In 2017, Wonder Woman was one of my favorite movies I had seen in recent memory. It was not just a movie about a strong, superhero woman getting her own solo flick. It was about a woman who fought for the heart and soul of humanity in a time when the modern era of civilization was facing the first realization of how destructive we as humans could be. The main character just happened to be a superhero.
Wonder Woman was about the power of love and faith in people. It was uncynical and earnest in a way superhero movies haven’t been since 1978’s Superman. And it was released after an election that felt like the beginning of the end of decent society.
Wonder Woman 84 is not Wonder Woman. While there are some great plot points and interesting characters, the sequel has the same problems as most sequels. Too much going on and not enough connectedness between the many plot threads.
The highly anticipated sequel carries with it a wonderful and timely message about truth versus our desires that is done with all the subtly of an election year political ad. While I very much appreciate this message in WW84, it could have been done with a delicate hand and not lost any of its potency.
I have several complaints about this movie. Whole writeups can be done on how the CGI looked terrible during all the action sequences apart from the opening scene in Themyscira. A grievous sin considering the $200 Million budget. The horribly 80’s racist Middle Easterner tropes should have stayed in the ’80s where even then, they were horribly racists. Or I could slam my head into my keyboard while talking about that fourth wall break in the final act. How it undercuts the great message of the movie. I loved the speech Dianna gave about the power, difficulty, but beauty of truth. It was a moving speech. Looking right into the camera to deliver it was too much.
I could talk about all those. But I want to talk about how the movie does what should have been the main villain, the most impactful villain, dirty.
In WW84, Barbara Minerva is the stereotypical awkward and clumsy nerd (who is a really beautiful person in need of a minor makeover to crossover into hottie territory) as seen in many popular 80’s and 90’s movies. While I don’t love this change to Cheetah’s comic book origins, it works in the context of the film’s message. Given the way her arc concluded, with her willingly, but unhappily renouncing her wish, there is a chance we could still see something like her comic book origins in a sequel.
This version of Barbara Minerva/Cheetah played a big role in the overarching message of truth versus desires. But she also had a great side plot within the plot that could have been something interesting if it and she had been given more time. The dismissal of someone else’s pain as trivial compared to yours (another uncannily timed plot point that resonates in the now). Barbara was a lonely person who was dealing with the pain of her awkwardness, but that doesn’t mean she was right to dismiss Diana’s grief and obvious loneliness. To assume because Diana is beautiful, her life must be absolutely perfect.
Unfortunately, Barbara and her arc were shoved aside in favor of Maxwell Lord and his wish granting. Lord and his personality resemblance a certain public political figure is a very timely villain, but he should have been regarded as a secondary villain to Barbara. Her villainous turn is in reaction to Diana, the hero and main character of the movie. That intimate connection should have made her the primary villain.
Of course, that connection could have been more personal if only a couple of scenes would have been added and a slight change to her relationship with Diana would have been made. The conflict and its resolution would have had a far more emotional punch.
The film tells us Barbara has a kind heart and a loving personality, but only one moment of this quality is shown. She brings a homeless person food. From the dialogue between the two, we know she does this with regularity. When Barbara makes the wish to be like Diana, the “Monkey’s Paw” twist to the desire is her loving nature is taken away. But it doesn’t feel like it is a sacrifice in the context of the film. Not in the same way Diana losing her powers are. We hardly saw what a good person Barbara was. It would have been a bigger consequence for her intelligence, something she seemed to cherish, to have been diminished as she became drunk on her beauty and strength.
The plot would have also been better served if Diana and Barbara would have had an established friendship at the start of the film. It would have made Barbara’s speech during their big fight, her dismissal of Diana’s loneliness and grief, land with an impact. This along with showcasing her “good heart” would have made Barbara’s loss of her humanity and growing antagonistic feelings towards Diana more devastating. Having them as strangers who hang out once lessens what could have been a great story about friendship and the future relationship between these two characters.
What could have been an interesting movie about two powerful female characters battling it out over the power of truth over desires instead became a typical superhero movie. There are some great moments in WW84, but in the end, it squandered a great premise.
But when Wonder Woman 3 hits theaters, I will be there, butt in a seat, happy to give Patty Jenkins another chance to tell this amazing character’s story.