More on Steve Trevor and WW84

Substantial spoilers about Wonder Woman 84 and some discussion about issues of consent.

I’m still thinking about this very specific plot point in the Wonder Woman sequel…

A recap (and my review is here). Wonder Woman 84’s central premise is a magical artefact created by a god of mischief. Appearing as a stone with an inscribed metal banding, the artefact grants wishes. The wishes are not benign, they may be enacted literally but ironically and each wish takes something (involuntarily) in exchange. We learn later in the movie that the artefact has been implicated in the fall of multiple empires.

A couple of neat aspects of the film that I liked was that the film’s main antagonist, the somewhat Trumpian Max Lord, uses a rules-lawyering trick for his wish to try and game the system of what is an omnipotent entity. Instead of wishing for riches, he wishes to become the stone which then enables him to exploit the involuntary aspect of the stones powers to con people into wishing things for him or for him to receive the quid-pro-quo exchange of the wish. The film makes a more overt stab at the concept of The Power of Positive Thinking later in the film by name checking it as the source of the ethical problem at play.

While I like the idea of a superhero film having a personification of this very American ideology, WW84 doesn’t have a clear point to make on the issue. It could be seen as saying that even if the more supernatural versions of affirming what you want (e.g. The Secret) were true, then the consequences would be awful. It doesn’t really work as an allegory except maybe in what we might call the “brain worms” sense — nice people becoming self-obsessed unpleasant people as they fall down a spiral of ‘self-improvement’ that is focused on the superficial (money, popularity, invulnerability) rather than becoming a good person. Yet, the film really does try to fit that model of an allegory with a clearly stated moral. The climax has an almost fourth-wall breaking speech by Wonder Woman in which she entreats people to abandon their wishes (aspirations?) for the good of the world because individualistic gains are leading to chaos (and more immediately) a nuclear war.

I think there is more than enough material in the film to say that the above (or something like it) was an intentional part of the film. Intent isn’t always important in discussing a film’s themes — sometimes themes can arise organically out of the setting, plot point, characters and circumstance. However, in this case I am curious about intent and ethics in this film because of a different plot point (which I will get to, I promise). The opening scene (which is otherwise irrelevant to the plot) even drive home this point, with a young Diana bending the rules/cheating to try and win an athletic competition against adult Amazons. The point about truth (and thematically here this means authenticity) is made overtly to her and this point is then reiterated with Barbara Minerva’s plot arc, where she gains confidence and then power but loses her own personality.

My point being: this is a film in which plot events, scenes and character arc were introduced specifically around moral points to the point of layering them on a bit thick and having key characters explain them at the start and at the denouement of the film.

So what on Earth was going on with Steve Trevor’s resurrection?

A common and immediate reaction to the film was the unpleasant nature of how Wonder Woman’s love interest is resurrected. Wonder Woman (as Diana Prince) makes an unspoken and idle wish for long dead boyfriend to come back to her, at a point where she has no reason to imagine that the artefact can actually grant wishes. Sure, enough Steve does return and is once again played charmingly by Chris Pine — which is all very nice etc. Except…Steve returns by possessing the body of a different man. In fact, he doesn’t even look like Steve Trevor. The transition from random-eighties-guy to Christopher Pine takes place in Wonder Woman’s head and it is only when she recognises that the guy has been possessed by the dead soul of Steve Trevor, that the audience starts seeing him as Christopher Pine rather than the random guy.

The ugly part is we are to presume they have sex (not shown but they share a bed) but also Wonder Woman drags Steve into physical danger and only extreme circumstances make her even question the idea of her holding on to her version of Steve despite him literally stealing the life of another person.

The film sets all this up and yet doesn’t really deal with any of it. It is so very odd.

The specific nature of Steve’s resurrection is not determined by any plot point or circumstances. The wishing stone has rules but the possession aspect isn’t required to fit some sort of wider rules of how the stone works. We could imagine that there are some in-universe reasons (the stone maybe can’t create living beings from nothing) but if there are rules like that, they play no part in the rest of the plot (not even conservation of mass). There’s no driving reason why Steve has to be resurrected in this way. Nor does it solve any plot practicalities. The possessed guy isn’t a jet pilot for example (which would explain how Steve can fly a modern plane) and even creates a little plot oddity (possessed guy doesn’t have a passport, so Steve and Wonder Woman have to steal a jet, whereas if Steve had just poofed back into existence the line about the passport would make more sense).

Thematically, the nature of the resurrection could sort of make sense in that Steve is unauthentically Steve…except, if anything, the film counters that with Wonder Woman seeing that the guy who does not look or sound like Steve, is really underneath that actually Steve. The resurrected Steve has the inner essence of Steve but the outer appearance of somebody else. It is so very odd, that it the resurrection actually reverses the authenticity/truth theme of the film.

There is one scene at the end of the film, where Diana bumps into the random guy (post-possession) but it’s a scene that itself is inconsequential. Aside from that, the films plot and themes would carry on exactly that same if Steve had resurrected just by popping back into existence.

I cannot figure out why the film makes this choice but it is also clearly a choice. It only creates plot difficulties for the story and adds nothing positive or funny. Yes, there is a dress up scene at random guy’s flat where Steve Trevor looks for clothes to wear but the scene would have worked with them both shopping for clothes (actually would be funnier).

So why?

I have to assume there was a plot/theme reason for this specific choice but the relevant parts where later cut from the plot or the film. Early on. Steve explains that he woke up in the body in a strange flat and then tracked down Diana using a phone book. Did they maybe film these scenes and then cut them later? Maybe and maybe the plan was to have the random-guy-who-is-really-Steve be seen to be stalking/following/spying on Diana and then later it was decided that was too weird/creepy?

Perhaps the possession aspect was introduced intentionally as a way of indicating the wrongness of the stone’s wishes? It doesn’t need to be said that dead souls possessing the bodies of the living is symbolically evil and yet…the film simply forgets to actually say that despite every other moral point being in bold and underline for the rest of the film. Diana grasps very early that everybody else wishes are problematic. The downside to her own wish is a gradual loss of her powers but this isn’t linked to the ethical issue of the nature of her boyfriend. In the end she recants her wish not because the nature of Steve return is itself wrong but (i) because it is necessary for everybody to recant their wish to stop the bad guy and (ii) to get her powers back. She undoes the possession of another person for pragmatic/greater-good reasons than because of the intrinsic wrongness.

Perhaps that was part of the point? That even Wonder Woman was consumed by getting what she wished for that she couldn’t see the moral problem of being granted her wish? Except, at no point does she acknowledge this.

In the end, I simply don’t know why this choice was made in the plot except that everything about it points to it being a choice.

11 thoughts on “More on Steve Trevor and WW84

  1. We don’t have a good moral sense of how possessed bodies should be treated, since that doesn’t happen in real life. There’s an argument to be made that the mind in possession gets to do whatever it wants, even if it is harmful or dangerous to the body, because that does mirror real life; people smoke, drink and eat to excess, and do many other dangerous things, even though their future selves (who are basically different people, just as you are now a different person than you were at age three) may be unhappy with the resulting effects on their body.

    In the DC Universe, the superpower of the ghost of Boston Brand, who goes by Deadman, is temporarily possessing people’s bodies. The Spectre sometimes does that too. Kid Eternity summons the ghosts of historical figures to do his bidding. Jason Blood is possessed by the rhyming demon Etrigan. DC villains do it nefariously all the time, such as Starro the Conqueror. So perhaps DC Universe people have a more developed ethics for this situation.

    It also may be that the Steve Trevor possession is a callout to Quantum Leap, which in our universe premiered in 1989, a show in which such possession figured in every episode.

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  2. I didn’t like it because it clashed with the rest of the worldbuilding. We’re to believe that the Dreamstone can create nuclear missiles out of nothing (and poof them back into nothing), can kill someone because of a wish and bring that person back to life, can create cattle out of nowhere and plop them down into the middle of the city, and can’t resurrect Steve Trevor into a brand new body? I’m sorry, but that’s stupid. And if they had done that, they would have avoided ALL the subsequent squickiness and uproar. (Well, maybe not all of it, since there were a lot of other logic fails, but this particular issue.) Somebody just didn’t think about the ramifications of what they were doing.

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    1. I guess that is what is still bugging me. The decision seems so intentional, like it took effort to do it that way and there is zero reason for it in the plot and a pile of reasons not to do it…so you would only make this choice if you felt you had to but why?

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    2. Yeah it made no sense to not simply resurrect Steve as Steve, but instead when Steve and Diana had sex, it was sexual assault on the poor finance trader whose body Steve is inhabiting. And Steve points this out as the reason he can’t stay in possession of the body besides Diana losing her powers — that this guy has a life of his own and he can’t take it from him for selfish reasons. Diana does not like to harm innocent people but the film focuses on her desolation and isolation because of her long grief over Steve as her irrational impetus for trying to keep him. Which is not entirely out of bounds given that the stone in granting wishes makes people become irrational and extreme in their personalities, make a wish from their id and desires rather than rational consideration. But the no-consent sex and willing endangerment comes pretty early in the process and shouldn’t have happened.

      And as everyone notes, it didn’t have to happen thematically that way. Diana talks about how she sees Steve everywhere even though he’s not there. If Steve was simply resurrected as Steve, he could then be trying to get to her and she runs away from him at first, thinking she’s just hallucinating again, which fits the script. And he could have been wearing his WWI outfit in which he died, so she takes him shopping for clothes, which then echoes the scene in the first WW movie where Diana has to shop for clothes of the era. It’s a much simpler structure and fits the set-up with the stone’s wishes. After all, Diana doesn’t want Steve in somebody else’s body; she just wishes for Steve. The consequence is that she loses herself (powers.)

      The movie had a lot of fun bits but just a lot of the choices were kooky as if Jenkins and the other two screenwriters had just piecemealed their pieces of the script together without revision. How is a display jet at the airport full of enough fuel and working batteries to get to Egypt in a not really realistic amount of time? The invisibility aspect, fine, it’s explained magically, but where’s the magic fuel? And why would you spend time taking the plane through gunpowder firework rockets exploding around you, launched by people who can’t see your plane because it’s invisible? The jet could have gotten damaged and set on fire. Visually it wasn’t very interesting. And so on and so forth.

      We excuse a lot of those unforced errors in big action movies because we are enjoying the characters, dialogue and action sequences. But too many points that are confusing and squicky and that becomes a lot harder. And it’s not a good look for a movie about the most empowered woman directed by a woman to then have essentially sexual assault as an aspect. The movie had a lot of potential, but it didn’t have the straightforward and better structured plotline of the first one.

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  3. It would make better sense in one of two ways:

    1. Steve poofs back into existence wholesale, as himself. It’s magic, it might as well be all-out magical. Maybe he could be snatched from the plane he died in the instant before it exploded, if they wanted to complicate that.

    2. Steve’s soul takes over the body of a guy who happened to die right then. Then he’s not possessing the other guy. This is how they did it in the 1978 “Heaven Can Wait”, and the other film versions thereof.

    Either of these pose no moral dilemma. #1 would be the easiest and most magical.

    @Hyman: no, in Quantum Leap, it was an actual body switch. Thus Sam physically swapped places with the other person, which sometimes helped him do things (walk in place of an amputee) and sometimes didn’t (walk in high heels). We saw the other person once or twice in the future. Everyone around the person saw the person they knew, just acting funny — except animals and children under 5, who could see Sam (The parallel given was that ventriloquism doesn’t work on dogs, f’rex). And the audience, because you have to show your star.

    A 5 year old fan of the show whom I knew was worried about turning 6 and not being able to see Sam any more! He was reassured that since his parents and other grownups could, he would too, because television.

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  4. Like I said in my comment on your review, I agree with you, it definitely feels like an intentional decision that was explored in an earlier version of the script, only for all the implications exploration to be edited out either late in production (which would explain why the problematic part stayed in?) or too late for a substantial rewrite. The film as a whole honestly felt like it could’ve used an editor to try and put everything together, so it being the result of shoddy editing certainly might make sense.

    But I’m going to be honest, I find it hard to see an alternate version where the implications of this are explored in a satisfactory way if they also kept in WW having sex with him – or at least the shot implying they had sex, because well, quite clearly rape. And as a certain high profile streaming TV series right now is revealing, film and TV producers are still not quite good about dealing with rape when it’s female on male, and even with Patty Jenkins at the head you wonder if they had no idea that the idea that an unknowing guy essentially was forced into having sex with Wonder Woman while someone else controlled his body should be seen as rape whereas that’s more obvious to everyone nowadays when the gender roles are flipped.

    An alternate version where they explored the implications and WW held back from having sex with him could’ve worked…but I kind of find it hard to believe they could explore that in a kid friendly DC movie? So honestly, I can’t really see any way in which this plotline could’ve been explored here without it just hijacking the entire movie, so it totally should’ve just been totally cut….except they didn’t. So baffling.

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  5. I agree with your points in the review. Here’s my theory of why it worked out like this:
    1. The shooting script dealt explicitly with the squickiness, well or poorly
    2. Those scenes were in the rough cut
    3. Very late in the process, Warner execs said, “We cannot release a movie where our trademarked property admits to rape, are you insane? Also this movie is too long anyway.”
    4. “But it’s too late to reshoot everything, especially given the Rona interrupting production for many weeks,” Jenkins objects
    5. They tell her to edit it the best she can
    6. She leaves in the bit where Steve points out the INTRINSIC wrongness of Diana’s wish as fulfilled
    7. Fatally, she also leaves in the scene where they wake up in the same bed, without which viewers might have gone along

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    1. That’s a possible scenario except that I doubt they told her to cut out stuff on concerns of the character being considered a rapist. They don’t really find rape problematic for a main character even today. They might have insisted it get cut for other reasons, though. And they had to leave in the bedroom scene because major plot issues are discussed then.

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