When Wonder Woman hit the big screen in 2017, I was gearing myself for another failed DC movie.
Justice League and Suicide Squad were somehow messy, uninviting, and dull – and they gained mass criticism from movie-goers around the world. Cue Wonder Woman, a film that was surprisingly…. good. One of DC’s better movies (including Joker, of course), Wonder Woman did well with critics. Patty Jenkins managed to win over the fickle critics, and Gal Gadot and Chris Pine won hearts around the world. In contrast, Wonder Woman 1984, releasing 3 years later, was disappointingly underwhelming.
The movie’s plot seems childishly magical, involving an inanimate object that can inexplicably grant anyone’s wish. With the dangers of having every wish granted, this feels more like a retelling of a tale from Arabian Nights, and the premise itself feels unsound. The movie implies that people should not have control over their own wishes, that they should be ‘happy with what they have’. It argues against striving for your future and paints people as violent, ignorant, and malicious.
Though the movie may have been feminist, it was also seen as pretty racist, with critics and film-goers pointing out the obvious racist statements made in the movie and its implications. There were scenes of Arab fighters wishing for nuclear weapons, while other (read: white people) had calmer wishes, like wishing for a farm.
People tweeted their disappointment with the movie, talking about how the villain was a Latino immigrant, that Egyptians and other Arabs were painted as war-hungry extremist Muslims that were hell-bent on ‘reclaiming’ their land. I winced out loud when Said Bin Abydos asks for ‘heathens’ to be pushed out of his country.
Setting the movie in the 1980s doesn’t mean that we revisit racial and cultural stereotypes from 40 years ago. What looked like a fun, colorful movie with neon lights and bright clothing ended up being washed-up and cringe-y.
I really need anyone and everyone who watched or enjoyed #WonderWoman1984 to understand just how harmful and hurtful its racist depiction of Egypt and MENA peoples is. More people watching will watch this film and think "Oh, that's just how the region is." We have to stop this.
— Swara Ahmed (@spiderswarz) December 28, 2020
when they said wonder woman 1984 i thought they meant like neon colors and synths but they meant horrifying middle eastern stereotypes
— josh lewis (@thejoshl) December 26, 2020
It’s not like the movie tried to be historically accurate when depicting other countries, either. For example, the ‘emir’ that Maxwell Lord visited shouldn’t have been a thing, because Egypt was a democracy in the 80s.
Even the fact that everyone was wearing a hijab or abaya isn’t inaccurate, because Islamic clothing was still a big point of debate. The costume design alone depicted how little the movie cared for accuracy: the emir is seen wearing a headscarf and an open blue and gold robe, but this style is more often seen in Saudi Arabia or the UAE. Heck, the Egyptian President in the 80s wore tailored suits. They might’ve done a great job recreating 80s American fashion, but they did not really bother with how other cultures were depicted.
Heck, even Diana’s relationship with Steve was uncomfortable, after a point.
Wonder Woman 1984 heavily depends on Diana Prince’s romance to push the narrative, ensuring that the protagonist never moves on from Steve Trevor, even though it’s been about 70 years since he passed. It may be cute, and the actors have good chemistry, but the entire movie was just a massive helping of fanservice. It felt as though the movie was banking on their relationship to carry it forward, which only worked to a certain extent. I did have a problem with how Steve comes to 1984 in the first place – it’s an awkward problem that’s never truly explained, but brushed aside.
Essentially Steve takes over another man’s body, his apartment, his property – there’s no justification to this, no explanation to what happens to that man, or where his consciousness goes. It brings in the discussion of consent, of Steve unwittingly violating someone’s body because of a wish, and it’s never even discussed.
Another problem I have is with how Diana pushes herself forward for Steve, instead of herself. She achieves her ability because Steve forces her to, and there isn’t really a clear moment of her saving the day because she’s a hero.
In terms of spectacle alone, it was very fun to watch Pedro Pascal act his heart out. In The Mandalorian, he plays a serious, stony-faced bounty hunter, and it was a pleasure to see him burst with energy across the screen. Kristen Wiig’s performance, too, was quite enjoyable – until the last few moments as the Cheetah, of course, but I won’t spoil it for you (hint: she eerily resembles a character from the marvellously disastrous film about cats that came out in 2019).
In terms of plot, of relatability, or even good old story-telling, Wonder Woman 1984 falls flat on its face. The stereotypes are tired, overused, and plain rude at this point. Regardless of the movie’s setting, it is possible to make a period piece without devolving to ugly stereotypes and portraying humanity as so stupid and violent that no one deserves to move forward. The movie is 2 and a half hours long, and it was a genuine struggle to reach the end.
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