Thursday, July 31, 2014

Culture Shock 07.31.14: Wonder Woman plays hard to get

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in "Batman V. Superman:
Dawn of Justice."
For some inexplicable reason, Wonder Woman is a hard sell.

A movie that features a talking raccoon and Vin Diesel portraying a tree? Piece of cake. It's called "Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy," and it opens Friday at a theater near you. But a movie starring an iconic character known the world over? Yeah, I don't know about that. That's a tough nut to crack.

Superman has his own movies. Batman has his own movies. Even Iron Man, who was second-tier at best until Marvel Entertainment took a gamble on Robert Downey Jr., has his own movies.

But Wonder Woman? Too risky. So, Warner Bros. is giving Wonder Woman her big-screen debut as a supporting character in "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice," currently scheduled for release May 6, 2016, depending on who blinks first, WB or Disney. (Disney has staked out the same date for Marvel's third "Captain America" installment. If I were Warner, I'd blink.)

Gal Gadot (of the "Fast & Furious" franchise) won the role, and the first image of Gadot in her Wonder Woman getup debuted this past weekend at Comic-Con in San Diego.

With all the color leached from her costume and a sword in her hand, this is a Wonder Woman who looks more like Xena, Warrior Princess than she does Wonder Woman. Too bad she arrives 15 years too late for Lucy Lawless to play the part.

Is it really so difficult to give us a Wonder Woman who looks and behaves like Wonder Woman? Does she have to look like she just stumbled in from the set of "300"? Given "300" director Zack Snyder is also directing "Batman V. Superman," that's probably a yes. But bringing Wonder Woman to life is something that has baffled Warner Bros. executives for years. They managed to drop the ball even when they had a Joss Whedon script.

The all-around cluelessness when it comes to Wonder Woman extends all the way down WB's corporate pyramid to DC Comics. Apart from William Moulton Marston (her creator) and George Perez (who revamped her in the 1980s), no one seems to have an inkling how to handle Wonder Woman. Recent portrayals in print depict her as a fierce Amazon warrior, which is clearly the direction Snyder's version is headed, too.

This Wonder Woman is more soldier than superhero. Unlike Superman and Batman, she has no rule against killing. It's all far removed from the Wonder Woman most of us grew up with.

If any character should have a moral code prohibiting the taking of human life, it's Wonder Woman. It makes more sense for her than it does even for Superman and Batman.

Although raised among Amazons, Wonder Woman's mission to "Man's World" — her whole reason for being Wonder Woman — is to embody a message of peace. That's explicit from her earliest stories in the 1940s on through most of the '80s. It's one reason why, through most of her comic book adventures, the only "weapon" Wonder Woman carries is her golden Lasso of Truth, which isn't a weapon at all.

I don't think anyone expects Wonder Woman to go back to her roots entirely. And no one — almost no one, anyway — suggests Wonder Woman go back to Marston's risque obsessions with spankings and female supremacy. It's a much simpler request: that Wonder Woman go back to being an optimistic, inspirational figure.

Wonder Woman left her home on Paradise Island, giving up her Amazon sisters and her immortality, to be an example of hope and peace in a war-torn world.

That was relevant during World War II, and it remains relevant today.

But if DC Comics can't figure Wonder Woman out, and if Warner Bros. can't figure her out, maybe it's just as well she isn't starring in a movie of her own. Do audiences more familiar with the heroic icon than the blood-soaked warrior want Warner's dark Wonder Woman? A Wonder Woman movie like that might just flop. (Or not. Who can figure out audiences, anyway?) And Wonder Woman would get the blame, even though the character onscreen wasn't really Wonder Woman.

And the naysayers would say, "See? I told you Wonder Woman was a hard sell."

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