at the end realize that he must embrace the truth that he really isn’t a good person and that he is harming the world and that suddenly he loves the kid he’s been dismissive of the whole movie is just far fetched, to say the least. They give us this terrible flashback montage of how he was beaten and berated as a child and just wanted to be successful at something, but this ignores the basic human psychology of non-sociopaths who do terrible things. They make compromises, they cut corners on ethics to get what they want, each time making a small justification, and then another justification with the next ethical lapse, then another and another and another. And for almost every human being in history, to realize that you have made a mistake and need to renounce those ethical breaches and work to become a better person almost always requires that a person either lose everything and hit absolute rock bottom and realize their position is the result of their rotten ethical decisions or to reach the pinnacle of everything they’ve ever wanted and realize that it’s not worth anything. The villain of Maxwell Lord is at neither of those points when he decides to renounce his evil. Thus there seems to be no justifiable reason for him to reach this conclusion other than the fact that other people are renouncing their wishes (after having seen the adverse effects of what they did, something Lord was in denial about). Maybe if his kid had died, his turning back to the light might have been vaguely believable, but he was at the height of his megalomania when he stops his insane plan. It just defies the reality that every other DC movie has tried to bring with its characters giving us the most childish comic book kind of resolution.
But there is also another dumb scene in the film that shows whoever was working on this script (and I’m going to believe that Jenkins was under pressure from the studio and not blame her…but if WW3 is this dumb, I’m going to come back and yell at her too) has no concept of how people behave. There is a scene where Lord goes to see the President and grants the President his wish to have more nuclear weapons because the President says that will force everyone else to back down. What? No, President from Truman to Obama would be that stupid. Anyone who has sat in any military tangent position for any period of time doesn’t wish they had more weapons, more troops, more guns, more soldiers…they wish their enemy had less. They’re forced to get more because their enemies don’t have less…but if you’re handed Aladdin’s lamp, you don’t wish for twice the number of nuke you wish the Soviets had zero. Sure, Trump would be dumb enough to make that wish. Maybe if he were drunk, Nixon would. But even though they didn’t try to make the President look, sound, or act like Reagan, it was still supposedly in 1984. And having Reagan ask for fewer nukes doesn’t fit the villain’s cheesy theme of wanting MORE…but it also indulges a cheap fantasy of both the ignorant left and right that all who are opposed to the left are warmongers (the ignorant left sees that as a bad thing, the ignorant right sees it as a good thing—but in both cases, neither understands the truth that war is sometimes a necessary evil because there are things worse than war). It would have taken ten minutes of plot time to have Lord grant the wife of Majority Leader in the House to wish her stupid husband was President early in the film and then have a stupid president who doesn’t know what he’s doing wish for more weapons…but the producers at Warner in the time between Snyder being fired and rehired were incapable of understanding basic human psychology that no sane person with ultimate power wishes for more violence. There are a bunch of smaller points of people not acting like actual people, but aside from the characters of Trevor and Barbara, no one acts as a normal person would act in the situations presented in this film.
Four other small points. Who the hell saw Cats and thought, “oh, I need to see more of that!”? The invisible jet was one of the dumbest plot points of the Wonder Woman canon; it did not need to be brought back. The fact that all the carnage and destruction caused by Lord didn’t seem to go away leave massive plot holes between this and the Man of Steel (like why would Perry White be so afraid of people finding out about Superman…they would have already experienced crazy shit far in excess of a guy who can fly). And most importantly, having a picture of Diana helping liberate a concentration camp is not an adequate explanation for what she was doing during WWII…what about all the years the Holocaust was going on? Was she just sitting on the sidelines? (I know there is a reason in the comics for why superheroes didn’t get involved, but this is an evil so egregious you can’t just not deal with this).
This movie might serve some value for a drinking game. But otherwise, I can’t see why you should ever waste your time with it.