I recently got into an argument over Wonder Woman.
To be fair to both myself and my friend, neither of us had meant for our discussion to escalate into an argument. Both of us were coming from the same place—that we wanted a Wonder Woman movie already, thank you very much—although she was, at least, more realistic about the obstacles standing in the way of such a project.
Actually, that’s not entirely correct. It’s not that I don’t understand how and why various attempts to bring the character to live-action have failed—it’s that I have trouble accepting them. Saying that the character’s mythological roots are too distancing from mainstream (read: non-nerd) audiences doesn’t hold water for me, given that we’re about to get a second Thor movie. And those who complain that the character is too rooted in a past era are directed to watch Captain America: The First Avenger.
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No, according to my friend, the biggest obstacle to a Wonder Woman movie ever being made is that the character lacks the central narrative anything like those given to her DC Comics compatriots Superman and Batman, resulting in a superhero without a clear purpose or core personality. A strong argument, I must admit, even if I can point to how movies from Marvel Studios often cherry-pick those elements from comic-book histories to create a “movie version” of a character that can engage new audiences.
And I was struck by another thought: Perhaps Wonder Woman is, too much of an icon for adaptation. Maybe the real reason we haven’t seen a live-action Wonder Woman is because she’s … Wonder Woman. Sure, on a story level, Wonder Woman is no different than Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and so on. But in another sense, Wonder Woman is just a little bit more charged than those other characters.
Wonder Woman, after all, is the female superhero to most people. The hardcore comic fans know that’s not actually true, and would possibly delight in telling you about superheroines like Captain Marvel, Power Girl or Valkyrie or any of their crime-fighting sisters. Even those who have never read a comic book could possibly, with a moment or two’s thought, come up with names like Batgirl, Black Widow or Storm from the X-Men movies. Of all of those characters, however, only Wonder Woman has anywhere near the iconic status of a Superman, Batman or Spider-Man.
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That raises the stakes for a potential Wonder Woman movie, in some way. If Man of Steel failed, it would’ve been bad news for Warner Bros and sad for Superman fans, but it wouldn’t have impacted the legion of other superhero movies out there in any way. Same with the next Thor or Captain America movies; they’re just films about those particular characters, with no real weight or importance beyond that. A Wonder Woman movie, however…? That comes with a little bit more baggage.
A Wonder Woman movie would be the first to have a solo superheroine since 2004’s Catwoman, and would have to shoulder the same mentality that argues that, because Sucker Punch flopped in 2011, female-led action movies are too much of a risk for studios (That, despite the success of The Hunger Games). A Wonder Woman movie wouldn’t be seen as “just” a movie about Wonder Woman, but a movie for all female superheroes, under both a microscope for hidden meanings and the sheer, crushing expectation of creating something that is, well, worth what’s now become a noticeable wait for a solo female superhero movie.
What if the difficulty in making a Wonder Woman movie has nothing to do with actually making the movie, but instead is all about coming to terms with the pressures that come from who Wonder Woman is in the metatextual sense. Could it be that making a Wonder Woman movie is just… too scary for most filmmakers to want to attempt?