Wonder Woman 1984 is a bop. It’s exactly the dumb, colourful, fever dream of a superhero movie we need right now. It’s pretty to look at, it zigs when you think it’s going to zag, the plot makes barely any sense, and most importantly, it gives us the deeply iconic Cheetah.
— Rik (@OfficialRik) December 27, 2020
As soon as I heard that Kristen Wiig would be playing Barbara Minerva, I was completely on board and excited to see what the comedian behind some of Saturday Night Live‘s most deranged characters could do with an antagonist role like this in a comic book film.
Wonder Woman 1984 is an odd superhero movie, in that the title character is a relatively small part of the overall picture. I can truly recall a handful of things Gal Gadot says or does, one of which is an action scene in which she ‘saves’ a pair of helpless kids from a speeding truck, only to somehow put them in much worse peril – oop.
Given Gadot’s relatively small presence, the movie belongs to its supporting characters, and boy I’m glad it does. Pedro Pascal gives a sweaty, completely bonkers performance as a smooth-talking oil tycoon who gets his hands on a magical wish-granting rock, but really, the movie belongs to Cheetah.
When WW84 was done, I turned to my friend and said that little gay boys who see it will almost surely grow up wanting to be Cheetah and own her action figures. Hell, I myself would like to be her when I grow up. I want her to sign a bottle of poppers for me and shout ‘GAY RIGHTS!’
ANYWAY. What is it about Cheetah that awakens my inner [cigarette emoji] and makes me want to be her so bad? Let’s talk through it. Spoilers follow, because DUH:
She goes from being a wallflower to the baddest bitch in the room
I think the reason the Barbara Minerva of WW84 is so personally relatable to me is that her journey is really the journey of every gay boy, before and after coming out. When we meet her, she is a hopeless, awkward nerd, bedecked in round glasses, ignored and sneered at by her peers, and generally just a nobody.
I don’t know what you were like in high school, but that describes me to a tee. As a glasses-wearing, very closeted homo, I daydreamed about a future when I could kiss cute boys, blast Britney songs in my car, and be as worldly and hot and effortless as my peers seemed to be.
That’s what Barbara wants when the mysterious, alluring Diana Prince comes to work at the Smithsonian. She envies Diana’s looks, her command of ancient languages, her physicality, her strength and not least of all, her ability to walk in heels.
A friend said that, in the opening 20 minutes of the film, Barbara clearly has a crush on Diana, and I can buy it, as one of those ‘I don’t know if I want to be her or be with her’ type things. There’s a homoerotic tension to it, and I’ve felt everything Barbara’s feeling.
The McGuffin of WW84 is the aforementioned rock that can grant wishes. Early on, Barbara wishes she could be like Diana, and boom, she begins her transition into Cheetah, a cool and ferocious predator with the strength, cunning and allure to spare.
Suddenly, she’s not awkward or afraid anymore – Barbara owns every room she walks into, she’s the baddest bitch and she takes charge. This was my coming-out fantasy as a kid, and this is why I connected with Barbara so much, even when the film played her off as a villain (more on that later).
She has an array of killer looks
Ultimately, WW84 is as much about Barbara’s fashion journey as it is her transition into an apex predator, and in between the nerd glasses at the start, and the Cats (2019)-like CGI nightmare she becomes by the final boss battle, she serves snatched look after snatched look.
When Barbara begins her transformation into the confident, sexy Cheetah, we get an iconic scene in which she shrugs off a dowdy, dark skirt to show off more of the kicky red number underneath, which she pulls off the shoulder before strutting through the office.
Later, she steps out of a department store dressing room leaving the attendant slack-jawed at the fit of her tight dress, and how effortlessly she can walk in heels, and from there, her outfits are a series of increasingly elaborate, fringed fur coats and severe eyeliner fantasies.
I fully screamed at a scene midway trough the film in which she took off her round nerd glasses and tossed them to one side, declaring she didn’t need them anymore. She has enough looks for a whole season of Drag Race, and I’m sad we’ll never get to see her walk at the Fur Ball, a challenge I just invented.
She smashes the patriarchy
Gone Girl is my favourite movie and I maintain to this day that Amazing Fucking Amy did nothing wrong. She was tired of getting dicked around by trash men, in particular Ben Affleck, so she concocted the most twisted revenge plot imaginable, took herself out for a cute staycation, then straight-up fucking murdered Neil Patrick Harris with a razor. Relatable queen.
Cheetah has a very similar vibe in this movie. At the start, we see Barbara Minerva getting harassed and physically threatened by a scary drunk man as she walks home at night. Later, when she has her Cheetah powers, she is harassed again by the same man on the street, but this time, she takes matters into her own hands and kicks the living shit out of him.
The movie presents this as an example of Barbara losing her humanity, but honestly, they could have put “this is my fight song, take back my life song” (or its ’80s equivalent I guess) on the soundtrack and it would have been a cute, fun empowerment moment for her. I love that Barbara gets to beat her harasser to a pulp. More of this, please.
Cheetah’s ending is ambiguous – we see her stripped of her powers and reverted back to her old Barbara self after the final battle, gazing into the sunset, but we never see if she gets to reconnect with Diana Prince. I hope that happened for them, because I loved their friendship and wanted nothing but for them to be sidekicks and have fun, cute adventures together.
Hell, give me a whole Cheetah Cinematic Universe and I’ll be all-in. Just look at this:
Wonder Woman 1984 is in cinemas now, and you’d better believe I’ll be seeing it again.