Editorial: Wonder Woman Scares Me
News was just released this morning that Israeli actress and model Gal Gadot will be playing Wonder Woman in Zack Snyder's upcoming Batman vs. Superman feature film, which will serve simultaneously as a sequel to Man of Steel, and a prequel to a vaguely planned Justice League feature film. Gal Gadot is known in America for her recurring role in three of the Fast & Furious movies.
If Facebook and Twitter are any meaningful indicator of fan demand, then fans have been demanding a Wonder Woman feature film for some years now. Semi-serious rumors have been floating about that actresses like Jessica Biel, Elisha Cuthbert, Katee Sackhoff, Jessica Alba, and mostly Megan Fox have all been “considered” for the role. None of those actresses were ever considered, by the way.
I understand why so many people want a Wonder Woman feature film. When it comes to movies about superheroines, the world is a embarrassingly trim. The most famous films about female superbeings – Catwoman, Supergirl, Elektra – are only well-known for how bad they are. Other notable females in other superhero flicks – The Black Widow, for instance – serve supporting roles at best, and are frequently objectified through their tight, buttocks-clinging outfits.
So how refreshing to have Wonder Woman potentially in charge. Finally. Here is a (relatively) well-known pop culture icon who would have so much potential to even the score a little bit. A strong actress playing a woman who not only possesses physical strength, but who is also complex and heroic. Here is a woman who can hold her own against the cultural and on-screen shenanigans of the likes of Superman and Batman. Wonder Woman is patriotic, fun, and charismatic. What's more, she's often celebrated as a feminist icon. A woman who doesn't take no guff in a superhero world overrun by males. That she was originally designed as an S&M fetish object (she uses a “lasso of truth?”) is something we'll ignore for the time being.
The problem with finally getting a big-budget feature film version of Wonder Woman is the climate in which she will be released. More specifically, the problem lies with the director who will be handling her. Wonder Woman comes on the tail of a newly rebooted Superman franchise which – whatever you thought of the movie – tended to trump action violence over optimism, and dull angst over true insight. Man of Steel director Zack Snyder is not exactly well known for his subtle character work or storytelling acumen. He is a stylist supreme, whose overblown action aesthetics have earned him the unofficial moniker of “The Thinking Man's Michael Bay.” Given his films (300, Sucker Punch), I would say that even thinking is low on the docket.
So Snyder will, no doubt, add layers upon layers of angst to Wonder Woman. She will be a tortured soul who is trying to overcome some past transgression committed against her. I objected strongly to this approach in Snyder's Superman movie (see my well-hated review), but I understand that angst is the working superhero ethos for this new Justice League franchise, and that we should perhaps come to peace with the fact that tortured superheroes are just the word of the day. I don't necessarily look forward to a conflicted and “dark” (read: superficially complex) Wonder Woman, but I know it's what we're going to get, and I accept that. The angst isn't what bothers me.
It also doesn't bother me that this new Wonder Woman is so young. In my mind, I always pictured Wonder Woman to be in her late 30s or early 40s. In my mind, she's not a spry, girlish athlete, but a large, tough Amazonian. Not a model, but a fighter. Imposing and present in a room. Her outfit alone draws the eye due to its color and spangles. She doesn't want to hide, or take down bad guys from the shadows. She's confident and ready for a fight. Gal Gadot is 28, and she's 5'9”. Not the kind of actress I would have cast. In terms of mere physical screen presence, I would have preferred someone more like Julie Strain. But I also accept that the “younger” versions of the characters is what the Justice League franchise is all about, so it's fine that we have a younger version of the character.
What bothers me is Sucker Punch.
Whatever you think of Zack Snyder as a director (and, I admit, I think very little), we all have to kind of shift uncomfortably about when discussing the biggest blot on his filmography, 2011's Sucker Punch. Snyder has admitted in interviews that he intended his overblown, over-noisy, fetish movie to be a feminist polemic, meant to empower young women, and reinforce them as masters of their sexuality and explorers of their own inner strength. If this was his intent, he failed. Indeed, it can easily be argued that Sucker Punch is a grossly misogynist picture, only intended to display geek fetish scenarios for mouth-breathing middle-aged males who are really into anime, hookers in schoolgirl skirts, and sparkly leggings.
These women were not empowered. Their only power came from their ability to seduce older men in a brothel. That they could escape into their own imaginations didn't prove the power of their minds. It just offered a baffling notion that teenage hookers in a 1930s brothel might have anachronistic anime fantasies. Seriously, the movie is stultifying and awful.
If this is how Snyder handles women, then we have only dread and apprehension in the face of Wonder Woman. There is a popular misinterpretation of the word “strong” when it comes to female characters in modern movies. Some filmmakers (both male and female) feel that a female character is “strong” if she is capable of violence. They feel “strong character” should mean “physically strong character.” I've been saying this for years, but violence does not equal feminism. The true meaning of “strong” should mean that the character herself is complex and real and palpable. That she is alluring as a person and as a dramatic presence. That she is well-written. That she is just as complex as her male counterparts.
But, given Snyder's track record, we'll likely be treated to the former interpretation. Wonder Woman will be physically strong, and she'll have some really awesome fight scenes that linger on her taut body, firm buttocks and/or cleavage. It'll be great to look at, and the fight choreography will be first rate. Gadot will train for months to get in shape, and will fight with the best of them. Snyder will give her a personal tragedy, perhaps, to make her seem complex. Maybe a dead parent or a deposed regal position.
But Snyder's true colors have already shown themselves. He doesn't know how to handle women in any of his movies. He's not comfortable with female characters. And when he tries to write roles for women himself, he comes up with anime hookers.
Will Wonder Woman look great? Yes she will. Will certain fans be pleased to finally see her? They would probably be happy with anything that approaches “serious” (the recently failed Wonder Woman TV pilot indicated that “silly” just won't work anymore). Will her outfit look nice? I have no doubt that it will. Will her role in the film only tantalize us into seeing more? Surely her role will be a supporting one, and will lead to her own solo adventure, launching a franchise with the character.
Will the character be handled well? I highly, highly doubt it.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.