Wonder Woman’s supposed to be a hero. She’s supposed to protect the vulnerable and promote virtue. She’s a positive example of wholesome values like inclusivity and justice that everyone should emulate. Wonder Woman’s supposed to be a hero, and heroes don’t rape.
That’s not a sentence I expected to write when I started watching Wonder Woman 1984 nor is it one I enjoy writing now. Matter of fact, you may’ve seen the movie and have no idea what I’m talking about. Allow me to illuminate.
Wonder Woman 1984 is the sequel to 2017’s massively popular Wonder Woman film wherein amazonian princess Diana Prince meets a young pilot named Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) after he crash-lands on the secluded grecian archipelago Diana’s people call Themyscira. Trevor inspires Diana to leave the safety of Paradise Island and travel with him to the outside world where they can fight evil and end WWI. A romance develops between the two in the course of their adventures but Steve tragically dies by film’s end leaving the seemingly immortal and ageless Wonder Woman pining (lol) over him for six decades before the sequel.
Diana built quite a career for herself oner sixty years and now works at the Smithsonian Institute where she oversees objects of great archeological value. There she meets Maxwell Lord played by Pedro Pascal, who’s low level meta-ability (superpower) to make people more agreeable facilitates his access to a high security area of the Smithsonian Institute where he plans to steal a wish-granting object called the Dreamstone. Before Maxwell can make off with the Dreamstone Diana unknowingly wishes Steve Trevor back to life and POOF! His spirit (or consciousness or essence whatever) finds its way into the body of a random guy Diana’d seen earlier. After the possession the man no longer appears to the audience or Diana as he did before and instead resembles Chris Pine’s character Steve Trevor, but is still very much that other guy in every way but visual.
Steve and Diana have an emotional reunion but eventually Maxwell Lord imbues himself with the power of the Dreamstone and compels people to make extravagant wishes on his behalf instead of their own. The Dreamstone’s power comes at a price to every wish-maker and for Maxwell Lord that toll is his health. Eventually Lord uses TV satellites to broadcast a message encouraging the people of the world to make wishes thereby stealing the life force from every wish-maker and saving himself. Diana and Steve cross continents and oceans to stop Lord only to make the tragic realization that the only way to end his madness is for everyone on Earth to rescind their wishes. That means Diana must let Steve go again which she does reluctantly. Eventually she defeats the bad guys and after the world gets back to normal the guy Steve possessed in the beginning of the film eventually makes another brief onscreen appearance fully resembling his original form but reacting to the world like someone who just woke up from a Rip Van Winklesque nap. From a safe distance Diana sees his reaction and watches him walk back into the world and out of hers, she makes no effort to contact the man or explain what happened to him before Wonder Woman 1984‘s end.
Somewhere during all that adventure and excitement is a scene where Diana and Steve Trevor spend the night together in bed. There’s no onscreen sex scene but it’s heavily implied they were intimate overnight after 60+ years apart. If you can’t see where I’m going by now I’ll spell it out for you.
Planned Parenthood’s guideline for navigating consent utilizes the acronym FRIES. Consent must be Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific. If any of those conditions are not met then you’ve got a case of sexual assault or rape. In the case of Wonder Woman 1984 the nameless man Steve possesses lost his capacity to consent to any decisions Steve and Diana made with his body. That includes putting him in the line of fire (which they did) and it especially includes the implied intercourse of which he was not conscious and to which he could not consent. Ergo, if Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor had intercourse that night then they sexually assaulted and possibly raped this unnamed man.
I take this very seriously because this situation was completely avoidable. Wonder Woman 1984‘s writers Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callahan wanted to bring back Chris Pine but they needed a mechanic. This is an important crossroads because… and prepare yourself for this blockbuster revelation… Wonder Woman 1984‘s a fiction! They could’ve written anything into that script! Steve could’ve been manifested into existence with a *POP* and he’s standing in her kitchen wearing his bomber jacket whispering “Diana..?” They could’ve written his body was transported across time just before his moment of death to Diana after she makes her wish and the exacerbated Steve could stand in front of her whispering “Diana?” She could’ve flown her invisible jet to Bethany, thrown a stone from a discount tomb and Steve could walk out whispering “Diana, I thank you that you have heard me.” The cornucopia of impossible bullshit was wide open to these career creative who chose from their infinite bounty the option where bringing Steve Trevor back to life revokes autonomy and victimizes a random bystander. I could’ve accepted anything with enough justification or resolution but not once do Steve or Dianna express concern for the man whose body they’re using to steal an airplane or disrupt an armored military convoy. So not only are their actions reprehensibly immoral but they commit another sin, a narrative sin. They introduce a story element without paying it off.
If I’ve ranted about Chekhov’s gun on this blog before I apologize because I’m about to do it again. If you’re unfamiliar, Anton Chekhov’s a renowned Russian playwright from the late 19th century who famously coined this essential piece of writing advice, “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” This isn’t a lesson limited to plays with useless table-guns, it’s a lesson in artistic cohesion. Your work will improve the more unnecessary elements you remove.
Chekhov’s gun would not be unknown to Wonder Woman 1984‘s writers. Why then include the strange possession of Steve Trevor without a payoff? Why didn’t this rifle go off? Why chose this method of resurrection? It vexes me, I’m terribly vexed.
In the end it’s not a real crime right? It is a fiction so why should anyone care? After all it’s not the first movie with a plot hole. I agree. These would be fine and fair criticisms if the target audience for Wonder Woman 1984 wasn’t impressionable children. The Wonder Woman brand is strongly associated with second-wave feminism which Wonder Woman 1984‘s marketing campaign capitalized on by promoting it as the first female led superhero film with a female writer/director. I’ll hazard a guess that many well meaning parents gleefully bought their movie tickets to Wonder Woman 1984 expecting an empowering story where Diana breaks the bonds of the patriarchy and blazes an inspiring trail of positivity and encouragement for young women everywhere to follow. Maybe they got it, but like the micro-plastics in chicken nuggets they may’ve gotten something extra too, like unintentionally normalizing violating another person’s body.