Archives in the Movies: Wonder Woman 1984
Updated: Aug 20
Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84) is a movie that exists. If you liked it, then that's great, but I have less than positive things to say about the film as a whole. I really liked the first Wonder Woman. Despite it's flaws, it was a fun first outing for the third arm of DC's Trinity and it was nice to see her as her own hero and not as a side character to Superman and Batman. For me, WW84 takes all the flaws of the first movie and amplifies them rather than improving upon them. It also has some very questionable morals and ideas about femininity and female empowerment that I won't get into in this article, but suffice it to say is highly problematic.
No, we're here to talk about the archival situation in WW84. As part of her non-Wonder Woman life, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) occasionally moonlights as an antiquities dealer, conservationist, and, in the case of this movie, a cultural anthropologist for the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. It's a great cover considering her Amazonian background and the academic career adds a different level of access and knowledge that sets her apart from the mild mannered news reporter and the billionaire she fights alongside when the world is in trouble.
WW84 features quite a lot of scenes in the highly stylized Smithsonian archives. It's very reminiscent of how the CSI franchise took a lot of liberties with the layout, lighting, and overall speed in which crime scenes were investigated. WW84 shows a lot of small, awkwardly lit spaces where everyone has access to spaces outside of their specialty and no one appears to take precautions with any of the items they're handling. Turns out, all you need is a desk, magnifying glass, and a pile of conveniently placed books to make it look like you know what you're doing.
The movie also plays fast and loose with the geography of the Smithsonian. For those who don't know, the Smithsonian consists of several museums located on the National Mall. Diana most likely works at the American Museum of Natural History, though it's never stated outright. It says something about your storytelling abilities when Night At the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian does a better job establishing the location in a five minute info dump than your entire two and a half hour movie. And because it's never established where anything is other than at the nebulous "Smithsonian" it makes Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and Diana's visit to the archives and the airfield that apparently exists outside the building with fully functioning jet planes one hell of a head scratcher for anyone who's actually visited the institution.
For the record, there is no airfield outside the Smithsonian archives. The layout actually makes me think of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington where I did my internship. The museum and archives are adjacent to Boeing Field/King County International Airport and often includes flight demonstrations with working historical aircraft.
I will say that there was a very nice scene filmed on location at the Air and Space Museum where Diana shows Steve the advancements in aviation since World War I. I was also surprised to see a scene that looked like it was filmed in an actual archives! While doing research on the movie's macguffin, aka the wishing stone, Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is shown pouring over microfiche with rolling stacks behind her. She's then approached by another Smithsonian employee, presumably someone who works in the archives, holding another box of slides for her to search. He attempts, unsuccessfully, to flirt with her before she leaves and we only see him and the archives again towards the end of film when he renounces his wish.
It's brief, but it's probably the least "modern" location they had as far as settings within the museum. Just stick 1980s costumed characters into an archives and BAM! Instant archives set in the 1980s. Honestly, that tracks as far as the time and money it would likely take to modernize any archival workspace. Some repositories haven't been updated in far longer.
So, instead of watching WW84, go out and support your local archives. If you can, make a donation. If you can't, write a nice letter or let the parent institution know how much you and the community value the archives. It's the truth and the truth is beautiful, according to Wonder Woman.