Saturday, July 27, 2013

GET US OUT FROM UNDER, WONDER WOMAN!



My friend and fellow screenwriter Colin Costello opined on his Facebook page this week that he didn’t feel that actress Olivia Munn was an ideal choice to play Wonder Woman. She was telling the press how she coveted the role but Colin didn’t think she was quite right. He felt she probably wasn’t tough enough and he may be correct in his assumptions. Colin favored someone more like MMA champion Gina Carano. She may have the toughness but does she have the acting chops? Iffy, in my opinion, if HAYWIRE and FAST & FURIOUS 6 are any indication. So, just what kind of actress is right for the role? Young yes, but how young? Tough of course, but not too butch, right? And do you keep that skimpy, sexy costume? Hmm, lots to decide here.

Say what you will about the limits of 70’s television, but Lynda Carter was pretty darn terrific in the dual role of Wonder Woman and her 'alter ego' Diana Prince. Sure, Carter wasn’t all that athletic. And her Wonder Woman wore heeled boots for God's sake, but she brought a warm earnestness to the whole shebang not unlike what Christopher Reeve gave to the role of Superman in the classic 1978 movie. Carter was tall, glamorous and had a quiet authority to her as well. So what actress is like that today? Or does Wonder Woman need to be re-imagined as someone harder than that for our cynical modern times? 
Lynda Carter in the 1970's television series.
There have been some good thoughts on who could play the role over the years. Some thought Catherine Zeta-Jones would have been perfect for it...10 years ago. Megan Fox seemed like a strong choice when she was the hottest new thing in Hollywood, but now she seems less interesting and more like a second or third tier choice. Is somebody like Olivia Wilde simply too gorgeous for the character? Is Aussie hurdler Michele Janeke far too unknown? Is Kate Winslet way too serious? The issues of casting the role creates all kinds of polarization, and most of it has to do with just what kind of character is Wonder Woman. That is one of the main reasons it has become so problematic a project over the years. 

But now because of the ginormous success of Marvel Comics’ AVENGER movie, Warner Bros. is fast-tracking their adaptation of the DC Comics’ superheroes movie JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. The JLA would showcase their own uber awesome team of Batman, Superman, The Flash, possibly The Green Lantern and Aquaman, and yes, certainly Wonder Woman. So now the many questions surrounding how to bring Wonder Woman to life on screen are even more immediate because casting is starting now.  

And casting isn’t the only issue. Should her origins story, if there is one, be a period piece? The original Wonder Woman fought the Nazis in the 40's but would that be too much for her narrative or could the heaviness of that period make her seem even more legit? And what about that revealing outfit, with her burgeoning breasts and blue satin pants? Is it too sexist for modern audiences? Would it turn off women? And if the costume needs an update, what should it look like? And as for that Amazonian island populated only by women, what does one do with that? Lots of questions like these have plagued all who’ve attempted to launch the property too, including some of Hollywood’s biggest and best talents like J.J. Abrams and David E. Kelly. Kelly famously tried to do a TV adaptation a few years back but it was deemed too awful to even air. (There are bootleg copies of it to be found at comic conventions if you're willing to shill out a couple hundred bucks. For such mediocrity, I'm certainly not, no matter how much a curiosity it may be.)
So why is Wonder Woman such a problem? And how do you bring her to life without being sexist, old-fashioned or cheesy? Well, it helps to remember that her character is remarkably similar to that of Superman. Like him, she's stronger than most humans and has extraordinary powers that truly make her truly special, like her cat-like reflexes that give her the ability to deflect bullets with her golden bracelets. And like Superman playing Clark Kent, she's hiding in plain sight too, pretending to be one of us. And there's a charm to her in her confidence knowing that she's pulling one over on us mere mortals. Heck, she even flies a custom-made invisible plane which is incredibly weird, yet cool. 

So how do you bring such a character to life, making her relevant for a modern audience, as well as give her nuances, and even flaws? If she's going to yield her own franchise, great care must be given to make Wonder Women credible and heroic, even if she looks like a 40's pin-up. 

Of course, Zack Snyder did a pretty good job with WATCHMEN and the way he brought out the characters of Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino) and Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). They too were dressed in sexy, pin-up style costumes, yet were believable as strong, determined women. That's due greatly to the two terrific actresses playing the two role. But by treating them seriously on all fronts, we believed that they were part of the elite group of self-styled heroes protecting the USA from the baddies out there. Whomever makes Wonder Woman into a movie would be wise to watch out Snyder and his talented team did it. 

Overall,  I think there are five crucial things that need to be done to make Wonder Woman a success, either as a member of the JLA team or as a headliner of her own movie series afterwards. So let me spell them out for you, and see if you agree:

    1.) KEEP IT EARNEST
As stated earlier, the success of the TV series WONDER WOMAN in the 70’s was due largely to it being rendered irony-free. Granted, the world is very snarky these days, but Wonder Woman should not be. And she certainly can be witty and smart without being naive. Lynda Carter made goodness incredibly fun and sexy. So did Christopher Reeve. The new version of WW should do the same. Be sincere, honest, straight-forward with Wonder Woman's 'squareness' and it will be cool. At the very least, the filmmakers bringing Wonder Woman to life should follow the example of another film that laid similar groundwork - THOR. If that ridiculous half Shakespeare/half gladiator world can be done with a straight face, so can this one. Yes, some of Wonder Woman is corny with her golden lasso that makes liars tell the truth, but it's no more absurd than Thor's silver hammer. Play it straight and we'll believe in it all.

2.) CAST AN UNKNOWN
Did anyone know who Christopher Reeve was before he appeared in  SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE? How about Chris Hemsworth in THOR? Thus, Wonder Woman should be cast with a terrific actress and not a big star. Let the part make the actress a household name. And let audiences believe she’s the character rather than a pricey A-list actress trying to merely create a cash cow franchise for herself.
The misbegotten costume from David E. Kelly's TV pilot updating WONDER WOMAN
3.) BE FAITHFUL TO THE COMICS
How about giving the writers who’ve succeeded so demonstrably over the years scripting the Wonder Woman comic book series a crack at her origins screenplay? I bet they'd be able to do all sorts of wonders with our woman. For starters, they know the character and storyline inside and out. And that means her origins story needs to be kept intact. Don't re-invent the wheel here. David E. Kelly was new to the Wonder Woman world and he tried to update far too many things, including the costume. And it was a disaster.  

4.) KEEP THE ICONIC COSTUME INTACT
The David E. Kelly debacle brings me to WW's famous costume with that zaftig, golden bustier and her Star-Spangled shorts. I say keep ‘em, love ‘em, cherish them. The iconic wardrobe of hers for the past 60 years needs to stay absolutely in place for any big screen version. Hey, if Christopher Reeve could make wearing red shorts on the outside of blue tights seem believable and even heroic then why can't a good actress rock the WW costume? Of course she can. 

     5.) SHE'S A WOMAN, NOT A MAN
Hollywood should resist the urge to butch our girl up. Look at the JLA animated series rendering above, which did the character very well. She’s not that big or buff. She looks incredibly feminine. The only part of her that’s badass is the attitude. When the going gets tough, Wonder Woman gets going, but she doesn’t need to look like a WWE wrestler or mixed martial athlete to do so. Even Lynda Carter, who was pretty willowy in her way, knew how to be steely and tough when needed. That's Wonder Woman. And modernity should not be forced upon her and make her asexual. Quite the contrary. Wonder Woman defied sexist men in the 40’s who underestimated her, by being strong and incredibly alluring. And she should and easily could do the same to today. A women can remain herself even playing in the 'big boys' world - isn't that the story in Wonder Woman?

Which brings me to one last suggestion that I know Hollywood won’t regard, but they really should:

    6.) KEEP WW IN WWII
Granted, it's hard to keep Wonder Woman as a period piece if you're going to introduce her in the modern day Justice League, but her origins story during World War II was exquisite and should really remain there. Fighting for “the old Red, White & Blue”, as you may remember the lyric said in the old TV show's theme song, was her calling and it added to her all-American appeal. Just as Rosie the Riveter went to work while USA men went overseas to fight, so did Diana Prince. She opted to rise and fight the Axis countries trying to take over the world in her own way. A rather spectacular way. A woman fighting against the bigotry and oppression of fascism is the perfect place for her story.

Wonder Woman will strike a chord with audiences, no matter what period she's in, just as she's done for over half a decade. And her story would comment beautifully on all of the issues facing women in the world today. Let's face it, when a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her own body is still being questioned,  Wonder Woman is needed to champion the cause. Period pieces are always really about the present anyway, so if Wonder Woman’s fight for her rights take place in yesteryear, they're still all about today. 

Wonder Woman isn't that hard of an egg to crack. She's a female super human who cares about truth, justice and the American way. And boy, does she do the job and she looks fine doing it, never losing her strength, beauty or sensitivity as a woman. So Hollywood, go out and find the right unknown actress and do all the things that seem fairly obvious to me as a fan, and you'll have a great character and franchise that all of us will clamor to see.  Wonder Woman is a wonder so give us one worth watching.

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic piece, Jeff! Completely agree!

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  2. Thanks, Colin. Glad you like the essay. And thanks for inspiring it!

    ReplyDelete