Updated: Jan 15
Is the “Wonder Woman” sequel really feminist?
Note from the Editor: Warning that there are some spoilers in this piece.
“Wonder Woman 1984” premiered in theaters and on HBO Max on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, the first series of Warner Bros. movies to premiere on HBO Max and theaters at the same time.
Three years ago, Israeli actress Gal Gadot starred as Wonder Woman, also known as Diana Prince, in the live action hit. “Wonder Woman” became a game changer for female superheroes. In the past, most female superheroes have taken a backseat to the male characterss in their stories, and are usually reduced to cliches or sex objects. The storylines make little effort to humanize them and go into more depth on their backgrounds compared to their male counterparts.
Wonder Woman is different. She’s emotional, confident, yet also insecure. She’s hopeful and fearful. She’s not just there for the looks, and while many find the actress attractive, that’s not her focus. This is different from the many female superheroes before her. The 2017 film gave women a story to be proud of, and see in themselves. The connection between boys and Superman or Batman parallels the connection girls now have with Wonder Woman. Now, that’s become more mainstream.
In “Wonder Woman,” the typical power roles are reversed. Steve Trevor is a romantic interest but also a sidekick who definitely needs some saving. What’s so impactful about a character like Wonder Woman is women (and young girls) seeing a woman capable of taking care of herself, and saving others. The romantic element is certainly not key in the story.
Now, in the film’s sequel, Gal Gadot is back to wow the world once again in the name of feminism in “Wonder Woman 1984.”
The sequel has almost everything going for it. In a rendition of the 1980s, Diana (Gadot) finds herself isolated by both choice and circumstance and works as both a museum curator and undercover superhero. As she develops a friendship with her co-worker, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), her best of both worlds lifestyle is disrupted by the arrival of the magic rock. At first, the rock grants Diana her great desire: to bring Steve Trevor back to life. Barbara, developing a undermined jealousy of Diana, wishes to be like Diana, suddenly gaining Diana’s power and confidence to an unimaginable extent. However, the plot takes a suspenseful turn when the wannabe oil king Maxwell Lord, with an insecure ego and father-son issues, transforms into the main villain of the film, becoming the rock himself.
What’s so powerful about Gadot’s character is her feminist character and her strength, conveyed in both fight and emotional scenes. However, this particular aspect seems to be poorly conveyed in the sequel. Further, Diana’s yearning for Steve becomes the entirety of her identity. As a reminder she doesn’t seem to miss her Amazon sisters but hasn’t moved on from Steve after 70 years. The potential for romance in superhero stories is endless but in this Warner Bros. sequel, the romance consumes Diana. In fact, her wish for Steve’s revival weakens her power, and sends mixed messages to the audience. Some critics could find this as anti-feminist as after 70 years, she is still caught up on Steve, feeling that she needs him when his presence only weakens her.
Barbara’s character can also be painted this way. Barabra looks at Diana and wants to be like her, and while her wish is granted by the magic rock, she actually becomes a foil for Diana. While Diana’s character is full of compassion and she uses her strength to help others, Barbara’s so caught up in having power that Maxwell Lord is able to manipulate her easily into giving up the magic rock. Notice that directly after Barbara tests her newfound powers on the man who originally assaulted her, she immediately starts to abuse her power, progressively becoming more monstrous. In fact, she’s granted her wish to become an “apex predator,” implying that women in positions of power are monstrous or, in Barbara’s case, predators.
Some could say that this little anti-feminist spin actually sends a pro-feminist message to the audience, conveying that they can be stronger on their own which can be seen when Diana gains her strength back after letting go of Steve. But it’s also important to note that even when Steve is around, Diana is still the compassionate, strong, woman that she is. She only changes physically, her character remains the same. Also, even when her powers do weaken, she refuses to give up and that’s what spoke the most to me.
While the film definitely has good intentions, comparing "WW84" to 2017’s film, "WW84" is definitely an upset. For me, the anti-feminist aspects overpowered the main idea of Wonder Woman and downplayed Diana’s character.