Kicking off Warner Bros. Pictures’s new simultaneous release policy with HBO Max, Wonder Woman 1984 debuted in select theaters and on the burgeoning streaming service on December 25th, 2020. For 31 days, audiences could elect to either head to theaters or their couch to take part in Diana Prince’s (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) latest adventure, this time taking place during the Eighties. As explained in the bonus features by director Patty Jenkins, the notion for setting the film during this period is to explore America at its most exorbitant through Diana at her peak. The idea is sound, but the execution proved divisive as critics tore apart several bad optic moments and general audiences found it rather underwhelming in comparison to the DC Comic’s hero’s first outing in 2017. Whether you loved or were disturbed by it, the home release offers over 90 minutes of extras (plus 17+ more when streaming via iTunes) that explore the creation of the film from the process of making the film generally to specific scene examinations to highlighting the bond between actors Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig to the always fun Gag Reel. Personally, the answers found within the bonus features, even if not specific to my queries, answered a lot of questions regarding what works and what doesn’t in the release.
If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman 1984, I recommend that you jump over to the original theatrical/streaming review which is entirely spoiler-free. If you’re mostly interested in what bonus features are included here, you can jump down to the bottom to see the list. If you’d like to know a little about them, jump to just past the YouTube video “Friends First.”
Since the end of World War I, Diana Prince has kept out of the spotlight, doing her best to save people without drawing any attention, content being a thing of rumors and legends. For whatever reason she does this with her superhero identity, she also does this with her public one: mostly keeping to herself at her current job working for the Smithsonian in D.C. Things change for her when a mysterious rock is brought in after a botched jewelry heist (foiled by Diana) for Dr. Barbara Minerva (Wiig) to identify and classify. What neither Prince nor Minerva know is that businessman-on-the-verge-of-bankruptcy Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) has been hunting for that rock, aware of its rumored properties. As all three converge, an exploration of what each want versus what they need may bring down life on Earth as we know it.
The one thing that gets repeated throughout the special features is that Jenkins is the kind of director who views each scene as emotion, that she is always considering what she wants the audience to be feeling at any given scene so that the narrative gets them to that point. This is 1984’s greatest strength and its weakness. Having seen the film three times now, I can identify what Jenkins is going for in the opening scene (wonder), when Diana is reunited with Chris Pine’s long dead Steve Trevor (longing), when Diana convinces the world to renounce their wishes (hope). It’s quite clear that Jenkins, and co-writers Geoff Johns (Aquaman) and David Callahan (2014’s Godzilla), is leading with heart over reason in order to fulfill this emotional imperative. Because of this, though, many of the narrative beats within the film fall flat under any kind of scrutiny. So let’s look at the good and the bad.
The general theme of the film is “shortcuts are bad.” If the opening of the film (a wonderful sequence where we get to watch a celebration for Amazonian Warrior Asteria (a sort of Olympics) play out with Lilly Aspell returning as young Diana) didn’t make this clear, then the narrative surrounding the wishing stone itself should. Some individuals critical of the film interpreted the conflict surrounding the mere act of wishing as a slam on wanting things or wishing in general. The film isn’t saying this at all. The story is saying that taking shortcuts is not a valid form of winning. That you can want something, but by taking shortcuts you’re losing something in the process. For Diana, getting her wish to have Steve back came at the cost of her demigod status. (There’s another terrible by-product and we’ll get to that soon.) For Barbara, wishing to be like Diana meant that she lost more than her humanity, she lost her grace and kindness. For Maxwell, well, he traded his son Alistair (Lucian Perez) and the safety of everyone on Earth to become great. For each, by skipping the part where they heal (Diana), find their confidence (Barbara), and recognize that what means most is already in your possession (Maxwell and his son), they make get what they want but it’s a hollow victory that comes at a cost. You can really see the influence of Big (1988) here, as all three knowingly or unknowingly are granted what they want by this version’s Zoltar.
This exploration of shortcuts allows the script to examine what it may mean for someone who’s spent the last 66 years watching her friends die, struggling with how to connect with a society which, by all accounts. she’ll outlast. The sorrow in this allows for the possibility of selfishness, a trait audience’s aren’t used to seeing from Diana, but allows for exploration and growth. But, like Big, the granting of wishes gets a little icky as that film, looked through a modern lens, involves sex with a minor (Elizabeth Perkins’s Susan sleeps with the Tom Hanks-as-child Josh) and, in 1984, Diana sleeps with someone whom Steve’s spirit/soul/whathaveyou inhabits. That character isn’t even listed in the credits beyond Handsome Man (Kristoffer Polaha). So while Diana and Steve are able to have a physical reunion, the question of what happens to H.M. in that moment is particularly gross. Of the variety of ways to have returned Steve to the present, while the choice is in keeping with other aspects of homages to 80’s cinema, the selection adds layers and layers of poor decisions upon our once noble heroine. Can audiences watch the sequence without wondering how H.M. feels about his body being used without his consent to have sex with Diana? Yes. Many have, myself included. But once you notice it, that sequence feels beyond gross to watch.
Another example of the great idea that doesn’t work is Jenkins’s view that this story shows Diana at her peak. Except, she’s not. Diana is not alone; she’s lonely, she’s distant, and it’s on purpose. She’s living in the shadows of humanity (though I’d argue that destroying the mall cameras after appearing is not going to help her much if she’s already on camera being a superhero), she can’t fly (she does once she “gives up” Steve), and her desire to be a beacon of hope introduced in Wonder Woman (2017) is all but burned out. Gadot doesn’t play her quite as mysterious or aloof as she did in her first appearance, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but she’s close. This is not what a “peak” looks like. In fact, the version of Diana in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) is far closer to a peak version — capable, heroic, full of agency — than anything thus far. It’s a great idea to juxtapose Diana in the ‘80s, a period well-known for its excess, except we find her just as wanting as everyone else. She can’t be at her peak in order for the narrative to work, for her to learn the lesson about shortcuts that both Antiope (Robin Wright) and her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) try to explain at the start of the film. Diana has to be incomplete in order to not immediately reject and correct the fact that a stranger has been possessed by the person she loved and lost. There are certainly some grand moments of heroics that the story presented allows, like depicting Diana, in a rapidly weakening state, using her smarts to break through Maxwell’s defenses during the desert sequence. Watching her struggle and still be determined to succeed is about as powerful as watching her cry through the heartbreak and pain of giving up Steve only to finally learn to fly. This would be a great time to discuss the horrible optics of the desert sequence, but better writers and smarter people than I have already addressed it and you should read their words instead of my own. For more, check out this article from writer/critic Rebecca Pierce discussing the film with director Lexi Alexander titled “White Savior Cinema.”
Jenkins does manage to succeed in hitting the emotional notes she’s looking for, which is the only reason I’ve been able to revisit the film. I believe in Diana’s isolation, I believe that Barbara sees herself as lacking, I believe that Maxwell is a traumatized kid still carrying that pain. This is what, for better or worse, humanizes them and makes the final confrontation between Maxwell and Diana so wonderful: it’s not about who is strongest but the willingness to cast aside our pettiness in the pursuit of real altruism. Unlike Wonder Woman, which required Diana’s defeat of her uncle Aries (David Thewlis), God of War, this was an exchange of words and ideas culminating in Diana pleading with the world itself (made more powerful by Gadot shifting her eyeline to address the audience in this moment). It’s hard to look past the stumbles and I can understand why people can’t bring themselves to watch this film again, but, if you can, there’s a narrative center with a solid message.
What about the bonus features?
In the more than 90-minutes of bonus features, you get walked through a great deal of behind the scenes materials. If you enjoyed the Diana-Barbara relationship, there are two different featurettes exploring the working relationship of Gadot and Wiig. Two actors whom got into quite a bit of shenanigans on set, they got along so well. Recorded during the August 2020 DC FanDome event, there’s a 20+-minute featurette that shines a light on the fantastic athletes that make up the Amazons at the start of the film. If you wondered who they were or what it was like for them to shoot the stunts, this is where you want to start. Speaking of stunts, the 10-minute “Small But Mighty” is a charming featurette focused on Aspell and the shooting of the opening. Not only do you get a glimpse of her original audition tape for the first film, but you get to see just how many of the stunts in the opening she did herself (spoiler alert: it’s all of them). Where I was hoping to see some of the concerns regarding the story addressed is in both “Scene Study” featurettes showing off the mall and desert sequences. Unfortunately, they don’t really get into the narrative elements here, opting to focus on the stunt work. On the impressive side, the stunts in the mall sequence are almost fully performed by Gadot using a customized wire rig. So that figure you see swinging up, down, and over through the mall: that’s all Gadot.
Not included in the home release and only on the streaming edition are two ITunes “Featured Extras”: a featurette about the music and a motion comic set within the time period of the film. What’s interesting about the musical featurette is listening to composer Hans Zimmer and Jenkins discuss their view on the score for the new film. It bothered more people than really made sense that the film included no music of the era. Jenkins doesn’t so much acknowledge those complaints here (the featurette is during production so no way for her to do that), but does explain the thinking about why the music is so different than, perhaps, what audiences wanted. Given Jenkins’s penchant for the Richard Donner-era of Superman films, I found 1984‘s score to be solid progression from the previous Wonder Woman. My only gripe is that the truly bombastic Wonder Woman theme introduced in Dawn of Justice is woven into the new score and rarely, if at all, comes out to play.
The issues audiences’ found in 1984 are, frankly, valid. There’s some bad optics in quite a few sequences which only generate additional toxicity toward the narrative the further you go. Other aspects folks took issue with (the lack of era-specific music, the presentation of Barbara) can be explained. Having addressed the music issue, I think it’s worth noting about Barbara that she only *thinks* she’s beneath Diana. The character possesses all the elements of a leading lady except for confidence and that makes a great deal of difference in (a) how they see themselves and (b) how others see them. Diana actually sees Barbara, when she takes a moment to get out of her own headspace to look at anyone, and recognizes that which Barbara herself does not. This is what makes the turn from friend into foe painful for Diana. She knows that Barbara didn’t have to wish to become more than she was before her wish, she only had to believe in herself. This goes back to the whole “shortcuts are bad” narrative element. Wishing is perfectly fine, but it’s the actualizing you should work on. Focus on the becoming, not the wanting. For me, this is why 1984 is worth revisiting. To see Diana struggle with that, a demigod of all people, trying to figure out how to engage with the world. Makes someone as socially awkward as myself feel a twinge of hope. If you didn’t see that or feel that, that’s ok too.
Wonder Woman 1984 Special Features
- The Making of Wonder Woman 1984: Expanding the Wonder (36:23)
- Gal & Kristen: Friends Forever (5:11)
- Small But Mighty (10:44)
- Scene Study: The Open Road (6:11)
- Scene Study: The Mall (5:03)
- Gal & Krissy Having Fun (1:13)
- Meet the Amazons (21:28)
- Black Gold Infomercial (1:39)
- Gag Reel (6:26)
- Wonder Woman 1984 Retro Remix
iTunes Featured Extras (1:40)
- The Wonder of Music (10:37)
- “Museum Mayhem” motion comic (6:45)
Available on VOD February 12th, 2021.
Available on digital March 16th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD March 30th, 2021.