How to Make a Live-Action Wonder Woman Work
Wonder Woman has had live-action depictions before, and she will continue to get them. But watching her fellow Justice Leaguers get adaptation after adaptation, in almost every form of entertainment, has made me think that studios don’t know how to do Wonder Woman right. I’ll admit that not all of her assets would translate well to live-action. Her old weakness, of losing her powers when she was bound by men, was a powerful political statement to young minds in the past. Today, it just seems kind of silly. In an effort to modernize her, I agree with the decision to leave this weakness behind in the modern comics.
I also happen to think that an invisible jet and a truth lasso make somewhat lame accessories. The lasso is a little too ingrained in the character to let go, but it can certainly be modernized. Something like a retractable grappling hook might look cooler than something first popularized by westerns. But the jet has already overstayed its welcome from the moment the character learned to fly. Superman doesn’t fly in a jet, so why should she? Considering her background in Greek mythology, a jet, invisible or not, feels out of place no matter how well its presence is explained.
On the subject of her costume, can we ditch the earrings already? She’s an Amazon warrior, why is she wearing earrings? I’m not saying it’s impossible for a warrior to have pierced ears, but the visual just doesn’t match with her fish-out-of-water personality. It just visualizes her as a girl superhero, rather than just a superhero.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. How can a live-action adaptation do this character justice?
Get the Goofy Out
There are depictions of Batman that are hopelessly goofy (Adam West) and people love the character all the same, sometimes more because of it. But I agree that cheesiness isn’t what Wonder Woman needs right now. Particularly when some viewers’ only introduction to her was Lynda Carter twirling in circles. No offense to her, but Wonder Woman needs a Dark Knight-style depiction that takes its time setting her up so that when she dons the suit, and first kicks ass, we are ready to stand up and cheer.
This is why I think certain elements of her costume and accessories need to be updated or omitted. I will give credit to 2017’s Wonder Woman for adapting the look well—a cross between a roman gladiator and the MCU’s version of Thor. She looks like she could kick your butt and that is crucial.
While I have mixed opinions about her New 52 origins, I do acknowledge that a demi-god is easier to explain than a child made of clay that is struck by divine lightning. But the point is that there are enough aspects of the character that we can set aside what doesn’t work and emphasize what does. She is an enduring character that can survive multiple different interpretations.
Show Her Human Side
Wonder Woman isn’t technically human but she has a human story nonetheless. One about family, leaving home, and honesty, just to name a few of the themes in her narrative. And doing it justice means showing more than just her fighting. Action is certainly necessary, but the juxtaposition is what gives us another angle on the same character. We need to see mild-mannered Diana Prince just as much as we need to see Wonder Woman. Much like Clark Kent and Superman, her alter ego says something about her, and it is something that I think has been underutilized in her many interpretations. At her core, she is the warrior princess. But how does she interpret a disguise? Having not grown up with humans, like Clark did, she has very little to use as reference. Which leads to entertaining misunderstandings that provide great comic relief for an otherwise serious character.
And there is also the why of her disguise. Some interpretations don’t make a distinction between the two, as in she is never hiding. The important question that needs answering is who is Diana when she isn’t being Wonder Woman? One could argue that she is always being that persona, and it’s a valid point. That’s just who she is. I admit that I’m a sucker for those moments in superhero fiction when a hero is forced to be heroic in their street clothes. It’s a reminder that they are the hero, not their flashy suits. And it suggests that anyone around us could be a superhero.
Superman III may have been a misstep in its movie franchise, but as a kid, I loved the scene where Clark fights evil Superman in the junk yard. There is a lot of symbolism in that scene and it’s the kind of thing I want from Wonder Woman; more angles on her character to see the light of day in a live-action production.
Show She Is a Badass
Wonder Woman is one of the top three DC heroes. When Superman goes nuts because of some cosmic disease or mind control, she is the one who is called to stop him. A character this strong needs to show it in more ways than just breaking a lock on a door or leaping over a tall fence. Understated superheroes are great too, but Wonder Woman isn’t understated. She needs to be just as epic and unapologetic as her story requires.
The 2009 cartoon provides a good template as it pits her against Ares, the God of War. Cheetah is often the go-to villain, but for her big screen, or even small screen debut, she needs someone more formidable. Ares is the most logical choice, but the New 52 storyline has shown that other gods can easily fill that role as well.
In my mind, one of the difficult aspects of bringing female superheroes into prominence is that badass factor. Not that they aren’t badasses, but the mainstream audience has only seen them in supporting roles as either copies of their male counterparts (Supergirl) or love interests (Lois Lane.) No offense to those characters, they are both great characters with strong development. However, Wonder Woman doesn’t require any existing male character to work. I can think of no better character to break the mold of modern superhero adaptations. She has always been an iconic symbol for women and her origins are rooted in a world entirely her own. If that can be married with the same action and spectacle of seen in other superhero films, then there is no reason why she can’t take a bigger place on screen. If the Hunger Games and The Force Awakens has taught us anything, it’s that a female lead does not inhibit box office success. It’s on the writers, studios, and directors to do it right. Will they read this article for pointers? Probably not, but I was drawn to to this character because she was different from what the superheroes had to offer. Her time to join the live-action ranks is long overdue.