The Geek Beat: Let's Give Up on a 'Wonder Woman' Movie (and Give These Characters a Shot Instead)

The Geek Beat: Let's Give Up on a 'Wonder Woman' Movie (and Give These Characters a Shot Instead)

Oct 09, 2013

Please allow me to begin by saying I like Wonder Woman. In the pantheon of female superheroes, she's a rare exception to the typical feminized versions of male superheroes (i.e., Batwoman and Supergirl) and boasts a rich history that established her as a solo act well before she ever teamed up with Superman or Batman. That last part is a big deal, given how many leading ladies in comics began their careers as someone's sidekick or girlfriend.

So just in case I didn't make it clear: I think the world of Wonder Woman.

But – and you knew there was a “but” coming here – I don't think she needs her own live-action movie right now.

Before you paint me with a misogynist brush, hear me out: I don't have anything against Wonder Woman or superheroines. Simply put, I think that the array of obstacles standing in the way of a good Wonder Woman movie make it highly unlikely that such a movie should – or could – ever be made, and it might more effective to hop off the Wonder Woman bandwagon and focus our energy on bringing any number of other prominent, female comic book heroes to the big screen.

“But it's Wonder Woman!” you say. “Who's more famous than her? How could she not be an easy sell for Hollywood?”

Well, believe it or not, the knocks against a Wonder Woman movie amount to more than just an aversion to female-led action movies among studios and audiences. The real problem, I'm sad to say, may be with Wonder Woman herself.

When Warner Bros. set out to produce a Wonder Woman television series a few years back, the first images of star Adrianne Palicki in costume met with intense (to put it mildly) criticism from hard-core fans and the general public alike. In no time at all, criticism of alterations to the character's iconic, swimsuit-style costume merged with complaints regarding potential changes to Wonder Woman's origin story (revealed in leaked portions of the script) to form a perfect storm of outrage that effectively doomed the project before the pilot episode had even finished filming.

And the events that led to the Wonder Woman TV series' demise offer just a taste of what a feature-length, big-budget, live-action Wonder Woman movie would encounter on its way to the screen.

While some fans will expect – nay, demand – a big-screen Wonder Woman whose origin and costume aligned with the more traditional, campy take on the character, complete with swimsuit uniform pulled from the Lynda Carter era, others will expect a more grounded, “gritty” take that's more in sync with the rest of the DC Comics movie-verse. And when either side doesn't get what it expects, well... the best we can hope for is something akin to the polarizing response to Zack Snyder's recent dark, angsty Superman reboot.

But let's be honest: While the prospect of a Man of Steel-style treatment for Wonder Woman might give fans pause, the specter of another $660 million worldwide take at the box office isn't going to scare away any studios.

The public-relations fallout of marketing a polyamorous psychologist's bondage fantasy to kids, however... that might be a tough sell.

Yes, where Superman was the product of two childhood friends creating a hero greater than themselves and Spider-Man evolved from Stan Lee's ability to channel teenage insecurities with a side of enormous power, Wonder Woman began life as a strong female role model with a nasty habit of being tied up and dominated by her enemies.

Harvard-educated psychologist William Moulton Marston debuted Wonder Woman in a 1941 issue of All-Star Comics, and while she lived up to his initial pitch of a hero who matched Superman in strength and other abilities, it was difficult to ignore the implications of some of her other characteristics. Among her weaknesses was the loss of all her powers whenever a man bound her wrists together – something that happened often enough in her comic book adventures to merit an official request from Marston's editor to reduce the number of times she appears in chains by 50-75% in future issues.

And that was just the tip of the domination-fetish iceberg when it came to Wonder Woman's origin story.

“Tell me anybody's preference in story strips and I'll tell you his subconscious desires,” said Marston in a 1942 interview about his brand-new superhero. “Wonder Woman satisfies the subconscious, elaborately disguised desire of males to be mastered by a woman who loves them.”

In past installments of well-known superheroes' big-screen adventures, the run up to the film's release in theaters – and its subsequent home-video marketing campaign – often includes a flood of documentaries and other supplemental material focusing on how the character achieved his or her iconic status. One can't help wondering what sort of narrative would frame the story of Wonder Woman's creation, given that as so much of her roots lie in topics still considered taboo today.

Try explaining to mainstream audiences (or kids, for that matter) that the idea for Wonder Woman's bracelets came from the jewelry worn by Marston's former student, who lived with him and his wife and bore him several children, and you'll begin to see how a studio might be cautious about putting the spotlight on DC's warrior princess. After all, comic fans couldn't care less about the sordid details of Wonder Woman's off-page origin as long as her adventures on the page are entertaining. Once she starts appearing on billboards and in Super Bowl commercials, though, the microscope of public opinion could make things very uncomfortable for Superman and Batman's caretakers.

And it's this combination of compromises with the character and potential PR pitfalls that make me believe Wonder Woman just isn't ready for the big screen yet. Until we can find the happy medium necessary to bring her into the modern era of movies (maybe something along the lines of this fan film, perhaps) and also experience a cultural shift in some of our social views, the odds against a Wonder Woman movie seem a bit too daunting for any studio to risk the budget necessary to bring her to the big screen.

Thankfully, there's a long list of other movie-worthy female superheroes that not only have a better chance of getting their films made, but could also pave the way for Wonder Woman to make a similar transition.

Although she comes from the mold of feminized versions of male characters, Batwoman Kate Kane of the modern series is a prime example of a character who carries a cultural torch similar to that of Wonder Woman, without all the off-page baggage. A tough-as-nails, brilliant vigilante whose adventures rival those of Batman in the world of grim-and-gritty crimefighting, Batwoman is ready-made for DC's existing movie-verse. On the Marvel side, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow has already earned a fan following thanks to memorable turns in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, and seems like an easy call for the solo-film treatment. Give her a “year one” adventure that features cameos from a few other Marvel heroes (and villains), and she'll likely make the journey from page to screen a little easier for subsequent leading ladies of comics.

And hey, if you're not comfortable abandoning the idea of a Wonder Woman movie just yet, keep this in mind: When it comes to the business of making movies, sometimes you have to make the films that can be made before you can make the films that should be made.

 


Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and is still not quite sure how he ended up writing (and talking) about comics, video games, and movies for a living. His personal blog can be found at  MindPollution.org, and you can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.

 

 

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