Wonder Woman 1984: A Case Study in Bad Writing
For all my creative writing majors looking for what not to do in their next workshop submission, watch Wonder Woman 1984…
Superhero movies don’t work when they rely heavily on grandiose fight-scenes and fan-service. Justice League was a sad attempt and Dawn of Justice was even worse. Thankfully, Marvel usually gets the formula right, utilizing Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey to show a character go from zero-to-hero in less than three hours. There’s a focus on Resident Evil-esque boss battles, but enough character development to leave you satisfied. Character being the important word here.
Without character, no film works. But…
When there’s zero stake¹ and a tremendous reliance on that character arc, a pathetic mixture of a comic book and anything on your mom’s bookshelf is born. Hence Wonder Woman 1984.
The film is about… not a lot.
Here’s the gist: Don’t take shortcuts in life. (Emphasis on the period). Why? Because that’s all the movie offers. Diana (Wonder Woman) uses a shortcut to love, Barbara (Cheetah) uses a shortcut to popularity, and Maxwell Lord uses a shortcut to power. The problem? The entire theme was waddled down to an admittedly excellent intro sequence where DIANA ALREADY LEARNS THE LESSON.
When your main character is pure perfection, there is no story. There is no place for the character to go. The same can be said for a character who has already gone through there arc and is expected to relearn that same lesson later in the movie.
This is why Sequels don’t hit the same way as originals².
There is no suspense in Wonder Woman’s character because Diana already understands what she needs to do. The Joseph Campbell adventure here is not to learn but to face the truth that she accepted years ago. It’s okay… but not a revolutionary story nor a reason to make a sequel.
Diana must let go of her wish (bringing her dead boyfriend back from the dead) in order to get her powers back and fight the big baddies at the end. The arc, however, is only present in 5% of the film and when the big moment to “face her truth” comes, its underwhelming. Of course she’s going to sacrifice Steve to save the world. We believe in Diana and have from the beginning. There was never a moment when the audience has to stop and say, “wait, is she going to be able to solve this problem?”
This leaves two other characters to carry the emotional depth of the film… an attractive girl with glasses who becomes an attractive but heartless girl without glasses and a power-hungry man who takes the easy road to power. Neither does the job well!
Kristen Wiig’s acting was pretty good and her character should have been the center of the story. Instead, she becomes another generic bad-guy with the same powers as the main hero. (Watch every MCU film and you’ll see the same pattern) The main battle is therefore just a punching party, without the need for interesting strategy or skill to win. It’s just who punches harder.
Pedro Pascal is another example of “what should have been”. There was nothing intriguing about him except for a 3-second flash-back at the end and a few scenes with his son, who he leaves alone way too many times!³ His motivation for power was spotty and the lengths he went to obtain it seemed unplanned and uncalculating, leaving a character based on luck than skill. So, why was it interesting when he was defeated?
Each one must relinquish their one wish and go back to the life they had.
The fundamental issue with the movie is that all the characters are tasked with completing the same arc, so when each one does, it just feels bland⁴. Most Superhero movies can fall back on their interesting villains and engaging fight scenes, but Wonder Woman 1984 has none of those, leaving a failed attempt at dramatic writing and copy/paste battle sequences that look better in the new Spider-Man video game.
It’s an okay film, but in a market filled to the brim with really good superhero content, it’s one you kick under the rug.
The ending scene should NOT have been brought to a worldwide scale. It should have been made believable and built around stake in the characters we grew to love: like Cheetah’s humanity and Maxwell Lord’s fatherhood. In order to save those things from destruction, Diana would have to learn her lesson sooner rather than later. If she fails, she loses a friend (Cheetah) and Maxwell Lord loses his son.
But they didn’t do this... The bottom line? Hire me for the third one!
: We know everything turns out okay due to the current DCEU!
: With some exceptions (I love you, Karate Kid 2)
: Someone call CPS, stat!
: Oh! And Cheetah’s life was so bad before that she prefers looking like an extra in the film Cats! (Must have been a really bad life!)