'Wonder Woman 1984' May Be Set in the Past, But It's a Superhero Movie About Today [Set Visit Report]
A pristine recreation of a White House corridor sits in the center of a dark soundstage, where reversing heavy machinery are blaring sirens, Amazon warriors are passing through to get coffee, and confusion reigns. Calmly navigating this controlled chaos is director Patty Jenkins, who smoothly handles several crises while sitting down with a group of journalists visiting the London set of Wonder Woman 1984 in late 2018. She looks positively unruffled, balancing a coffee cup on her knee as a production assistant frantically whispers in her ear about the latest emergency.
“She’s like a real-life Wonder Woman,” I muse to a fellow journalist. It sounds cheesy, I know, but Jenkins would have approved of the corniness. Her 2017 blockbuster phenomenon Wonder Woman wore its cheese on its sleeve, with Gal Gadot’s heroine not hiding her earnest nature and optimism for humanity. It’s a sentiment that Jenkins seeks to continue with the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984, which follows Gadot’s Diana Prince in a new adventure in the ’80s.
“It’s funny; on the first movie, you’re so going on faith [of], ‘I believe this feels right for Wonder Woman and for the world,’” Jenkins tells us of the raised expectations for Wonder Woman 1984 after the sensational critical and box office success of the first film. “And of course it’s certainly not right for everybody, but to have the world speak back and embrace what the movie was and embrace that we were on the right track is pretty incredible. And so now it just kind of encourages us to have even more fun and really enjoy the stuff that we love. You end up doubling down on what you really love. I mean, actually, it doesn’t change that much. You’re trying to make the best story you can last time, and I’m trying to make the best story we can this time.”
What is the story this time? Wonder Woman 1984 picks up with the princess of Themyscira “in the age of glamour and excess,” after she has been living among humanity for nearly 70 years. Working at the cultural anthropology and archeology wing at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., Diana spends her time remembering her lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and dutifully continuing to protect humanity.
“She’s very slightly disengaged with the world, and a bit lonely, as the world whips around her, as people chase after dreams of wealth and power and fame,” associate producer Anna Obropta adds. “Dreams that are apparently for sale by the president of Black Gold International, played by Pedro Pascal. This is this desperate, self-obsessed, fraudulent entrepreneur who runs a business selling the American Dream.”
A fraudulent businessman who makes his name selling the illusion of the American Dream? That sounds a little too familiar. With the film’s setting in Washington, D.C. (and a theatrical release set a month before the 2020 election) Wonder Woman 1984 seems to be making a pointed critique at our current administration. But why is it set in the 1980s and not modern day? “America was at the peak of its power and pride,” Obropta tells us of the very intentional choice to set the film in 1984 — a year that significantly was also the setting of George Orwell’s dystopian classic. “It was everything from commercialism, fashion, wealth, even violence was in excess…. It was humanity at its best and at its worst.”
And this culture of excess doesn’t sit quite well with the Amazonian princess, who sports some of the trendiest styles herself, but doesn’t approve of the “greed is good” philosophy that the decade (and one of its most popular movies) was becoming associated with.
“It was a very, very powerful decade,” Gadot says. “There’s also…a lot of greed and a lot of bad things that that are being done in order to get to the top. And I think that she doesn’t like that so much: the price that people are willing to pay in order to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve.”
The Dream of the ’80s is Alive in Washington
Nostalgia for the ’80s is all the rage in Hollywood, with shows like Stranger Things and movies like Ready Player One kicking off a craze for big hair and even bigger pop culture references. But it’s more than aesthetic or trendy choice for Wonder Woman 1984. There are plenty of costume changes for Diana, of course, but the ’80s and its legacy of rampant materialism and political corruption — much of which feels especially prescient today — was of particular interest to Jenkins:
“It was particularly the ’80s because of the fact that that was the height of everything that we’re now paying the price for. It was like we thought for sure it could go on forever and there was going to be no price and you could just [have] exponential growth then it could keep going, and all of this excess. And so I think in that way [what] we’re talking about then, we’re also talking about right now. We’re talking about what we’re dealing with right now because that struggle is very much alive in our own psyche.”
Jenkins tiptoes around saying what exactly “we’re dealing with right now” but the intention is obvious. Even when Wonder Woman 1984 began shooting in 2018, the headlines were dominated by President Donald Trump and the culture of extremism that had risen around him. Drawing the connection between Ronald Reagan, the definitive U.S. president of the ’80s and an icon of conservative politics, to Trump is a fairly straight line. Both came from the entertainment industry, both had cultivated a cult of personality, both (at first) reaped the economic rewards of the policies laid by their predecessors. And both were elected as a clear refutation of the progressive movements that were beginning to make inroads in America — Reagan to the counterculture and feminist movements, Trump to race relations. Under Reagan, the ’80s saw a newfound embrace of capitalist excess and American exceptionalism….sound familiar?
“We’re trying to give a broad perspective of that period and how we can learn from that period in every way,” producer Charles Roven says. “Because it has a lot of colors to it. I would say that you can, you know, you can imagine what was going on culturally and current events at the time has some relevance to the picture.”
“1984 because it was a year of lessons learned, lessons for a goddess warrior and lessons for all of us,” adds Obropta.
Hammering in those political parallels is the film’s setting in Washington, D.C. Wonder Woman 1984 shot on location in D.C., and like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel’s superhero film that takes place in the nation’s capital, it gives particular significance to the setting.
“We had a blast shooting in Washington,” Gadot reminisces. “It’s beautiful and it’s definitely going to have a lot of presence in our movie. The movie is not a political movie, but you can definitely — you know, it taps on issues that are very current.”
But Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t intended to be a full-blown political satire. It’s still a superhero movie, albeit one that appears to be making a pointed critique at the current political landscape, what with its setting in 1984 Washington, D.C. Which means there will be as much celebration of the ’80s, in all its high fashion and high energy, as there are critiques, Obropta says:
“Our version of the ’80s, if you look over here, there’s nothing kitsch or cliche about our take, or Patty’s take, on the ’80s right? There are many, many films set in the ’80s, but this isn’t like the funny ‘ha ha’ mockery. We do have fun with the rich cultural backdrop, for sure…but the intention is for it to be a celebration of the cutting edge design, fashion, the glamour, the lighting, the color, really celebrating the best of the decade.”
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