“What is there to wish for but more?”
Those mournful words from the Ronald Reagan-esque U.S. President in Wonder Woman 1984 are the thematic heart of director Patty Jenkins’ long-awaited sequel to her 2017 superhero blockbuster.
Until I could collect my own thoughts about it, I steered clear of reviews, rants, or raves about WW84. Even so, because my social media algorithms know my interests, I gathered that, despite being popular and profitable enough to have already earned Wonder Woman 3 a green light, WW84 left more than a few moviegoers wishing for more.
A Sequel Well Suited to the Smaller Screen
The film does lack the epic scope of Wonder Woman. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t boast some some spectacular set pieces. The Amazonians’ athletic contest on Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s foiling of the mall heist, and the fast, furious car chase down a stretch of Egyptian highway all impressed me.
Wonder Woman’s flight with Steve Trevor—in the invisible jet, no less!—through and above brilliant displays of Independence Day fireworks is beautiful. And watching Wonder Woman master flight sans airplane is a delight.
But, yes, on the whole, WW84 feels well suited to a smaller screen—a worthy kickoff to Warner Bros’ streaming 2021 slate.
Gal Gadot spends more time in her civilian identity of Diana Prince, Smithsonian archaeologist and anthropologist, than she does in either suit of superheroic armor this movie’s wardrobe gives her.
And when she is in action as Wonder Woman, she’s usually not at the height of her powers—the cost of her unwitting wish to bring Steve back from the dead. There’s no real equivalent in this film of her bursting from the trenches of No Man’s Land.
And the most intense conflict Diana faces in WW84 is internal. She rages and weeps that she cannot keep Steve with her (in a stranger’s body) in the modern world. Her biggest battle is the battle to renounce her wish.
But that drama doesn’t need to play out on a movie screen to make an impact. It’s one we’re all familiar with in our own hearts.
WW84’s Doctrine of Humanity: Selfish, Shallow, and Unsatisfied
A fiction writer once told me, “Every story is an argument.”
WW84 argues human beings are selfish and shallow creatures whose insatiable wish to have more than they do and to be more than they are destroy people’s their finest qualities and doom their civilizations.
I admit I find it hard to mount a convincing counterargument. We don’t have to look very long to find evidence supporting the film’s thesis.
In 1984, I was 12 years old and more or less unaware of how all-consuming and unsustainable my society’s desire for more was (and is). And while I don’t think my personal wishes at that age were outsized, I never remember wishing I had less of anything.
Certainly, in the decades since, I’ve heard the siren song of “more.” I’ve given myself versions of Max Lord’s pitch: “Life is good—but it could be better!”
The human heart’s stubborn refusal to be satisfied is a recurring theme in Scripture. Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. Some Israelites gather more than their daily manna in the wilderness. Jesus tells a story about a wealthy and foolish man who builds bigger barns to support his ceaseless acquisition and hoarding. Ananias and Sapphira hold back part of the money they’re supposed to entrust to the apostles.
WW84 is set in an era remembered for declaring greed to be good, but the Bible illustrates we humans have thought so for some time. If we had not, Jesus’ admonition to stop worrying about what we will eat, drink, and wear would seem less of a difficult teaching.
What About Making Wishes for Others?
When Wonder Woman tells the world’s people, during the film’s climax, that only they can be the heroes who save the day by renouncing their wishes, she speaks much wisdom.
“This world was a beautiful place just as it was, and you cannot have it all. You can only have the truth, and the truth is enough. The truth is beautiful.”
Her words are worth heeding, so far as they go. The logical conclusion of everyone wanting to have it all is the chaotic and violent world we see in the film’s final reel. And her paean to truth is a welcome antidote to the misinformation and outright lies choking so much of speech and thought in society today.
But I have more than enough. How do Wonder Woman’s words sound to people who don’t? How do they sound to those whose experience of the world as it was is no less true, and is far from beautiful?
Wonder Woman’s speech reminds me of Dr. Peter Coogan’s observation in his book Superhero: The Secret Origins of a Genre: Superheroes fight to defend the status quo. “Superheroes,” Coogan writes, “reinforce the idea that things are the way they should be and thereby reify current power relationships.”
WW84 presents wishes as something we can only make for ourselves. It doesn’t allow the possibility we might make wishes for others, for their good over our own. (Even young Alastair’s wish for Max’s success—one of the film’s more moving moments—is motivated by his own desire, albeit completely understandable, for a relationship with his father.)
Wonder Woman eloquently calls on her listeners to realize they are not the only ones who have suffered losses, and they are not the only ones who are hurting. But that realization never becomes the motivation for anyone to wish the world could be better and more beautiful for everyone.
Fortunately, the real world does contain people who wish to make it better—healthier, more just, more beautiful—for everyone, especially for those who suffer the most under “current power relationships.”
And Christian faith doesn’t encourage wishing as the film presents it. Such wishing is a mere desire to have something without effort. Christian faith calls us, not to wish, but to pray. To some, no distinction exists between the two. But what makes prayer different from wishing is its basis in the conviction that God’s will, not ours, should and will be done.
“O God,” reads one of the texts in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Common Worship, “in your loving purpose answer our prayers and fulfill our hopes. In all things for which we pray, give us the will to seek to bring them about, for the sake of Jesus Christ.”
I suppose, for some of the world’s people without power and resources, such a prayer might sound as tone deaf as Wonder Woman’s climactic speech in WW84. But for me, at least, it reminds me true prayer must move beyond wishing my life and world were different into doing what I can—even though what I can do is nothing compared to what God can do—to make them different.
What did you think of WW84? Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it!