I vividly recall feeling disappointed after watching the ending of Patty Jenkins’ 2017 film Wonder Woman. What could have been a moment for the protagonist to reflect more deeply on the notions of blame and culpability, was quashed by the rapid introduction of a new adversary. Upon killing her enemy, the war-crazed Ludendorff, a new antagonist was itching for a fight: Ares, the God of War.

This wasted opportunity is not simply a matter of it being high on action and low on feeling. That Wonder Woman is tasked with representing modern-day ideals, is at the forefront of what is at stake for progressively orientated blockbuster cinema. Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 is the antidote, imbuing Diana (Gal Gadot) with more than a tactical mindset, that is, her own wants and desires, which she must wrestle with as she faces a new challenge in a different era.

“Sentimentality is a means of tapping into the human condition itself.”

The approach taken by WW84, however, is not without its detractors, and there are grounds to believe that these criticisms are driven by something other than mere subjective responses. Aside from the notable discrepancies between user and critic scores (WW84 is sitting at 36% for users, and 60% for critics on Metacritic), the majority of the criticism points towards the film’s sentimentality, which is viewed as a blemish, something to get rid of.

Indeed, the sentimentality that characterises WW84 is difficult to ignore, for the film does not hold back (and why should it?) from foregrounding romantic settings and impassioned, elegiac dialogue. The main emotionality lies with Diana’s mysterious re-encounter with a long-lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), whose sacrifice in the first film lingers with her still. The excess of colour does well to tonally evoke the feelings Jenkins wants to express, whether that be through a firework-lit sky or a snowy Christmas day. This abundance of emotion is not merely localised to Diana and Steve’s reunion — it spills over into the rest of the narrative. Such is Diana’s relationship with Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a co-worker at The Smithsonian who struggles with self-confidence, as well as in the sympathetic plight of the antagonist, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), an oil tycoon whose obsession to create a good life for his son nearly destroys him (and the world along with it).

The result is admirable, precisely because its unashamed homage to films, stereotypically referred to as “women’s weepies”, challenges the still-prevailing mentality that sentimentality is unworthy of critical consideration. James Cameron’s masterly 1997 film, Titanic, was similarly targeted for its sentimentality, and yet it earned the title of the highest-grossing film of all time. As a director known for his action movies, Cameron surprised us all with a film that moved audiences around the globe and gave one of the most tragic maritime disasters in history the respect it deserved. Despite the negative connotations associated with the word “sentimentality”, Titanic’s humanist core and profound cultural influence demonstrate that what some might deride as “cheesy” or “corny” is, in fact, the very quality that gives narrative and art its greatest and most lasting impact.

Come the 21st century, a new trend in critical circles has emerged, one in which this disdain for sentimental narratives has disguised itself with the feminist cause. Critics have taken issue with Diana’s willingness to lose her powers for Steve, judging this to be a sign of effeminate weakness, or with sentimentality itself, as if it were a synonym for female subordination. Given Jenkins’ artistic freedom in WW84, it is surprising that some have exclusively attacked her later film as if it were a product of the male chauvinist Hollywood film industry. Yes, patriarchal attitudes can be found in mid-20th century melodramas — as in all other films from the period — but to attribute this to WW84 would be to grossly misconstrue the film’s message, that our actions dictate our circumstances, and when it comes to doing the right thing, it often involves the toughest of choices.

“Jenkins expressed her desire to explore emotionality beyond the expected limits of irony and pessimism.”

So, what has sentimentality done for Wonder Woman herself, as a superhero figurehead? The most common method for superheroes to return everything to its democratic order would be to fight it out. WW84 transcends this convention. In the film’s climactic showdown, Diana does not win the day by simply removing the problem, that is, by killing the antagonist. She appeals to Max Lord as a father who realises the error of his ways, acknowledging the fact that he is not a one-dimensional moustache-twirling villain.

Jenkins would not have been so bold had she been swayed by the postmodern cynicism currently permeating critical culture. In an interview, Jenkins expressed her desire to explore emotionality beyond the expected limits of irony and pessimism, acknowledging that, in reality, tragedy and love are nothing like what our fellow pessimists would have us believe.


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This sort of filmmaking is precisely what Jenkins should be celebrated for, her latest film paving the way for more thoughtful, and ultimately more human takes on the superhero genre. Sentimentality not only has a place in mainstream film, but is also a means of tapping into the human condition itself. Of course, when it comes to creating change in a world historically plagued by patriarchal forces, there is bound to be disagreement on how to achieve this. As for humanist forms of artistic expression, however, Jenkins’ vision should be treated just as legitimately as any other.