Dramaturgery: Wonder Woman

Posted: July 23, 2013 in Braak, comic books, movies
Tags: , , ,

wonder-woman602

braak

You know, it’s more than a little bonkers that we’re going to see Rocket Raccoon and Groot the Sentient Tree in the movies before we see Wonder Woman, that we got two Tomb Raider movies and an adaptation of a board game, they’re going to do Batman vs. Superman and probably the Flash, a prequel to Alien that nobody was asking for, THREE Hobbit movies, et cetera and so forth.  Wonder Woman is a well-known property.  It is insane that Warner Brothers thinks they can’t make a Wonder Woman movie that would be good!  I mean, first of all, it CAN’T be that they think they can’t make a GOOD movie, since producing a movie against all prevailing signs against its quality has never even slowed down a major movie studio.

But still, though, it can’t be that hard, right?  To make a Wonder Woman movie that isn’t terrible?

Well, wait, let me see if I can do it.

Let me take a second and briefly talk about theme, before I get started.  I know it’s weird, thinking “what is this movie about” BEFORE you start to write it, except I kind of feel like if you know what the movie is about FIRST, then whenever you have to think up a plot element or an emotional beat or make a choice about one thing or another happening, you’ve got a built-in guideline.

“Should Iron Man throw a nuclear bomb at the space aliens?”

“Well, this movie is about how POWER is great if the good guys have it, so if Iron Man can win by using the most power, then yes.”

The more I think on this kind of thing, the more I think that the only real thing superhero movies can be about is power, yes, but there are a lot of different things that you can say about power.  You can talk about how it’s used, and when it’s used, and why it’s used.  You can talk about the difference between wanting power to solve a problem, and wanting power for its own sake.  You can talk about how having power blinds you to compassion.  But since the central element of your story is that it’s about someone who — by dint of magic or space alien heritage or good/bad luck — just has more power than everyone else, the fact that this story is going to be about power is inescapable.

And if the story is going to be about power, that means it is automatically a metaphor for every other use of power in the world.  Sometimes it’s a good (meaning accurate) metaphor, and sometimes it’s a good (meaning incisive) metaphor, and sometimes it isn’t, but if you make a movie about the powerful then, like it or not, you’re saying something about power.  You can pretend it isn’t there, but all that means is that what you’re going to say is going to come out confused and stupid.  Better to think it out ahead of time.

So.  What do you want to say about power?

Let’s say this:  that the power to save a life is always more important than the power to take one.

Now.

ACT I

Let’s start this off on Themyscira.  An Idyllic Paradise, lush and green, very tropical.   I kind of like the idea of it having a lot of Greek (alternately, like, Khmer) ruins around, giving the impression of an advanced civilization gone to seed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve got Hippolyta here, mourning the death of her sister.  She forms a child out of clay and asks the gods to bring it to life, since Themyscira is essentially a society in stasis; there’s never any children.

The gods do this, they appear right on the beach!  I would like it if they didn’t glow, and if they looked pretty mutlicultural.  They bestow on the clay child the attributes of strength, speed, wisdom, beauty, ferocity, skill, &c.  When they leave, one god stays behind (we can recognize this guy as Hermes or not) to talk to Hippolyta.

Hermes:  “You forgot to invite someone.”

Hippolyta:  “He has taken enough from me.  He cannot have her, too.”

Hermes:  “Nothing can be born without a death.”

Hippolyta says nothing.

Hermes:  “If you had called him, she would have lived a long life, free from him for many centuries.  But now…  While she remains here we can protect her, but if she leaves this island, he will hunt her to the ends of the earth.  He will never forgive this insult.”

Cut to:  Amazons, having fun in their amazon way (i.e.: fighting).  They are just having a swell time on Themyscira, among them Diana (who we know as Wonder Woman).  All is peaceful in Themyscira!  Or is it!?!?

While on the beach, Diana is separated from her sisters and sees a life-raft washing up on shore, pursued by another boat.  A man gets out of the boat — bedraggled, wet, clearly American.  He runs towards them and then BANG!  Is shot dead!

[Hahah, good fakeout for Wonder Woman fans, I like this fakeout.]

Nearby, another boat has come ashore, this one has got Nazis on it.  Wonder Woman fights the Nazis and kills them (there are just two), let’s say by accident.  I mean, she doesn’t mean to KILL them, necessarily, but she is a super-strong Amazon, she maybe didn’t know that grabbing one guy by the arm and just hurling him into the other guy was going to break both their necks.

Of course there is a big ruckus on Themyscira, notably because Hippolyta sees the insignia on the Nazi uniforms, and believes she knows what it means:

waffen-ss-eagle-skull-insignia-silver-bunt-metal-b116

HE has found a way onto the island, and is coming for Diana.

There is an argument in which Diana pries this out of her mother, her mother explains about how Diana is the only hope for the continued survival of the Amazons, about how she needs to protect her from the Hidden God, whose name we all know but never speak of.

Diana obviously gives her mom some guff about how Amazons don’t run from their enemies (the irony here — that Diana has such a specifically warrior-attitude despite never having participated in actual war — is very purposeful).  She (maybe with the help of another Amazon who we can save for a villain in the next movie; DEAR MOVIE STUDIOS:  patience, you dumb motherfuckers) grabs some fighting gear (magic lasso, magic bracelets and, importantly, sword, spear, and shield) escapes on a boat into the ocean, for all intents and purposes with the plan to go out into the world, find Death, and kick his fucking ass.

ACT II

So, where are we in the world?  We know it’s WWII days, because of Nazis.  Most of this movie is going to happen in North Africa, where a detachment of Nazis led by a guy who isn’t quite Erwin Rommel (but I’m going to call Rommel, anyway), is part of Operation Torch, which is the Nazi campaign in North Africa.  The look of Saharan Algeria is going to be a nice contrast to Themyscira:

Hoggar_Tamanghasset_Algeria

So, let’s get into our badguys.  We’ve got our Rommel — Erwin Rommel was a famously good tank commander, and a famously bad Nazi.  He routinely ignored orders to kill Jewish captives (soldiers or civilians), maybe tried to assassinate Hitler, eventually committed suicide because the Nazis promised they’d leave his family alone.

Then we’ve got two SS guys:  one is a lady (one of Wonder Woman’s famous nemeses was Paula von Gunther, but that is a TERRIBLE name.  We’ll call her Paula for now, but that’s going to have to change).  The other is a new character, we’ll call him (for right NOW) Von Bek (hahah, Michael Moorcock, I am making a joke at your expense).

We can take a minute to establish the relationships of the badguys.  Von Bek and Paula have been sent to keep an eye on Rommel and push him towards a secret mission for the Fuhrer.  Rommel tolerates their presence, but ignores the horrible stuff they want him to do.

(Paula:  “Sometimes, general, I doubt your commitment to the future of the Fatherland.”

Rommel:  “I want no part of a future built on the back of a massacre.”

&c.)

A good thing is for them to have just seized an Algerian town near the coast, looking for clues.  The SS guys basically think all the Algerians should be…let’s say not “put to death” exactly, so much as they need to be forcibly relocated to the next town — i.e., by driving them out into the desert.  Rommel refuses this and actually shares his rations of food and water with them.  (Such a bad Nazi.)

But then!  The Americans arrive!  There is a fight!  The Germans plan to hold the city, because the SS guys haven’t found whatever they’re looking for.  Rommel reluctantly agrees to try to hold it, moving the tanks and such through the town (this could be an interesting, pretty tense scene I don’t feel like we see a lot of in movies).  Into this pitched battle comes Wonder Woman, and I don’t mean to seem two ways about this, she straight up wades right in.  Doesn’t care who is who, which guys have what flags — people have guns and knives and Wonder Woman is a straight-up wrecking MACHINE.  We’re going to say that she doesn’t flat-out kill dudes, but we’ll also say that she’s not going out of her way to make sure they’re alive, either.

Von Bek and Paula (hahah, Paula) see what’s going on, and they prevail on Rommel to retreat.  He pulls his guys out, the Americans kind of advance, but are stopped by Wonder Woman who, like I said…just throwing guys through walls and everything.  Everything is worse because the guys try and shoot at her, but obviously she has a shield and magic bracelets and is fucking BULLETPROOF.

Maybe she can straight-up bat a grenade away or something too, that would be rad.

Anyway, she finally stops when a medic charges at her, ducks under her haymaker, and slides over to a fallen soldier in order to help him get away.  She is about to wreck this guy, but he just stares fearlessly back at her, and Wonder Woman decides to stand down.

This guy is Steve Trevor, and I am going to depart from the comics with him a little bit here, so hear me out:  in this version of the story, Steve Trevor refuses to fight.  He won’t hold a gun, because he actually is a Quaker.  He doesn’t like Nazis, though, so he wants to help, he decides to be a medic (my uncle John, though NOT a Quaker, was in World War II.  He didn’t want to hurt anybody so he became a medic.  He got, we think, a silver star, a bronze star, and a purple heart, and was at the battle of Anzio.  The point is:  I think this is a pretty good masculine counter-part to Wonder Woman).

So, Act II ends with Wonder Woman deciding to go with the Americans and seeing what’s up, and generally being pretty appalled by the casual sexism in their camp, probably she throws a guy out a window or something.

ACT III

Okay, let’s see if we can figure this one out.

The things that have to happen are:

Wonder Woman has a contentious relationship with the American commander, who is like George Patton, if Patton were even more of an asshole.

Steve Trevor tries to tell her about the real world, but in a way that ends up being confused by a lot of things:  Wonder Woman doesn’t get gender roles, or why they should exist, so she can’t figure why there aren’t female soldiers; she doesn’t get PACIFISM, so she doesn’t really get why Steve exists; &c.  She does get Nazis, though she isn’t sure if they are the ancient enemy that her mother was afraid of.  She likes Steve, though, because despite not carrying a gun, he’s clearly not afraid of anything — there’s no braggadocio about him.  (Wonder Woman:  Do you feel like a coward, when you see other men fight?  Steve:  I don’t have to explain myself to you or anyone else.)

Wonder Woman volunteers for a midnight raid against the Nazis, they end up taking some Nazis prisoner.  Wonder Woman can use the Lasso of Truth to compel them to reveal what the Nazi plan is.  The captives don’t know for sure, they do know that the plan was to push deep into the Sahara to the Hoggar.

ELSEWHERE, we see the Nazis seizing an Algerian village.  There are not many captives, but enough.  The women are separated from the men, the men are put to death.  (Rommel is super-pissed when he finds out about this, and there’s a tense moment where maybe we think Von Bek is going to just kill him and take over…but not yet.)

The are also headed around.  They come to a town in Algeria that was not taken over by Nazis, though some people here are sick and wounded.  Steve is the one who thinks to actually ask people in the town what’s going on, instead of barreling through the way Americans want to, and the way Wonder Woman instinctively tries to.

The Algerians explain that this land used to be the ancient civilization of Kahndaq (hahah, sure! I know it is not in Algeria!), and in the mountains was the great city of Shiruta.  The city was built on top of a gateway to the netherworld, and many high-priestesses were empowered by magic to defend it, at an oasis at the foot of the mountain.

The Americans are skeptical, obviously, but Wonder Woman doesn’t disbelieve in magic, FOR OBVIOUS REASONS.

ACT IV

Right, so, the Nazis find their magical oasis at the foot of the ancient city, and (OBVIOUSLY) start using the magic on their female captives.  Rommel finds this for real repellent, he plans to defect to the Americans.  Paula kills him, after having the magic used on her — she reveals that it gives her, you know, Cheetah powers.  (It is very hard to make cat people powers look good on film, so I recommend doing this in a very subtle way, obviously.)

Wonder Woman wants to lead the Americans against the Nazis, who she thinks are at the oasis.  She and Steve have a fight because he still refuses to carry a gun or actually FIGHT fight.  In fact, he doesn’t even really want to leave the people who are in this town, because many are sick and injured.  He has a big fight with George S. Patton, too.  Wonder Woman finally leads the troops without him  up to the oasis but —

GET THIS —

The Nazis are already gone.  Where did they go?  Up the mountains into the city?  Or…

Everyone rushes back to the town, but too late!  The Nazis have been through, and their cheetah people (all the woman captives became cheetah women, I guess) have just fucked everyone up.  A lot of dead people, we can’t even find Steve Trevor right away.  Wonder Woman has gotten there ahead of the rest of the troops, while she’s parsing what happened, AMBUSH NAZI ATTACK!

Wonder Woman is preoccupied with the cheetah people, but manages to fight them, while the Nazis pull back towards their mountain fortress.

The Americans regroup, they have suffered devastating losses.  But, good news!  Steve Trevor is alive!  (FOR NOW, he was badly injured in the attack.)

He and Wonder Woman have a conversation, where he asks her what she’s really here for, it probably goes something like:

Steve Trevor:  Do you believe that people have souls?

Wonder Woman:  Yes.

Steve Trevor:  Who gets them when they die?

Wonder Woman says nothing.

Steve Trevor:  When you kill a person…when you kill a bad person, where does their soul go?  What god are you serving, when you do that?

Wonder Woman:  Bad people need to be punished.

Steve Trevor:  You said that you’re the spirit of truth.  But truth isn’t a weapon.  I don’t think you’re here to fight the world into shape.  I think you’re here to show us the way.

&c. and so forth.  (I guess at some point we will have to get into the spirit of truth thing, maybe put a pin in that, maybe don’t do that yet.)

Wonder Woman goes forth the next day, leaves her sword and shield and spear behind.  She just has her lariat and her magic bracelets.

The Americans want to do an all-out attack on the Nazis, guns blazing, tanks shooting, but Wonder Woman shuts them down.  I mean, literally.  Just punches a tank, kicks it over.  George S. Patton tries to stop her but she tears his gun in half, &c.

She is going to do this alone, she tells the Americans that they have to protect these people.

ACT V:

Climactic battle!  Wonder Woman fights Nazis and tanks and cheetah women in their mountain fortress, she is careful not to kill anyone!  It is hard, and makes her vulnerable, she probably gets shot by a tank or something.  We go to find a good way for Paula — the Cheetah-est of Cheetah-people — to be have a good fight with Von Bek.  Probably what happens — ooh, probably what happens is that Wonder Woman beats her and uses the lariat to compel her to the truth.  Very emotional scene, maybe the cheetah-power gets drained out of her as she accepts the horror of what she has done and so forth.

Then Von Bek kills her, and THEN he straight up just peels his skin off and is Hades underneath.  Haha!  Surprise!  The God of Death!

There is a knock-down drag-out brawl here, but Wonder Woman can’t win, because they’re on top of the Seal, that is sealing off the underworld.  Hades can explain that this whole thing was a long plot to draw her out here to him, where she’d have to fight him at the seat of his power, and she couldn’t beat him.  As long as the souls are sealed up in Tartarus, as long as there are wicked men to be punished, then Hades is basically unstoppable.  And the other option is what, let EVERYONE go?  Even bad people?  Even murderers?  Are you going to free wicked souls and let them all wander the paths of the Elysium Fields?

[Maybe there is a good scene here where Hades can tempt Wonder Woman by saying that Steve Trevor is at his doorstep, and he can keep him alive if she’ll actually just work for him.  In fact, he’d have her just go around the world, killing bad guys and sending their souls to Hell, feeding Hades’ gluttony!]

Well, so, yes.  Fuck it, says Wonder Woman, Hades doesn’t deserve dominion over the wicked.  She punches the seal and breaks it, there is a vortex, &c.

And then, let’s figure that Wonder Woman extracts herself from the collapsed mountain and heads back to the Americans.  There, George S. Patton wants to have her arrested, but she’s just all, “Fuck this shit, guys,” and she and Steve Trevor ride off into the sunset.

I would like it best if Steve Trevor clearly was dying, and Wonder Woman sort of carries his body away, so that they can kind of have a moment alone together out in the desert.  Before he dies they talk, and Wonder Woman says that she wont’ return to Themyscira, not right away.  Not while there is good to do in the world, and not while the armies of death still sweep across it.

After that, what happens?  Who knows?

WONDER WOMAN.

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Comments
  1. Jeff Holland says:

    I’m going to stop you right here: Paula Von Gunther is a goddamn PERFECT evil person name. I mean, I get that it’s probably not the TONE you’re going for, but if I heard that a person named “Paula Von Gunther” was visiting my office? I would get the fuck out of the office that day.

  2. braak says:

    Hahahah. Paula.

  3. braak says:

    A key element of this story would be establishing whether Hades was A god of death or THE god of death. I would have him be the former, and then could you describe the underworld not as a natural condition of the universe, but as a kind of interruption? You could do it with exposition, i.e.:

    The gods wanted to keep paradise for themselves, and so they built Asphodel, a prison for the mortal souls, and set one of their own as warden.

    But that’s also part of what is good about having Hades disguised as a Nazi, since it makes it clear that in THIS context, Death isn’t the neutral, universal function of entropy — Death here is a conqueror and a murderer, he’s just been around so long that everyone has forgotten that he’s not an essential part of the universe. Terminally disrupting his domain, while it threatens the status quo, is actually a fundamental good.

    I also like:

    “Wonder Woman, are you going to disrupt the soteriology of the universe itself?”

    “Yes.”

    “How?”

    “What if I punched it REALLY HARD?”

  4. braak says:

    The other good thing about this plan is that if you set Wonder Woman up this way, when it comes time to do a Justice League movie, Wonder Woman can actually be the establishment character — she’s been working as a kind of freelance secret agent for the government for the last 80 years, which is a nice callback to her 70s history, and is a good reversal of her usual, “But Man’s world is so STRANGE”, we can save that confusion for someone else (Hawkgirl, the Martian Manhunter, &c.).

    Also, maybe punching open the gates of Hell is what triggers the reactivation of the Rock of Eternity, so if you wanted to do a Captain Marvel movie, you could tie this one into the origins of Captain Marvel.

  5. braak says:

    Incidentally, there is an easy way to answer the “who do we cast as Wonder Woman” question. It begins with, “Don’t worry about finding someone who’s already famous.”

    You don’t need a famous person to sell Wonder Woman. WONDER WOMAN sells Wonder Woman. You can put literally anyone in that role. So.

    1) Dredge MFA programs around the world until you find a good actress who is 6ft tall or so.

    2) Put her in a comfortable, sturdy boot with a 2-3 inch heel/sole.

    3) Have her do Gerard Butler’s Spartan Training workout for six months until she has shoulders like a truck.

    4) Don’t cast anyone taller than 5′ 9″ in the rest of the movie. (This should be pretty easy, as male actors tend to run short.)

    Problem fucking solved.

  6. John Jackson says:

    Nice.

    I thought the theme from Avengers was ‘sacrifice’ and being willing to jump on a grenade. Captain America always was willing, Coleson made the sacrifice all the time, and Tony Stark never did. So it wasn’t that he had the most power, but that he used the last of it to get the nuke out of the city. I mean, they couldn’t stop talking about it the whole movie! Maybe that’s why it doesn’t work well as a theme, cause they just kept talking about it.

    I’m not sure I love the repeated backtrack to Nazis as the ultimate evil. It’s simplistic and getting a bit dated. You could maybe do a multiethnic genocidal war like is going on in the different nations of the Sudan, with maybe some asian doctors without borders guy as the medic character. That way you avoid what Tears of the Sun did with vicious evil black men and white SEALs who save the day (and the white girl) by killing shedloads of people. No good guys, just lots of bad guys.

    Of course, the reason to use the Nazi war in north Africa is then you don’t need to have much of any exposition, because uniforms tell the story to mainstream America.

  7. braak says:

    What? What sacrifice did Coulson make?

  8. braak says:

    Also, the reason that you use Nazis in North Africa is: 1) as an aesthetic callback to Wonder Woman’s roots, 2) so that you can add dimensionality to a traditionally one-dimensional conflict using the Rommel and Patton character analogs (see also Wonder Woman’s disgust with the racism and sexism among the Americans), and 3) to raise the stakes on Wonder Woman’s ultimate moral arc: that killing bad guys (even if they’re Nazis) is not actually the morally correct action.

  9. John Jackson says:

    Ahah.

    Good points.

    And I guess I added Coulson without thinking, though his busy work schedule kept him from having anything more with the cellist. At least that’s what I thought they implied with that bit, Coulson was only ever really human to Pepper Potts and maybe Agent Hill. Everyone else just thought of him as Coulson, that SHIELD suit.

  10. braak says:

    Yeah, I guess I did forget that, okay, Coulson sacrificed his relationship with that cellist.

    I’m still not sure that “sacrifice” is really a clear theme in that movie, though.

  11. mugasofer says:

    You … are aware that Hades and Satan are … completely different, right? Like, utterly unrelated things. Hades is not evil, he does not gain power from evil souls in Tartarus.

    (In fact, only an astonishingly tiny minority, people so evil they attract the direct enmity of the gods themselves, go to Tartarus. Most people just wander the underworld as ghosts rather than making it to Elysium or Tartarus. But that only matters if you really want to go in that direction.)

    If you want WW to fight someone from Greek Mythology, which seems logical since that’s what makes her unique … why go for the cliche and turn Ares or Hades into a stock Devil-analog? Why not have the Amazon Warrior fight, I dunno, Hera? She fits quite naturally into the villain role.

    Of course, Wonder Woman fighting the literal personification of Housewives might be a bit too on-the-nose. But still, actually USE the mythology, don’t just shoehorn the names in there because it’s required. Definitely don’t stick them on the First Evil from Buffy. Lord knows that’s likely what we’ll get already when WB finally knocks together their version.

  12. braak says:

    You are aware that 1) I am using Hades as an analog for an inimical representation of death, and 2) Hades isn’t real, man.

  13. mugasofer says:

    Yeah, but Wonder Woman has two distinctive things about her character:

    1) She is female (which really shouldn’t count as distinctive, but sadly it does. Eh, she’s a woman FROM AN ISLAND OF WOMEN, you can hang some cool stuff on that.)

    2) She was created by the gods of Greek Mythology. There are a whole bunch of great characters, themes, and concepts in Greek myth. And they’re all pretty unique and different, because they come from a different culture and a different perspective.

    Making a WW film and not taking advantage of that seems like a shame. I dunno.

    So much of the “pop culture” version of Greek mythology has been rounded off to the nearest cliche, it seems like there’s a lot left relatively unexplored. So it’s kind of a pet peeve of mine when adaptations … don’t.

    (But in fairness, it IS a neat way to justify and explore the whole “thou shalt not kill” code superheroes often seem to have.)

  14. […] correctly here. I learned it from Chris Braak, who writes cool ones about stuff like Wonder Woman punching tanks and tearing George S. Patton’s guns in half for Threat Quality Press. I am using it here to indicate that I feel the plot of BioShock Infinite […]

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