TO: Zack Snyder, Big Time Hot Shot Hollywood Director
FROM: Glen Weldon, Nerd
IN RE: Wonder Woman
Dear Zack Snyder:
I see you’ve cast The Fast and the Furious‘ Gal Gadot as Diana of the Amazons, aka Wonder Woman.
I see, also, that the internet has reacted as it can be counted upon to do, when such casting announcements occur. Namely, with fulsome, fulminating nerdrage.
I am here to tell you, Zack Snyder: Keep your head down. Ignore it. Make your movie.
And not because it’s all just more of the tiresome, predictable, reflexive carping that has come to serve as the static hiss, the universal background radiation, of comics culture, though it is that. And I know whereof I speak, here, as the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman in the very same movie led me to tiresomely, predictably and reflexively carp about it in this space.
(Point of order: My hand-wringing in the Batfleck case was and is borne of my conviction that the past is prologue – that we’ve already seen the guy play a grim vigilante who haunts the shadows of the urban night — albeit one more given to red pleather than black Kevlar – and be hilariously, jaw-droppingly, savagely lousy at it.)
Gadot is different. We haven’t seen her in a role similar to Wonder Woman, because the role of Wonder Woman is so singular. More on that in a second.
Much of the criticism directed at this casting choice – too much — has revolved around Gadot’s physicality. She’s too thin, too wispy, too short, goes the argument, when Wonder Woman is a badass. She’s a kicker of butts, so you need someone with some meat on her bones and a proven track record of butt-kicking, like fellow Fast & Furious alumnae Michelle Rodriguez and ex-MMA fighter Gina Corano.
(Full disclosure: Ever since Joss Whedon’s Firefly first aired back in 2002, I’ve been boring friends with my abiding conviction that Gina Torres was born for the role. And those who reacted to this casting announcement by noting that the mythical nature of Wonder Woman’s ethnicity – Amazonian – means you ignored a perfect opportunity to put a woman of color in a landmark role? … OK, yeah, they’ve got a point.)
But this focus on the musculature of the actor in question is a dead end, where Wonder Woman is concerned. Christian Bale bulked up for the role in Nolan’s Batman, true, but Bruce Wayne’s a mere mortal. We need to see that he’s trained his body for his mission.
Diana, on the other hand, is creature of myth and fantasy. Her physical strength is an important aspect of her character, but it is not a function of her lean body mass. Whether or not Gadot will make an interesting, let alone convincing, Wonder Woman has nothing to do with the size of her biceps.
No, Wonder Woman is a presence, a figure of mingled strength and compassion. There’s one and only one thing that Gadot needs to project, the moment she comes on-screen:
“I got this.”
Call it gravitas, or regality, or plain old ordinary conviction. Wonder Woman may or not be large, but she’s always, always, always in charge.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Diana?
As you know, several factors have kept Wonder Woman off the big screen thus far, and one of them – the most-cited, in industry circles – is completely bogus: The notion that a female character can’t open a blockbuster.
The era of studios being able point to the failures of Catwoman and Elektra as proof that female superhero properties are non-starters – as opposed to proof that Hollywood can make terrible movies – is over. It was always false, but now, in a post-Hunger Games reality, it’s demonstrably so.
But there’s another, deeper reason, and it has to do with who Wonder Woman is, at her core.
Her most essential self is an abiding contradiction, an oxymoronic riddle:
She is a Warrior … for Peace.
She fights … to stop us from fighting.
At first, it made sense. Because unlike Superman and Batman, who appeared before America entered World War II and who kept themselves Stateside throughout the conflict, Wonder Woman was created expressly to go toe-toe with the Axis threat. She served as America’s star-spangled ally in the war against a great and unambiguous evil – an evil that, she avowed, must be defeated utterly, if there was ever to be peace.
Historically, her greatest foe has been the God of War (referred to variously as Mars or Ares) – a powerfully evil figure who glories in the violence and chaos of armed conflict, and who was depicted pulling the Nazis’ strings.
Wonder Woman’s patrons, on the other hand, have included the Goddess of Love (Aprhrodite/Venus) and, more recently, the Goddess Minerva/Athena, a deity of battlefield strategy and honor.
When the war ended, her driving principle – “Stop fighting or I’ll beat you up!” – grew harder to sell. She’s been many things, over the years – a depowered globe-trotting kung-fu adventuress/fashion boutique owner, a Goddess of Truth, an Amazonian ambassador (complete with a colorful embassy staff), dead.
But these have all felt to me like iterations, imitations, off-brand avatars of her true self, who will forever be most at home punching Nazis in their collective schnozz.
Lately, in the pages of DC’s recently relaunched Wonder Woman comic, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang have come up with a fresh take that’s opening up new sides to the character. In their book, they’ve lifted her out of the superhero world and returned her to her mythic roots, as a woman caught up in the machinations of a fractious and violent mafia family fueled by bile, guile and long-nursed grudges – who just so happen to be Greek Gods. Think Bullfinch’s Mythology by way of The Sopranos, and you begin to get the idea. I’d suggest, Mr. Snyder, that you read up on the version of the character in those pages, to get a sense of what I’m talking about.
(You can probably skip the more generic version of Wonder Woman now appearing in DC’s Justice League book, and the book that chronicles her romance with Superman, for that matter.)
Anyway. I’ll let you go, as you’ve got a lot of work to do, what with this sequel being rushed into production and all. If I had more time, I’d raise some of my concerns about your ability to understand and create compelling stories about women, but that would mean I’d have to bring up your film Sucker Punch, and … well.
I don’t want to talk about that. You don’t want to talk that.
Yours in cautiously pessimistic hope, or its closest analogue,