Hollywood liberals are in a tizzy because their frustrations about losing and winning overwhelm their judgment and greed. That’s the clear lesson of Wonder Woman 1984, a sequel to the 2017 DC Comics origin story of the Amazonian superhero (played by Gal Gadot) that was sold — and praised — as a Hillary Clinton analogy. Feminist director Patty Jenkins, along with her co-screenwriters Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham and her co-producers, including Gadot, are back to get revenge by making a Trump-bashing follow-up.
Wonder Woman travels through the ordinary human world as Diana Prince. In this next stage of Diana’s ageless existence, during the Reagan era, she battles a TV-fixated businessman, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who wants to rule the world by feeding into everyone’s selfish desires, including that of the president of the United States. Lord, making use of a prehistoric, phallic stone that grants wishes, succeeds in brainwashing the president and takes over the government’s global transmitting system (a riff on Reagan’s Star Wars program), setting off a nuclear war with Russia.
This over-plotted mess resembles Democratic Party overreach. Jenkins and team project their political fears onto the film’s story through petty point-making: A prologue about Diana’s childhood in ancient Themyscira introduces the idea of gender superiority; adult Diana’s co-worker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) suffers from sexism and her own inferiority complex; and both women are tricked into romantic foolery when Max Lord exploits their insecurity and selfishness — recalling the self-destructive madness that President Trump’s adversaries blame on him.
You’d have to be an idiot not to see how Warner Bros.’ DC Comics Extended Universe has ruined its entertainment objective by failing to transcend politics. Producer Zack Snyder’s effort to revive the complex morality of classic myths in the Superman series is diminished, replaced by this film’s failed satire.
Despite its title, Wonder Woman 1984 has little to do with George Orwell’s prophetic novel. Why specify that year? Jenkins has said she “was curious to collide our Wonder Woman into the height of our current modern belief system, and what kind of villains come out of that.” Her mindless reference to today’s era, for which Orwell’s cautionary tale is taken to be a political handbook, ignores the actual tide of rising totalitarianism and submission (what Amazonian goddess Asteria calls “the tide of men”). It’s no mere coincidence that in this film Diana works at the Smithsonian Museum; that her Washington, D.C., apartment overlooks the Watergate Hotel; or that Max Lord’s greed eventually lays waste to the world, especially the American capital, which lies in smoking ruins. Not even this inadvertent swamp-draining image is much fun, given Jenkins’s inability to make Diana’s commitment to love and peace emotionally persuasive. (“I hate guns,” declares pacifist crime-fighter Diana, but can you trust that line in a movie by a director who made the Aileen Wuornos serial-killer film Monster as a feminist protest?)
The tone of Wonder Woman 1984 wobbles from half-serious political satire to silly comedy. Jenkins parodies Back to the Future to depict Eighties kitsch, but her film ends up just being tacky like Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman. It lacks the humor of Richard Lester’s ’80s sequels and the compelling vision of Snyder’s Man of Steel.
Maybe the problem is that Jenkins (born in 1971) was just a kid during the Eighties. Her Trumpian villain is closer to the TV huckster Crazy Eddie than the star of The Apprentice, a mischaracterization that conveniently ignores President Trump’s own pre-election pop-culture status as a businessman icon once beloved by rappers, the media, and even the boy hero of Home Alone. Pedro Pascal plays Max Lord as an exuberant combination of Trump, but without Alec Baldwin’s SNL bile, and Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko. Yet Jenkins can’t balance her own ambivalence. This is also the problem with Wiig’s conversion from Minerva into supervillainess The Cheetah (“I want to be like Diana — strong, sexy, cool, special”).
Wonder Woman 1984 wants to be everything to every liberal. (Ironically, Max Lord has the same problem, telling Diana, “We want what we want, just like you did.”) It also cheats on the attraction of comic-book movies with too many action scenes designed to excite boys more than girls — or perhaps that’s a sign of the cynicism that there is no difference, the intention being to indoctrinate girls the way Black Panther bamboozled black kids.
In the Sapphic decathlon sequence planting the film’s moral theme, the future Wonder Woman tries to win by deceiving her competitors. She is told: “You cheated, Diana, and that is the truth. And the truth is all there is.” Thus does Wonder Woman 1984, and Jenkins’s political/showbiz confusion, immediately backfire.