WW84 is a cavalcade of cool cars, foreign and domestic
Wonder Woman’s last jaunt took her from the hidden island of Themyscira to a Europe ravaged by WWI. Decades later, Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman 1984 finds Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) living in a world that seems more peaceful—at least at first glance. While working at the Smithsonian, she comes across an ancient stone that grants wishes Monkey’s Paw-style, first bringing back her boyfriend Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), then generating two new formidable foes for the superhero to contend with: Pedro Pascal’s Max Lord and Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah. As the film’s title might suggest, the year is 1984, and aside from leg-warmers and Gary Numan songs, its cars are one of the very few ways this film is recognizably set in this decade.
Wonder Woman 1984 takes place toward the end of the Malaise Era. Starting with an oil crisis in 1973, this automotive dark age was plagued with higher insurance costs, a recession, and stringent rules implemented by the U.S. government to improve safety as well as limit fuel usage and exhaust emissions. Depressingly, a 55-mph speed limit was also instituted. All these changes sounded the death knell for muscle cars, but it wasn’t all bad: the late 1970s gave us Burt Reynolds at his coolest, starring in iconic car films from White Lightning to Smokey and the Bandit. And the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am featured in the latter film became a celebrity in its own right.
The second-generation Trans Am was a bright spot during an era only recently being celebrated for its cars, and it gets a generous cameo in the film’s opening scene. A speeding 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am hurtles toward a jogger in the crosswalk. This is Wonder Woman’s very first act of heroism in the film: she sends the car spinning with a kick, saving the jogger’s life. Diana herself doesn’t have a car and doesn’t seem to know how to drive one yet (though she eventually does, as evidenced by her 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet in 2017’s Justice League), but this red Trans Am, with its gold-and-black screaming chicken, looks like a car Diana could (and should) drive. It’s probably not an intentional nod to the red ’78 Pontiac Trans Am from Hooper, Burt Reynolds’s 1978 homage to stuntmen, but it’s not impossible. At the very least, it seems to be a tribute to the Poncho’s cinematic legacy. It’s a car with undeniable star power.
Conman Max Lord has his own car that’s in keeping with his character—a chauffeured Rolls-Royce Silver Spur with a gold grille. It is purely a status symbol to keep up appearances. He embodies the apparent worst of the American dream, which for him means money and power at any cost. Max Lord is a perfect villain for this point in history: Jenkins says she set the film in the ‘80s not just as an excuse to put Chris Pine in parachute pants, but because the period represents “mankind at their worst, most excessive and their greatest, most grand and opulent.”
Some of the film’s other automotive highlights include the historically accurate 1983 Ford LTD Crown Victorias that the Fairfax County police arrive in to stop a mall heist. At a fundraiser, Diana steps out of a plushy black 1984 Chrysler Fifth Avenue. And then there are the beautiful blue ‘70s Ford F-series pickup trucks that converge at the airfield to try to stop Diana and Steve from “borrowing” one of the Smithsonian’s planes. We even catch fleeting glimpses of pre-Malaise cars like a creamy-white ’70 VW Beetle, a purple ’71 Dodge Challenger, and a ’64 Chevy Impala.
The most satisfying car action, however, comes halfway through the film. Diana and Steve have followed Max Lord to Egypt where he’s meeting with oil magnate Emir Said Bin Abydos (Amr Waked). In an attempt to retrieve the wish-granting stone from Lord, they hastily purchase their taxi driver’s car, a 1977 Peugeot 504. Somehow the front-engine four-door remains operational even though its hood gets riddled with bullets.
The pair pursue a convoy of Soviet military trucks, which include Ural-375s and GAZ-66s. Near the front of this convoy is a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen with Max Lord in the passenger seat. It looks to be a W463 dressed up to look like a more period-appropriate W460. The G-Class can claim some roots in the Middle East; in the ‘70s, the Shah of Iran originally floated the idea of creating a military SUV to Mercedes. As a favorite of “oligarchs and arms dealers” according to Matthew Jones at Top Gear, it’s a crystal-clear clue we’re dealing with bad guys. (Just in case the Soviet military trucks were too subtle.)
Naturally it’s Diana herself, not the cars, who proves to be star of this chase, but there’s still plenty of satisfying automotive carnage. She exits the Peugeot, somehow in full costume, first ripping out the steering wheel of a 6×6 Ural 375D, then lassoing a bullet to save Steve’s life. She pushes two vehicles apart with her legs, uses scrap metal to “surf” under one of the trucks, knocks enormous vehicles off the road and throws them like they were toys. She rips out the bottom of a Ural, using so much force that it spins in midair.
Steve takes a backseat to Diana during much of the action, but he makes himself useful. He manages to climb through the Peugeot’s broken windshield—while it’s still in motion—to clamber onto an armored personnel carrier (a Fahd APC) so he can disarm it and commandeer it, at which point he in turn saves Diana’s life.
This chase’s climax comes when Wonder Woman saves two of the unwitting children playing in the road. In a moment of near-wordless communication between the two characters, Steve fires a missile and Diana lassoes it, propelling her toward the children in the convoy’s path. Instead of racking up a body count, this chase is, like Wonder Woman, about saving lives.
It was recently announced that Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot will team up once more for a third Wonder Woman film. Maybe for her next outing, Diana Prince will learn to drive and get her own ride—hopefully a sweet performance machine on the other side of the Malaise Era.
Wonder Woman 1984 is streaming on HBO Max through January 24.