Content Warning: This piece discusses themes of sexual assault.
When the trailers for Wonder Woman 1984 first dropped, the biggest question was “how in the world is Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor alive again?” This plot point turned out to the worst part of the film overall, which has its fair share of ups and downs. In fact, nearly every negative thing to say about the film can be traced back to Steve Trevor in one way or another.
Seventy years have passed between Wonder Woman and the sequel, and the only thing in the entire world that Diana wants is to have Steve Trevor back. When a wishing rock presents this opportunity to her, she takes it –unknowing that a true monkey’s paw scenario has been set in action for her. One of the earliest criticisms of the Steve plot is the numerous consent issues that arise from Diana’s interactions with her long lost lover.
Steve can’t come back in his own body and instead inhabits the body of a random man in 1984. This man effectively loses his own life to give Steve another chance at life with Diana. Once Diana realizes this unrecognizable man is actually Steve, the camera shifts, swapping Kristoffer Polaha’s face with Chris Pine to show the audience this is, indeed, Steve Trevor in spirit. The trick doesn’t last however, because the movie often points out that Steve is in another man’s body –and consent issues arise when Diana sleeps with him. Steve Trevor technically consented, but the man whose body (and home and life) he stole cannot consent, which raises some deeply uncomfortable questions.
In a post #MeToo world, it’s disappointing to see these questions of consent portrayed as such, especially when the film itself has Barbara (Kristen Wiig) retaliate against a man who sexually assaulted her. Consent is certainly alluded to in Wonder Woman 1984, but it doesn’t stick the landing by ever having a meaningful conversation about it. Multiple times throughout the film, Steve brings up the fact that he’s inhabiting another man’s body, even going as far as to suggest that Diana move on by dating the man whose body he stole. By the film’s end, Diana and the man share a flirtatious scene, but the film doesn’t seem to recognize why that would be creepy given the fact that Diana has technically slept with him (and knows his house) without him ever knowing that.
The body swap with Steve Trevor damages Diana’s narrative as well, demonstrating Wonder Woman 1984‘s biggest flaw: it forgets Diana’s heart. Throughout the film, Diana is shown rescuing children to show her compassion, though these acts are pretty hollow because when it counts, Diana does not get a chance to prove that she has the big heart Wonder Woman is famous for. Steve brings up the man whose body he is inhabiting many times and not once does Diana think about how her wish caused this man to cease existing. Steve Trevor lived a long life, living and dying on his own terms –so it almost makes Diana come across as a bit selfish to not offer this man his own life. Is the life of Steve Trevor inherently more important than anyone else’s? No, but Wonder Woman 1984 says otherwise.
Within the first Wonder Woman film, a central theme is Diana’s unwavering hope in humanity. Her love for them is so great that despite humanity’s various shows of disappointment, she doesn’t give up on them and fights for a better tomorrow. That love in humanity seems gone in the sequel as Steve Trevor himself becomes the sole vehicle for the film to show Diana’s capacity for love.
To take it a step further, in contrast to its predecessor, this film almost feels like it has nothing to say. Wonder Woman‘s “No Man’s Land” scene was a triumph of the superhero genre, showing off Diana’s incredible resolve. What’s more, that scene was a powerful metaphor for how Wonder Woman was literally crossing “No Man’s Land” at the same time, becoming the first theatrical female-led superhero film between Marvel and DC. Wonder Woman 1984 does not have these moments, lacking any sort of powerful statement or meaning. It feels more like a sequel that was made to fill a corporate quota rather than having a desire to tell any specific story.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a Wonder Woman movie that’s almost entirely about a man and what he means to Diana –a disappointing take for the series that gave us the first blockbuster female superhero-led movie. Even when Diana learns to fly, it’s entirely due to Steve Trevor that she’s able to. His character and his immense importance in this film actively takes away from Diana’s, making her feel less central in her own film. Even the decision to renounce her wish comes at his behest, not because Diana knows that it’s the right thing to do or that she even felt guilt about the man whose life Steve effectively stole. Such a strong character moment should be Diana’s choice first, illustrating her love for humanity and all that she’s willing to give up because she believes the world deserves better.
The central relationship of this film arguably should have been between Barbara Minerva and Diana, since Cheetah is Diana’s most recognizable villain. In fact, it’s through Barbara that the film ever truly remembers to show Diana’s heart and her compassion. It’s Diana’s warmth and easy-going personality that makes Barbara wish she was more like her –a wish that grants her more than she bargained for– and it’s easy to see how, within the context of this film, the two became such quick friends.
By the time Barbara is full Cheetah, Diana pleads with her to give up her wish and when she doesn’t, Diana expresses great sorrow at the prospect of injuring her. Instead of leaving Cheetah to die, Diana gently carries her body to safety. This is, without a doubt, the only time the film effectively demonstrates Diana’s capacity for love –and it occurs notably once Steve is gone.
Steve’s departure marks the moment the film feels more like a Wonder Woman movie, giving central focus to Diana and her ties to humanity. Though it’s a little corny, there is something to be said about how Diana was able to convince millions of people to renounce their wishes. It paints the inarguable picture that Diana is a woman of the people and she has a sincere bond with them, forged entirely out of her empathy for them.
Wonder Woman was a story about Diana’s love for humanity, with Steve serving as just one vessel for that. Inarguably, Wonder Woman is Diana’s film first and foremost, though the same can’t be said for Wonder Woman 1984, which places so much importance on Steve Trevor that he actively begins to harm Diana’s character. The questions of consent are impossible to avoid, and aside from the film’s portrayal of the Middle East, it is its most glaring issue.
Is Wonder Woman 1984 a bad film? that’s up to personal interpretation, though it is certainly a flawed film –and nearly all of those flaws can be traced back to Steve Trevor.
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