A Little Less Wonderful
by Jeff Bowles
When the first Wonder Woman film hit theaters three years ago, it was met with substantial fanfare. The Greek goddess superheroine is more than just a cultural phenomenon, she’s a feminist icon, a symbol of strength and nobility for millions of people all over the world. Her first major foray onto the big screen meant more to some people than anything else DC Comics has ever produced, so yeah, its sequel has quite a bit to live up to.
Wonder Woman 1984 is, if nothing else, an interesting product of its time, 2020, a year in which it was supposed to have been released in theaters in July. Coronavirus forced Warner Bros. to push the film until December, and the studio chose to do so by mixing a theatrical release with a special limited release on the home video streaming platform, HBO Max. So you can watch this movie right now at home for a small membership fee, kind of a remarkable thing in the history of cinema. New movies always used to be, you know, out at the movies. But now, who knows?
Subsequently, the flick has been met with much less fanfare than its predecessor enjoyed. Wonder Woman 1984 has been a success of sorts, but it’s doubtful to make much of an impact beyond that. The reasons for this aren’t merely limited to its precarious release schedule. The story makes some choices that keep it from being quite as wonderful as it deserves to be.
For one, Wonder Woman 1984 revolves around a somewhat ridiculous McGuffin that allows for wishes to come true. This is a comic book movie, of course, which I have to admit I’m a huge fan of, even when they’re loud and dumb. But it’s almost as if the entirety of the plot was constructed on a simple and somewhat lazy notion to resurrect one key dead character. That would be Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s traditional love interest. The movie works best when the two share screen time. Their chemistry is relatable and infectious, so it’s no surprise writer/director Patty Jenkins wanted to pull him back into the fold.
Also returning is Gal Gadot as the titular hero, and she’s still great. More comfortable this time around, perhaps, but then, she’s played the character a total of four times now. SNL alum Kristen Wiig joins the cast as a relatable if slightly goofy foil/villain whose wish to be just like Wonder Woman goes wrong in all the right ways. The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal plays Maxwell Lord, a DC bad guy who first appeared in a 1987 Justice League comic and who has now been given the 1984 self-help guru treatment. Pascal gives the guy a lot of juice. A lot of juice. Perhaps its best not to say too much more about it than that.
One of the problems with the movie is that it doesn’t seem to feel the need to indulge in 80s-themed nostalgia in any major way, not like other recent shows and movies set in the decade have done. Odd, considering they wanted me to know the year it takes place months and months before it ever came out. Oh, there’s some paltry lip service to the year 1984 scattered here and there. An early action set-piece takes place in a mall, for instance. But again, no 80s tunes or anything? No Simple Minds? No New Coke references? What gives, dudes?
Wonder Woman 1984 comes together all right in the end, but really, it’s just another example of a DC Comics adaptation that’s barely handled well enough to justify its own existence. I’m a pretty big comics fan when it comes down to it. Gosh, it’s getting harder and harder to compete in that space. They’ve already announced Wonder Woman 3. Let’s hope Patty Jenkins and Warner Bros. bring a bit more punch to the superhero party next time.
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Wonder Woman 1984 a Six out of Ten.
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!
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Wonder Woman vs. The God Complex
by Jeff Bowles
Here in the United States, we’re just a couple of days away from the release of the first big-screen adaptation of Wonder Woman, the legendary DC Comics character who’s been trading punches with bad guys since 1941. Early reviews of the film have been overwhelmingly positive, and I couldn’t be more excited to see it for myself.
Wonder Woman is one of my favorite comic book characters of all time. She’s strong, noble, and much like Superman or Captain America, she always seems to do the right thing. Diana Prince, otherwise known as Diana of Themyscira, is a Greek goddess who abandons the only world she’s ever known in order to fight for meek, flawed human beings. The island of Themyscira is home to the proud Amazons, a group of startlingly gifted women who’ll stab your eyes out just for looking at them the wrong way.
Actually, that’s beside the point. They are warriors, fierce battle-hardened females who’ve rarely glimpsed men and the world they’ve brought to the brink of destruction. DC Comics has done an amazing job curating and expanding upon the adventures of Diana Prince and her supporting cast of characters in the last fifteen years or so. Issue after issue of the comic has dealt with divinity, family and politics, and of course, myriad hot-button topics that have in some small way pushed the boundaries of what typical comic fans expect to see.
The upcoming film looks to do the same, though to what degree remains to be seen. As a character, Wonder Woman was created by a male psychologist who was inspired by early feminists. The guy was way ahead of his time, and over the intervening decades, Diana of Themyscira has been portrayed all kinds of ways. For instance, in the 1970s she was both a television sensation and a hard-hitting exploitation-style street vigilante, minus the tiara and bracelets. Comic book characters rarely stray far from their roots long, however, and elements such as her Lasso of Truth, her invisible jet, and her long-time on-again, off-again love interest, Steve Trevor, have come and gone.
I find it difficult to speak about the impact Wonder Woman has had on young girls and women across the globe, not just because I’m a man, but because it seems like far too large a topic. I think she’s been good for people over the years, and I hope this film delivers the kind of role model kids need nowadays. She’s important to me because growing up on comics meant a steady diet of homogeneous male heroes, and though I don’t consider myself overly political, it always gave me a pleasant feeling digging into that latest issue of Wonder Woman and reading about a damsel who was not in distress, who could handle her own, and who could in fact put the likes of Batman to shame.
Some people out there, I take it, don’t feel the same way. In the news just this morning, some theaters across the country are choosing to run a small number of female-only screenings of the film the day it comes out, distributing advertisements that make clear boys are not allowed. I think this is kind of cool, but right-wing commenters have already made some hay.
Modern America is fraught anyway. If you’re not fuming about the man in the White House, you’re screaming at the other side for their assault on your guy. Very rarely anymore can we have civil conversations about simple things like movies and comic book characters, not without the whole thing devolving into an ideological ant-scatter.
It’s important to point out Wonder Woman is in the minority as far as these things go. Nobody was creating strong female characters back in the 1940s. It just wasn’t done. I read Wonder Woman comics as a kid not because I was interested in feminism but because she was so strong, so very essential to the DC Comics mythos. Every comic fan knows the holy trinity of DC characters: Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. Lose any of the three, and the books DC puts out every month just aren’t the same.
And of course, comic book movies in general are big business these days. Love them or hate them—and indeed, many people hate them—they’re a mainstay of cinemas and will be for some time to come. Though early word seems good, the naysayers will quickly poke holes in Wonder Woman’s cultural legend just because they can. Yeah, she’s a strong female character, but she still solves all her problems with her fists. And anyway, the male-driven conglomeration that is Warner Bros. will most likely try to pitch her in a way that doesn’t scare off men and young boys, the latter of which buy DC action figures and other tie-in merchandise by the bucket-full.
Such is the state of discourse in the modern world. Everything is an issue worthy of argument, even a symbol of strength and femininity who’s been around the better part of a century. I can’t say what Wonder Woman means to you. Maybe she means nothing at all, and when you go to the theater this weekend, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by her story. I hope that’s the case, because Wonder Woman has had a place in my heart for a very long time.
If, like me, you do have positive memories of her, perhaps it will be a treat to see Diana depicted in big-budget terms, regardless of whether the end product is actually any good or not. If Wonder Woman is more to you than some silly cultural icon, and if you feel like she’s never been more relevant than she is today, by all means go check the flick out for yourself.
I eschew politics when I can. I also have no children of my own. But if I had a daughter, and she was old enough to see an action film like this, I’d proudly take her down to the multiplex. Maybe afterward, I could turn the excursion into a conversation about standing up for what you believe in no matter what the cost. That’s who Wonder Woman is to me. She doesn’t know discrimination or inequality because she comes from a place where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. She stands up for the little guy, especially when that little guy is actually a girl.
I hate the need some people feel to turn her into a controversial figure. Is her story more than simple entertainment? Yes, I think it is. All the Wonder Woman comics I’ve read over the years are all the proof I need. Yes, she is a strong female who kicks butt and takes names, and yes, whether they want to admit it or not, this makes many people feel uncomfortable or even angry. But if you ask me, the politics is a cover. Wonder Woman is not and never will be just for girls. I love Wonder Woman, and I’m man enough to admit it.
There are so many ways to celebrate the world as men have made it. Is it too much to ask to celebrate the world of women? Even just for an afternoon?
Interested in my writing? Check out my latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F
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