Wonder Woman 1984 is a strange movie with a long list of flaws, but we're not talking about them here. The movie makes the odd choice of being set in 1984, a time long ago enough now for people to be nostalgic for it. It is a simulacrum of the 1980s, a rose-colored look back at a decade full of unique innovations in fashions and pop culture, both cool and terrible. It was an era of big hair, power suits, shoulder pads, neon colours, the New Romantics, breakdancing, and Reaganomics.
Patty Jenkins directs Wonder Woman 1984 as if it was a movie made in 1984. It hypes the 80s the way Hollywood always did. Hollywood hyped the 1980s even back in the 1980s. It was a decade that loved its own excesses. It was the time of "Greed is good." Pedro Pascale's Maxwell Lord is presented as an embodiment of the 80s' embrace of materialist success but desperate to keep up the façade of success when he's broke and in debt. The movie makes Lord an immigrant who feels the pressure to fake it till he makes it in his attempts to grab a piece of the American Dream but ignores the American hucksters that created the system that drove him to his downfall.
Wonder Woman 1984: A Superhero Funhouse Tour of the 1980s
The movie is also reminiscent of Richard Lester's Superman 3 with its comedic choreography and satire on 80 greed and materialism. There's a light, inconsequential whimsy about it, as if what would happen if Lester directed the Lynda Carter TV show. It has the bright pop-coloured look of many 80s movies, though it doesn't have as much bite as Lester could muster. It breezes through a lot of 80s commentaries, including the idea that the US government under the movie's Reagan stand-in kept a secret broadcasting system that could hijack every TV signal in the world through Star Wars satellite technology. It uses the oil crisis and tension in the Middle East as more toys in the chest to knock together in its "throw everything from the era against the wall" approach to the script. The last third of the movie finally touches on Cold War paranoia and the fear of nuclear Armageddon because the 80s wasn't complete without that. Averting that is the final act of many 80s genre movies. This is reminiscent of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, another piece of kitschy 80s pop.
In the end, Diana restores the status quo with the claim that the world is wonderful and worth restoring. That's weirdly conservative as it glosses over how awful the 80s were. It was also the time of the AIDS Crisis where the gay community was being devastated, of Iran-Contra, of a smugness and meanness that the 80s encouraged that the movie ignores. It's another movie that hypes the 80s in the way Hollywood always did. It loved to celebrate the 80s even back in the 80s as if it was glad the 1970s was over and wanted to revel in all that decadence. It's a strange celebration of a decade that's incomplete because it soft-peddles the nasty underbelly of that time. It joins the long list of 80s movies loved the 80s. It actually replicates the conservatism of 80s Hollywood movies.
At two and a half hours, it feels like a long, endless 80s superhero TV show with a massive budget the 80s never had. How much you enjoy it depends on how much you like the 80s. It's actually the biggest star of the movie.
Wonder Woman 1984 is streaming for a month on HBO Max.