A still from promo images of WW1984
Warner Bros Entertainment

Why ‘Wonder Woman: 1984’ Was a Bust

We all had high hopes for Wonder Woman: 1984. The first one was a love story for the strong, powerful woman. So what went wrong with this sequel - and can DC recover?
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To say people were hyped for Wonder Woman 1984 would be an understatement. Despite the weird, out-of-touch John Lennon singing earlier this year, Gal Gadot topped the list as one of the highest-paid actresses of the year. It’s also no secret that this was the film that was supposed to save movies for the year, the one last hope, despite its streaming on HBO Max, as well as being in theaters.

And the first Wonder Woman was great! Such an incredibly powerful story of feminism and strength, it was an achievement from director Patty Jenkins. In fact, it became the highest-grossing film directed by a woman. That’s huge.

Wonder Woman: 1984 debuted in theaters and on HBO Max on December 25, 2020. And it… well, was everything the first Wonder Woman was not.

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Critics were big-mad

Critics who saw the movie early basically ripped it apart. The only nice thing they had to say about it, in fact, was that the movie had ‘escapist qualities’ that could be appreciated. And hey, who isn’t looking to escape from the dumpster fire that was 2020?

However, it has also been called overindulgent and downright cliché multiple times. Rotten Tomatoes has the movie at just 60%, with the average rating hitting about 6.10/10. That’s bad no matter how you look at it.

In the New York Times, reviewer Manohla Dargis said that Patty Jenkins was “behind the camera again, but this time without the confidence. Certainly some of the problems can be pinned on the uninterestingly janky script, a mess of goofy jokes, storytelling cliches and dubious politics.”

Metacritic has about the same ratio, with CinemaScore saying just 67% of viewers–not critics, but average viewers–would recommend the movie to someone else.

As noted above, some people think it is because Zac Snyder wasn’t as involved in writing. While Snyder was a producer, along with his wife Deborah Snyder, rumor has it Jenkins herself removed Snyder from being a core member of the team, instead surrounding herself with ‘yes-men’ who catered to her ideas. It’s interesting to note that Jenkins also co-wrote the script this time around, whereas she just directed the first film.

Screenwriter Allan Heinberg was also not involved, despite his work on the first movie.

The biggest issues with the movie

Fans took serious issue with the plot line of Steve Trevor, who comes back as “Mysterious Handsome Man.” He’s inhabiting another person’s body, obviously without that man’s consent, and the filming heavily suggests that Trevor and Diana Prince sleep together.

That’s… icky, even before you think about it too much. The two sleep together, Trevor puts this stranger in serious mortal danger, and no one seems to bat an eye at it. This man has no say in what happens to his body, he’s just along for the ride.

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Even if Trevor coming back in someone else’s body was never the intention and wasn’t the goal, it’s still gross. You’re using the stranger, barely acknowledging it happened, and then just taking his body on a joyride.

Some will argue that Trevor’s humor and companionship was needed to make the movie great, and that’s not necessarily wrong. He brought a lot to the film. But… isn’t that the point of good script writing? To work around these issues, instead of shoehorning it in?

The feminism component has also been heavily criticized by fans, and I think it’s because the first movie was so powerful when it came to that theme. The first Wonder Woman movie made women feel empowered, capable, responsible. All that, so to speak. This movie… feels more like a cliché of the feminist argument.

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For example, Kristen Wiig’s character, Barbara Ann Minerva, starts off as a timid, shy character. She’s weak, she wants men to pay attention to her in any way possible–even if it’s just picking up her dropped paperwork. To achieve her deepest desires, Minerva… takes off her glasses to become “attractive” and wears a short skirt.

I’m not kidding.

It feels like a concept from a parody (Not Another Teen Movie, anyone?), but it’s not. Minerva doesn’t have some other major transformation, she just shakes her hair out, removes her glasses (which, as we all know, make women unattractive), and bam. Eye-catching, sexy, completely different.

The Portrayal of Men

The way men are portrayed in the film is also incredibly toxic. Look, no one is arguing that there are not gross men in the world. And I’m sure instances of cat-calling, ogling, and sexual harassment were higher in the 80s than now. But every single man that Diana comes across seems to make a sexual pass at her or screams harassment. It’s borderline comical; it’s so much.

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Then we see a two-time rapist get beat up, and suddenly, it’s gone too far. Wait, what? The morals and story are questionable at best and don’t seem to follow the movie’s own logic. While I understand superhero movies are supposed to be cheesy, and they often take liberties with morals, this is… a stretch, even for die-hard fans.

The CGI

Finally, my biggest issue is with the CGI. There is a scene when Diana is chasing someone through a mall, and she leaps to the second floor. What should be an awesome moment in the movie showing her power and ability ends up being downright laughable when you really pay attention.

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It looks so wildly amateurish, with her body all but floating up. When she lands, the biggest giveaway that it’s awful CGI is the fact that her hair simply… doesn’t move. You can even see it in the GIF above, if you look closely enough. It’s so obvious that she isn’t actually moving at all.

The reason that, say, wrestlers keep their hair long isn’t because it’s in style with the wrestling community, or they really love the look. It’s because it looks really, really great flowing around their face when they do big dive bombs or run in the ring, selling the motion and the action. Diana’s hair being basically still throughout the major action scenes is a huge giveaway that it’s not done well, which is a shame–and something you don’t expect to see from such a big-budget production.

It wasn’t all bad

Look, I’m not trying to trash on the only big-budget movie that came out this year (I’m blissfully ignoring the Christopher Nolan hot mess that is Tenet; that’s a whole other post). Perhaps the problem was our expectations?

The soundtrack to the movie has gotten some pretty good reviews, even if it really lacked that 80s flair we all wanted. Hans Zimmer did the score, and he is responsible for some of the greatest movie music of our time, including The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and Dunkirk. Over his career, Zimmer has won four Grammy Awards, three Classical BRIT Awards, an Academy Award, and two Golden Globes.

Trailers for the movie made it seem like it was going to be a synth-wave 80s love story, which was really exciting! What a fun way to look back into the decade! Being set in 1984 made me wonder if there would be hints or jokes to an Orwellian future.

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Neither happened, unfortunately. They could have taken a page from Thor: Ragnarok with the soundtrack and the setting to make it feel more in-theme with what was going on, but the movie didn’t suffer that much for it. (Interestingly enough, Jenkins was slotted to direct Thor: The Dark World but left after just two months, citing creative differences)

The humor was great in it, if a bit heavy on the cheese. But honestly, what superhero movie isn’t at least a little cheesy?

Our thoughts

I polled the writers of PopTonic who have seen the movie to get their takes, and despite the issues, they felt the movie was cheesy, but good. Cameron saw it in theaters and said it was a fun time overall. Kat believes this is the key: seeing it in theaters, versus at home.

That raises all sorts of questions for the future of movies. Was Christopher Nolan right, that the HBO Max release agreement is a load of crud ruining good movies? Is there a certain experience that you can only get sitting in a dark theater, eating popcorn and shuffling seats because you realize the floor under you is super sticky?

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Maybe. I think it’s too soon to tell. But even if we had all seen Wonder Woman: 1984 in theaters, we would agree that it didn’t live up to the expectations set by the first movie.

Is it worth watching? Sure, if you’re a die-hard Wonder Woman fan, you love DC, or you’re really, exceptionally bored. But there are better things to stream, without a doubt! Don’t waste your money on an HBO Max subscription just for the movie, and think twice about going into a theater if this is what you’re going to see.

What’s next for DC Universe and Patty Jenkins?

The third Wonder Woman movie is already in talks, despite 1984 being a financial disaster. With a budget of $200 million, the movie has only pulled approximately half that so far. However, Warner Bros was already aware this was going to cost them money, and they weighed that against not having… well, anything at all come out in 2020, really, and losing even more money by waiting, so they released it anyway.

One thing to note is that while streaming was widely available, it was also “basically unwatchable” for many fans. Somehow HBO wasn’t prepared for the high load of traffic they got (…sure, you didn’t realize people would want to watch this?), and stuttering, jumping, and lagging were all huge issues.

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As of now, Jenkins is set to work on the third movie, and she said at the end of 2019 the plot itself was “mapped out” and it would be set in the modern day. In April 2020, Jenkins said that she was also working on a spinoff Amazons film, which could be very exciting to see. As of now, Jenkins remains creatively involved in the movie, but she is not set to direct.

However, by June, Jenkins said was taking a pause to “absorb” the current world events to better incorporate them into the story. Both Jenkins and Gal Gadot are signed on for the third movie.

Star Wars Project

In addition, it was announced in December that Jenkins will direct Rogue Squadron, an upcoming Star Wars movie set to release in 2023. While I could go on and on about how badly the Star Wars franchise needs a really excellent movie, I’ll let that lie for now. But let’s be clear, there is a lot of pressure on both Jenkins and Disney to deliver. Jenkins will also be the first female director to helm a Star Wars film.

As far as the DC cinematic universe is concerned, there are a lot of things to look forward to. The Synder Cut of Justice League is set to release in March of this year, including some major reshoots. A new Suicide Squad directed by James Gunn looks very promising, currently set for release in August. I’ve got my reservations about The Batman with Robert Pattinson as the title character, but we’ll wait and see on that one.

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There is also a Flash movie in development with Ben Affleck, Aquaman 2 with Jason Momoa (though no director tied to it at the moment), a second Shazam movie, and a Black Adam movie with Dwayne Johnson rumored to be in talks for it.

As far as video games go, Gotham Knights is set to release later this year and looks absolutely fantastic. I don’t want to be dramatic, but I literally can’t wait.

PlayStation

Rocksteady Studios is also working on a Suicide Squad game that looks great, though the release date isn’t set until 2022–plenty of time for things to go sideways.

Final Impressions

I had high hopes for Wonder Woman. It seemed that after the true disaster that some DC Universe movies proved to be, the Wonder Woman franchise held the key to success. Would DC ever be as big as Marvel? Probably not, but it was starting to hold its own.

We’ll see how Wonder Woman continues to perform, but I don’t expect Warner Bros to see any actual profit on it. Whether they take the criticisms to heart for the next movie or push forward with Jenkins remains to be seen.

I’m hopeful for the future of the DC universe, which doesn’t deserve its reputation as a “Marvel Ripoff.” Best case, this is simply a minor stumbling block in DC building an even bigger fan base.