To: Joss Whedon
From: Larry Carroll, MTV News
Re: The new gig
Congratulations on your recent selection as the director of Warner Bros./DC Comics’ next superhero flick, “Wonder Woman” (see “‘Buffy’ Creator Joss Whedon Lassoes ‘Wonder Woman’ Movie” ). After a lengthy courtship, producer Joel Silver took one last look at your “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” genre credentials and decided to make you his date for the prom. Sit back, put your feet up, and feel free to pat yourself on the back.
Done? Good, because now it’s time to panic. Do you remember “Elektra,” “Tank Girl,” “Supergirl,” “Catwoman” or “Barb Wire”? Hopefully, the answer is “no,” because the sad fact is that female superheroes have never worked on the silver screen, and many believe that they never will.
Now that the dotted line has been signed, you’ve inherited the most iconic of female heroes, a character that has captured the imagination of comic-book fans ever since she was suggested by a psychiatrist concerned with the unbalanced messages that male-dominated comics send. We already think of Wonder Woman as the female Superman, a member of the Super Friends who spawned a classic live-action show in the ’70s and came to embody the feminist movement to the point where she appeared on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine. It’s a lot of pressure, but don’t sweat it: As a fan of the movies and of comics, I’ve made a list of ways you can make the Golden Lassoed goddess work:
Cast Wonder Woman, Not Just A Famous Woman – Halle Berry, Alicia Silverstone and Jennifer Garner may have been riding red-hot careers when they were cast, but they were all woefully inappropriate for the suits they inhabited. True Elektra fans knew that she was an olive-skinned Greek woman who would most likely possess an accent. Catwoman geeks knew that the name Patience Phillips meant nothing to them, and that her back story would probably mean even less. Batman loyalists are still rubbing their eyes to try and erase the image of Silverstone shoehorned into that Batgirl suit. Casting an actress who is physically appropriate and then holding on for dear life to the character details shows the fans that you intend to take seriously that which means so much to them.
Don’t Waste All Your Creativity On The Uniform – Pam Anderson looked great in that Barb Wire outfit; Halle Berry was every bit as sizzling in that ripped-apart cat suit. If either had been simply selling something in a magazine, we surely would have bought it. But an actress needs to deliver lines, emote, and it sure would be nice if she could make us care about her character. Give the character a soul-baring monologue, a revealing moment of self-doubt, maybe some clashes with the everyday world that surrounds us. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, but just be sure that you always …
Take The Legend Seriously – Spider-Man’s Aunt May making an off-the-cuff reference to Superman? Funny stuff. Richard Pryor upstaging our hero with slapstick? Disrespectful. Comic books are our modern-day mythologies, permitting us to dream about powerful derivations of ourselves who will protect, amaze and point us in the direction of virtue most of the time. When we buy a movie ticket, we want to be immersed in a superhero’s story while feeling as though that hero could be walking among us. Humor is welcomed as long as it is appropriate. Many of our favorite heroes (Wolverine, Flash) have gotten us through tough times with their senses of humor. Putting nipples on the Batsuit, or throwing in Rob Schneider as a smart-mouthed sidekick, is the modern-day equivalent of an ancient Greek writing a play that has Zeus passing gas on his Mount Olympus throne.
Keep Your Wits (And Your Roots) About You – You were hired, Joss, because your “Buffy” so brilliantly walked the tightrope between camp humor and credibility for seven memorable seasons. With the exception of that musical episode, you can simply glance back at those old formulas to achieve that “X-Men”-type combination of not veering too far toward the camp that sank “Batman & Robin” or the self-importance that dragged down “Hulk.”
Treat Your Woman Like A Man – As an icon of feminism, all Wonder Woman has ever wanted is equal opportunities. Don’t pander to the Oprah crowd to get women into the theater; but don’t skank her out for the “Maxim” readers, either. Ignore her gender and concentrate on making a great superhero movie.
Listen To The Woman Who Nearly Was Wonder Woman – “I talked about it at the beginning with Joel Silver, before the script was even written,” Sandra Bullock said recently. “I said if it goes in this direction I’d like to do it, if it goes in this direction I don’t feel comfortable doing it. It’s more interesting when the superheroes are human. You see the antihero and you see the cracks in the veneer. I don’t think, as human beings, we can relate to a true superhero, that’s why Spider-Man does so well, that’s why Batman does so well, because they’re fraught with pain and insecurities and human elements rather than being invincible. Being invincible is uninteresting — who can identify with that?” Make her bleed. ‘Nuff said.
When In Doubt, Go To The Source – One of the “Catwoman” writers toiled on Bill Cosby’s sitcom … the lame one from the ’90s. At the time of “Barb Wire,” one of its writers was best known for the Charlie Sheen clunker “Navy SEALS.” You have 60-plus years of classic Wonder Woman plotlines to plunder as you see fit — if somebody suggests hiring the writer of “Cheaper by the Dozen 2″ to do a script polish, run away as fast as you can. There are at least two comic book shops on the same street as the Warner Bros. lot — let me know if you want me to MapQuest directions for you.
Best of luck, Joss — a lot of us fans are hoping you can deliver an instant classic and bring us all to Paradise Island. Oh, and please, give your security guards a headshot of Sharon Stone and tell them to tackle her if she gets anywhere near your set.
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