Maybe 'Wonder Woman' just shouldn't get a TV show OR a movie

wonder_woman

Image Credit: DC Comics

After long months of development, a very public production phase, and relentless back-and-forth waves of online buzz and counterbuzz and double-reverse-counterbuzz, the verdict is in: Wonder Woman will not be a TV show. At least not on NBC. David E. Kelley’s TV reboot now joins Joss Whedon’s film in the dustbin of Wonder Woman projects that never were. (And that dustbin is already quite full — check out EW’s full report on Wonder Woman’s tangled web of unfinished film projects.) This won’t be the end. As reported by the LA Times, the new President of Warner Bros. wants to get all the Justice League superheroes on the big screen, so it’s entirely possible that we will see a real flesh-and-blood actress playing the most iconic female superhero sometime in the next decade.

But putting aside the financial benefit, maybe we comic book fans should take this latest disappointment as a lesson. Maybe Wonder Woman just shouldn’t get a TV show, or a movie, or any live-action adaptation. It’s simply impossible to imagine any take on the project that can address the character’s fundamental problem: She is meant to be an inspiring feminist icon, but she represents a vast array of things that feminism despises. By which I mean, she dresses like a stripper.

Or maybe it’s more fair to say that strippers dress like Wonder Woman. We are getting into complex territory when we talk about Wonder Woman and modern sexuality, because the character has variously defined and been defined by seven decades of extremely confusing cultural evolution. Updating the character for a modern audience isn’t simply a matter of rejiggering her timeline — like having Iron Man taken prisoner by Middle Eastern rebels instead of Vietnamese soldiers — or replacing a radioactive spider with a genetically-engineered spider. Wonder Woman’s creator — the brilliant polymath William Moulton Marston — created her with a purpose: He wanted her to be a liberated, forward-thinking woman character, something that was dreadfully absent in a comic book world dominated by dudes in capes. But Wonder Woman’s original incarnation can’t help but look square today. (She was the Justice Society’s freaking secretary.)

I’m not saying that Marston was a closet sexist. The 1940s were a different time. Various writers have certainly done their best to update Wonder Woman throughout her long history. But there is an unresolved paradox at the center of Wonder Woman’s history. She is the most famous female superhero, and there is every reason to be proud of the fact that she is considered an equal to Superman and Batman. But she also perfectly represents a whole assortment of fundamental problems with the treatment of women in comic books. Let’s not forget: The mainstream comic world is dominated, in readership and authorship, by men.

You could reasonably argue that even bringing Wonder Woman’s sexuality to the table is itself sexist. Certainly, Angelina Jolie has made a career out of playing essentially androgynous action hero roles (most famously in Salt, which was originally a Tom Cruise project.) You could give Wonder Woman a similar desexualized treatment. The latest reboot of the character mostly wiped away the whole “Island of Women” origin story, replacing it with a Jason Bourne-style search for identity. Joss Whedon told EW that he side-stepped a feminist take on the material, focusing instead on a tale of corporate chicanery.

And that’s fine. But that’s not Wonder Woman, not really. The character is supposed to be a proud exemplar of forward-looking womanhood. To ignore that fact means just turning her into another action hero. Not to mention the fact that just dressing Wonder Woman is an impossible proposition. Either you go classical and put her in a steel American-flag bikini, or you give her pants and somehow make her look even more ridiculous. There’s also the not-inconsiderable fact that Wonder Woman is supposed to be a truly physically imposing lady, while action heroines in modern Hollywood trend toward lean, Jolie-types like Olivia Wilde or Zoe Saldana. (In this, you have to give credit to Kelley for castin: Adrienne Palicki was at least a foot taller than any of the guys on Friday Night Lights.)

Believe me: I badly want there to be a Wonder Woman movie, a film that captures the character’s playfulness, her code of honor, her proud sexuality, and her plain old fashioned badassery. But it’s incredibly difficult to imagine any Hollywood project capturing that mix, especially in these anxious times when even R-rated movies can barely approach the topic of human sexuality. There are plenty of other great female characters in comic books who deserve bigscreen adaptations: Death from Sandman, say, or the Wonder Woman-inspired Promethea. I didn’t think much of the Birds of Prey TV series, but the idea of those three characters working together feels like it could inspire something better.

Maybe I’m just cynical. Future screenwriters can certainly try to reboot Wonder Woman backwards and forwards. You can give her a real human job besides “being a superhero.” (She was a nurse back in the ’40s, which according to the Jane Foster Principle of Occupational Evolution would make her an astrophysicist now.) You can give her the Dark Knight treatment and make her a killer. You could even set the movie in the ’60s and make her a feminist activist, racing against the clock to stop an assassination attempt on Betty Friedan. (Hey, is that really crazier than sending in a crack team of mutants into the Cuban Missile Crisis?) You can even do the absolutely correct thing and cast Beyonce as Wonder Woman. But I wouldn’t hold out much hope for the movie being particularly good. Comic books and Hollywood don’t have a good history with female characters; It’s hard to imagine that their union could do right by Wonder Woman.

PopWatchers, am I wrong? Do you think there’s a legitimate onscreen take on Wonder Woman that honors her complex history without turning her into some sort of renegade Charlie’s Angel?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Comments (82 total) Add your comment
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  • barock

    EW sure knows how to find ‘em

    • Damian Terrata

      darkknight hit it on the head. I couldn’t agree more. When the initial response to the promo shots came out I was more than surprised that they took a character so strongly entrenched in Greek Mythology and made her “LA”…bad move. Her origin IS her story. It IS the reason why she is a WARRIOR of PEACE. The contradiction of speaking and teaching peace but snapping your neck if need be is exactly what a soldier must do and I see that as the conflict of the character. I’ll give that can be a very hard sell but the majority of the public that is not a WW fan can only go based on what they may have grown up with…the Super-Friends and the WW show with the ever perfect Lynda Carter…2 VERY watered down versions of the character but I was in front of the tv whenever she was on. But let’s see…if it weren’t for WW there would never have been a Xena, Buffy, Ripley, or Lara Croft. Why is WB making this more difficult than it has to be?? In my opinion the essential WW viewing is the animated Justice League program or the animated WW movie from ’09. The writer’s of those incarnations made her a princess, woman, goddess, warrior, friend, jaded/loving/big sister/every little boy’s crush/and more importantly, the symbol of what she is…a figure that girls aspire to be…a compassionate, take charge woman living in a new world. They brought out her peaceful nature as a woman living as a fish out of water in a world she was exiled from to the true warrior she is. Interesting thing about NBC’s WW is that they have NO IDEA who they are dealing with. WW has a built in audience. She is known the world over. You don’t need to ‘revamp’ a character who’s survived 70 years. There’s a reason why we all know who she is. Simple word. Icon. Keeping true to the roots is giving the fans what we want. Clever casting (an UNKNOWN for the role…remember, WW IS the star) and, dare I say, a script that not only keeps the fans happy but allows for the growth of new admirers is what will help this character become an even bigger franchise. As far as her appearance, it’s a no brainer. She wears armor, not a costume. The comics have delved into many different variations of her signature look. I see elements of Troy, Xena, Clash Of The Titans with the ‘old red, white, and blue’ in there and you’ve got it. Why is this so difficult??? I am very anxious to see WW back on the screen, but not unless it’s done correctly. She deserves better treatment.

      • Sacto1525

        Damian, AMEN!! I think Warner Brothers should have taken the _excellent_ direct-to-video movie and used that as a basis for a new animated TV series to be shown on Cartoon Network. That movie was very true in spirit to the origin of the character, and would have worked as a pilot episode for such a series.

  • darkknightboston

    I think you need to tackle Wonder Woman like Marvel did with Thor. You have to legitimize her via her origin and use that heavily weather it be a movie or as a tv show. You could also tackle it like the did with Smallville. Maybe give her memory loss as a teen in a foster or adoptive parents and slowly learning over time she has this inner strength and she slowly becomes wonder woman. You could do the whole t-shirt vs costume thing. I am not sure way these big hollywood writers have such a difficult time with the stories and creation of these characters. It can be done and if anyone of these hollywood heavy weights wants more of my ideas then please respond to me. I could easily make this work and turn it into a huge success. I think most fans of superheros could!

    • hoganbcmj

      I agree.

      • Christopher DC

        I can’t agreen with Darren Franich’s opinion that Wonder Woman can no longer succeed as a TV series or a movie. She’s every bit as viable as she ever was; her message of equality and tolerance for all people is every bit as vaild now as it was in 1941, and arguably even more necessary. The key to her translation is to embrace the very things that make her unique and special: she is a princess from a lost society of women warriors, who has superhuman abilities further augmented by magical gadgetry, who fearlessly stands against injustice yet sees herself as being a teacher and ambassador as much as a crime-fighter. Any TV or film writer who is serious about bringing Wonder Woman to life should worry less about “modernizing” her and simply focus on keeping her exactly as she is; the odds are very strong that if her origins are respected, a strong story will appear as a result (look to the outstanding “Wonder Woman” animated movie as evidence of this). As to all the fuss about her costume (or lack of one, if you prefer), David Kelley tried to change it, only to be met by a merciless backlash by the character’s fans. As Les Daniels so ably pointed out in his “Wonder Woman: A Complete History” book, most of the people who find Wonder Woman sexist and demand changes in her costume are not true comic-book fans, and would not watch a Wonder Woman live-action project regardless of what kind of changes were made (and I think we can safely put Mr. Franich in that camp as well). I doubt there would be so much interest if bringing Wonder Woman back to TV if the character had truly become as outdated as Mr. Franich implies. But for any live-action project to succeed, there must be an honest attempt to stay true to the character’s history, origins, motivations–and yes, her costume (or at least a modified-yet-recognitional version of it). One last thing about Mr. Franish’s article: he claims towards the end of it that he’d really like to see Wonder Woman return, yet he spends 90% of the article arguing why she shouldn’t. Pick a side, why don’t you?!

      • Hino

        just aren’t doing it right! If you want to win at the weight loss game, fill your life with NEAT atcivity and exercise, but don t forget your diet (diet is 80% of the weight loss picture and the

    • We Killed Wonder Woman

      No, no no…10 years of building up to being Wonder Woman? No. Been there, done that with Smallville. Don’t need to do it again.

  • Kelly Mack

    I can’t believe he just tried to argue that Angelina Jolie action characters are desexualized….

    • lebeau

      I think the idea is that her character in Salt could have just as easily been a male role (as it was originally written). But Jolie’s sex appeal is undeniably a selling point of her action films.

  • JJ

    Darren, your article only serves to highlight what people do NOT understand about the character. WW’s is no ridiculous than a guy who sticks to blds, a guy puts computers in a leaky cave, a guy who wears underwear with a belt OVER a leotard with a cape.
    The Lynda Carter show has already provided us with an example the character CAN be translated. Fault it for it’s 70’s scripts but Lynda, the costume, etc. all worked.
    No one levels this scrutiny at the MANY failures of Batman/Superman: Superman IV, Supergirl, Batman & Robin, etc. They’ve gotten 2nd and 3rd chances with quality directors so give WW her shot!
    Whedon and Kelley did NOT get the character because they over thought it. Go read the George Perez reboot. There’s your script right there. Done. Quit overthinking this Hollywood.

    • hoganbcmj

      agreed!

    • K

      No one’s complaining about how silly WW’s powers are, or how dumb her costume is. The complaint is about what she represents and how that is portrayed…and count me among the women who loves and admires WW’s badassery, but utterly loathes what Drren so accurately described as her “stripper” costume. Seriously. The heaving bosom barely contained within the strapless bathing suit is AWFUL, in my opinion. She can be sexually liberated and okay with her sexuality and all that…but that doesn’t mean she needs to be just a piece of T&A for guys to ogle. It’s like…I LOVE Big Barda. But I HATE that she keeps ending up in a red bikini. She is more than her awesome body, but the clothing doesn’t seem to reflect that. Same with WW.

      • TheRealEverton

        A lot of people are comaining about her costume, a lot. Because it us stupid and it does need to be fixed. Effectively a swim suit with (explainable) stupid colours and stars.

      • KayEm

        This is fantastically well put, K, I agree.

        I love Big Barda too, by the way! I am crossing my fingers she appears sometime soon–maybe in Birds of Prey.

    • Sacto1525

      JJ, I think the George Perez-written origin of the WW character would have made for an _excellent_ TV series. The first 51 issues of that “recton”–written to make the character fit the post-“Crisis on Infinite Earths” continuity–is still one of the best run of comics I’ve read in years.

  • GiantSizeGeek

    William Moulton Marston was a complex individual. He created Wonder Woman to be a figurehead of women’s liberation and empowerment. On the other hand, Marston was into bondage and a lot of WW covers featured her tied up by villains.

    A lot of girls still see Wonder Woman in the Justice League cartoons or even the old Lynda Carter series and get a kick out of seeing a powerful female beating the heck out of bad guys. I think it still deserves to be remade into a TV show or movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Smallville type of treatment where she doesn’t even wear the costume at first but some sort of homage to it.

  • Monty

    After reading about the new show’s failure to get a pick-up at NBC, I went over to Wikipedia to get a run down of the character. I agree with pretty much everything you said. I think that the character is basically Grandfathered into the comics world, in that she is accepted now because she’s been around for decades, but if she was a new character that DC put out today it would be laughable. Her lasso makes people tell the truth! She was an amazonian pricess! No, she was made of Clay!

    It seems she really suffers for having a poor excuse for an origin. It seems impossible to introduce her character to a new audience while similtaniously honoring her past. I agree that it shouldn’t be put out until it is done right, but I’ll be damned if I know how to do it and keep your credibility. Her powers and magical accessories seem to change with whatever situation she is put into. For the time being, keep her character leading cartoon movies or participating in ensamble live action movies like the Justice League where you don’t have to specifically tell her background story. But by all means, if someone out there developes a good story and a credible background for her, do a movie.

    • Monty

      Obviously I wasn’t a reader of the WW comics (going to wikipedia for any valid info is dangerous), but I am a comic book fan. I was more into Spiderman, Batman and the X-Men. So if she has a more concrete background or stories worth reading, please feel free to enlighten me. Personally, I think that the lasso of truth, the ever changing powers, and the costume (that looks way better on paper than in real life) place the character on shakey ground for a life outside comics and cartoons.

      • TheRealEverton

        Fact is hardly anyone reads her cOmics. Well known and popular are NOT the same thing. It has nothing to do with her being female either, assuring sales for Buffy comics attest.

  • Bruce L

    The costume, to me, is a no-brainer. Superhero costumes inspired by Greek mythological warrior garb aren’t exactly rocket surgery; just give her one that makes use of the classic color scheme and “WW” breastplate, and you’re set.

    There’s also no need to make use of every one of the billion or so contradictory premises of her 60-plus-year history. (They don’t do it with Superman or Batman; why would they do it with Wonder Woman?) DC has been giving us versions of their characters (WW included) that boil them down only to their best aspects in their animated series for decades. They can do it for movies, too, if they want to.

  • Rob Grizzly

    I think a Wonder Woman adaptation should embrace the fantasy/mythological elements, and I don’t see why trying a Game-of-Thrones type approach wouldn’t work. Looking at shows like that, Spartacus and Camelot, it seems adapting her Amazonian roots (and costumes) wouldn’t be such a big stretch for audiences.

    • hoganbcmj

      completely agree. We are seeing this kind of mythology based series all over the tube these days. Wonder Woman seems like a no-brainer. She is not a teenager from the city, she is an Amazonian warrior with connections deeply rooted in Greek god mythology. There you go.

  • Marian Rivera Asian Primetime Queen

    Darna, a comicbook female superhero in the Philippines who was created way before Wonder Woman was successfully shown on Philippine TV as a daily fantasy soap twice 5 years in between! Wonder Woman can do that!

    • jj

      I remember Darna and that was a great show I agree that they could do that with Wonder Woman.

  • hoganbcmj

    The best indication we have that a Wonder Woman TV show (or movie) could work was Zena. I think they need to quit worrying about the feminist angle and just do a serious take on her connection to the Greek gods. If she is an intelligent, proud female warrior, it shouldn’t matter what she wears. Men will continue to lust after her, but will have no choice but to respect her power and competence. The Wonder Woman I know wouldn’t even give those lust-filled puny human men the dignity of acknowledging their existence. She would just move past them and proceed to kicking butt. If they can do Thor well, they should be able to do Wonder Woman too.

  • KStewart

    No one wants to state the obvious. The actress they chose isn’t Wonder Woman material. You can’t just put any girl with a nice rack on a bustier and expect to get the amazon superhero… Think and solve: Linda Carter + bad special effects + subpar storyline = Unforgettable Wonder Woman… Find the right actress to play it and the rest will follow.

    • LLisola

      totally agreed w/Kstewart

  • Eric Nath

    I think Wonder Woman, like Superman, may do best in an ensemble cast where there characters really shine in context of other heroes. I think a Justice League movie, and then a Wonder Woman spin off may be a better way to go. Sometimes, these heroes are so “above” everyday relatedness, that to bring them back they need a social and relational context.

  • Sean

    Personally, I think they absolutely nailed Wonder Woman on the DCAU shows Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. It was a perfect encapsulation of just about every aspect of her backstory and character. They even managed to find a way for her to go on WWII adventures with Steve Trevor. Any further adaptations of the character would have to work pretty hard to overcome all that.

    • Dylan

      I completely agree! Most people tend to ignore animation, but the DCAU is the best representation we have in a television/film medium of DC Comics characters.

    • TheRealEverton

      But she still wore the star spangled swim suit. Character good, costume awful and that does have tobe addressed.

  • Jone

    I hope that they’ll make a movie on Hawk Girl

  • We Killed Wonder Woman

    Yes, we did. People gotta be picking nits all the time on every little thing. The costume was fixed. The stories would’ve been fixed if they strayed into WTF territory. We did a bang up job ourselves clobbering the WW revival.

    • Mr. Wonderful

      We are such a sexist society. Why is it that Wonder Woman’s origin is any more ridiculous than an Asgardian god bound on Earth? Or a man who creates a suit of Armor that allows him to fly and shoot laser beams from his hands? A man who has a belt that just happens to have the answer to any predicament he falls into? Just stop it people! Stop it Hollywood! What’s the big problem with Wonder Woman’s costume? If you were raised on a tropical island with nothing but women would you be concerned about cleavage or showing your legs? Would you find it sexist? Wonder Woman is not the American ideal of feminism? Feminism is what she represents because of where she comes from. Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and most recently the latest incarnation of Nikita have all shown that a kickass female lead can be successful. The key is a great story and a wonderful lead. Adrianne Palicki was a wonderful choice for Wonder Woman but according to every sounding board that had this project doomed from the beginning, the production was bad. I will never know because I didn’t get the opportunity to see it for myself and hopefully one day in bootleg heaven or on demand I will. This project can be done, heck I can write it!

      • Rob Mars

        The hyperbole over this is absurd. Absolutely the project is doable; in fact, it’s not even difficult. Just give WW the same serious, respectful treatment you would any other iconic superhero. That starts with casting. You want someone who fits the part, ie, a formidable-looking woman. We don’t use stick actors to play supermen, and the rules don’t change for superwomen. Here, then, is where I disagree–Adrianne Palicki was NOT a wonderful choice. Instead, putting an athletic actress, one with heft and imposing physical presence, in the role would signal that it’s a serious project for a serious character. (It helps the costume issues, too.) This notion isn’t a novel one, either. The very same–expressed by men and women both–has been remarkably easy to find virtually from the day the Kelley project was announced. But did anyone in charge listen? Evidently not.

      • Mr. Wonderful

        You are obviously not looking at the same pictures I saw circulating on the internet. A 5’11” athletic woman who can act with attractive strong features is definitely the wrong choice to play Wonder Woman. Please take note of sarcasm.

      • Rob Mars

        That requires a very generous definition of “athletic,” more than many of us are willing to grant. I’ve seen the same pictures, and probably many more. She’s rail thin and has no muscle tone whatsoever. Only in the backwaters of Hollywood could that in any way be considered an “athletic” look for a woman.

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