This article contains Wonder Woman 1984 spoilers. Our spoiler free review is here.
Wonder Woman 1984 opens with an incredible set piece on the island of Themyscira, the island paradise that is Diana Prince’s home. In it, we see a scene from the Amazon’s version of the Olympic games. A stadium full of Amazon women watch on, cheering as the fastest and fittest compete in a multi-discipline event which showcases acrobatics and agility, horsewomanship and markswomanship.
Even though she’s just a child, Diana competes and stands a reasonable chance of even winning until she loses concentration, is thrown from her horse, and attempts to cheat to gain victory. But her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) prevents her, teaching Diana that “nothing good is born from lies, and greatness is not what you think.”
Though the scene may, at first glance, seem a bit of an add on for a movie that is meant as a decades-later follow up to Diana’s origin story, the electrifying flashback is incredibly important for the narrative and themes of the movie. Jenkins says that she initially hadn’t planned on including a Themyscira scene in the sequel but ultimately realized it was not only weird not to but it was also necessary from a practical perspective, too.
“I ended up realizing we had to have them in the second movie when I realized that lots and lots of people see the second movie who haven’t seen the first movie,” Jenkins explains to Den of Geek during a post-screening interview. “So I was like, ‘Oh yeah, if you hadn’t seen the first movie, you don’t understand who she is and that she comes from a mythical land, you would be very confused by what was happening.’ And I love the fact that there’s a lesson that she has to learn that she still hasn’t learned, as is true for all of us.”
“I think [Themyscira is] heavenly and it looks so otherworldly,” Gal Gadot adds, of the setting’s popularity amongst fans. “But it’s also the context of everything. I think that’s what makes it so profound and strong.”
How the Themyscira Flashback Also Adds to Barbara’s Story
Contextualizing Diana’s upbringing has narrative significance past exposition for those who haven’t seen the first film. It’s also important to understand Diana’s upbringing in comparison to that of Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Though Diana has lived in human society since she left Themyscira during the first world war, her formative years were spent surrounded only by women – casual sexism is not something she would have had to normalize or internalize. Diana is also the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and has great power and strength. Even in her own world, she has privileges that others do not.
In our world, Diana’s femaleness doesn’t come with the disadvantage of being physically weaker than a man because of course she is not. Diana does not carry an innate fear of physical violence that many women do because she doesn’t have to. Women’s reactions to gender-based injustice is rarely physical because it’s not safe to start a fight with a man. Diana, on the other hand, can be physical. She simply doesn’t have to put up with the things other women do, and certainly that pre-wish Barbara does.
As the second line of that other great American classic The Great Gatsby reads (paraphrased slightly): “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
Most women haven’t had the advantages that growing up in Themyscira afforded Diana. Don’t judge. Be kind. And fortunately, Diana is.
Barbara, who presumably grew up in 1950s and ’60s America, would have had a very different upbringing from Diana. Barbara’s wish is to be strong, sexy, cool, and special – traits that come naturally to Diana, in part because of her upbringing in a feminist utopia cut off from, as the comics once called it, the “Patriarch’s World.”
Yes, Diana has super strength but concepts like being “sexy,” “cool,” and “special” are not objective. Diana is beautiful, but so is Barbara and after her wish is granted she doesn’t actually look that different – she just suddenly has a confidence she didn’t have before. We don’t see Barbara’s childhood or much of her life before she meets Diana and makes a wish on the Dreamstone, but we do see the casual harassment she experiences all of the time, how vulnerable she is before she gains Diana’s strength, how often she’s overlooked and ignored, and how she has clearly internalized these feelings of not being special, sexy or cool.
Understanding this difference between the two makes it especially important that Diana is kind to Barbara, which also fits into the themes of the film. Since the passing of Steve, Diana has become somewhat isolationist, preferring her own company to that of others and she initially rejects Barbara’s offer of lunch before changing her mind and suggesting dinner. Later we will understand one of the messages of the film is that society doesn’t work if we only serve our own needs – Diana might prefer to be alone but Barbara clearly wants company and female friendship. Sometimes, you have to do things you might not want to out of kindness.
Diana isn’t perfect but her memories of the positive lessons and role models she had back on the island are part of who she is and have had a great influence on the woman she has become. Further scenes related to Themyscira give us our first look at the golden-winged suit worn by an Amazonian warrior called Asteria who sacrificed herself for the good of the Amazons. Asteria put the needs of her society ahead of her own and is celebrated by the Amazons. Diana realizes she must do the same and make the ultimate sacrifice. Once she has done so, she dons the golden armor for her showdown with Barbara, who is now Cheetah.
Themyscira Remains an Outlier in Franchise Films
Themyscira is an unusual setting for a studio tentpole movie: an entire island populated solely by warrior women. Though the lush, light, yellow, green, aquamarine color palette has become something of a signature for Wonder Woman films, it’s not something Jenkins was always conscious of—but it’s something she acknowledges.
“I hear people saying they felt like they’d never seen it before. Although, because I’m the person that made it, I’m so far down the rabbit hole I wasn’t thinking about that while I made it,” she explains. “When people were saying that they hadn’t seen that reflected before, I was like, ‘Oh, I guess that’s true. I guess you’ve not ever seen a female battle sequence before,’ but I wasn’t thinking about it at the time.”
But it really is unusual. In the first film, Diana’s time in Themyscira is sharply flipped on its head as she joins a world inhabited by almost entirely men – the first world war. It’s a move which pushes the film into ‘Smurfette’ tropes which, thanks to Barbara, Wonder Woman 1984 does not suffer from.
Jenkins has a whole movie, an Amazons spinoff, set on Themyscira that she’s trying to get made.
“Right now everything is so up in the air, I don’t know if it will happen,” she says. “But there’s an entire Amazon movie that I think could be done after Diana leaves because those are just such great characters and it’s in her absence. The problem is you can’t really do another Wonder Woman while she’s there because she leaves as soon as she discovers her power, and we already saw that.”
An entire superhero movie in a feminine utopia – can you imagine? For now, we’ll have to make do with the brief island scenes we’re treated to and acknowledge that the movie wouldn’t be as good without them.