Today’s pop culture is in love. It’s in love with big hair, neon make-up and Duran Duran. In other words, our culture is desperately and irrevocably in love with the 1980s. From the Spielbergian sci-fi of Stranger Things to the colourful spandex of GLOW and the endless carnival of nostalgia that Ready Player One transpired to be, we’re drowning in evocations of the 1980s on the big and small screen. The latest cultural artefact to make a play for that nostalgia is Wonder Woman, with the news that sequel Wonder Woman 1984 will be set, as the title suggests, in 1984.
This trend is perhaps to be expected. People who grew up in the 1980s are now in their 30s and 40s, putting them in an ideal position to dominate the art that is being made right now. The same cycle was true in the late 1970s and 80s, when it was bubblegum-hued fifties nostalgia that was at play in movies like Grease and Back to the Future. Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman 1984, was born in 1971 and so has a clear connection with the era and will essentially be depicting her own adolescence in the movie.
But I’m worried about this film, because I’m concerned that we’ve had our fill of 80s nostalgia. Ready Player One felt like a ground zero for the genre, in the same way that Unforgiven made it difficult to do a classic western and Scream basically drove a switchblade into the throat of the slasher genre. The cultural dependence on looking back at the 80s has only deepened in recent years – Stranger Things is probably Netflix’s biggest show and It became the highest-grossing horror movie ever last year – and so there’s a sense that Wonder Woman is jumping on this trend a little too late.
And this also shows a lack of understanding around what it was that made Wonder Woman work. No one enjoyed that film because they’re a big fan of movies set during the First World War. It was about the character, not the setting. People bought into Gal Gadot in the leading role and enjoyed the fresh feel of a superhero movie that was about a badass woman, rather than men called Chris, wearing varying degrees of CGI suit and hitting each other with buildings.
Wonder Woman would be better off without becoming mired in nostalgia. Unless the 1980s setting is going to feed explicitly into the plot, which will see Kristen Wiig star as villain Cheetah, there doesn’t seem to be much point in pegging the movie to a tired play for nostalgia. Wonder Woman felt unique as an earnest, female-focused superhero film, rather than just another story obsessed with channelling the current craze for pointing at various 80s things with derivative reverence.
The film will likely be fantastic. I have a great deal of faith in Jenkins, Gadot and their team, who haven’t given me a single reason to suspect that they’re suddenly going to forget how to make an enjoyable superhero story. Wonder Woman 1984‘s setting, however, might prevent it from feeling as new and interesting as its predecessor. With a century of history to fill in between 1918 and the 2016 setting of Batman v Superman, it’s bizarre that they chose to focus on an era that has been worn out to within an inch of its life in the last few years. If I don’t hear ‘Jump’ by Van Halen in a movie ever again, it won’t be a moment too soon.
Are you excited for Wonder Woman 1984? How do you feel about its 80s setting? Let me know in the comments section.