Today Wired put up an article entitled “We Don’t Need No Stinking Wonder Woman Movie” by Noah Berlatsky where he argues, obviously, against a Wonder Woman film. I generally enjoy Berlatsky’s stuff, but I disagree with him completely on this. The argument boils down to the fact that originally Wonder Woman had a very specific and fascinating creative vision rooted in bondage and lesbian feminism, which Warner Bros. will never make into a movie. Furthermore, every version of the character that’s followed the Golden Age Wonder Woman has been dull, uninteresting, and watered down in comparison, so basically Berlatsky says “Why bother?”
Berlatsky is generally correct. Yeah, the original Wonder Woman is pretty bonkers and fascinatingly so, so much that later incarnations are certainly less interesting and often less entertaining. And yeah, there will never ever be a movie based on that. But I disagree that there’s no way to capture Wonder Woman on film in a meaningful, interesting, and entertaining way.
Saying that the original Wonder Woman is the only version of the character that matters is ignoring the fact that the character has been evolving for decades. I’d agree with Berlatsky that there haven’t been a lot of great takes on Wonder Woman over the decades, but there definitely have been some good runs and angles on Wonder Woman that could be used or combined to create a cool film version. There’s a reason people still love the character; not all Wonder Woman fans are Marston enthusiasts. Some people love Rucka, some love Simone, or Cooke, or Jimenez, or Perez. There’s a lot to work with. There’s no one singular take on the character to point to and say “Here, do this”, but guess what? There’s no such thing for any other superhero movie. Iron Man, Batman Begins, The Avengers; none of these are direct adaptations of any one particular vision or comic run. Instead, they combine the good parts of many versions of the characters to create something new. That’s the beauty of superhero movies: There’s so much to draw from.
I agree with Berlatsky that a specific artistic vision is good, but by focusing only on Marston’s vision as the be all end all we don’t allow someone else to develop their own vision. Wonder Woman needs someone who can take the best bits of her incarnations and create a modern, relevant, feminist take on the character, drawing from the past while injecting their own ideas as well. A strong artistic vision is what makes other superhero movies great. If Frank Miller was our be all end all for Batman, then there’d be no point in Christopher Nolan doing his Batman movies. If we held up Stan Lee or Brian Michael Bendis as some Platonic ideal of how to do the Avengers, then we’d have denied Joss Whedon a crack at the characters. Just because someone has a clear, fascinating vision for a character doesn’t mean that someone else can’t have a clear, fascinating, but somewhat different vision as well.
Whenever Grant Morrison gets interviewed about his Wonder Woman: Earth One graphic novel, I get annoyed because it sounds like he’s just trying to ape Marston’s approach to Wonder Woman instead of doing his own thing. The bondage and lesbian feminism in the Golden Age Wonder Woman is SO organically Marston. These themes are part of everything Marston ever wrote, and while a lot of it is in intentional, there’s also a lot that’s just Marston’s beliefs and kinks bleeding through unintentionally. Another comic book writer or filmmaker trying to capture that is just silly; Marston LIVED that stuff. Creators today need to draw from what they live, from what’s relevant to feminism and womanhood today. Yes, Marston’s bizarre vision was the genesis of Wonder Woman, but that doesn’t mean that no one else can never create another great version of the character.
No one wants a bad Wonder Woman movie. On that, Wonder Woman fans seem universally agreed; we’d all rather a good movie later than a bad movie now, and given Warner Bros.’ track record it’s logical to be leery of what they might do with her. But a winning formula has been established: Find a talented director with a strong vision for the character, let him or her build on the character’s history while establishing something new, and voila you’ve got a billion dollars and a damn good film. It’s not a perfect formula (I’m looking at you, Zach Snyder), but the track record is solid. We’ll never get a bondage infused lesbian Wonder Woman movie, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s vision for Wonder Woman can’t be compelling and fun.