Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why a Wonder Woman Movie is Trickier Than You Might Think

And we're back! Between work and the holidays, I haven't been able to blog, but now Marvel has confirmed development of a solo Black Widow movie. And, of course, everyone's response, including mine, is, "So what's the hold up on the Wonder Woman movie, DC?" DC has one of the most iconic female characters in any medium available to it, yet the property continues to sit in development hell: a TV pilot that went nowhere, a movie that had Joss Whedon attached and died in development, and plenty of other attempts that haven't even made it as far as getting a name attached to them. But the truth is, developing a Wonder Woman movie or TV series is a lot trickier than people want to admit.

On the face of it, the lack of a Wonder Woman movie or TV series in an era where Ant-Man, Rocket Raccoon and Batroc the Leaper are going to be on the big screen looks like typical Hollywood sexism. There's almost certainly an element of sexism to it, of course; Hollywood execs are famous for believing that action movies starring women in lead roles don't sell, regardless of the significant number of counter-examples. However, that's not the whole story.

Most of the other heroes that have been featured in successful films have either a relatively simple hook: an update Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, a benevolent alien raised by human parents, a rich guy in a suit of flying armor, and so on and so on. But then you have Wonder Woman: an Amazon warrior princess sent to the world of man in order to spread peace by punching people in the face. The comics have been grappling with this for 70 years and they're just now finding something that reliably works.

Wonder Woman has been all over the map as a character, and a lot of her elements don't line up as well as
The 70s were a weird time for Diana
they should, and it goes all the way back to the character's creation. Wonder Woman's creator, William Marston, is famous for being a devotee of bondage and believing that submission should be a healthy part of the female psyche, particularly for powerful women. A lot of the early elements of Wonder Woman make a lot more sense when you know this, like her Lasso of Truth and the fact that she originally lost her powers when her wrists were bound by a man. Wonder Woman was also created during WWII, and was in the same vein as the patriotic characters of the time, which is why she has red, white, blue, and gold as the primary colors of her costume. Later takes on the character would remove her weaknesses, change her costume, depower her and repower her. The current run on Wonder Woman is probably the strongest they've had in years, with a character that sells being both a warrior and an ambassador for peace, with great action and a hefty dose of Greek mythology. But that leads us into the next issue.

Wonder Woman in the comics is a character with strong ties to Greek mythology. In the current run, she's the illegitimate daughter of Zeus, and she is regularly locked in conflict, both martial and political, with her siblings and extended family. It makes for great reading, and it would probably make for a fine standalone movie, but DC isn't going for standalone movies anymore. They're finally going the Marvel route, with an interconnected universe, and that's great, but it means that they're also under pressure to follow Marvel's example in the creation of their universe as well. You know what's missing from the Marvel movieverse? Magic.

Thor and Loki are aliens that were worshiped as gods, and their magic is technology we don't understand yet. Doctor Strange may show up later, but I'm sure there's a lot of internal debate as to whether he's actually going to be a sorcerer, or whether his magic will just be science by another name, like the Norse
This doesn't even include the most recent movies
magic. Beyond that, wherever they could, Marvel has tied together disparate elements in their movies. Tony Stark's dad was Captain America's pilot and weapons creator, and Bruce Banner was working on recreating the super soldier serum when he got turned into the Hulk, and they all end up fighting against Loki because of a piece of tech that the Norse gods left behind on earth. There is a lot of pressure to make the universe as simple and interconnected as possible at the beginning to draw viewers in before hitting them with the crazier stuff, like talking raccoons and tree men. As an example, I think it's entirely possible that once we get to the Black Widow solo movie, we'll have found out that she really was a Soviet-era superspy, but it will have taken us four movies featuring her to get us there. Given that there are already rumors that Wonder Woman is going to be Kryptonian in origin, I can't imagine the kind of political fighting happening at DC and WB right now over the nature and origin of her character.

And that's worth noting as well. Marvel Studios is a subsidiary of Marvel Comics. Marvel Comics has, therefore, an enormous amount of control over exactly how to handle the characters in their movies. DC and WB are both subsidiaries of Time Warner, and WB makes Time Warner far more money and therefore has much more pull in determining how it wants to run with the characters in the movies. Of course, having creator input isn't a cure-all, as we saw with Green Lantern, but generally it's very helpful in maintaining the spirit of the characters. However, WB is almost certainly going to want to go with the kind of simplification that makes a character more accessible to new viewers, and Wonder Woman is a complex, possibly overly complex character to begin with. Simplifying her in a way that doesn't destroy the character, while still making her fit into the burgeoning DC movieverse is not an easy task, and it's not going to be made any easier by political infighting between two separate parts of the Time Warner conglomerate.

All of this doesn't even get into the fact that there's not really a definitive Wonder Woman story to draw from, nor that she has arguably the worst cast of villains of any major hero. Say what you will about the Superman franchise's tendency to go with Lex or Zod, at least they're not stuck with Egg Fu and the Angle Man. The best Wonder Woman villains are the mythological ones, which brings us back to the aforementioned magic issue. And there's the problem of her supporting cast. Do you include Steve Trevor, and do you include him as a love interest? What about Themiscyra, the Amazon island? How do you fit that into a modern world with satellite imaging and Google Maps? Magic again, or Kryptonain supertech?

Yes, there should be a Wonder Woman movie, and yes, it should have happened long before now. But there are so many issues that have to be hashed out, and that have to be rehashed every time a shift happens in the superhero movie and TV market, I'm not particularly surprised. I am, however, a bit disappointed.

Wonder Woman is also disappointed in you, WB

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