‘Wonder Woman’ was DC’s best stab at a superhero film, and still managed to screw it up

OPINION: Wonder Woman may save the world, but efforts like this sequel won’t save COVID-panicked Hollywood

(Photo: DC Comics)

The box office for Wonder Woman 1984 dropped a massive 67% from the first to the second weekend, which means even in a pandemic, with almost nothing in theaters nobody wanted to see the Wonder Woman sequel.

Even though just a decade ago most film critics and casual moviegoers couldn’t tell you the difference between Captain America and Captain Obvious, it’s become somewhat fashionable to dunk on Warner Brothers DC superhero films. Yes, trash like Man of Steel and Justice League don’t hold a candle to the humor, continuity and action of most Marvel Cinematic Universe films, but Wonder Woman 1984, for all of its flaws, shouldn’t be lumped in with those rubbish films.

(Photo: DC Comics)

Wonder Woman 1984 is a decent superhero film. Not great but not as terrible as you’ve heard online, and it’s by far the best attempt to make an actual superhero movie by Warner Brothers. Unfortunately, the best parts of the movie are lost under laughable special effects, plot holes you could fly an invisible jet through, and even sexual abuse.

Wonder Woman may save the world, but efforts like this won’t save COVID-panicked Hollywood.

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At their best, Marvel superhero movies have pathos, ideological battles and high-emotional stakes. The best DC movies have legendary characters, idealistic heroes and tons of quirky gadgets and hero accoutrement. It’s not really a Batman movie if he doesn’t have his utility belt, the Batcave, the Batmobile and his trusty father figure/butler Alfred Pennyworth. Superman needs his Fortress of Solitude, his goofy Clark Kent alter-ego and his reporter job at the Daily Planet.

When these fantastic bells and whistles are added sincerely, you get a fun DC movie like Batman (1989) or Shazam (2019) and Wonder Woman 1984 reaches for that upbeat fantasy by introducing Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, Magic Lasso of Truth, over the top red, yellow and blue costume and over-the-top villains like Maxwell Lord and Cheetah.

Whether you grew up watching Lynda Carter spin into Wonder Woman, watching Diana battle Cheetah on Super Friends or the Princess/Warrior of Peace from the Justice League cartoon, Wonder Woman gave you a whiff of the Amazonian Warrior you wanted. Unfortunately, the movie wouldn’t let Wonder Woman breathe.

(Photo: DC Comics)

The basic spoiler-ish free plot of Wonder Woman 1984 is Diana has been living in “Man’s World” since the end of World War I. Despite finding a life as a researcher at the Smithsonian, not aging one bit and looking like Gal Gadot, Diana Prince has no friends, no dating life, and spends her evenings alone in what looks like an apartment in the Watergate Hotel in D.C.

When her awkward co-worker and semi-friend Dr. Barbara Minerva (a totally wasted Kristin Wiig) discovers a magic rock that may grant wishes, evil businessman Maxwell Lord (an equally wasted Pedro Pascal) seduces the rock away from her and tries to take over the world by granting wishes with Faustian bargains. Wonder Woman sets out to stop him because if she can’t be happy then nobody can!

This takes her on a series of horribly scripted and filmed action sequences and college-level CGI. With all of the advances in special effects, why does Wonder Woman running at top speed look just as campy as Superman racing a train in the 19878 movie that started it all?  

Clark Kent races train in “Superman” (1978)

Wonder Woman outraces bad reviews in “Wonder Woman 1984” (2020)

Wonder Woman 1984’s major action scenes all fail to deliver; her pursuit of Maxwell Lord in an Egyptian caravan looks like a pre-production storyboard for the car chase scene in the Matrix Reloaded. When Barbara Minerva evolves from fur coats in July to full Cheetah, I can’t tell if it’s cosplay for a furry Pokémon Onlyfans site or a beta test for a live-action Thundercats movie. Either way, the film obviously wasn’t too proud of the final result because Cheetah and Wonder Woman’s final battle takes place almost entirely in the dark and underwater.

The cool DC hero stuff like the invisible jet was reduced to a Criss Angel parlor trick that made no sense; Wonder Woman barely uses her boomerang tiara and the magic Lasso of Truth seems to defy physics and not in a good way.

Wonder Woman 1984 would have done better to just focus on Diana Prince/Wonder Woman because her character and Gal Gadot’s acting were the only standout parts of the film. Wonder Woman doesn’t solve problems by outsmarting you like Batman or snapping the bad guy’s neck like Superman in Man of Steel, (although technically she does in the comics) she wins by living up to her mission, which is to show the “World of Men” there is a better, higher way to live.

Wonder Woman is like a mixture of Steve Rogers and Iyanla Vanzant in red boots if Black Amazonians had speaking roles. In 1984, Diana Prince is a woman out of time. While she’s been in our world for a century to an immortal Amazon, she has the weariness of a college student whose internship has dragged on too long. This is why you feel cheated as a viewer when the writers pretend that she didn’t have the perfect rom-com date with Dr. Minerva (including saving her from a mugger) because we’re supposed to believe that Wonder Woman doesn’t date women.

(Photo: DC Comics)

For those who argue that it was ‘sexist’ that Diana wished for a man, Steve Trevor, instead of World peace from that leftover amber set piece from Jurassic Park, just remember she didn’t know her wishes would be granted, she was just lonely. That’s like blaming a kid for wishing for a PS5 instead of a cure for cancer when they blow out birthday candles. How did they know those were magic candles?

The problem is, whatever beauty that could be drawn out of Diana’s relationship with Steve Trevor is sullied by the fact that she’s having sex with the spirit of her dead boyfriend who’s inhabiting another man’s body without consent. Yeah, that’s sexual assault.

Wonder Woman saves the day by convincing Maxwell Lord and the world that giving up their ‘selfish’ wishes and leaning into their best selves. Is that a very Wonder Woman type solution? Definitely. Was it racially obnoxious that wishing for an end to Middle East violence, apartheid and domestic abuse was lumped in with selfish jerks who just wished for more money? Yes. However, on a scale of movie fails it was tolerable. What wasn’t tolerable was turning a great character movie into a textbook case for Sequel Slump.

America needs heroes, Hollywood needs hits and we all need a distraction while sheltering in place. It’s a shame that Wonder Woman 1984 had bright moments but only scratched the surface of what it could have been.

Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Politics and Journalism at Morgan State University, a Political Contributor at MSNBC and SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio. Notorious comic book and sports guy with dual Wakandan and Zamundan citizenship.

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