Fans of Wonder Woman have no doubt seen the most recent fan-made short/trailer, depicting the Amazonian princess taking on Nazis during World War II. Filmed as a showcase for the directorial skills of stuntmant-turned-director Jesse V. Johnson (The Package) – and NOT a WW movie – the trailer features Nina Bergman (The Wayshower) as the titular superheroine.
While viewers have been largely polarized over the short, we’re more interested in the questions this live-action take on Wonder Woman raises. And perhaps more importantly, which ones it answers.
As far as fan-made films go, the production value and actors are easy to appreciate, and far better than these kinds of projects generally sport. We don’t know exactly why the WWII setting was chosen, but Timothy V. Murphy (Sons of Anarchy, The Lone Ranger) plays a Nazi officer exceedingly well, and Peter Stormare again proves that if a camera is rolling somewhere in the world, there’s a good chance he’s in front of it playing a bad guy.
Johnson has already directed a handful of features, so what this trailer will do for his prospects is hard to gauge (after all, even the most faithful and inspired short films don’t guarantee work), and Bergman carries off the combat well enough, being asked to do little else but punch, kick and throw – all while looking menacing.
The fight choreography or style isn’t the real problem (we’ve seen cheesier). And while many like to attack any Wonder Woman costume as ridiculous or sexist, we’ve seen plenty that insulted our intelligence much more than this version. That being said, this live-action footage does perfectly illustrate the point that short shorts and a tube top just can’t cut it in today’s world, practically or dramatically. We’d point to the “New 52” and “Odyssey” costumes for something a bit more grounded (and intriguingly, ultimately abandoned).
The problems aren’t just in finding the right outfit, or an actress that can pull off Diana’s physical strength. It’s obviously hard to take a Wonder Woman of Bergman’s height and build (5’7″) seriously – but there’s no reason to think that a simply taller, broader or fitter actress would make the fight sequences seen in this short more compelling, meaningful or any less cheesy. We made a list of actress who could play the next Wonder Woman, and their muscle mass was barely a part of why we think they’d work.
What this short film proves is that a successful live-action Wonder Woman isn’t one that simply hits people – that’s not what spawned the character, nor what helped her last. Honestly, in a world of superheroes and superheroines blessed with super-strength and colorful costumes, what reason is there to reduce Wonder Woman to yet another? She is strong, to be sure, and can hold her own in a fight – but who can’t in the world of superhero movies? As a crowned princess from a bygone era and demigod raised to lead a matriarchy, her strength, when all things are considered, is actually not what defines her alongside Superman and Batman.
When actresses talk of Wonder Woman’s need to be a role model for women, it’s safe to assume they’re not referring to instruction on how to throw a punch, but what it means for a woman to be powerful and just in the same manner as Supes or Bats (or at the very least, show what that even looks like in today’s world).
Luckily, Warner Bros. and DC Comics seem to agree. Brian Azzarello’s current run on “Wonder Woman” has delved head-first into Greek mythology (a realm unavailable to most other characters) and the planned Amazon TV series seems more focused on the origin of Diana than her physicality, going by the audition scenes and alleged frontrunner for the part.
Whether DC or Warner Bros. ever get around to making a Wonder Woman movie – or Justice League for that matter - we don’t know if they’ll closely follow Lauren Montgomery’s Wonder Woman animated film or not, but they would be wise to take note. Montgomery had the guts to show that Diana’s isolation didn’t make her laughable, merely complicated. Batman is defined by angst and uncertainty, and portraying a woman in the same lens doesn’t have to be insulting or offensive.
There’s no question that the action of such a blockbuster movie will need to be big, and not ‘up close and personal’ as some might hope. Seeing Superman punch bad guys would get boring after a few seconds, so a musclebound actress doing the same is not a recipe for success (in our humble opinion). And definitely not if it means downplaying the part of her character and story that’s actually, you know, interesting.
What do you think of this Wonder Woman live-action short? Does it prove what will and won’t work for a full-length movie as it does for us, or do you think this is the path to success? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.