Wonder Woman 1984 Is Not Afraid To Fly

The wait is finally over for the entire world. Christmas 2020 was the day we could all see the highly anticipated sequel Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84). Written and directed by Patty Jenkins, this next installment in the Wonder Woman franchise sees Diana returning to mankind in the year 1984. It’s impossible to talk about the film without discussing the major delays the movie has seen due to the global pandemic. It has made the year 2020 a very difficult time for everyone. Patty Jenkins was adamant about WW84 having a traditional theatrical release. Unfortunately, the United States were not able to contain nor manage the virus. It has actually gotten worse. After Tenet failed to meet box office expectations, Warner Bros had to figure out a new strategy. It was obvious that Warner Bros did not want WW84 to share the same fate as Tenet. Warner Bros caved and decided to have a simultaneous theatrical and stream release for WW84 (including their entire 2021 releases too). And it seemed to work out for WW84 as it grossed $17M during the three day weekend with a limited release.

Despite the commercial success the movie is receiving, it has been embroiled in a heavy online discourse. This may be the most polarizing movie of the DC Extended Universe. Critical reception for the movie has been mixed receiving a respectable 65% on Rotten Tomatoes. Both sides are very vocal about this movie. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. And that’s where I come in. I’m no stranger to having an unpopular opinion. I tend to have wildly unpopular opinions and this will be no different. While the movie is far from perfect, it’s still an incredible film with depth and a genuine love for the source material. This labor of love deserves to be praised.

[Editor’s Note: Warning! Heavy Spoilers Ahead]

It’s Diana, Not Xena

Princess Diana is regarded as one of the best melee fighters in the DC Universe. She even bested the all mighty Superman several times in the DC canon. In the first Wonder Woman film, Diana was thrust into the midst of WWI. And since this was her first time out in the human world, she came well prepared for war. She was equipped with her trusty shield and sword. She pulled off incredible feats of strength, agility and precision. But, it was obvious that she was nearly unstoppable. Her killer instinct and battle maiden prowess was such a spectacle. Still, the humans proved to be no match for her at all.

Fast-forward to 1984. Diana has lived with the human populace for roughly 70 years. She’s aware that she doesn’t need to use war tactics and advance martial arts to take down poorly trained guards. Diana ditched her shield and sword. Her Lasso of Truth, tiara and bracelet blast were more than enough to take out most of what the humans had to offer. And in true philosophical fashion, if the “pen is mightier than the sword,” then words are our greatest superpower. Diana’s words were more powerful than any martial arts technique or godly boon.

Many vapid and uncultured viewers vehemently wanted Diana to be Xena Warrior Princess. While that was partly the case in the first act of the original movie and the last act of Batman vs Superman, this Diana had seen what humans were capable of. It would be overkill to fight at her maximum capacity. And that would go against her own code of honor.

That is precisely why there was so much lasso action in the movie. It was the perfect weapon to be evasive, defensive and offensive without severely hurting anyone. (Also, it worked perfectly with the theme of the movie.) Diana was not out to kill in this movie. With her confrontations with Barbara/Cheetah, she never tried to cause serious harm to her. Even when Cheetah is frantically attacking Diana and destroying her armor, Diana had been rarely on the offense. Her end goal is to subdue Cheetah, not kill. We can even reference her fight with the newly revived Superman in Justice League. While she had her shield and sword handy, she was not trying to kill or severely harm him despite his overwhelming strength.

Not to mention, as this movie was more of an homage to the original television show, it would have been tonally incoherent with the rest of the movie if she was killing people mercilessly. With respect to both the comic book (think Silver age) and television show, it made sense why she fought the way she did.

What is the truth?

The most important theme of this movie is truth. The pursuit of the truth was the adventure everyone was having. Unfortunately the truth was usually not what they wanted. Diana had to come to terms with the truth about Steve Trevor being gone and having to finally let him go. Diana seems depressed and melancholy when she wasn’t being Wonder Woman before Steve came back. Diana even had to come to terms with her own place in this world. The world needs Wonder Woman. She wanted to be selfish and live her life with Steve even if it meant her powers would disappear. For a moment she was willing to make the sacrifice. But Steve told her that she is needed. Especially since the entire world was on the brink of destruction and chaos. Diana sacrificing her one true love for the greater good was heartbreaking. Her anguish and sorrow filled her body as her powers returned to her.

“To whom much is given, much will be required”

(Luke 12:48)

Maxwell had to come to terms with his own failure. He had to finally admit that he failed as a business man and as a father to his son. Barbara also had to come to terms with her own inferiority. She also had to admit to herself that she’ll never be Diana. And by trying to be someone else, she’s losing herself in the process. For Barbara, her truth is that it is okay to be ourselves no matter what that might look like.

Director Patty Jenkins spoke about this theme of the movie when answering a fan question:

I think Patty was very successful in conveying this idea of facing the truth. All the characters had this realization in the movie. Each one of them confronted their personal truth in different ways. In Diana’s case, it helped her to fully realize her powers and her purpose.

Flying Solo

Diana’s ability to fly has been discussed quite a bit over the years. In the comics (Pre-Crisis) she’s been able to glide on air currents before the George Perez’s run. In the recent films, she’s never shown that she could fly like Superman. I think since she associated flying with Steve, she just never developed that ability. Once she finally let go of Steve, she was able to finally fly. She was able to soar to new heights. That was such a great use of metaphor. She made peace with Steve’s death after all these years. And Steve is always with her even in death.

Fear of Flying

This movie made a lot of brave choices. Instead of a two hour slug fest between Cheetah and Diana, we got a movie filled with character growth and self actualization. The subtle nuances, blatant social commentary on the human condition and many other artistic choices make this film one of the best DC films. This movie did a great job digging deeper into Diana. It humanized her in a way that didn’t betray her character.

We got a villain that was the embodiment of unchecked megalomania and capitalism. Maxwell Lord was not a super-genius super-zillionaire with unlimited resources at his disposal. He was a regular man who was given extraordinary powers. Maxwell was the manifestation of greedy American capitalism. Maxwell, much like capitalism, used the suffering of people to further his own power hungry agenda. By the end of the movie he had achieved all his goals, yet that wasn’t enough. He still wanted more. That was his greatest downfall.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we have Maxwell Lords all around us: people who are profiting off the suffering of people. Even though the messages presented in the movie were heavy handed, it was necessary so there would be no ambiguity. There would be no way to misinterpret the themes and messages this movie was trying to convey.

While this movie has a lot going for it thematically, there were some bumps and turbulence mid-flight. The runtime was easily 30 minutes over. I think there were some parts that could have been shorter in order to give more time to Barbara’s journey. It felt like the movie abandoned her arc midway through the second act. I think there should have been more time dedicated to her. She felt like a side villain when she was the billed to be the main antagonist. I think we should have seen her transform into Cheetah. There were definitely some issues with some of the CG and special effects looking wonky. Cheetah’s CG animated well, but the actual CG model for Cheetah was underwhelming. Also, Diana and Barbara/Cheetah’s fights were very short. There wasn’t enough tension and build up. Maxwell Lord ate up too much of the screen time.

While movies like this aren’t fan-favorites because of their lack of spectacle and action, they are necessary for world-building and character development. Usually within a trilogy, the first installment carries the burden of doing the heavy lifting of world-building and character development. To use a second film to do this is very risky. Patty took a huge risk with this film. Scaling back on the action and spectacle was gusty. However, Patty is fearless in her storytelling and point of view. The very spirit of the Amazons. As a filmmaker, you have to be. And as a female filmmaker you have no choice but to be.

Wonder Woman 1984 is in theaters worldwide and available for streaming on HBOMax

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