Friday 1 January 2021


I didn’t want to write about things this year that didn’t provide me with joy, or intellectual stimulation, or at least made me glad I had spent time on them. WW84 doesn’t really meet that standard, for a wide range of reasons, but maybe it is sometimes important to think about why things fail. 

It shouldn’t have, really. It’s the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021 and film has been a strange beast this year, barely in the cinema, mostly on streaming platforms, enjoyed not collectively but quietly, within the own home. I’ve found it hard to watch films during the last 12 months, to pay attention to one thing consistently for a period longer than 50 minutes, without taking numerous breaks, or walking away from it for a day or two. A big superhero movie, and one about a beloved character, that succeeded quite eloquently in its first outing, should have worked, especially since Patty Jenkins’ stuck with the franchise for its second turn. But something goes awfully wrong here on many levels. 

For one, WW84 isn’t just a film set in the 1980s. Its attempt at inspiring nostalgia for a period of time that the majority of the viewers probably haven’t consciously lived through goes beyond what Stranger Things attempted: it’s not just a film with a 1980s backdrop, it’s a film made the way a superhero film (if in the 1980s, major studios had made films about female superheroes, unless you count the Terminator and the Alien franchise) would have been made. The 1980s isn’t just a backdrop of hairstyles and fashion, of technology limitations, of musical cues, it’s also a specific kind of over-the-top family movies tone that should be familiar to anyone who grew up on 1980s and 1990s cinema. The slapstick humour, the overdrawn villain, the plot holes, it all adds up to something decisively not of our current period of time. The politics are questionable – and that is not to say that the politics of other recent superhero movies aren’t questionable, or that the interests of the American military are here more well-represented than they were, for example, in Captain Marvel. WW84 has evil Arabs. It has a throwaway scene in which a Middle-Eastern fighter wishes a nuclear warhead. It has the heroine herself, accepting that her beloved Steve has bodysnatched the entire life and existence of a different human man, and the only reason why she is giving this horrible charade up is because it is literally bringing about the end of the world. That isn’t just an accidentally horrible idea, it conflicts so directly with everything we have previously known this character to be that it basically destroys the notion that we should be rooting for her success. Kristen Wiig is very good as a lovely but mousey Barbara Minerva who wishes to be more like the woman she so admires (and, if we’re being honest, this is 2020, not 1984, so would it have been too much to ask for the flavour of her admiration to be a little bit more honest and less subtextual), and then good as the beautiful, strong, funny and sexy shell of a person that she becomes once her greatest wish is fulfilled, but it doesn’t save the film, especially not where Pedro Pascal, giving preciously little to work with here beyond a thirst for power (but the son!), fails to make the story of his villain believable. 

There is probably a reason why mainstream films now don’t have that 1980s feel, and it’s a good reason. It’s hard to watch a film so visually and aesthetically keen on representing the 1980s in the most cliché possible way, without addressing directly the issues of homelessness (even more so because it features a nice black homeless man who keeps his humanity, but we never get to think about the structural reasons for why Barbara has to bring him a meal every day), the cold war (except to up the stakes with nukes), the AIDS crisis (nobody’s gay, of course, no gays before the 2000s). Or maybe it’s hard to watch this film and not wonder how all of this is supposedly taking place in the same era that birthed Patrick Bateman, who truly is a villain of this time. The best bits of the film happen before the opening credits, in a flashback to Diana Prince’s Themyscira, in which a young Diana competes against grown Amazon warriors and learns that a true win cannot be achieved through cheating – a lesson that presumably ties back somehow with her realisation that her beloved Steve cannot cheat fate, but one that still falls short in this unfortunately not very good film.

2020, directed by Patty Jenkins, starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen.

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