By Jacob Sahms
Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t what fanboys and fangirls were expecting, and the Internet is abuzz with whether or not the film was a justifiable use of Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince, Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor and the Mandalorian’s, I mean Pedro Pascal’s, Maxwell Lord, alongside Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah. At a run time of two and a half hours, the film seems to simultaneously drag on and also not quite fulfill what folks were expecting. But I’d argue that Wonder Woman 1984 is exactly the film that we need thirty-six years after its setting as 2020 grinds to a close.
In the opening vignette, little Diana competes with the bigger Amazons for a prized honor through a Titan Games/American Ninja Warrior-style course. She fails, but appears about to win, before her mother and her trainer deem her to have cheated, and instruct her on the importance of truth. Fast forward to 1984, and the world seems enthralled with Lord, who is headlining an oil Ponzi scheme on the rocks. When the Dreamstone, an ancient mythological piece that grants the holder’s wish, ends up at the Smithsonian where Prince and Wiig’s Barbara Ann Minerva work, Lord lusts for the artifact for himself.
An item that provides the holder with their deepest desire? A power-hungry businessman who believes that everything we hope for should come true? Trouble!
The sequel is significantly more campy, more tongue-in-cheek, like a spiritual successor to Richard Donner’s Superman I & II… sometimes. There are great fun moments (including a mid-credits scene), but it’s also serious and emotional. It’s doing more than the average superhero blockbuster, and it seems perfectly comfortable with that, spacing out the action scenes with significant discourse and drama about people, relationships, and true love.
While audiences know from the trailer that somehow Trevor finds himself back from apparent death, adrift like Steve Rogers in a world he’s not seen coming, the emotional stakes for this one have been ratcheted up beyond director Patty Jenkins’ original film that placed Wonder Woman squarely on the board as the trump card between good and evil. While the first film focused on love, the second focuses on truth, on integrity, doubling down on how character counts.
Can a person pursue everything they ever wanted at all costs? What are the costs of getting everything that you want or hope for or … think you need? What happens if all of the suffering we’ve endured could be wiped away with a wish, if all of the hardships we endured could be justified by the end result? Ultimately, that would provide purpose in situations where purpose seems alien, and answer questions that I’m not sure we’re meant to know the answers to this side of heaven. The reality is that God doesn’t promise us happiness or success, but the encouragement to be faithful, and to trust.
Wonder Woman 1984 again calls to mind John 15:13 but even more so, the sequel calls for a sacrifice of self that takes it deeper than trite verse picking. Instead, it asks us to consider what about our lived lives is sacrificial, not just the lives we would give up in a moment to save someone else. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?(Matthew 16:24-26)”
Wonder Woman 1984 is not a perfect film, but it is a thoughtfully provocative one. It demands we consider what about our lives, our comfort, our wants, our hopes we would be willing to sacrifice for a greater good. Is it masking up so that someone else’s health might be protected? Is it sacrificing our immediate wants so that someone else would have enough? Is it recognizing that regardless of our political or social beliefs, that even our opponents are our neighbors and those whose lives are sacred, too, in both word and breath?
Wonder Woman can’t fly in to save the day, because she’s not real. But we are, and by her example, we might learn to make the selfless choices, too.
SPOILERS BELOW – Read on only if you’ve already watched!
The reality here is that there’s something similar to the end of Rise of Skywalker where Rey ‘forgives’ Kylo Ren. We go to superhero movies expecting films where the hero destroys the villain, whether it’s Zach Snyder’s twist of the life-affirming Superman with a Zod neck snap or the Final Crisis version of that with Wonder Woman and Lord. But here, the hero isn’t Diana Prince in the end, it’s every single person who says, “I renounce my wish.” It’s every person who decides to lay aside their wants so that the world might live, that life might move forward.
And it’s true for Maxwell Lord, too, because he suddenly realizes that he’s more than what his enemies have made him, more than all of the hurt he’s experienced. He is able to choose redemption even while Minerva/Cheetah doesn’t, and that makes it even more powerful — everyone has the opportunity to repent but not everyone has to choose to do so.
In the end, Wonder Woman 1984 might be the most parable-like of 2020’s films; like films like Hell or High Water or Mad Max:Fury Road, it shows us something and demands we consider it long after the credits have faded.