| Columbia Daily Tribune
Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984” — or “WW84,” as the kids call it — was released in theaters and on streaming simultaneously on Christmas Day, and was lambasted by critics and fanboys alike.
Many complained that the film, a sequel to the above-average 2017 comic-book movie, was incoherent with silly dialogue and too much plot crammed into an already-long running time.
Which made me wonder: have these people forgotten what a comic-book movie looks and sounds like? Because this could describe all of them, even the really good ones.
There’s a misogynist strain to some of these critiques. Having a female lead with her own agency is a bit threatening to geeks who must adhere to the idea that men are the inherently stronger gender. Or, heaven forbid, a director infuses a feminine perspective into an action film. More on that later.
There are also real theories online that any Gal Gadot project is suspect due to her time in the Israeli Special Forces. A totally normal thing totally normally people on film Twitter think.
For me, the movie works as a sly political satire of the times. A critique of Trumpism and its detrimental impact on the world around us. An impact, particularly in the past month since the release of “WW84,” that’s even more consequential and lasting.
Diana Prince — or Wonder Woman — lives her life of ageless beauty as a researcher for the Smithsonian. She draws no attention to her powers, hiding them to thwart their misuse as she learned to do in the first standalone film.
As the title declares, the film’s setting is the middle of the “me” decade, a time of unrivaled excess and self-aggrandizement. A moment where Ronald Reagan offered the political rhetoric that one’s selfishness was the best approach for society, and people couldn’t wait to believe it.
From this moment emerges Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a fast-talking, gold-encrusted business guru who promises get-rich schemes in his televised commercials.
“Life is good,” he smoothly intones. “But it could be better.”
Or Make America Great Again, Again.
All of this is a ruse, of course. His investors’ funds are funneled into a Ponzi scheme to prop up the image of Lord as a successful businessman. It’s a house of cards sure to topple.
Yes, Lord is meant to remind you of Trump. That’s nothing new. Films have parodied the businessman-turned-politician for 30 years. The best example by far is John Glover’s Daniel Clamp in “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.” One of many reasons to watch that one again.
Here’s where “WW84” gets interesting. Like with nearly every comic-book movie, some item is sought that can lead to immense, powerful consequences. Here it’s an ancient statue that can grant a person any wish they want. Lord gets his hands on it and wishes to become this “dream stone” itself. He becomes a conduit for every person’s wants and desires.
Now, Lord rises as a man who can do anything. He alone can fix it. At last, a leader who will make life better with no sacrifice whatsoever. Lord becomes the end-all solution to the problems facing mankind.
Sound familiar? The country is a dump. We get no respect. He can change it all with the sheer force of his charisma and prowess. Whether his supporters and fans believe this or not is irrelevant. It feels true to people who have lost hope in everything else. The adherence not to laws or institutions, but to a man. A personality.
Of course, giving everyone everything they want will lead to contradictory outcomes. People will wish death on a person they find disagreeable. Multiply this collectively over society and there becomes a corrosive panic. Chaos and violence will ensue. More prescient now than when the film came out a month ago.
This is the existential threat presented in “WW84” — not an autocrat himself, but the faith people put into the autocracy. That one person, and not the collective effort of a society, can solve our issues. Solutions should not be so easy, Jenkins argues. There are no shortcuts to greatness.
Frustratingly, the message is somewhat undercut because only one person — Wonder Woman — can stop this madness. Which upholds my whole theory that our current political trends are directly related to a cultural clamoring for superhero movies where one person — often a billionaire like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne — can save the world from itself. A fellow who is not like you or me can be a strongman to safeguard our country from dark, sinister forces. Which sounds like every comic-book movie, yes?
It’s a fantasy, but a troubling one. Jenkins effectively navigates this hypocrisy by showing sacrifice as a virtue, restraint as a concept of power. Where the bad guys are not punished with violence, but that redemption is possible and achievable. Wimpy girlie stuff, the toxic critics would scoff.
“WW84” captures this strange political moment, a moment that we would be foolish to think we’ve entirely escaped. I can argue that the comic-book genre helped lead us into this quandary. But I wonder if something like “WW84” could help lead us out of it.
In real life, James Owen is a lawyer and executive director of energy policy group Renew Missouri. He created/wrote for Filmsnobs.com from 2001-2007 before an extended stint as an on-air film critic for KY3, the NBC affiliate in Springfield. He was named a Top 20 Artist under the Age of 30 by The Kansas City Star when he was much younger than he is now.