5 Jan 2008

Wonder Woman Vs Hollywood

It would seem comic-book superhero movies are back in again. Every now and again escapism is big, and people want to go see spandex-clad weirdos beat the snot out of each other. Modern superhero flicks, when done right, get to have the best of both worlds - fantasy popcorn fodder on the one hand, intelligent storytelling on the other. The fact they usually come with a ready-made audience really appeals to studios too.

But, more often than not, superhero flicks stink worse than a pile of Superman's red tights. For every ten, you'll get two good ones - good recent examples being Batman Begins, and the first two Spiderman movies; two average ones, like Superman Returns and Hulk - and eight stinkers - think Daredevil, Punisher, Elektra, Catwoman, Aeon Flux (yes it counts), TMNT, the other two X-Men flicks, and both those dreadful Fantastic Four films. All those aforementioned movies were an insult to their franchise, and in some cases did them lethal damage. It's easy to screw up a superhero flick. Many who make them seem to believe a magical formula of three words will make everything work : they are, BIG, DUMB, and LOUD. If you make it BIG, DUMB and LOUD, it will be a good movie. This could be called the Michael Bay formula.

There is a mindset still stuck in the idea that comics are for kids. The whole graphic novel revolution of the 80's, and it's effect on the superhero genre, has yet to fully break through onscreen. Tim Burton's Batman was a promising start, but that franchise promptly fell to bits in a morass of gay innuendo, black rubber, and the crime that is George Clooney. Only in recent years has Hollywood attempted to film the oeuvre of Alan Moore, surely the world's foremost graphic novelist. But all the adaptations - From Hell, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V For Vendetta - have been disappointing, pompous failures that bore little resemblance to the source material. Watchmen, which is Moore's masterpiece and the definitive superhero comic, is currently in development as a movie. Shudder. That will be the film which makes or breaks the current superhero buzz. (Go read the comic immediately if you haven't already).

The television show Heroes, which owed a lot to Watchmen and Alan Moore, showed that the comic book formula can work really well, if you have strong, likable characters and a plausible but fantastic world for them to play in. A little bit of reinvention always helps too. What happened with Heroes was a bunch of comic book geeks teamed up with professional TV writers, and they kept each other honest. That sort of balance is what a good superhero film needs to have. Consider the examples featured above - Batman Begins was all about the story, whereas something like Daredevil had nothing but CGI between its ears.

Comic books do have this one major problem.. They are, for the most part, produced by teenage boys for teenage boys. By teenage boys I mean most men of any age, who always have a large part of their mind frozen at sixteen. Consequently, comic books traditionally enacted the fantasies of teenage boys. Cast your eyes across a rack of comics and you'll see I'm right. The covers are all something out of a dozen different wet dreams. While superheroes and villains come in all shapes and sizes, superheroines and villainesses must conform to the Three Laws Of Chicks In Comics:

I. Her gazoongas shall be huge.
II. Her face shall be hot.
III. Her outfit should be barely there, if at all.

So you get these supposedly super-tough women who just HAVE to dress like a stripper in order to do their thing. Although that's a moot point, because if these women actually existed, they would snap at the waist due to the huge weight of aforementioned gazoongas. At any rate, every superheroine or villainess who every existed conformed to those three laws. With teenage boy-minds running the show, decent female characters didn't really exist for a long time - after all, most comic book writers wouldn't even know what a female actually was (ZING!).

Then there's this thing called the Women In Refrigerators syndrome. It's this observation, first suggested by a woman in the comics biz, that female characters in comics exist only as plot devices for their male counterparts - static victims or playthings of men. Hence they're always getting kidnapped, imperilled, or killed, and thus spur on the male hero to do his mission. But they have no individual purpose. Classic examples of this include Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, being shot through the spine and left in a wheelchair; Peter Parker's second girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, dying as a result of his actions as Spiderman; and in the original case that inspired the name, the time that Green Lantern's girlfriend was chopped up and left for him to find in the fridge (man, that dude lost a LOT of girlfriends to bad ends during his career). No matter how tough the female character is, she still has to be a victim. Selina "Catwoman" Kyle was abused as a child, so she takes it out on the world. But where Bruce Wayne's trauma makes him master of his madness, Selina Kyle's just makes her a 'victim of abuse'.

What am I getting at? I want to see a superheroine movie. And something better than just The Latest Hot Starlet In A Tight-Fitting Suit (as seen in Elektra Catwoman, etc etc). I want to see a small part of the comic book's dreadful treatment of women redeemed in a awesome film. The closest we've got was the short-lived Birds Of Prey TV series, but that didn't really work.

There was also this thing called My Super Ex-Girlfriend. That, my dears, was a terrible, misogynistic and insulting movie. Shame on you Uma! Especially after what you did to Poison Ivy. (Oh well, the manga-inspired superheroine of Kill Bill more than makes up for it). The character of G-Girl was poorly developed, and the whole disaster little more than an excuse for ninety-five minutes of bad date movie. Such a waste.

When it comes to choosing a superheroine, there's a Big Three : Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman. (Note the names of the first and second; although not originally deliberate, the choice of "-girl" as a suffix to their title made it damn clear they were inferior to their male counterpart). They all have their merits. A Batgirl flick could go damn well in tandem with the Batman films - especially if they use the right Alicia this time - Witt, not Silverstone - Batgirl is REDHEADED, man, okay? REDHEADED. But she is very much in the shadow of her male version, and a separate movie wouldn't be plausible. Nonetheless we shall take a moment to appreciate the awesomeness of Yvonne Craig, the first and definitive Barbara Gordon (yes, the Batbabe briefly got her own series).

I'm well aware there's already a Supergirl movie. I've seen it. Several times, in fact. Helen Slater rocks, man, I dunno why she never had a great career. Not into it I suppose. Anyway, the Maid of Steel, while fulfilling many of the stereotypes of women in comics (miniskirt, gazoongas, sacrifices her life to save world), would be a good choice. Hayden Panettiere's turn as Claire Bennett, a revamped Supergirl in all but name, more than qualifies her as the first choice. She even looks like the idealised version of Kara Zor-El! I see that fluffy teen superhero soapie Smallville is going to feature a Supergirl whose special power seems to be taking her clothes off. But a decent Supergirl movie, again, is in the shadow of the Big Guy. That's what really stopped the original Supergirl flick from taking off, so to speak. Well, that and the terrible plot, the acting, the low production values…hey, they tried. But Helen Slater, man, my libido would never be the same.

Which brings us to the obvious choice : Wonder Woman! The name says it all. You should really learn up on the guy who invented her, one William Marston. This curious fellow lived in a three-way relationship with two women, invented an early version of the lie detector (echoed later in Wonder Woman's golden lasso) and believed that girls needed a strong and intelligent superheroine to look up to. So he wound up giving the world one of it's best Golden Age comic heroes - Diana Prince.

Wonder Woman has had a huge effect on popular culture. She is like a feminine equivalent to Superman - an outsider who devoutly believes in helping humanity, and a strong force for law and justice. Indeed, only the Big S himself, and the late great Captain America, were considered her equals; paragons of their profession. She first appeared in the Second World War, and her cause was linked to that of the "Free World" fighting Nazism. As the character matured, her black-and-white worldview was challenged, and a complex and conflicted - and fascinating - personality emerged. Her relationship with the human world, and it's inability to meet the stern logic of her own morality, provided the plot of many of the later comics.

It has to be noted that, as far-sighted as Moulton was, our dear Diana still pretty much conforms to my Three Laws Of Chicks In Comics. Also, did you ever notice how she gets tied up a lot?

And I mean a lot. What was WITH that?

Watch out for that torpedo, Wonder Woman!

And then there's that lasso…

Yeah…anyway…a Wonder Woman movie would kick more arse than the lady herself. One was in the works, with none other than Joss Whedon involved. The creator of Buffy could be relied upon to make a damn good superheroine film. Note the gazoongas-oriented nature of this teaser poster.

Sadly, Whedon fell out with the producers over the script - undoubtedly the biggest issue in a Wonder Woman film. Where would you start? I'd go for the Golden Age version - fighting in World War 2, the love interest with Steve Trevor; a real cliffhanger action thing with some good-humoured postmodernism. It's a ready-made plot. She learns the human world is more complex than Paradise Island, and her arbitrary justice is not always the right approach - she sees the shades of gray. So there would be the political commentary - might does not always make right. It would have it all - from the action to the human drama. It would also have a badass woman beating the crap out of Nazis, which already sounds like an awesome movie to me.

I wouldn't have a clue on casting…but I feel Jennifer Connelly could do well (probably too old now though, and besides, she's Betty Ross). But you bet Lynda Carter would have to be in it somewhere - a cameo as Hippolyta, perhaps?

Enough of this. Let's go out on a high.

I love that ending. Way to get chloroformed, babe.

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