Monday, 24 June 2013

Why We Don’t Need a Wonder Woman Movie (Yet)

Aaron Lopresti and Hi-Fi

(Note: Contains spoilers for Man of Steel and the Dark Knight trilogy.)

Every time a new superhero film comes out, someone will inevitably publish an article asking why a live-action Wonder Woman film has never been made. With the recent release of Man of Steel, this question has again been raised, and this time, some vague answers have actually been given.

For the most part, these answers have been as promising as vague, noncommittal, unofficial assurances can be. David S. Goyer, the screenwriter responsible for Man of Steel and all three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, was recently asked about rounding out his portfolio with the third member of DC’s Trinity: “I think Wonder Woman is a very difficult character to crack. More difficult than Superman, who is also more difficult than Batman. Also, a lot of people in Hollywood believe that it’s hard to do a big action movie with a female lead. I happen to disagree with that. But that tends to be the prevailing wisdom. Hopefully that’ll change in the next few years.” A few days ago, The Wrap reported that Warner Bros. is planning to make Wonder Woman the focus of a film following the release of the fabled Justice League movie. There is also further evidence of the studio’s interest in getting a Wonder Woman-focused project off the ground in their repeated attempts to make the character work in a television show. While the 2011 attempt proved disastrous, plans are still in the works to prepare a series for the CW, whose president, Mark Pedowitz, has stated, “We do not want to produce something that doesn’t work for that particular character -- it is the trickiest of all the DC characters to get done.”

That’s precisely the problem: it’s hard to get Wonder Woman right, particularly when there are hundreds of millions of dollars on the line. My solution? Don’t try.

Aaron Lopresti
This may seem like a shocking assertion to be made by a comics fan who runs a blog all about strong female characters. By all rights, I should be the first person in line for a Wonder Woman film, bracers on my forearms and the double W emblazoned on my chest. And I will be, when the right time comes, but now is not that time. (Neither is 2017, which is the earliest we can hope to see the film released.) In fact, while this may be a good time for Diana of Themyscira to take another crack at television, it is the worst possible time for her to break into the Man’s World that is mainstream Hollywood cinema.

Before you pelt me with fruit and force me to perform my own version of bullets and bracelets, let me explain.

Reason #1: This is not the creative team we are looking for.

Christopher Nolan, the director of the Dark Knight trilogy and producer of Man of Steel, makes dark, overly realistic superhero films with fairly flat, lacklustre female characters. He’s all about the male “lonely god” figure. Wonder Woman, by contrast, is both a complex woman and a character of community.

Zack Snyder, who directed Superman’s latest foray, previously made Watchmen, which suffered from being an almost too accurate adaptation. He made up for that dedication to getting things right by getting Superman all wrong, namely by advocating for Kal-El to murder Zod, despite the fact that this goes against everything that the character stands for. Snyder also wrote and directed Sucker Punch, which is enough reason to keep him far, far away from Diana.

As the writer of all four of the aforementioned Batman and Superman films, David S. Goyer is both clearly not the person we want to write the Wonder Woman movie, and the person who will ultimately get tapped for the job (if it doesn’t go to the writers of the Green Lantern movie that flopped). This is beyond concerning, considering the fact that Goyer said himself that Wonder Woman is more difficult to write than Superman. Keep in mind that Goyer gave us a Superman who snaps his enemies’ necks, willingly fights said enemies in densely populated areas with no concern for the humans he purports to want to save, and, perhaps worst of all, doesn’t engage in witty, sarcastic banter with Lois Lane (who knows his identity almost from the outset). It was bad enough when Goyer and Nolan ignored decades of sidekicks to make Batman the hero who works alone, but completely disregarding fundamental aspects of Superman’s character is unforgivable.

If this is what they do to Superman, imagine what they would do to Wonder Woman, who snapped a man’s neck in the same issue where she was punched from outer space to Earth, and prayed not for her own safety, but for a landing that caused no human casualties. The complexities of her character would be lost on a creative team that fails to grasp even the basics of the Big Blue Boy Scout.

Reason #2: A failure will put female superhero films on hold for years, if not decades.

If you go to a multiplex this summer, you will see ample evidence that Hollywood doesn’t need an excuse not to make a film about women. Consider the fact that, following the release of The Avengers and the near universal praise of the Black Widow character, Marvel and Disney decided to make sequels to all of their male superhero franchises, as well as a Guardians of the Galaxy film, instead of going with the more obvious choice of What Happened in Budapest Or, Why Natasha Romanoff is More Compelling Than Yet Another White Dude. Because of a (very short) string of terrible woman-led superhero movies, including Catwoman and Elektra (nine and ten percent on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively), we need an unqualified hit to show that superheroic women can sell tickets, and a stand-out in an ensemble film apparently isn’t enough.

What complicates the situation further is the fact that Wonder Woman is the female superhero. When you ask a person who doesn’t read comics to name a woman superhero, Diana’s is likely the first name that will come up. She’s just about the only woman familiar to the masses whose alter ego isn’t a riff on a previously established male hero. She’s the one woman who has to be on the Justice League roster for the general audience to consider it complete. Because of this, she is also the greatest risk.

If a poorly made film featuring a minor female superhero is a box office flop, Hollywood executives will claim that audiences don’t want to see women donning capes and tights and fighting crime. We will know better, and dozens of articles will be written explaining the real reasons behind the failure. Eventually, someone might try again. However, if a Wonder Woman movie fails, especially one made by the current “dream team,” executives will have a more legitimate reason to shy away from super-powered ladies. If even the biggest name can’t draw in the crowds, why try?

It’s not terribly sound logic, but it’s the logic that will likely be applied.


I had initially planned to provide more reasons, but it really does boil down to those two: a failure to do Wonder Woman well would have disastrous results, and the creative team most likely to be assigned the job seems to lack the capacity to do the character well.

Kano and Stefano Gaudiano
This brings me to my proposed solution: DC/Warner Bros. and Marvel/Disney should make a bunch of superhero movies starring women, using creative teams that know, love, and understand the characters. If the studios are concerned that they won’t make enough money, they should make the first few films with smaller budgets and let the audience prove that they are willing to pay. In the age of Kickstarter and the Facebook campaign to get people to see Bridesmaids, we are well aware that our dollars act as votes in favour of the production of similar content. If enough of us pay to see movies about female superheroes and let executives know that we saw those movies specifically for those women, we make making those films worth their while.

I also think that the studios should capitalize on the franchises they already have, not by adding sequels starring Yet Another Straight White Guy, but by fleshing out the universe. Marvel has already grasped this idea, and DC should follow their lead. Christopher Nolan is done with Batman, but that doesn’t mean that his Gotham can’t be used to tell the stories of people like Helena Bertinelli or Cass Cain. The presence of an already established Commissioner Gordon gives Warner Bros. the opportunity to create two new franchises: Batgirl and Gotham Central.

Although The Dark Knight suggests that Gordon’s son was more profoundly affected by the family’s encounter with Batman, it wouldn’t take much to show how the same event influenced his daughter, Barbara, the Gordon offspring we already know and love. In a film trilogy, we could follow her from the beginning of her career as Batgirl, through the shooting that left her partially paralyzed, and finish with the establishment of the Birds of Prey.

Like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gotham Central would be a television spin-off of a successful franchise. The series could take place just after the events of The Dark Knight Rises, when Batman’s sudden absence drives the GCPD to shift the Major Crime Unit’s focus exclusively to the criminal activities of the Caped Crusader’s rogues gallery. We would see Robin finding his footing from the perspective of the officers who knew his predecessor, and we would watch Renee Montoya’s development from a police officer to a superhero over the course of the show.

Bernard Chang
My last suggestion is to tell diverse stories in order to attract diverse audiences. An indie-style film about Batwoman -- a gay, Jewish former West Point cadet kicked out under DADT -- would sell very well, and it wouldn’t require the entire population of the United States to see it to make money. The Marvel comic, Runaways, featuring a teenaged cast full of racial and sexual diversity -- not to mention four girls in its original line-up -- was on its way to being made a few years ago, and it’s time for it to get the Hollywood treatment (sans the usual whitewashing and fetishization of queerness). A white, male, cisgender, heterosexual hero may have a whole host of abilities, but he doesn’t have the power to satisfy every kind of viewer.

So, no, I don’t think we need a Wonder Woman movie yet. I think that we need to prove to the Hollywood money-making machine that people want to see women saving the world while wearing slightly ridiculous outfits. I think we need to show every naysayer that women are capable of being more than love interests who play second fiddle to their saviour boyfriends. And then, when we have proven that women are every bit as heroic as men, that’s when we make Wonder Woman, because that’s when we’ll be ready to tell her story right.

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