If rumors are true, Wonder Woman is headed to the big screen for the first time ever in 2015, sitting third chair behind the pairing of icons Batman and Superman in Warner Bros.’ upcoming MAN OF STEEL sequel. If those same rumors prove to be false, the Amazon Princess will probably still debut in a film prominently featuring her male counterparts in DC Entertainment’s Trinity. Warner Bros.’ lack of confidence in the character’s ability to carry her own film has allowed a brand new heroine to usurp Wonder Woman’s place in pop culture- Katniss Everdeen of THE HUNGER GAMES, a character rapidly ascending to an iconic status of her own. There is much Wonder Woman’s handlers can learn from “The Girl On Fire.”
Conventional Hollywood wisdom maintains women are not reliable leads for action-heavy franchises, which most superhero properties tend to be. ELEKTRA, CATWOMAN, and SUCKER PUNCH are popular examples used to uphold this idea, but there’s little talk of how the quality of those films, all of which were panned by critics and general audiences, had a far bigger adverse impact on box office results than the gender of their respective stars. Whether or not the success of THE HUNGER GAMES, now having posted back-to-back domestic openings in excess of $150 million, disproves that theory is a matter for debate. Even if such a rule exists, we now know there are exceptions at the very least.
Wonder Woman is certainly not a sure box office bet. Most superhero properties are not. The harder truth that longtime fans do not see, or would rather not acknowledge, is that Wonder Woman’s mainstream relevance has lapsed. She is an image, a mascot even, but her character and the ideals she represents have long been forgotten by those who do not make trips to the comic shop a weekly errand on Wednesdays. A great many people who actually make those Wednesday trips and cry out for a movie end up leaving Wonder Woman comics off of their pull list. Warner Bros. must think this is the case, if casting rumors are to be believed. Gal Gadot and Elodie Yung are supposed finalists who offer supermodel beauty and action movie experience, but have nothing in their filmographies that hints at representing a strong, feminine ideal that women of all ages can and should be able to rally behind.
Many of the inspiring qualities for which audiences might look to Wonder Woman can already be found in Katniss Everdeen, as written by Suzanne Collins in her young adult novels and portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence on screen. She is strong, fierce, protective, caring, and independent. When needed, Katniss Everdeen is also lethal. For a generation of young adult readers and moviegoers, she is Wonder Woman. That’s not to say Wonder Woman should hang up her Lasso of Truth and call it a career before she ever gets started on the silver screen, as there is certainly room for more than one female action hero on film. Rather, Warner Bros. should study Katniss’ rapid rise in relevance to see what lessons can be mined and then applied to make Princess Diana’s cinematic debut as culturally and financially impactful as possible.
Given that Warner Bros. has shown remarkable patience in developing a modern, live-action Wonder Woman, there ought to be no need to rush her into a MAN OF STEEL sequel that will inevitably spend the majority of its focus establishing a new Batman and his rivalry with the Superman we just met last June. There are so many critical elements that should factor into the casting, characterization, and handling of Wonder Woman. The importance of all those elements is fixed, not varying at all based on the amount of screen time the character will receive. Even if Wonder Woman only has a cameo in the MAN OF STEEL sequel, the actress Warner Bros. casts is obviously intended to play the character in more robust on-screen appearances including a third film in the crossover series and, Hippolyta willing, a solo adventure.
Warner Bros. has one shot to get this right in the foreseeable future. If that means taking even more time to setup a proper debut now that the studio knows what cinematic universe Wonder Woman will call home, so be it. Waiting is not necessary, but it would probably help if Warner Bros. gave DC Entertainment the time to get Wonder Woman back in the public conversation by reaching out to an untapped audience of young women who prefer their stories without pictures. Katniss, along with Bella Swan (TWILIGHT) and Beatrice Prior (DIVERGENT) are the superheroes of a new generation. DC Entertainment, with the support of Warner Bros., should be trying to introduce Wonder Woman to that generation in their medium of choice.
Marvel has already made such an attempt, publishing THE SHE-HULK DIARIES and ROGUE TOUCH earlier this year. DC could make this look like a toe being dipped in the water by jumping all the way in with a series of young adult novels introducing Diana to girls in that genre’s targeted demographic while also passing the smell test for adults, like Katniss in THE HUNGER GAMES. While I’m giving out free product ideas, title first book THEMYSCIRA and make that the banner for the whole series. Earn the love and admiration of new fans ahead of time instead of just dropping a name that may or may not matter to them. Do not expect the world to swoon at a costumed image on that inevitable Entertainment Weekly cover.
Of course, none of that is likely to happen. Warner Bros. could take a shortcut, however, and arrive at a similar destination via effective casting. The smartest thing to do, as Mark Hughes of Forbes has brilliantly suggested, is to wait for Jennifer Lawrence to finish saving Panem and then offer whatever it takes to get her to come over to Themyscira. Lawrence, already an Academy Award winner, is building a rabid fan following and already has a high level of credibility with moviegoers of both genders and all ages. The news of her being cast as Wonder Woman would generate more immediate buy-in than any other actress Warner Bros. could pursue. Regardless of how the mainstream audience feels about Wonder Woman, they would eagerly lineup to watch Jennifer Lawrence show them why they should care.
Assuming Lawrence would not be available or interested, Warner Bros. still needs to make sure the actress they cast understands the responsibility that comes with the role and is able to gain advanced support of people other than horny men. Case in point, when Olga Kurylenko (OBLIVION) emerged as a rumored favorite for the role last month, many of the articles on the subject commented on how hot she was while using near-nude photos from her modeling career instead of shots from her movie appearances and an analysis of her acting ability. In the process, some female fans already felt alienated and questioned the motivation behind the potential casting. None of that is Olga’s fault, obviously, but it is something Warner Bros. has to be sensitive to when making this casting decision and announcing it to the public.
Jaime Alexander (THOR) is a good choice to solve this equation, having already played the Wonder Woman-like Sif in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What she currently lacks in general audience awareness can be compensated for with her genuine passion for the character and all that Wonder Woman represents. It is interesting to wonder if any actress alive would care more about getting it right than Alexander.
The field of potentially great candidates to play Wonder Woman is certainly larger than two. To its credit, Warner Bros. has a fairly good track record in the superhero genre by way of the aforementioned Batman and Superman. Similar success with Wonder Woman cannot be assumed, though, and has to be earned. The journey begins with preparation and study of what it takes for a female character to succeed in an arena presumably built by and for men. Katniss has shown the way. Now, Wonder Woman can start a fire of her own.