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Eden in the Eighties

Wonder Woman 1984 is filled with apocalyptic stupidity and is silly in many ways, but it does offer a surprising critique of a common falsehood.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine star in a scene from the movie "Wonder Woman 1984." (CNS photo/Clay Enos, Warner Bros.)

MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: Not rated at the time of this review
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 reels

(Disclaimer: The following review contains spoilers!)

Whenever discussing neo-paganism in my World Religions course, I always begin with the Law of Attraction and its most popular treatise The Secret. Put simply, this “law” states that reality is a manifestation of one’s thought process; anything that exists was created by a man’s own mind. In small terms, this theology can seem redemptive. No matter how insurmountable one’s problems, they can be solved instantly by a shift in consciousness – no money or training required (though often offered).

Yet taken to its logical conclusion, a nightmare is unleashed. Wonder Woman 1984 – which to my surprise had nothing to do with the philosophy of George Orwell – is a needed criticism of this idea, albeit a silly one.

Seventy years after Diana Prince (Gadot) became a superhero during the throes of the Great War, she is working incognito as an archaeologist for the Smithsonian while moonlighting as a crime-stopping vigilante. One day, her geologist friend Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) finds an odd artifact than somehow grants the user a single wish but takes something precious in return. Diana wishes for her dead boyfriend Steve (Chris Pine) to return but looes much of her power. Barbara becomes popular, pretty, and strong, but also loses her humility and charm. Worst of all is Max Lord (Pedro Pascal of Mandalorian fame), who wishes to become the magic rock and thus takes what is precious from all who wish upon him.

The rest of the film is a descent into apocalyptic stupidity as Lord attempts take over the world via Reagan’s SDI by granting a Faustian wish to every breathing soul.

2017’s Wonder Woman was a winning exercise in what made a great superhero film. Having succeed, director Patty Jenkins let her scrunchied hair down this time and just had fun. WW84 is certainly entertaining, often at the expense of common sense. The audience is treated to the famous invisible jet, Barbara transforming into a literal cat, Diana flying through the skies by lassoing lightning, and an insanely cool suit of armor that alludes to Jane Fonda’s sci-fi cult classic Barbarella. Mixed in this cinematic stew is more Eighties Easter eggs than an episode of Stranger Things, sure to delight Gen X kids everywhere.

The Law of Attraction resurfaces as a new fad every decade or so, but its roots go back to the garden of Eden, when Satan tempted Adam and Eve with the promise to “be like God.” Like so many of his lies, it is a half-truth. We are to be like God—but in his holiness, not His authority or power. There are endless problems with the dogmatic assumptions of the Law of Attraction. One is man’s inability to understand the consequences of his actions. “I wish you would drop dead,” an angry husband yells at his wife. When she immediately complies, he is horrified.

Worst still, the Law promotes a terrifying anthropology. If another human is simply a creation of my imagination, I have no more responsibility for their welfare than the papier-mâché dinosaurs I made in third grade. Starving children in Sudan don’t need charity or just social structures, only positive vibes. Humans, and all reality, are a playground for pleasure. That’s why Barbara loses everything that made her lovable when she becomes the villain Cheetah. As Lord amasses power, the world gradually descends into madness and evil.

The film’s ending has a twist that is rare in cinema: the day is saved when the villain freely gives up his power. This narrative is uncommon, frankly, because it is unrealistic. Yet by the time Diana confronts Lord, he is so formidable that this is the only option. Lord partially unleashed this scheme to impress his son, whom he thought viewed him a failure. Yet the boy never saw him this way, and Lord is now endangering any relationship with him. Thus, Lord and the rest of humanity renounces their wishes and all returns to normal. Diana, too, must say goodbye to Steve and accept his passing. Dreams, whether they come true or not, cannot keep us from our cross, which all must accept.

I’m probably infusing more meaning into Wonder Woman 1984 than Jenkins intended. Most of the movie requires a suspension of disbelief tolerable only to people under 18. Yet its popcorn veneer works to its advantage. Few teenagers are happy to sit through a lecture on theology but will gladly watch Gal Gadot save the world.


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About Nick Olszyk 155 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.

5 Comments

  1. You could have stopped your review after “…apocalyptic stupidity” It was 150 min of nonsense and painfully simple minded platitudes, and not entertaining in any way.

    • Well that is a shame because myths as a reflection of creative intellect do capture important “archetypes” and themes at the core of humanity. Suitably perceived they are very edifying. As for the Vatican, its patriarchs did create many rituals but did not create any myths, but rather have propagated knowledge of history which actually occurred in the lifetimes of its founders.

      • Christians co-opted pagan mythologies:
        Canaanean mountain god El = Bible god
        Winter solstice = Christmas
        Apollo = Christ
        Sol invictus’ crown = Christ’s solar halo
        Samhain’s = All hallows eve
        Thracian horseman = St. George
        Neoplatonism = Christianity
        Apocalyptic 3th century Roman Empire = people turning to messianic religions, aka Christianity.
        Etc, etc.

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