Part of the fun of “Wonder Woman 1984” was the way it embraced the decade it was set in, from the fashion choices (Chris Pine’s fanny packs!) to the aesthetics (who else felt like they time traveled back to their childhood with that mall in the opening?) And hell yes to that soundtrack.
But the movie is also explicitly set in the era defined by the man who served as President of the United States at the time — Ronald Reagan. And it features an actual encounter with a President of the United States. But is the president featured in “Wonder Woman 1984” intended to be the guy who served as the IRL 40th president?
Well, smartly, the film never really confirms things one way or the other. The president is never addressed by name and if you’re looking to do a little detective work, you’re out of luck there too: the credits just list him as POTUS. POTUS was played by Stuart Milligan, who interestingly has a history of playing presidential characters. (He played President Richard Nixon in “Doctor Who” in 2011.)
And Milligan doesn’t officially play Reagan in the film — that is, his mannerisms and actions don’t necessarily seem like they’re channeling the former leader, and he doesn’t try and do a version of the thing everyone who impersonates Reagan does. He doesn’t even really look like him, save for his slicked back hairstyle which is a bit lighter than Reagan’s jet black.
He does use his Dreamstone wish to ask for more nuclear weapons against the Soviets; the real Reagan famously scorned arms control treaties and presided over a huge arms buildup, but he largely used that buildup as a strategy to force the Soviets to negotiate.
Basically, there’s just enough there that he could be Reagan but there’s also just enough there to dissuade us from thinking the character could be influenced by him.
But given the fact that everything else about the time period adds up, including America being embroiled in the Cold War and technology at the early stages of the leaps that now define our world, Patty Jenkins had to assume that even if she never said anything, we’d make the connection. If nothing else, we’d assume we know who he is in our own headcanons.
Which is why she made a point earlier this year to state that the ambiguity was intentional. While fielding questions about whether or not the film’s antagonist, Maxwell Lord was based on Trump, Jenkins denied character-specific influences across the board. “We even have the president in this movie, and I’ve gone out of my way not to make it look like Ronald Reagan,” she said.
It makes sense that Jenkins would want to try to keep things as vague as possible, so people could enjoy the film without having pre-conceived thoughts in the back of their minds. Unfortunately, given that the movie is being released when it is, we’re going to be thinking about certain similarities more than we probably would have if the film came out when it was originally supposed to.
It’s fair and also a little fitting that “Wonder Woman 1984” plays with ambiguity in this way. After all, the film itself ends on an ambiguous note, with no real confirmation as to whether or not a third film about Diana’s personal adventures might happen. And sometimes, it’s just better not to over-explain things, especially in a superhero film where the audience is already going to be asking a lot of questions, whether or not they’re familiar with the source material.