She Has No Head! – The Problem With Wonder Woman
Let’s cut to the chase, there isn’t one.
Unless it’s lack of balls…and you can take that either way you like. That she can’t catch a break because she doesn’t have literal balls like her male counterparts or because DC/WB/Hollywood/Whoever Is Really In Charge of These Things don’t have the metaphorical balls to simply make her damn movie.
And why not? Frozen and Catching Fire are blowing the doors off at the box office and nobody cares that they have female leads. They just care that they’re damn good movies. Smart movies. Movies that respect their characters and their audiences. And in the case of Catching Fire a movie that is vehemently faithful to its source material.
But we still somehow live in a world where “whoever is in charge of these things” thinks the best way to introduce Wonder Woman to the world is as a bit part in Superman/Batman.
And listen, I’ll grant you that there’s a ton we still don’t know, for example:
Question: How big will Wonder Woman’s part be in Superman/Batman?
General Answer: We have no idea.
My Answer: Anything short of her name being the name of the movie is less than we deserve.
Question: Will it even be called Superman/Batman or Superman vs. Batman or some variation on that?
General Answer: We don’t know, though it seems likely considering the way it was introduced at SDCC 2013.
My Answer: See my previous answer. If it’s not called Wonder Woman it’s not the place for Wonder Woman to debut.
Question: What if this movie turns into Justice League, not Superman/Batman? Is that better?
General Answer: That’s unlikely (let us not forget this image from SDCC 2013 – seems like they just would have broken out the Justice League Logo were that going to be the case). But sure, it could happen and it’s slightly better.
My Answer: See my previous answers. If it’s not called Wonder Woman, it’s not how Wonder Woman should first appear. Is Wonder Woman debuting in Justice League better than her debuting in Superman/Batman? Yes, definitely, but only slightly, it still doesn’t solve any of our problems.
My Answer: That ultimately the people in charge of these things have no respect for Wonder Woman and no confidence in her power.
Question: But Black Widow debuted this way – and you yourself said how smart that was – building her up – setting her up for a movie. Why is this different?
My Answer: Black Widow isn’t Wonder Woman. Full Stop. Wait, not full stop, I want to elaborate. Black Widow simply isn’t (wasn’t?) known to mainstream audiences the way Wonder Woman is — little girls don’t wear Black Widow underoos. There aren’t tons of cartoons starring her, and birthday party plates with her face plastered on them, toys for every age. Black Widow doesn’t (usually or for long) have her own comic book. Black Widow hasn’t been around for more than 70 years. She needed that slower introduction to the world at large. Wonder Woman needs no such thing, and it’s insulting that those in charge think she does.
It’s doubly insulting that Green Lantern (nothing against the guy but he’s not a part of the DC Trinity) got a movie before Wonder Woman and that Flash probably will too. And that Marvel is managing to get a talking superhero raccoon on screen before Wonder Woman is just like rubbing salt in the wounds.
There’s nothing tricky or problematic about Wonder Woman and neither should there be anything tricky or problematic about getting her story on film, at least not trickier than her male superhero counterparts. Add to all of this that it’s endlessly frustrating that everyone feels like if “whoever is in charge” doesn’t get it right the first time out of the gate with a Wonder Woman movie then not only is Wonder Woman sunk, but superheroines everywhere are sunk.
Bull. Superman and Batman get seemingly infinite tries. So does The Hulk. And Wolverine. Lady superheroes are no different and it would be great if box office successes like Catching Fire and Frozen could help these people understand that the audience cares far less about the gender of the hero they’re watching and far MORE that it’s actually a good film. As I (and many others) have said so many times before – Catwoman and Elektra are failures not because they star women, but because they are shitty movies.
But I’ve said all this before. So have others. Why the post?
Well, last week the world split open and ate itself (or something) with the announcement of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in the “sequel to Man of Steel” otherwise known as a movie maybe called Superman vs. Batman (depending on who you ask, it’s possible that nobody really knows, except maybe Batman, because, well, that dude knows everything).
Anyway, like everyone else and their grandmother and three most distant cousins, I wanted to write about this development. But I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say about it, especially since I knew dozens of better columns would be written well before I got my shot at it.
And then on Thursday I finally got a chance to see Catching Fire and everything I wanted to say snapped into focus. Wonder Woman through the lens of a brave new Catching Fire-world.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. The casting. Personally, I’m fine with it. Is it who I would have ideally cast? No. That list has ranged from Gemma Arterton and Jennifer Lawrence (more on the latter later) to Gina Torres and Morena Baccarin (both probably considered to old to be cast as a Wonder Woman that has to anchor a franchise, and fair enough, time, she is a bitch).
As for the body shaming. Seriously, people? I can’t believe I even have to address this, but since I do let me first shame you in all caps. SHAME. There. This shouldn’t ever even have to be discussed, but since the internet is the WORST. NEIGHBORHOOD. EVER, let’s start with the fact that actors transform for roles all the time. We all know this. Let’s not act like idiots that have never seen movies before (along with douchebags that think it’s okay to shame how women look). I hope they WILL transform Gadot as my personal version of Wonder Woman is super buff (and taller than just about everyone, including Superman) but technically Diana is magically strong so she doesn’t HAVE to be buff. I’ll be super sad if she’s not, I’ll feel “they” have made the wrong decision, but I won’t be terribly surprised.
Also, Gadot is 5’9” if IMDB can be believed, which is reasonably tall for a woman, and more than reasonably tall for an actress (and the same height as Jamie Alexander) so that’s pretty acceptable, it’s not as if they went out and cast someone 5’2”. Besides, if Diana is going to be the tall Amazonian badass she SHOULD be (which I doubt they will bother with, unfortunately) they were going to have to do that with effects anyway. There are VERY few actresses over 6 feet tall out there. And we want a good actress more than we want someone who just “looks the part,” right?
So moving away from ridiculous body shaming, is the concern about Gadot’s experience. I get it. I get why people are freaked out by it. It suggests to many a lack of respect for Diana that she gets someone who has mostly played a sexy ingénue side character in a cotton candy action franchise while other roles are cast with big time stars and sometimes Oscar winners. But there is also a great precedent for unusual casting choices (Ledger, Keaton) and relative unknowns (Reeve) wowing us on screen. I try my best (though I sometimes fail <cough>Affleck<cough>) not to back-seat drive when it comes to casting. We aren’t in the room. We can’t really know. Maybe she absolutely killed the auditions?
And this is another place where we can relate casting directly back to “things we have learned from Catching Fire.” Hunger Games fans were LIVID at the casting of Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair. Fans had a point that Jesse Williams would have been a perfect Finnick, and so that felt like a missed opportunity, especially given the race issues surrounding the casting process for Hunger Games. A cast like Williams probably would have gone a long way toward mending the hurt there. But after seeing Catching Fire? Claflin was exceptional as Finnick. He was simply wonderful, he was that character perfectly realized in human form. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing it better.
The moral of the story is, it’s REALLY hard to backseat drive on these things, and better for us all that we don’t, or that we at least try to remain reasonable and somewhat open-minded.
More to the point with Wonder Woman, in my opinion, is it’s pretty hard to cast an Oscar winning or A-List actress for a bit part in a movie headlined by two male superheroes. I’m sure Gadot has been signed on for the potential “3 picture deal” – likely including this movie, a Justice League movie, and a possible Wonder Woman movie – but that’s a whole lot of uncertainty. If I’m an A-list actress I would definitely consider stepping on the landmine that Wonder Woman COULD be if there’s already a great script and director attached. You know how I won’t touch that role? As a supporting character in two big movies in which I am not the star and with a potential movie in five or six (or more!) years that has no script and no director. Yeah, I’m not touching that for ALL the money. Could they have gotten someone “smaller” than say a Jennifer Lawrence and “bigger” than a Gal Gadot, I’m sure they could have, but again, we’re not in the audition. Maybe Gadot really was the best there was at what she did (Wolveriiiinnnnnne!)
So, yeah, if you don’t want Gadot as your Wonder Woman, that’s fair, but you should probably be pissed about more important things than the idea that they “cast the wrong actress” – you should be pissed that Wonder Woman will first be appearing on the silver screen in the hands of Zack Snyder a director not known for his “fine work with female characters” and that they’re tossing her into Superman/Batman as a supporting role, rather than letting Wonder Woman be Wonder Woman in her own film. It’s honestly something that should have happened a couple years ago, but there’s certainly no excuse for that movie not being in the works now, considering the current climate.
When it comes to thinking about directors and what an impact they make, Catching Fire again leads the conversation. Just look at Hunger Games vs. Catching Fire or as I like to call it, “what a difference a director makes!” Hunger Games was an okay movie, I liked it. It was a decent adaptation too. But it’s not a movie I wanted to see multiple times, not one I was going to opt to buy on Blu-ray. I just saw Catching Fire last Thursday and every single day since I have thought about going back to watch it again. It will be an instant buy on Blu-ray.
The big change to this film? New director and since the previous director also wrote the first film, new writers as well. And what a difference it has made. While Gary Ross did a reasonable job with Hunger Games, the biggest lack for me as a reader and viewer was a missing emotional component. Despite Jennifer Lawrence’s very strong acting chops, and a solid performance, the script, and the way the movie eventually came together did not capitalize on those emotions that are so powerful in the book. By contrast, director Francis Lawrence was able to highlight those incredible emotional beats in the second book, turning the movie and its heroine into an incredibly complex and layered woman. I’m not a big crier (though more so now in my 30’s than in my 20’s) and I cried like five times in Catching Fire. Not open sobbing or anything (it’s not that kind of movie) but that kind of “oh my god, there are tears leaking out of my goddman eyes” kind of crying. It happened over and over again because director Lawrence knew just how to pitch the emotional roller coaster that is Catching Fire and he coaxed a particularly magnificent performance out of his actors, most especially, Jennifer Lawrence.
As a writer, I obviously like to think that writers mean a lot, that they make a difference. But in filmmaking, at the end of the day, the director is king. And Zack Snyder has a terrible history with female characters. While I enjoy his Dawn of the Dead remake, everything else of his I’ve seen (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and Man of Steel) have problematic female characters that are frequently fetishized and rarely feel remotely real.
That’s a problem in any scenario, but it’s particularly a problem for a character like Wonder Woman that already comes with a fair amount of fetish, and is frequently called things like “too perfect” “unrelatable” and “cold.” There was a time (before I fell in love with her) that I felt some of those things too. There’s a lot of false perception surrounding Wonder Woman, and her best bet to be compelling on film is in the hands of a director who has proven that he can make characters (including women) human and relatable, emotional and real, powerful and heroic. Not one with Snyder’s track record. To be honest, Sucker Punch alone should serve as a instant veto when thinking of putting the words Wonder Woman and Zack Snyder together in a sentence. But I won’t drone on about this, smarter people (and those who know far more about directing/filmaking) than I do have written better pieces. Go forth and read those.
And here we are back where we started. Why isn’t the first movie we’re seeing Wonder Woman in, called WONDER WOMAN? It’s just plain wrongheaded and backwards thinking. There are a ton of people online that are trying to see the glass half full, and I’m glad they can do that, more power to them. But I am WEARY. ALL CAPS WEARY. I’m weary of having to say things like “AT LEAST” when I utter a sentence that refers to Wonder Woman. “Well, at least she’s finally going to be on the big screen.” “At least this means she’ll be in a Justice League movie.” “At least this means maybe someday we’ll get a movie.” (not true!) “At least she’s unlikely to be left on the cutting room floor after such a big deal has been made of all this.”
BULLSHIT. All of it.
There’s not a good goddamn reason we don’t have a Wonder Woman movie in production RIGHT NOW.
Sure there’s risk. There is ALWAYS risk. Movies are incredibly expensive and incredibly complex productions, and producers/studios/everyone loves it when you can minimize that risk. But putting together a good film that happens to be called Wonder Woman is less risky than ever, and movies like Catching Fire and Frozen just further highlight the BOATLOADS OF CASH that Warners are leaving at the table. They could have gotten there first – since they have one of the most iconic, recognizable, and powerful female protagonists in the world at their fingertips – but they were afraid. They could have blazed new trails and they didn’t. Now the best we’ll be able to get is a great movie that happens because a whole bunch of other people got their first and proved it could be done.
But honestly? I’ll take that. Any Wonder Woman fan will.
But the fans aren’t the problem. We were always going to show up to Wonder Woman. It’s the much larger mainstream audience that is gorging on (and will eventually O.D. on) superhero movies right now. That perfect storm is not going to last (hell, you can make an argument that it’s already peaked). The time for a Wonder Woman movie is now. Not five years down the road, not ten.
And it ain’t as a guest star in a movie called Superman/Batman by a director who has a long history of trouble delivering powerful female characters to the screen.