The Wonder Woman movie must be setting some kind of record for most chatter about a movie that hasn’t even been announced yet. I’m as guilty of contributing to that as anyone else, considering my earlier piece for FSR that laid out some of the challenges facing that film. This week’s fuel for blogger speculation comes from some statements made by Thor: The Dark World actress Jaimie Alexander. Her role as badass warrior Sif and her raven hair already made her a frontrunner on many fanboy casting wishlists for Wonder Woman. All it took were a few cryptic statements from her about knowing the basic story of Batman vs. Superman and rumor-mongering sites started spinning stories about how she was a front-runner for the role.
As ridiculous as it is that these rumor crumbs blow up into full-blown scoops, it speaks to how much anticipation there is for a Wonder Woman movie. At this point, such demand is taken so much as a given that I was surprised that I’ve seen little consideration of why people are convinced Wonder Woman merits a feature film. Is it because of the character – or because of what she represents?
I don’t think anyone would deny that Wonder Woman is one of the most instantly recognizable pop culture icons. Her likeness has not only graced comic books, but action figures, Halloween costumes, party decorations, binders, pens, iPhone covers, and a multitude of other marketing tie-ins. There’s also little doubt that the image of Lynda Carter in satin tights left an indelible mark on pop culture. As a brand, her awareness is easily up there with Superman, Batman and Spider-Man.
But is that enough reason to produce a movie? Brand awareness? Isn’t that what got Universal into trouble with BATTLESHIP?
An obvious distinction is that Wonder Woman has an entire mythos attached to her. There’s some 70 years of publication history behind her. Obviously comic book geeks could cite the basics of her origins – and the ways they have been altered over the years – chapter and verse. But how much of that has penetrated its way into pop culture at large? How many people could really describe Wonder Woman’s character?
Let’s try an experiment based on a technique used in Red Letter Media’s video on The Phantom Menace – without referring to her costume or her powers, describe Wonder Woman. Comic book geeks will knock that question out of the park, but does the average Joe know much more about Wonder Woman beyond her being perceived as a female Superman?
There is the fact that she’s the first female superhero and the rare female superhero who isn’t a direct analog to a previously-existing male hero. Supergirl and Batgirl are brand extensions of more well-known male heroes. Wonder Woman stands entirely on her own. Surely at least some of this has to play a role in why so many young women recall idolizing Wonder Woman at an early age.
But is that still enough to merit a Wonder Woman movie? Mickey Mouse certainly has a high level of awareness in pop culture and he has the virtue of being one of the earliest cartoon characters. He’s the mascot of an entire media empire – but does that automatically mean a movie about Mickey Mouse will be compelling? I understand why fans of the comics feel that there’s plenty of meat to a Wonder Woman film, but why does the public at large also seem to share that interest?
My motivation for these questions comes somewhat from the fact that it’s going to be difficult to get a female-driven superhero movie into production. If a Wonder Woman movie opens and fails, that might as well be the death knell for female superhero films for a good long while. “They couldn’t even get people to show up for Wonder Woman,” will be the excuse given for years.
So before Warners commits hundreds of millions of dollars to a project that seems to have a lot of pent-up interest, they owe it to themselves to really examine if Wonder Woman is a viable feature property beyond what she represents as an icon. What about her story will sell tickets? As we have discussed, Wonder Woman comes with a lot of baggage that makes it more challenging to adapt her to the silver screen.
This leads me to ask a question I’ve seen few consider – what’s stopping someone from creating a new female hero? If there really are this many screenwriters, directors and actresses eager to bring a feminine action hero to the screen, why not focus that energy on inventing a new property than exhausting themselves adapting a character whom many others have struggled to get right. It’s not unheard of to launch an original female action franchise – look at the Underworld films. The Kate Beckinsale franchise has produce four films so far. Not bad for a series that wasn’t spawned from a graphic novel or video game.
I understand the desire to see a beloved character adapted to the screen, but I can’t help but wonder if all this energy exherted on getting Wonder Woman on-screen might not be put to better use in creating new female heroes and bringing fresh icons into being. Is a Wonder Woman movie viable if she’s more notable for what she represents than who the character is?
Image courtesy of Jeff Chapman