Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 has finally been released across selected theaters and HBO Max after being delayed for over a year. With Gal Gadot reprising her role as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman from the previous movie, Wonder Woman 1984 has two brand new antagonists to offer. Fresh from The Mandalorian‘s fame, Pedro Pascal portrays the role of Maxwell Lord, and comedian/actor Kristen Wiig plays the role of Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis, Barbara Ann Minerva aka Cheetah. Though the movie has been criticized for its weak plot, Kristen Wiig’s performance as Cheetah has been one of the highlights of the movie.
As Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman travels from the United States to the arid lands of Egypt to investigate the mystical properties of the Dreamstone, she clashes with friend-turned-foe Barbara Ann Minerva, a geologist and gemologist who suffers from low self-esteem. Despite her best intentions, she is mostly ignored by everyone, which further shakes her confidence. But soon after, she meets Diana and gets enamored by her charisma and self-confidence. Despite being good friends with her, Barbara soon starts to envy Diana for her elegance and stature that attracts everyone’s attention. But after the introduction of the wish-granting Dreamstone, things take a dark turn as Barbara wishes to be like Diana.
Related: Wonder Woman 1984 Ending Explained
An often-used trope in Hollywood, Kristen Wiig’s Barbara follows the same route of a formerly insecure character gradually becoming a self-confident and powerful individual, usually seduced by life’s darker impulses. Not the first comic book character to adopt this trope, Jamie Foxx’s Electro shared the same thematic experience in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So the question arises, why Kristen Wiig’s performance as Cheetah was well received by fans while Electro was critically panned by fans and critics despite having the supremely talented Jamie Foxx at the helm?
In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon is introduced as a nerdy nobody who was borderline obsessed with Spider-Man and his abilities. Though shown to be quite harmless at the beginning, Max Dillon’s ridiculously cartoonish behavior became quite unbearable as the character’s inherent sense of entitlement paired with his stalkerish tendencies failed to evoke any feelings of sympathy for the character. On the other hand, despite sharing the same issues of low self-esteem and insecurity with Foxx’s Max Dillon, Kristen Wiig’s Barbara never really tried to establish herself to be a self-entitled individual destined for greatness. Facing the issues of constant belittlement and crippling self-confidence that many women across the world face on a regular basis, Wiig’s character was much more relatable than a nerdy engineer’s dangerous obsession with Spider-Man.
Secondly, Kristen Wiig’s Barbara was originally an interesting character despite her various shortcomings. Her awkward sense of humor and kindness was quickly noticed by Diana right from the beginning. While Foxx’s Electro was forced into a world of superpowers, albeit a painful transformation, Wiig’s Barbara was a lot more interesting for the choices she made, no matter how questionable they were. As a result, Barbara’s conscious choice to be an ‘apex predator’ at the cost of her warmth and kindness was well-received by fans. To back it up, Barbara’s memorable scene with the drunk harasser on the street was a powerful testament to the fact that even her poor choices would have been chosen by many women across the world to fight the system of abuse.
Finally, the transformation of Max Dillon’s nerdy electrical engineer to that of an evil villain had no concrete reason whatsoever. His self-entitlement, dreams of grandeur, and obsession with Spider-Man’s likeability and popularity triggered his dark impulses that had no seamless transition, but was hurriedly executed to achieve Sony’s plans of introducing the Sinister Six on the big screen. In contrast, Barbara’s transition from a kind-hearted woman with low-self esteem to a fearsome nemesis of Diana was in many ways, much better than the character’s evil origins in the comic books. As Jamie Foxx is confirmed to return in the ever-expansive cast of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man 3, we hope the character’s motivations will be much better than his previous iteration.
Wonder Woman 1984 is now playing on HBO Max and selected theaters only.