warrior princess

Now that we know Wonder Woman will actually be appearing in Superman vs Batman and that she’ll be played by Gal Gadot, it’s time to start musing over how David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder will characterize the iconic superheroine. Obviously we don’t have any plot details on the movie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some educated guesses as to how Goyer and Snyder might depict the original comic book warrior princess.

Warrior princess…

This is actually the most fitting and succinct description of Wonder Woman you’ll ever find because it encompasses the dual nature and complexity of the character. Diana is the Princess of Themyscira, an island exclusively populated by the female warriors of Greek mythology, the Amazons. With all the talk of Gal Gadot’s casting and the plethora of aggravating judgements of her body continuing, the common thread has been comments about how fans envisioned the look of Diana as an Amazon. We’ve been talking a lot about the warrior, but there hasn’t been a lot of talk about what motivates her: the compassion and love she feels for others. Gail Simone described the essential Wonder Woman movie as a “Disney princess who fights monsters”. Simone should know since she’s written the character, but she makes a salient point. When we think of Disney princesses, certain traits come to mind: kindness, determination, cleverness, love, and compassion. Nix the songs and apply the job of the typical Disney male lead to Diana and you have Wonder Woman. It’s not that far off from what Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, had in mind. He envisioned his superheroine as the embodiment of what be believed were superior, feminine traits, and reinforced them with the physical power and strength rivaled only by Superman.

Simone, along with George Pérez, Greg Rucka, Phil Jimenez, and, to some extent, current writer Brian Azzarello, have all locked into this characterization, striking the right balance between the emotional and the physical. In Diana’s case, they’re not mutually exclusive. She fights because she sees the injustices that humanity inflicts upon itself and her capacity to feel for the suffering of others drives her to help those in need. Conversely, her compassion prevents her from stepping over the line and killing her enemies. Like Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman’s first priority is to prevent harm from coming to others, even the people she’s fighting. Killing does not equal justice, but what distinctly separates Wonder Woman from Batman and Superman is her understanding that sometimes killing is a possible solution when all others have failed.

Death of Maxwell LordThere’s a reason the death of Maxwell Lord is so significant to Wonder Woman’s character development in Infinite Crisis. Snapping his neck (sound familiar?) is the last resort, but it’s a final act done in order to stop Clark from killing others but also to save Clark from the emotional trauma should he kill a friend, loved one, or any random person while under mind control, something she knows would haunt him the rest of his life. The consequences, however, are tremendous in terms of how the world views her and how Superman and Batman treat her. They don’t trust her like they used to because she crossed a line neither of them have dared to no matter what the circumstances. The reasons why can be found in the very core of each character. Clark’s power set makes him practically unstoppable, yet he constantly holds back from putting his enemies six feet under because of the responsibility he feels to uphold the virtues of humanity. Bruce’s “no kill” policy is so central to who he is that he can’t even bring himself to kill the Joker, a mass-murdering sociopath, because he’s afraid of what will happen once he crosses that sacred, yet blurred line.

Clark and Bruce have clearly marked where the point of no return is for them and refuse to deviate from their chosen paths. They’re more motivated by the fear of crossing that line and the repercussions it has on a psychological level. Diana, however, knows where that line is but she also understands that sometimes it has to be crossed because the aftermath may be far worse if she doesn’t act. What separates Diana from Clark and Bruce are the emotional stakes she invests in being a hero and how far she’s willing to go because of them. What would you do to save someone you cared for? How far would you go? Diana will kill if she has to not just because she’s an Amazon but because, sometimes, it’s the lesser evil. Wonder Woman’s heroism comes from trying to spare others from pain even if it means diminishing her own reputation. It’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make and it paints her as a hero who can believably live in the moral grey area. She can still be inspirational and an ideal to strive towards, but when push comes to shove, and there are no other options left, pray that it isn’t Wonder Woman standing in front of you.zzTrinity-Wonder-Woman-Superman-Batman

And that’s just scratching the surface of who Diana is considering the nearly 75 years worth of stories that have expanded on her character and that of the Amazon culture from which she hails. This isn’t a character you can just sum up in a scene and pat yourself on the back.  But how much characterization will end up in the Wonder Woman we see on the big screen in Superman vs Batman? If I were a bettin’ woman, I’d say the odds aren’t exactly in her favor. Diana will be showing up in a movie that is still being referred to via her male peers. Until a title is officially released, hopefully not one of the God-awful domain names purchased by Warner Bros. in the last couple months, we’re still looking at this movie as if it’s going to solely focus on Superman and Batman. Unless the title miraculously has the word “Trinity” or “World’s Finest”, we can expect Wonder Woman’s role to be smaller, leaving less room for significant character development. Not that it can’t happen, but it would have to be some amazingly well written dialogue. Possibly a one-on-one between Diana and Lois. Just no love triangle, please. Listen to Amy Adams.

Keeping in mind, however, the filmmaking team we have, what’s the quickest way to set up a female superhero so that we might know how badass she is in the most visceral way possible? If you said, “Have her smash through a building while lassoing a harpy,” then you’re probably thinking along the same lines as Goyer and Snyder. Not that it wouldn’t be cool to see that, I’m just saying that Diana’s warrior background is going to get way more attention than her pesky emotional side. There’s also the classic bait and switch maneuver of introducing us to Diana Prince first only to have Wonder Woman unexpectedly show up during a fight between Superman, Batman, and whoever the secondary villain happens to be who isn’t Lex Luthor.

Frozen and Catching FirePushing the warrior angle is the easiest route to bring Wonder Woman into the fold. It requires minimal explanation because all you need is something big enough to attract more heroes and BOOM! there’s Wonder Woman stabbing something with a sword while The Flash runs around doing whatever he’s doing. Is it the best way to introduce her? Yes and no. While it gives the audience something they can immediately grasp, it relegates Diana to simply “Action Girl”, which diminishes her complexity as a character. The irony being that the “Action Girl” trope is the one thing working in favor of Warner Bros. greenlighting a Wonder Woman movie. The two top-grossing films of the last month were The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen, both of which had female leads. The advertising for both movies, however, put more emphasis on the action. Katniss shoots her arrows, some political intrigue ensues, she gets attacked by birds while Peeta shouts at her, and then explosions. Anna proactively goes after her sister, Elsa, and then she’s chased by a snow monster, or Elsa is wielding her ice powers. Neither of these movies had  a lot of advertising that delved into the emotional stakes at the heart of both movies.

In justifying female action leads we’re inadvertently sidestepping emotional arcs in favor of attracting the same audiences just so we can say, “See, Hollywood, girls can bring in the box office numbers too!” The fact of the matter is that Wonder Woman isn’t “tricky”. The Hollywood system of producers and executives in charge of her cinematic future are the “tricky” ones, requiring a constant incentive to push movies through that they believe will attract the male demographic who are still considered the target audience for action and superhero movies despite the numbers showing viewership as relatively even across gender lines.justice-league-22-superman-wonderwoman-1

The comic books, the recent ones at least, at DC Comics aren’t exactly helping with Wonder Woman’s image as the few books she’s featured in emphasize the more militarized version. Azzarello’s Wonder Woman is at least motivated to protect others, but her protection only seems to stay within the realm of her Godly family. It gives her a personal connection and personal stakes in the fate of those she’s defending, but at the same time it makes Wonder Woman a hero focused on self-interest. This isn’t the same Wonder Woman of Greg Rucka’s Hiketeia who would protect and defend anyone who asked for her help even if they committed the crime. Geoff Johns doesn’t do much better with Diana. The beginning of Trinity War has her outright implying that the reason she doesn’t have a rogue’s gallery like Clark or Bruce is because she’ll straight up kill her enemies. The Wonder Woman of the New 52 actually strikes me as the most likely version of the character to end up in Superman vs Batman purely because her motivations have been streamlined, emphasizing the warrior above all else. It begs the question of whether Snyder and Goyer are planning to distill the character for the sake of simplicity or take a chance and strive for more. 

The silver lining in all of this is that we know this won’t be the last appearance of Wonder Woman and that, at the very least, her appearance in Superman vs Batman will provide the opportunity to further explore the character either in Justice League or, hopefully, her own movie. Even if they just emphasize the warrior, they could easily expand on the complexity of Diana in future projects. Whatever doesn’t work this time around can be fixed. Joss Whedon gave Black Widow a purpose in The Avengers, making her far more interesting than her initial introduction in Iron Man 2. So maybe, just maybe, Goyer and Snyder will get Wonder Woman right off the bat, but in case they don’t she’ll at least have a chance at making a second first impression. Her fans love her too much to let her go down without a fight.

Trinity

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  3. […] article was previously posted on my blog, The Maniacal Geek, on December […]

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