Monday, October 28, 2013

Musical Monday - Wonder (Wonder Woman Song) by The Doubleclicks

So, despite a number of aborted attempts, there is still no Wonder Woman movie. If we confine ourselves to DC properties, we have had six feature length Superman movies and seven Batman movies have hit the big screen. We have even had a Green Lantern movie, awful though it was. But having a single movie revolving around the most iconic female superhero in the DC lineup is somehow too difficult to accomplish. DC can give the go ahead to make a horribly putrid Catwoman movie, who isn't even a superhero, and yet remains the only female lead featured in a DC inspired move. But no Wonder Woman.

All the usual excuses have been made. It is too hard to write a strong woman. Wonder Woman is too tricky of a character to get right for the big screen. There are no classic and beloved Wonder Woman stories to use as a template for the movie. Wonder Woman has no iconic villains to provide the opposition. And so on and so forth. And all of these excuses are quite simply bovine excrement. None of them hold up to even the slightest amount of examination. There is, to be blunt, no good reason why a Wonder Woman movie has not been made.

Diana of Themyscira is an Amazon from a world in which the Greek gods and monsters are real. Granted there are a couple of different iterations of the superheroine, from the current version who is just slightly less imposing than Superman, all the way to the completely non-superpowered secret agent from the 1960s, but that shouldn't really be an impediment. Almost no one other than serious comic book aficionados remembers the unpowered version of Diana, and most of them didn't really like that version anyway. More to the point, the serious comic book aficionados make up a tiny fraction of your audience, so it doesn't really matter how many different ways Wonder Woman has been portrayed in the books. Most people who go to the movie will accept whatever version of Wonder Woman is presented on the screen. The likelihood is that the people you are marketing your movie to are probably mostly the people who grew up watching the various DC animated universe television shows and movies, which means that the version presented there is probably the version that will resonate with potential viewers the best.

As far as a villain goes, Wonder Woman is almost ready made for an epic movie length story. The problem with many superheroes is even if they themselves are, their villains aren't really hefty enough to move from the pages of the comic books to the big screen, which is possibly why so many superhero movies feature multiple villains. Comic book villains are, essentially, disposable. They are intended to show up, cause trouble for a storyline that lasts for a run of issues, and then be defeated. They may return later in another storyline, but you can't usually do multiple plots involving the same villain in one movie, so instead, you have two villains. But since Diana's background is essentially all of Greek mythology, you have your pick of Earth shattering villains to choose from without even going into the villains created specifically for the comic books. You could build a movie around an epic clash involving the Olympian gods in modern society - in fact, one could almost take the 2009 animated Wonder Woman movie and simply translate it to live action and end up with a great movie. You wouldn't even have to change the cast very much. Even if you went in a different direction, the fact remains that Diana is an Amazon princess with near godlike powers. There has to be a way to make a movie in which she saves the world from a dire threat.

As far as Wonder Woman being a tricky character to get right for film, with excuses for this being so ranging from women are simply hard to write because they are women, down to the issue merely being that this character is too difficult to "get right", the obvious solution is simply to stop thinking of Wonder Woman as a "woman" or really as Wonder Woman at all. She is a superhero with a fairly standard array of super powers: Super strength, invulnerability to many hazards that would kill a normal human, the ability to stop bullets, the ability to fly, a magic sword, a magic lasso, and so on. Imagine what a Greek Jedi might be like if transported to our world. Or what Superman might be like if he were tinged with Greek mythology. Write a story in which one of those characters featured, and then just replace all references to "Greek Jedi" or "Greek Superman" with "Wonder Woman", and you have your movie. If that won't work, go back and try again, because you wrote a bad movie, and it wasn't because it was a Wonder Woman movie. It was because you wrote a bad script.

This difficulty highlights a truth that is somewhat ugly: When a female or minority character shows up in a superhero movie (or, in many cases, in any movie), all too often their primary, and frequently only, character feature will be "woman", or "black", or "Hispanic". White male leads can be complex characters - brooding, intense, vulnerable, cheerful, and so on. A female character can be a woman. A black character is "the black guy". Look at the Avengers movie - while Marvel has done a much better job than DC at including women in their movies, they have still made a pretty weak effort of it. Steve Rogers is the straight arrow and a man out of time. Tony Stark is the wise-cracking playboy millionaire with self-doubt. Bruce Banner is the tortured soul filled with self-loathing. Thor is the mythic hero. Clint Barton is the turncoat. Natalia Romanova gets to be the one woman who breaks up the sausage fest, and she gets to be the girl who uses her breasts to get what she wants out of men. Every other character has a well-developed personality that has nothing to do with their penis, but Natalia gets pegged as the femme fatale. And femme fatale is really just another way of saying "girl".

And because of this I worry about the inclusion of the character of Saul Wilson as Falcon in the upcoming movie Captain America: Winter Soldier. Falcon was originally created in 1969 to essentially check off the "African-American superhero" box for Marvel (the previously introduced Black Panther was African), and the character's primary personality trait for many years was simply that he was Captain America's black ally who showed up every now and then to remind readers that black people existed. Though he was never an over the top stereotype like Luke Cage often was, he served as little more than box that was checked off for a long time, and I wonder if he will have more character development in the new movie than simply being "the black guy who is a superpowered agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.".

The contrast one might make is with Nick Fury, as portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, who is a much more fleshed out character than merely "the black guy running S.H.I.E.L.D." But that is probably attributable to the fact that when the Nick Fury character was created, he wasn't black, and so the writers actually gave him a full personality that wasn't tied to his race or gender. When Jackson was cast as Nick Fury, nothing changed about the character except the color of Fury's skin, and as a result, Fury is the best written black character in superhero films. Because he was written as a person with a full battery of character traits, complete with both heroic attributes and not so heroic flaws, and not as a black person whose primary trait is that he is the black guy. Now, I'm not saying that scriptwriters should start writing white characters and then flipping their race or gender to get fully realized minority or female characters. I'm saying that the fact that this has been done and resulted in such an obviously interesting character highlights the truly awful writing that has been done when it comes to other female and minority characters in film.

Basically, what I'm saying is that I suspect that we don't have a Wonder Woman movie because both DC comics and Hollywood are endemically sexist in a particularly pernicious way. Female superheroes only show up in movies that feature teams, like Black Widow in The Avengers, or Storm and Jean Grey in the X-Men franchise, or in really crappy spin-offs like Catwoman or Elektra. And yet their situation is better than that of minorities, who thus far have had even less representation in superhero movies, appearing in the aforementioned Catwoman and X-Men movies, and pretty much nothing else unless one wants to consider Nick Fury to be a superhero. And it doesn't have to be this way. There are dozens of female and minority superheros, and the DC animated universe has shown that they can be interesting and compelling characters. We could have a fantastic Wonder Woman movie. We could have a fantastic Green Lantern movie featuring John Stewart. We could and should have a dozen well-developed, fully fleshed out super-heroines on the big screen, and at least as many black, Hispanic, and Asian superpeople. The only reason we don't is that Hollywood is simply too lazy to be bothered. And for that, I say shame on Hollywood.

And hooray to the Doubleclicks for making a great song about Wonder Woman.

Previous Musical Monday: Ramble On by Led Zeppelin
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Battle of Evermore by Heart

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