In an interview on July 24, actress Olivia Munn expressed interest in playing the role of Wonder Woman for the movie adaptation of the Justice League comic book series (http://huff.to/19i0bNw). Munn didn’t think she had much of a chance due to her Chinese-American heritage as well as Hollywood’s proclivity to cast bigger name actresses. Nonetheless, her opinions started an interesting conversation about Wonder Woman on the big screen once again.
To fans of the comic book series, the decades long fight to see Wonder Woman get her own franchise has been terribly frustrating. She’s maintained her popularity in the printed page since 1941 (http://bit.ly/8uooa). And Lynda Carter played her memorably in the popular TV series from the 1970’s. She’s also been rendered well in a number of animated JLA series from Warner Bros. over the past decade or so. So what’s the hold-up with the Cineplex? Catwoman has been on the big screen three times in the last 20 years (http://exm.nr/MOGAoZ) and she’s a villain!
Two big questions seem to have derailed things more often than not. First, was the question of what time period to showcase Wonder Woman in. Her origins story takes place in 1941 and that sort of thing vexes Hollywood execs because they’re adverse to period pieces. They generally believe that modern audiences don’t relate to narratives taking place in yesteryear. The second issue has mostly to do with sexism and the question of whether or not Wonder Woman is an antiquated role model in her skimpy costume that accentuates her bust and legs. Lynda Carter succeeded in the role and was busty and tall but that was a different time, the critics argue. They’ll tell you that Wonder Woman looks more like a Playboy pin-up in that tight and revealing outfit. So should a tougher, more androgynous female superhero be the route to go in our more ‘evolved’ world?
Because of such concerns, the drawings of Wonder Woman have become increasingly buff over the years in her comic stories. Today, some even think an athlete should play her. But athletes are not always the greatest of actors so that’s a tough gamble even if a jock looks the part. And are their big name actresses in Hollywood that could be both virtuous and strong, sexy and tough? It’s a hard part in many ways.
Lynda Carter was pretty terrific in the role, albeit one in which she was asked to run in high heeled boots. (Ah, the 70’s and those ‘jiggle’ shows.) Carter was no jock, but she did bring a endearing earnestness to the whole shebang that was similar to the straight-forward take by Christopher Reeve when he took on the role of Superman in 1978. Carter also had a cool and quiet authority to her as well. So who’s similar to that today?
Some thought Catherine Zeta-Jones would have been perfect for the role…10 years ago. She’s likely too old for it now, but she seemed to project the right mix of femininity and strength at the time. Sandra Bullock has spunk but is perhaps too mature now as well. Charlize Theron fits the bill but would she do a role like Wonder Woman? A few years ago, when Megan Fox was the hottest young actress in Hollywood, her name was bandied about, but now she seems more like a second tier choice. Is Olivia Wilde too gorgeous? Is Aussie hurdler Michele Jenneke too unknown? Is Kate Winslet too serious?
These kinds of questions have plagued all who’ve attempted to launch the property, including some of Hollywood’s biggest and best talents like J.J. Abrams and David E. Kelly. Kelly famously tried to do a TV adaptation a few years back, updated for today’s world, with Wonder Woman in a ridiculous get-up even more cheesy and cheesecake than the original designs from the 40’s. That costume, along with the whole venture, was deemed too awful to ever show on TV.
One thing important to remember when approaching the story of Wonder Woman is that she is remarkably similar to Superman. Like him, she’s stronger than regular folks and has extraordinary powers that truly make her something special, like her cat-like reflexes that give her the ability to deflect bullets with her golden bracelets. And like Superman playing Clark Kent, she’s hiding in plain sight too, pretending to be one of us. And there’s a charm to her in pulling one over on us mere mortals. Heck, she even flies a custom-made invisible plane which is incredibly weird, yet cool.
With so much rich character and story there to work with, perhaps Hollywood is over-thinking this whole thing. I’d argue that if Hollywood follows five simple tracks, the success of Wonder Woman as part of the JLA team or as the head of her own movie franchise will succeed.
Keep Wonder Woman Earnest
As stated earlier, the success of the TV series in the 70’s was due largely to it being rendered irony-free. Granted, the world is very cynical these days, but Wonder Woman should not be. She can be still be strong and smart, even witty, without being naive. Lynda Carter made goodness seem incredibly fun and sexy. This version should too.
Cast an unknown
Did anyone know who Christopher Reeve was before “Superman: The Movie”? How about Chris Hemsworth in “Thor”? Wouldn’t it be better to cast a great actress for Wonder Woman then and not just a known star? Let the part make her a household name. And let audiences believe she’s the character rather than a pricey A-list actress trying to create a franchise for herself.
Be faithful to the comic
Give the writers who’ve succeeded at writing the Wonder Woman comic book series so successfully take a crack at the screenplay. They’re able to do all sorts of wonders with her already and know her character and story intimately.
Keep the iconic costume
About that famous golden bustier and those Star-Spangled shorts…keep ‘em, love ‘em, revel in ‘em. That iconic wardrobe of 70 years needs to stay intact. Christopher Reeve made the red underwear worn on the outside work so shouldn’t a capable actress be able to do the same with Wonder Woman’s revealing costume?
Remember she’s Wonder Woman, not Wonder Man
Resist the urge to butch her up. When the going gets tough, Wonder Woman gets going, but she doesn’t need to look like a WWE wrestler or mixed martial athlete to do so. And modernity should not make her asexual. Quite the contrary. Wonder Woman defied those who would discriminate against her because of her femininity in the 40’s. She would still fight such oppression today.
Wonder Woman is a hero for anyone who’s ever been underestimated or judged by their cover. That’s all of us at some point in our lives. And that’s why her time on the big screen has come. She’d resonate with so many, particularly women of course. With the debate over woman’s rights, women’s pay, and their access to birth control still being debated, Wonder Woman’s time couldn’t be more timely. She’s not only fighting for the ‘Ol’ Red, White & Blue’, she’s fighting for women, for minorities, for all of us. Get us out from under, Wonder Woman.