It’s a big dick world, Wonder Woman’s just living in it.
There is so much penis imagery in the DC Cinematic Universe it’s practically a house style at this point. Whether it’s the suspiciously folded contours of the Kryptonian escape pods in Man of Steel or Aquaman’s quest for a more powerful, er, staff, the hyper-masculine aesthetics of the world Zack Snyder helped codify (and that his toxic fanbase perpetuates) has clung to the franchise like a bad case of herpes. The original Wonder Woman film earned its position as one of the best entries in the DCU in spite of the Snydereque shackles attached to it by the studio, but the message was clear: it’s a big dick world, and Wonder Woman’s just living in it.
The fallacy (phallicy?) of a world dominated by male desires is ever present in Wonder Woman 1984. As Diana (Gal Gadot) travels to her job at the Smithsonian the biggest phallic symbol of them all, the Washington Monument, looms perpetually on the horizon. From her office in the archaeology department she studies the artifacts of patriarchies past, which is where she comes across the “Dream Stone,” a large, thick shaft of glistening crystal bound by a loop of metal at its base. The runes on this ancient cock ring indicate this particular pecker has the power to grant wishes (how’s that for a pickup line?), but, like an especially ironic STD, the wisher must sacrifice something in exchange.
Grasping the pearlescent prick, Diana’s thoughts understandably travel to the last great specimen of manhood in her life, ace WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and fans of the first film understand her longing. Gal Gadot is a fine actor who imbues Diana with a deep earnestness and warmth, but there is no argument that the first Wonder Woman film was carried almost entirely by Pine’s irresistible charisma. No doubt realizing this, writer-director Patty Jenkins and co-writers Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham had to come up with a plausible excuse to bring a beloved character back from the dead, and I guess a magic dream dick is as good a plot device as any. So Diana strokes the, er, artifact, makes her wish, and with a bit of furious hand-waving from the screenwriters her lost love appears back in her life. But the pernicious pecker must procure its pound of flesh, and in exchange for the return of her true love Diana’s Amazon powers begin to fade.
Diana isn’t the only one looking to rub the genie’s lamp, as it were, and the Stone draws the attention of her newly-arrived gemologist colleague Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Barbara is what you’d call “Hollywood ugly,” i.e. she wears glasses and has slightly messy hair, and the film makes a big deal out of the fact that she has trouble walking in heels (the Smithsonian has a surprisingly strict dress code, apparently). Tired of being taken advantage of by the world and envious of Diana’s outward perfection, Barbara wishes to be just like her, unaware that superpowers are included in the package. But in exchange the Stone takes away her capacity for kindness and before long Barbara is curb-stomping street harassers in four-inch stilettos (and honestly, we have no choice but to stan).
Barbara’s interests dovetail nicely with TV huckster Maxwell Lord (a wonderfully hammy Pedro Pascal). With his pinstripe suit and blonde bouffant Lord has a talent for appearing rich even as his debts pile up (nudge nudge). His office’s luxuriously-appointed lobby serves as a front for an empty, derelict workspace where Lord attempts to lure investors for non-existent oil wells via slickly-produced infomercials. “I am not a con man,” he insists, “I am a TV personality!” (hint hint).
When Lord wishes to merge himself with the big dick energy of the Dream Stone, he is imbued with the power to grant other people’s wishes. With each new wish — which are often rooted in fear, anger, or greed — Lord’s power grows. Before long he has assumed the authority of the president and uses top-secret military technology to broadcast himself to televisions around the globe (NUDGE HINT NUDGE). In a world full of dicks he becomes the biggest dick of them all.
Astute readers have no doubt noticed the similarities between Lord and the other big-haired, TV-obsessed prick in our lives. Given the film’s original June 5th release date it’s not a stretch to conclude that Wonder Woman 1984 is about, sigh, the presidential election, and the film practically reaches through the screen to throttle viewers with its warning to be careful what you wish for. Before long the fallout from the wishes Lord collects begin to wreak havoc on the world (a man surrounded by cattle in a city park exclaims, “I wished for a farm, but not here!”), and an increasingly vulnerable Diana with Steve in tow must track down and stop Lord before some overzealous military commander wishes the world into nuclear armageddon.
As Diana herself becomes weaker, Barbara, who has taken to wearing more leopard print than Shania Twain, becomes more powerful. The longer the film goes on the more one questions the purpose of Barbara’s presence. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to make a movie about Donald Trump, but realized a movie about a female superhero should probably pass the Bechdel Test so why not jam in another superfluous character? It’s lazy and pointless and mainly serves as an excuse for a couple of action scenes between Wonder Woman and Barbara, whose final form is as inexplicable as her presence in the film.
The action scenes in Wonder Woman 1984 are nothing special, but they do have one thing going for them in that they are 1) short, and 2) mercifully legible. Most of the scenes take place in bright daylight, and there are no hordes of faceless enemies to be indifferently mowed down by the protagonists. In fact, Wonder Woman 1984’s action scenes are refreshingly uncluttered, with never more than a handful of objects or fighters in the frame at any given moment. They likely won’t ever be studied in film school, but I’d rather take the bright, simple, and (most importantly) brief action sequences of this film to the dark, incomprehensible 20-minute slogs of other recent superhero jawns.
Penis metaphors aside, the biggest strength of Wonder Woman 1984 is, honestly, how kid-friendly it feels. The broadly-drawn characters and plot, simple action scenes with minimal violence, and bright colors of Aline Bonetto’s postcard 80s sets are perfectly suited for a younger audience, though the story ultimately lacks a coherent message. Mainly the idea that a wish is inherently a bad thing, a shortcut to getting what you want that inevitably comes with consequences. But aren’t wishes also a form of hope? Now that the election is behind us and we’ve voted the huge prick out of office; and with 2020 having jerked us around harder than, well, you know; maybe we can finally allow ourselves to wish for things again, even if it’s nothing more extravagant than a new vibrator.
*rubs magic penis crystal* I wish for you to Venmo me a tip at @paykristengrote.