For the past decade, the global box office has been dominated by superheroes and sagas. Although superheroes had saved the universes countless times, none of them were prepared for the real-life pandemic. With “Wonder Woman 1984” bringing back the joy of superhero blockbusters, perhaps it’s time for us to question the true meaning of “saving the world”.
In 2017, with just one memorable directorial feature (“Monster” in 2003), director Patty Jenkins smashed the world with the beloved DC heroine “Wonder Woman”. Compared to most men-centric superhero movies, this new breed of the genre, directed and lead by women, is less formulaic yet contains more humanity. Three years after the historical-making predecessor, Jenkins teams up again with Gal Gadot and Chris Pine and continues Diana’s journey into a more expanding world.
Like any franchise movie, we have to ask: where can she go? Who will she become? The answer, alongside its message, is pretty clear and can easily be caught up in several lines from the film. For example, “No true hero is born from lies”, “Greatness is not what you think”, and “Beware what you wish for.”
While our world is suffered from the deadly pandemic that destroys the nations we used to live in, Hollywood and the film industry are looking for “the movie that saves the day”. “Tenet” and “Mulan” had both failed to do so, and “Wonder Woman 1984” is unlikely to become the savior despite the fact that it arrives at the moment when we all need escapism. The truth is, movies cannot defeat the virus, but they can distract us, inspire us, and put the collapsing civilization back together. It’s not fun to watch superhero movies on your home screen, but at least the studio behind the film, Warner Bros., made a reasonable, responsible decision to let people enjoy the film simultaneously in both theaters and HBO Max.
After saving the world during WWI, “Wonder Woman 1984” fasts forwards to 1984 and finds Diana (Gadot) living in Washington alone. Working at the Smithsonian as an anthropologist, she had dated some guys (as the photos shown in her living room), but no one can fulfill her emptiness like Steve (Pine) once did, the first man she ever saw, who was a WWI pilot and sacrificed himself in the last movie.
With new casts joining in, “Wonder Woman 1984” brings up a metaphor for the ‘80s, the era that full of opportunity, wealth, greed, and selfishness. It’s the time that our world begins to collapse, also the looks of modern blockbusters were shaped in the late-70s and early-80s. The corruption of humanity is an invisible villain this time in “Wonder Woman 1984”, but one guy represents its image the best – Maxwell Lord played by Pedro Pascal (the “Game of Thrones” and “Narcos” breakout and recently seen in Disney+ “The Mandalorian”).
There’s something “Wonder Woman 1984” trying to speak to 2020 when Maxwell points out “I’m not a con man…I’m a television personality.” The metaphor can’t be more clear as this businessman builds a shell and spreads the fear, hatred, and empty hope through White House channel. His endless eagerness for power drags everyone he encounters including Barbara (played by surprised but excellent casting choice Kristin Wiig), a nerdy anthropologist Diana works with and wishes to be “cool, sexy and special” like Diana. Barbara’s dangerous wish transforms her into a powerful villain Cheetah (the character design is like last year “Cats” but more beautifully rendered). Even Diana falls into the trap of desire this time when she is thrilled to have Steve back.
As the heart and soul of the franchise, Diana’s vulnerability, human weakness, and central conflict are what make her stand out. There’s always a certain sense of femininity in those enjoyable action-heavy sequences including the opening sports competition, Egyptian road chasing, and White House interfering. Gadot is a perfect and charming choice for delivering her grace and goddess-ness, which is still a relevant feature in the male-crowded hero’s narrative nowadays.
Superhero movies are always about wishes and dreams, however, this time in the final climax of “Wonder Woman 1984”, people eventually realize the emptiness of their fantasies. The first time I watched “Wonder Woman 1984” was October 2019, before the pandemic, racial tension, and election hit us hard and turned our world into a place we aren’t able to recognize. After my second viewing last evening, it’s hard to know what Jenkins really tried to achieve a year before all the mess and chaos, and it’s even harder for me to determine how to read the film’s context at this moment. Hollywood blockbusters are designed to turn off our brains for a couple of hours, and “Wonder Woman 1984” is excellent in that by delivering the excitement 2020 has missed.
Despite the world – both Diana’s and ours – is falling apart, “Wonder Woman 1984” shows us a picture that better days are right at the corner, and goodness will always defeat the darkness. As the vaccine is on its way and the president-elect is about to lead us to a new future, the film shows us the beauty and power of imagination: the promise of a brighter tomorrow by simply seeking for the truth, and the meaning of a little girl becoming a hero by accepting the nature of herself.
What we need right now are heroes instead of superheroes, and sadly, that’s “Wonder Woman 1984” unable to differentiate. With the world filled with noises, movies cannot save the day and solve the problems. Only we can. Nevertheless, after leaving the theater or turning off the TV (depends on how you watch the film), I’m still hoping the film can, at least, inspire us to take some heroic actions. When superheroes are no longer able to save us from the devastating reality, it may also be the time to ask ourselves what “saving the world” really is.
- Distributor: Warner Bros.
- Production: Atlas Entertainment, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, The Stone Quarry, and Warner Bros.
- Director: Patty Jenkins
- Writer: Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham
- Producer: Gal Gadot, Stephen Jones, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, and Zack Snyder
- Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Connie Nielsen, and Robin Wright
- “Wonder Woman 1984” will be released in theaters and HBO Max on Dec. 25
Read the review in Chinese