The Wonder Woman journey was long and arduous. Let's take a look at their history and what brought WW84 to silver screen.
The nice allure of serialized characters is that you are constantly trying to get them into new situations. A film doesn't tell the whole story.
The serialized journey
Gal Godot and Chris Pine in WW84. Image via Warner Bros.
Major League Baseball bat Ted Williams once played eight games without a hit. This is the man who has won six punch titles, four home run crowns, two MVPs, and two triple crowns. This is the man who had a higher percentage of career than Joe DiMaggio! The story of Ted Williams' illustrious career is defined not by those eight hit-and-miss games, but by the number of times he hit the plate and produced magic.
Like all beloved serialized characters – real or imaginary – your attraction and investment in their story are part of the long game. A single attempt on the big screen, for example with a Harry Potter, Superman or Katness Everdeen, would be a disservice, not so much because we are waiting for the character to develop, but for our own deeper understanding of an unknown, complex world .
The beautifully artistic and painfully long Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Image via Warner Bros.
Even films that aren't entirely artistically satisfactory – the chunky three-hour drive of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the anti-climactic finale of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, and the terrible adjectives that don't need adjectives V Superman: Dawn of Justice – are still part of this journey of understanding. In fact, in 2014 Dawn of Justice gave us a glimpse into something audiences have craved for years, the presence of Wonder Woman.
The story of Wonder Woman
The cast of Wonder Woman 2017. Image via Warner Bros.
Like the thrill of finally going out with that crazy crush you haven't had the courage to pursue for years, 2017 finally gave us a Wonder Woman movie of its own. The Amazonian princess first appeared in comics in 1941 as the idea of psychologist William Moulton Marston, who had the idea of creating a superhero who fights with love and empathy rather than violence. His progressive idea and feminist leanings propelled Wonder Woman through the 50s and 60s as a model for strength and equality. After Marston died and others took over the reins, feminism receded, but her popularity did not.
Wonder Woman is the third longest comic book in history – behind the giants of Superman and Batman. Superman first hit theaters in 1951 with Superman and the Mole Men and Batman: The Movie. Wonder Woman waited seventy-six years to reach the canvas. Talk about the long game.
Director Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot on the set of Wonder Woman. Image via Warner Bros.
Director Patty Jenkins first discussed the project with Warner Bros. in 2004, abandoned it, and years later. She described to Marc Maron in his WTF podcast the arduous task she had with the studio in order to make her vision for the film possible.
When I first got to Wonder Woman, I said, "Uh, yeah, OK, but let's do it differently." But I said, "Women don't want to see that." It's tough and tough and cuts people's heads off. . . I'm a Wonder Woman fan, this is not what we're looking for. “Still, I could feel this shaky nervousness (on your part) from my point of view.
And although there have been numerous comic box office bombs directed by men and featuring male protagonists like The Fantastic Four from 2015 or Green Lantern from 2011, the resistance was palpable.
They were nervous that it wasn't viable. . . They were all freaked out by all of the superhero films that failed, the smaller ones that failed.
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in the 2017 film Wonder Woman. Image via Warner Bros.
However, Wonder Woman was too big to fail. The fan base that had been built in since 1941 wanted their success. The 2017 film by Jenkin had the advantage of using the vivid blueprint of Wonder Woman's origin story, which was rich in both plot and character. The audience was able to experience Diana on the hidden island of Themyscira (home of the Amazons), watch her warrior training and witness her rescue and first encounter with US pilot Steve Trevor from the First World War.
It was an inspiring decision to be exposed to the outside world for the first time during World War I in 1917. It was a brutal, devastating conflict and a perfect vehicle for Diana to face the unveiling of the dangers of gods and humans, who re-form emotional bonds and discover that only love can save the world.
Clinical psychologist Robin Rosenberg in Smithsonian Magazine commented on the psychology of superheroes and, in particular, the appeal of the origin story to fans and their lives.
I think origin stories don't tell us how to become awesome, but rather how to be a hero and prefer altruism to the pursuit of wealth and power.
The journey to WW84
It feels like Jenkins took that feeling to heart when designing the next episode of Wonder Woman. From the first moments young Diana overcomes a number of competitive barriers to be the best, she is tested for strength and heart. And when we didn't understand that there was a lesson in altruism to be explored in the next two and a half hours, her mentor offered this encouragement: "Just do your best and remember that greatness is not what you think." The studio released the scene before the debut of WW84 and it was nifty marketing. The opening is the most successful part of the second effort.
The idea works on paper. It is now 1984, sixty-eight years, since she fought against the god Ares and the Germans' plans for a deadly poison released for humanity. She stayed in the outside world because her time with Steve Trevor convinced her of the good in people and made a commitment to be their protector.
Putting Wonder Woman in the "greed is good" decade was harsh as it was a counterpoint to everything Diana believed about humanity that most people are led by their better angels. It also gave her decades to internalize the loss of Steve and be prone to temptation – if only she could get it back.
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in WW84. Image via Warner Bros.
Give DC Comics to a fictional supervillain, Maxwell Lord, with the ability to grant her that wish. Jenkin is usually portrayed as a smart and powerful businessman and gives us Trump treatment – a charismatic charlatan with a victorious TV personality and a mountain of debt. Presumably to impress his son, he is looking for a mysterious dream stone, an artifact that can seemingly grant wishes when in contact with any user. He drops wish fulfillment like candy contracts, but greed surrounds his soul and soon his possession of the stone has dire consequences for the world.
If the script had focused on Wonder Woman – her loss, her grief, and her struggle that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (H / T to Spock!) – it could have been a home run. How fascinating would it have been to see Diana navigate her personal life while grieving? The film could have gotten darker. Does she have a night stand to fill the void? Acting recklessly as a superhero? Who does she report to and what missions does she undertake?
The film is very vague in that regard. Are we supposed to believe she spends her time rocking around malls and pounding horny drunks in back alleys? "Really?" Is that the best use of your time and talent? All we get to demonstrate their solitude is a lovely dinner in itself. Come on, most modern women would appreciate the silence of enjoying a glass of wine and a bite to eat in a charming sidewalk cafe.
Super villain Maxwell Lord played by Pedro Pascal in WW84. Image via Warner Bros.
Oddly enough, the script spends more time with the antagonists, including a superficial exploration of the potentially delicious nerd villain Dr. Barbara Minerva a.k.a. Cheetah. Could nothing more interesting than Diana's ability to walk in high heels motivate Barbara's envy? In general, the focus always seemed to be on cheap laughs, as the approach to the Decade (fanny packs and parachute pants) shows, rather than the Milken-era economic ills that could have made Max a more formidable enemy. And despite the chaos that Max and Barbara lead, there are no consequences. Max runs comfortably into the arms of his mostly forgotten son and Barbara's fate sticks. Wonder Woman doesn't pay attention to it.
Even so, the audience response to Rotten Tomatoes is a respectable 74%. For comparison on a smaller superhero outing, Spiderman 3 is 51%. It's certainly disappointing that the second film missed the mark of digging deeper, taking risks, and investing audiences in their journey in a meaningful way. If it had been, her last monologue – a passionate plea to everyone to renounce their wishes for the common good – would have received an emotional blow.
However, the beauty of having a lasting character is that the opportunity presents itself. The next film could fill these gaps in the story, fly ahead or jump back in time. And if so, we would have to visit WW84 again and judge it differently.
In the end, the promise of the next film is what drives the audience and allows missteps. If Star Wars fans can still love, forgive, and invest after Jar Jar Binks, then Wonder Woman can surely rise after 1984.
Cover photo via Warner Bros.