Welcome to Movie DNA, a column that recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of both new and classic movies. Learn some film history, become a more well-rounded viewer, and enjoy like-minded works of the past. This entry recommends movies to watch after you see the DC superhero sequel Wonder Woman 1984.
Regardless of whether or not Wonder Woman 1984 is a good movie, the DC superhero sequel may be enjoyed by some people and despised by others. Taste is subjective, and this follow-up is going to entertain those with a like for corny ’80s fare, and that might not jive with even everyone who loves the first Wonder Woman movie from 2017. As listed in my recommendations for what to watch after the original, that installment of the DC Extended Universe calls to mind such masterpieces as Casablanca and Paths of Glory. Wonder Woman 1984, on the other hand, will cater more to fans of Jim Carrey comedies and some of the most-maligned superhero blockbusters based on DC Comics.
Here’s what I recommend you watch if you do like Wonder Woman 1984:
This was definitely the year of the soul-transference plot, whether through a resurrection of the body-swap premise or just one-way possession plots. I’m recommending Soul out of all of them (and will be recommending WW84 with that) because this latest Pixar animated feature released the same day. And both Soul and WW84 involve souls from the afterlife (and in this movie’s case, prelife) taking over other people’s bodies on Earth. That’s slightly a spoiler for Soul, but I won’t go into the details. In WW84, it’s Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) magically inhabiting some random guy’s shell. What happens to that guy’s soul? Who knows? Also, is it okay for Diana to sleep with that guy’s body while Steve is using it? Who knows? It’s okay for a more-innocent act in the new body-swap horror-comedy Freaky, so where’s the line?
The Madoff Affair (2009)
During a set visit for WW84, director Patty Jenkins addressed the presumed influence of former 1980s businessman turned president Donald Trump on the character of Max Lord, a 1980s businessman turned supervillain (played by Pedro Pascal). Here’s ComicBook.com with a transcript of what she said:
“[Trump is] one of [the inspirations]. The funny thing is like, he is [an influence], but I’m not trying to make [a point]. Even we have the president in this movie and I’ve gone out of my way not to make it look like Ronald Reagan. I don’t want to get political, it’s not about political. Actually, a huge influence of this movie was also Madoff. And so what I was looking at was, those young Madoff story [sic] fascinates me, because I’m like, ‘How do you end up being Bernie Madoff?’ And when you really start tracking that story, it’s like, it all started out in a way that made sense and he was paying it off and then doing this and then paying it off again. And then, it’s just like you just become an evil dude when you don’t even realize that it’s happening. So, yes, Trump’s definitely one of the people that we looked at, but it’s any of those kind of mavericks of business success that was big in the ‘80s [whp] went on to be major players in our world in potentially questionable in other ways.”
My preference for the Madoff reference is to recommend a documentary about the fraudulent businessman, though the Robert De Niro-led HBO biopic The Wizard of Lies and the Richard Dreyfuss-led limited series Madoff are also worthy watches. Not all the Madoff-related documentaries are, however. You can skip Chasing Madoff, for instance. Fortunately, the PBS series Frontline aired an episode called The Madoff Affair, and as can always be trusted with Frontline, it’s a perfectly adequate telling of the story of the man who has become synonymous with the concept of the Ponzi scheme (watch it here). And such a criminal is a proper parallel to Max Lord, who is said to be conducting a Ponzi scheme, seemingly granting investors the promise of tremendous wealth, with his company even before he starts granting people wishes of the more fantastical variety.
By the way, despite Jenkins’ admission that Trump was an inspiration for Max Lord, WW84 star Gal Gadot has denied this. She told Variety in a more recent interview:
“It’s interesting because when we shot it, we didn’t really think about it until we got to the White House. And then we’re like, ‘Hmm.’ Maxwell Lord has so many different versions in the comic books. And I think that Patty and Dave [Callaham] and Geoff [Johns] — the writers — really took Gordon Gekko’s personality. The thing about Maxwell Lord in our movie, unlike the comics, is that he’s more complex because he’s not just an evil villain. He is a regular person who wants to be all these things that you would see on TV. I know from Pedro while we were shooting the movie, that at a certain point, he just focused on the page and what was there. And along with Patty, they just created this character. But we never tried to mimic anybody else. We never tried to mimic Trump or anything.”
So, yeah, Gekko is an easy reference for any nefarious ’80s businessman. The character, played by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie Wall Street, is most famously known for his speech claiming “Greed, for a lack of a better word, is good.” Even though Gekko commits white-collar crimes and winds up in prison, he’s actually been seen as a hero to many other greedy individuals through the years (but maybe not enough for the 2010 sequel to have been worth making). Maybe Max Lord in WW84 would come across as a more regular person with non-evil attributes if the character wasn’t mostly presented as a manipulated tool of an evil god of mischief. Max Lord never even seems to be a smart guy ahead of his transformation either, just someone with greedy desires and no legitimate means of acquiring success and fortune.
Bruce Almighty (2003)
There is an unseen character in WW84: the god of treachery and mischief Dolos, a.k.a. the Duke of Deception. He was the creator of the Dreamstone, which grants people wishes but leads to not only their downfall but typically the end of whole civilizations. In the movie, Max Lord wishes to become the Dreamstone, which makes him a sort of god but also a pawn and victim of Dolos’ dastardly scheme. In the fantastical comedy Bruce Almighty, the God (played by Morgan Freeman) grants the title character (Jim Carrey) the powers of a god to prove a point that He is doing as well as He can with such abilities. Bruce winds up causing chaos with his powers, including his responsibility to answer prayers, not unlike the apocalyptic situation that arises around the world thanks to Max Lord’s own wish-granting powers.
The Family Man (2000)
Pedro Pascal was quoted in an interview saying that Nicolas Cage was a huge inspiration for his portrayal of Max Lord. This was twisted in reports around the internet to imply that Pascal meant Cage was a reference for what Pascal called “shmacting” as a label for his own hammy performance in WW84. He clarified to Mike Ryan of Uproxx that he did not mean to align Cage with over-the-top acting (why not? perhaps because he’s now filming a movie with Cage…) and actually has viewed the Leaving Las Vegas Oscar-winner as a true influence. Therefore, I won’t recommend any of Cage’s hammier works nor even anything of his from the ’80s. Instead, I offer up the underrated Capra-esque Christmas movie The Family Man, in which he plays a greedy Wall Street executive granted a look at how his life could have gone differently. It’s an inverse of the “you get what you wish for” trope, though, since it’s not something he wishes for.