Categorised | Nostalgia corner

Lost Gems (?): Wonder Woman (2011)

Posted on July 28, 2011 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Adrienne Palicki as Wonder Woman

In the US: Never

So I'm going to out myself as a bit of a Wonder Woman fan. I love her in the comics (with the right authors such as George Perez, Gail Simone and Greg Rucka), we have the whole 1970s TV series on DVD, we have the animated movie on iTunes and lovely wife has a Wonder Woman mug to drink from. I even have a couple of Wonder Woman encyclopaedias on the shelves.

I know. Sad.

But I'll tell you for why. As well as Wonder Woman being one of the very few iconic and powerful female superheroes out there, the DC universe is such that while Superman is off fighting sci-fi enemies, Batman is fighting human grotesques and Captain Marvel is off beating up magical villains, Wonder Woman is the fourth iconic pillar: she's the mythological hero, fighting gods and monsters. Her stories are unique and she has a necessary, irreplaceable area of the comics world to call her own.

But there's still more to her: she is literally an emissary from the Greek gods, who are second to none in the DC universe (no Christian or any other monotheistic gods at the top of this pantheon), and they have imbued her with their powers to give their mortals a message: there's a better way to live than patriarchy.

In other words, despite what you may or may not think about her costume, she's just about the only feminist and indeed religious superhero out there and when she prays, her prayers are answered.

Wonder Woman's prayer is answered

Wonder Woman's TV and movie career is a little checkered. There was a dreadful 1967 pilot that tried to do for Wonder Woman what the Batman TV series did for the caped crusader - camp it up. Then Cathy Lee Crosby did a quite awful TV movie version that preserved most of the trappings of Wonder Woman, but robbed her of all her powers.

Lynda Carter had a much better time of things from 1976, with three seasons of The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. The first season, set as the original comic was during World War 2, wasn't bad and did a reasonably good job of presenting the Wonder Woman of the early comics.

However, the later seasons, set in quasi-modern/futuristic times, became very camp sci-fi affairs.

Nevertheless, none of these versions have really depicted the comics version of Wonder Woman, who can fly, is as strong and as fast as Superman, can talk to animals, has the wisdom of Athena and is a trained Amazon warrior. That means it's largely been left to animated shows and movies to depict the real Wonder Woman halfway decently.

Recently, however, in this, Wonder Woman's 70th anniversary year, NBC tried to make another TV version of Wonder Woman. For some reason, however, they got David E Kelley of Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and Harry's Law fame to do this. It's not been picked up for series, so will probably never get onto TV (just like that very first Wonder Woman pilot), but just for the sake of completeness and curiosity, I've watched it and, well, it's exactly what you think it would be like: never has a superhero worried so much about the law, jurisdiction, search warrants and the difficulties of her love life, as well as the pressures of running a company and being a woman in today's world.

So it would be tempting, at first, to suggest that David E Kelley hasn't gone anywhere near the source material, beyond having maybe watched a couple of adverts for the TV series once upon a time. We have a Wonder Woman who's a bit strong and fast, she has a lasso, she's an Amazon warrior, she has an alternative identity, Diana Prince, and there's a guy called Steve Trevor who hangs about.

But there's no Greek gods, no Paradise Island, no mission to teach the world its errors, no super-powers beyond great strength and no invisible plane. And although it might be called the Lasso of Truth - it is the literal, unbreakable embodiment of truth in the comics and can look into your soul - the most it can do is lasso people, so Wonder Woman actually has to torture criminals to get information out of them.

Instead, we have Wonder Woman running a corporation that sells Wonder Woman merchandise to fund her crime-fighting activities - her costume is deliberately "action figuresque" to boost sales here, rather than as a tribute to her adopted homeland or Steve Trevor's mother, who saved some Amazons' lives during WW2. Because she fights crime. That's what she does. No higher mission for this Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman with her action figure

This Wonder Woman's biggest problem is that evil corporate boss Liz Hurley is making terrible drugs that kill people, while also doing research on humans to create super soldiers that could possibly be as strong as Wonder Woman herself. And she must expose Hurley's evil schemes, first by accusing her without evidence, and then by breaking into her company's HQ and killing lots of people.

Liz Hurley in Wonder Woman

But there are at least a few nods to the original comics. She has a friend called Etta Candy, she flies a plane, even if it's not invisible, she calls herself Diana Thermyscira (the real name of Paradise Island) and while the corporation idea is new, the comics did have the idea that Wonder Woman would sell merchandising of herself, although largely to fund good will projects to help women.

Against this backdrop, we have the constant problem of the pressures of being Wonder Woman. She has to have the "perfect ass, the perfect breasts, the perfect teeth" and never show a moment of vulnerability or make a mistake. It's not exactly sub-text, given Diana says all these things herself, but the message is clear, if a little five years ago - being a superwoman/Wonder Woman is impossible, even for Wonder Woman herself, let alone for ordinary mortals.

We also have Wonder Woman's desire to have a regular life. She lives in an apartment under the pseudonym Diana Prince with a cat, is trying to date through Facebook and moved to LA after a two-year relationship with Steve Trevor (there are hints at the backstory that she came back with him from Paradise Island). She watches soap operas with yearning, although thankfully, the scripted "dancing to Single Ladies while eating ice cream" scene never materialised in the filmed pilot.

Wonder Woman watching a soap opera

Does any of it work?
Surprisingly, on some levels it does work. The attempts to humanise Diana, who can be a little perfect in the comics, are admirable, even if they're fundamentally flawed. The Steve Trevor-Diana relationship is actually not bad if you ignore the fact that she's an Amazon princess, although given that Justin Bruening from the Knight Rider remake plays Steve Trevor, it's not well acted.

The fight scenes are surprisingly well handled, too, some of the best and indeed most brutal that superhero TV has given us yet - this is a Wonder Woman who can definitely kick arse and her golden lasso is as infinitely long and handy in a fight as it is in the comics.

Wonder Woman with lasso

Wonder Woman fight

Wonder Woman somersault

She can also deflect bullets with her bracelets.

Wonder Woman deflecting bullets

That jet she has is very nifty, too.

Wonder Woman in her jet

Wonder Woman flying her jet

But this is still a Wonder Woman robbed of her powers and dignity, who complains that the action figure versions of herself have ridiculous tits (her word). She limps after being hit by a car, although it at least has the good grace to smash on impact. She also kills people surprisingly often for an emissary of peace, something the comics Wonder Woman isn't 100% averse to but who usually tries to first find a better way of dealing with problems than throwing steel pipes into people's necks.

There's the usual Kelley mis-handling of ethnic minorities, who might as well be from Tom and Jerry cartoons for all the work put into their characters. The dialogue is painful, cliched and hackneyed. The plot is like a Chinese whispers version of the idea of a 1970s comic. And any interaction between women and men has to have Kelley's trademark take on gender relationships. Hurley and Wonder Woman even spend more time talking about how assertive Wonder Woman should be ("Oh, I heard you were so nice in person").

And then there's the legal aspect of this, something that the comics or indeed any previous version of Wonder Woman have barely touched. As well as an amazing number of cameos from actual lawyers such as Nancy Grace and Alan Dershowitz (as well as Dr Phil) and the fact that Steve Trevor is no longer an airforce test pilot but a lawyer with the Department of Justice, almost every single scene involves lengthy discussions about the legality of what Wonder Woman does. Can she speak to a prisoner in police custody? Can she enter somewhere without a warrant? Can she make accusations in public? Given that she's a diplomat from Thermyscira in the comic, you'd think diplomatic immunity could avoided all that pain, but apparently not. So every scene feels like it carries a 15-day waiting period and background check before anything exciting is allowed to happen.

Allen Dershowitz in Wonder Woman

Adrianne Palicki does almost look the part, at least, despite a plasticky costume that was going to need a lot of CGI to improve. She's fine at the physical work, a little wooden, but by no means the worst actor in the whole piece, Bruening and Hurley in a tie for that hallowed position. Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) is Diana's corporate advisor and is fine, but clearly in a different David E Kelley show altogether. Hopefully they'll both go onto better things.

On the whole, while it does have a few things going for it, it's probably a good thing this version of Wonder Woman will never hit the airwaves. Unfortunately, it might also have been the kibosh on a proper version of Wonder Woman appearing either in movies or on TV for a few more years yet. Which is a shame.

UPDATE (2/8/11): And here's the whole thing. Watch it while you can!

UPDATE (29/3/15): And now here it is again!

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