(This article contains spoilers for the ending of “Wonder Woman 1984”)
The ending of “Wonder Woman 1984” — specifically the confrontation between Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) — might not be the most coherent thing you’ve ever seen.
We do, however, believe that even if it doesn’t highlight all the details in the standard ways movies make sure the audience can keep up, the film contains everything you need to know to make sense of it. So this is mainly a situation where you really needed to pay attention to an earlier scene to understand what happened at the end.
So let’s break it down:
Max Lord uses his powers to basically steal control of the country from the president, and then he and Barbara Minerva, aka Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), head off to a secret facility where the government has created technology that can hijack the entire world’s broadcast signals. Once there, Max stands behind a podium and uses the tech to make his whole wish-giving pitch to pretty much all of humanity.
This of course immediately sows all sorts of chaos, not only because of the way his Dreamstone powers work (more about that here), but also because the energy of all the world making wishes at once has created a literal cyclone inside the studio.
Meanwhile, Wonder Woman beats down Cheetah outside and makes her way into the facility to fight Max, where she finds that the wish-fueled wind is just too much, even for her. But before she can be whipped around too much, she does manage to use the Lasso of Truth to knock over the camera broadcasting Max’s message.
So Max moves over and stands under a previously unmentioned beam of light in the middle of the room, where he somehow continues broadcasting his con job on the world. But Wonder Woman hijacks the signal by snaking her lasso around his ankle and sends her own plea for everyone to renounce their wishes so society won’t collapse like it did in various ancient civilizations. At the same time, she even manages to talk Max down by reminding him that his son could very well become a victim of the madness that has come from Max’s use of the dreamstone.
But, like, what was going on there with that beam of light? I’ve watched this sequence a few times and there really is no explanation given for what Max is doing when he climbs into it. But we can make some assumptions based on a line from earlier in the movie, when the president briefly sums up what this broadcast facility does.
Here’s how he explained that whole deal: “Global broadcast satellite. Top secret program that enables us to override any broadcast system in the world. In case we need direct contact with the people of an enemy state…. [It] uses particle beam technology just like the Star Wars program. Apparently it bathes the landscape in a signal of particles that goes in and fiddles with any technology it touches. New or old. Broadcasts whatever you want. Very impressive.”
Meanwhile, when Max arrives at the facility, the beam of light is off. After he starts broadcasting, the beam is on. Presumably, then, that beam of light is the “particle beam” that the president referred to. And presumably what’s happening when Max steps into the beam is that it’s allowing him to continue to transmit his message through some unknown means.
Since there isn’t a camera at this point, it’s likely that Max is actually broadcasting his thoughts there. And that would be why Wonder Woman is able to use the Lasso of Truth, which creates a telepathic link to those it touches, to pass along her own thoughts about what’s going on.
The details here aren’t super important. It’s a MacGuffin tech that exists to serve the narrative, so we don’t really need to understand how it works any more than we need to understand the mechanics of the magic rock that grants wishes.
The confusion here is instead caused by some sloppy editing that leaves out the sort of cinematic language that would help us understand what’s going on at the end. The film doesn’t draw your attention to the beam at all until Max climbs into it. Even just, for example, a quick shot of the beam turning on as Max begins his broadcast would communicate a lot. But without that, it can be tough to parse this scene if you’re casually watching it.
Fortunately, despite some missteps in communicating all that, “Wonder Woman 1984” does ultimately provide enough info that we feel pretty confident in our explanation of those events.