Thursday, April 1, 2010

EXCLUSIVE ! "Wonder Woman" script review!

Settle in kids, because I'm about to do something new. Through a contact at mine whom I can't even allude to, I have gotten a copy of the new script for Wonder Woman, which the good people at Warners have been trying to get off the ground forever! There was briefly some momentum on it about four years ago when writing god Joss Whedon was attached to it, but after his take failed to gain any heat, the project quietly slunk back into development hell.

For those who don't know, DC Comics recently underwent a restructuring and as part of this, parent company Warner Brothers created DC Entertainment, which is "charged with strategically integrating the DC Comics business, brand and characters deeply into Warner Bros. Entertainment and all its content and distribution businesses." Green Lantern was already in pre-production at that point, and recent rumblings have indicated some new movement on new films featuring Superman and the Flash, but nothing about Wonder Woman.

Until now.

This draft is dated Jan 2010, and it's got the usual studio codes and watermarks all over this thing. Odds are they can trace a specific code back to a specific person, so do not email me asking to see this copy. I really can't afford to get my contact in trouble. Given the secrecy attached to this project, he'd (or she) would probably be fired even if Warners just suspected they were the leak. If they had proof, this individual would have to leave the business altogether. I know Whedon's writing when I see it, so I can say that if this is a rewrite of whatever Whedon turned in there's probably less of him in this than in X-Men. There's no screenwriter on the title page, unless you could the obvious nom de plume of "Billy Marston." (Wonder Woman's creator is William Moulton Marston.)

Given that a writer has 12 weeks to turn in a studio draft, that would mean that if this was turned in the last week of January that the contract was likely started in late October. DC Entertainment was announced on September 9, so while there's time for this to have been rushed into development after that, I'd guess this was in the works slightly longer. Thus, there's always the chance that DC Ent gave notes on this similar to what I will.

Wonder Woman is a tough character to crack, as there's so much backstory to the Amazons that one must wade through before one even gets to how Princess Diana becomes Wonder Woman. In fact, to set up Amazon culture right could take 15 minutes to a half-hour. Maybe in the 70s, audiences were willing to wait almost an hour to see Christopher Reeve as Superman, but that's not gonna fly here.

Thus, the first thing in the script is a long voiceover/montage that covers about five pages. It's been ages since I saw Fellowship of the Ring, but a voice buzzing in the back of my mind tells me that it's like this. Here's the Cliff Notes of the montage - the Amazons were warrior women chosen by the Goddess Hera and rewarded for their faith in her with eternal life. They were isolationists, but not unwelcoming to men... until Hercules came with his men.

(Side note - they fuck up the pantheons here. If Hera is the goddess, then the demi-god should be Heracleas.)

As one of his labors, Hercules sought to get the Golden Girdle of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. In this version, he's acting at the behest of Ares, God of War, which seems like an odd choice until later in the script. Hercules seduces the Queen, as his men did likewise with the other Amazons, then enslaves them all. It's also made disturbingly clear that they rape the Amazons too. It's just a few lines in a montage (as is everything I've described so far), but the voiceover from a character we soon learn is Hippolyta makes it clear these violations happen.

I get why they did this, but I wish they hadn't, as it leads to some really screwed up stuff later.

Anyway, the Amazons pray to their goddess for help and she grants them the strength to break their bonds. However, as a penance, they must always wear the wrist bracelets to remind them of their bondage. Should those bracelets ever be chained again, the Amazon will lose all her strength and the will to resist. Hera offers Hippolyta and her followers the refuge of an island that cannot be easily discovered, where they will remain safe from the outside world. Hippolyta accepts it and many of the Amazons follow... but not all of them.

A splinter group of Amazons, lead by Hippolyta's own sister decline to go into isolation, renouncing their immortality and their faith in Hera. Mostly though, they seem ticked at Hippolyta's leadership, which lead to them all being taken prisoner in the first place.

All of that is in the first ten pages. Enough backstory to choke a horse, but we're not even done yet. Hippolyta tells us that after several centuries in isolation, she began to long for a child. She even sculpts a child out of the clay of one of the beaches, and the God's of Olympus grant her life. Demeter gives her power and strength, Hermes speed and flight, Aphrodite gives her beauty, Athena gives her wisdom, and Artemis gives her the eye of the hunter.

Thus is born Princess Diana.

Wonder what it must have been like to be the only child on an island full of women who are eternally in their twenties and thirties and look like supermodels? Well, too bad.. we don't get any of that. Hippolyta's voiceover is revealed as part of a ceremony in which a now adult Diana (she's described as "early 20s") at last receives her ceremonial bracelets. Seems like this is the sort of thing that might have been done when she was younger, but I'll go with it.

There are two ways one could go with the premise of an innocent born onto an island of man-haters. She could be Ariel from The Little Mermaid, curious about the outside world, and perhaps even optimistic that men really aren't as bad as the legends say. Or she could totally drink the Kool-Aid and be utterly mistrustful of men on sight, convinced that any man who sees her is prepared to enslave her as her sisters were once enslaved.

Unfortunately, the script goes the latter route. The first time through this really ticked me off in the first act because all the hope and optimism that Diana is supposed to represent in the comics are replaced with a woman who's been as brainwashed by the anti-man propaganda as the Hitler Youth were by the Third Reich. After reading the rest of the script, I get why they went this way - it gives Diana an arc where she can go from hating men to embracing the outside world and even growing close to a man. In script-writing terms, I get it.

But it's not Wonder Woman. And it's a HUGE turn off to the character for nearly half the script.

Diana's out swimming alone one day when she witnesses the crash of a military plane flown by Col. Steve Trevor. Steve bails out and parachutes to the beach of the Amazon's island, whereupon he has a Meet Cute with Diana that basically consists of her accusing him of being the vanguard of an invasion and kicking his ass. Steve doesn't help matters with a cocky, flirtatious attitude from the start, but he doesn't make any aggressive moves. Diana basically beats him up for leering at her.

Side note about Steve: he's one of the script's bright spots, sort of a cross between Han Solo and Tom Cruise in Top Gun. In the comics, Steve tends to be bland but here he's written as a womanizing daredevil who doesn't take any shit. Maybe it's that he keeps taking the piss out of Diana, but he's a lot of fun.

Anyway, the Amazons prepare to interrogate Steve when Hera appears in a vision. Somehow, she intuits that Steve's presence there is actually the result of a scheme that the evil god Ares has against her and the Amazons. To her credit, Hera is disgusted by the aggression and violence her charges display to the first man they've seen in centuries, and instead offers a Golden Lasso, which will non-violently compel Steve to tell the truth. Her harshest words are directed at Diana, saying that the girl has a lot to learn and while the others have the "excuse" of having been victims before, she's lived a pampered life of privilege so there's no excuse for her aggression. A look passes between Hera and the Queen here, and Hipployta herself seems concerned about what her daughter has become.

Steve has no knowledge of this Ares and says he was just following orders. Hera is certain that the influence of Ares clouds his actions, but sensing him to be a decent man, orders Hippolyta to release him. Hippolyta decrees that they will send an Ambassador to return Steve to his world and then investigate what influence, if any Ares has over Steve's people. Naturally, Diana is chosen as that Ambassador, and Hera even supplies her with Amazonian armor that is redesigned to reflect the colors and symbols of Steve's homeland.

Yeah, the famed Wonder Woman bathing suit costume is reimagined. It's described as being like the armor of a Roman warrior, with a metal WW/eagle breast emblem atop a red leather corset, golden girdle, and warrior skirt in dark blue. Red leather boots top off the outfit while the tiara seems to be explained as part of Diana's everyday wear. There's no design art included, but the costume sounds like a decent interpretation of the outfit as warrior gear with the inherent silliness of the comic outfit. Take one look at Lynda Carter's outfit on the TV series to see how well that would work by modern standards.

So we're into the second act and suddenly the film becomes a bit of a romantic comedy. Diana flies Steve home but the trip is soon interrupted by a mid-air disaster. Due to poor air traffic control, a commuter jet wanders into a training exercise (we later learn that this military exercise was off-the-books and unofficial, giving a little more reason for how this happens.) Steve convinces Diana that she has to save the plane, and though the whole setpiece is perhaps WAY too close to Superman Returns, it does give Diana a very public superhero debut.

While everyone is buzzing about who this "Wonder Woman" is Steve somehow gets her a job as his assistant (pilots have secretaries? Who knew?) despite the fact she has no social security number and no ID. (There's passing mention of "a friend at the CIA" helping him get her credentials, but a LOT of this is hard to swallow, even if it is relatively faithful to how it works in the comics.)

Aside from Diana biting Steve's head off at every turn (predictably she chafes when asked to do assistant tasks like getting coffee and filing), the script turns into a fish-out-of-water story for a lot of the second act. There are some funny bits - and many dumb ones. There's another secretary at the military base who might as well have stepped right out of Sex & The City. This scene mainly exists to hang a lantern on the fact that Diana's a virgin (duh!) and that she finds the very idea of the act repugnant.

This actually could have been a funny idea, putting the virginal Wonder Woman up against a Samantha-type. What keeps it from working is the subtext that Diana equates sex with rape. It's a can of worms that could have easily been avoided by merely having Hercules simply take the Amazons prisoner. But more on this later.

There are also the predictable "Diana gets amazed by our culture" jokes. Most of these fall flat, with the low point being when she turns to MTV and sees Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video. At first it seems like the scene is content to play out with a dry remark from Diana about how the dancing reminds her of some of the more juvenile rituals on her island, but it goes south when she starts studying the dance moves. (And since when did MTV play music videos?)

The payoff for this is when the assistant drags her out for a girls night at the club, and we're "treated" to a "comedy" scene of Diana dancing to "Single Ladies" like in the video. It's like the "Thriller" moment in 13 Going on 30, only even more embarrassing. Given how dated this would make the film, I'm praying it's a placeholder for another gag.

There is a nice moment in here, though. As Diana departs from her Girl's Night, she hears cries from a nearby apartment. A woman is being beaten by her husband and while it's clear many people on the street (and probably a few of the neighbors) can hear her cries, no one moves to help her. Donning her armor, Diana smashes through a wall of the building and deals with the abuser. It's a nice moment of heroism.

Alongside this, the main plot develops. Steve has a battleaxe boss named Col. Artemis, and that name should be a tip-off to any fans of Wonder Woman comics in the last 15 years that she's a descendant of the splinter group of the Amazons who left all those years ago. In a nutshell, she tells her men that they're looking for a terrorist cell that has been operating off a hard-to-find Island somewhere in the Atlantic. With what Steve (and we) know, it doesn't take long to figure out she's trying to find the Amazons' island.

Fed up with Steve's failed efforts to charm Artemis, Diana breaks into her office and looks for evidence. She gets more than she bargained for when a "Gorgon" attacks her. She fights off the Gorgon in another spectacular battle, but ends up trashing the place. At the same time, Artemis thugs to "persuade" Steve to tell the truth about Diana and reveal what really happened on his mission. His cover story of how he managed to avoid going down with his ship isn't holding water.
Steve fights off these thugs, but an interesting thing happens when he returns to his apartment. Diana has been crashing at his place and while she fills him in about her recent fight, more of Artemis' men break in. One of them draws a gun and when Diana doesn't freeze, he fires. Steve leaps on the man, in the process putting himself in the path of the next shot. He reacts so instinctively, he doesn't see Diana deflect the bullet with her bracelet. Fortunately, it's just a flesh wound, but Diana is impressed that Steve would have risked his life for her.

They try to interrogate the assailant, but he bursts into flames the instant the lasso is put on him. Somehow, Diana knows this means Ares is involved. She and Steve have a bonding moment, and by now it's clear that Man's World has softened Diana a bit... but that's still no set-up for what happens next.

Diana and Steve have sex.

That sound you just heard was about a hundred message boards opening up into rants about Wonder Woman and virginity. There is probably not a single DC Comics bulletin board where this subject doesn't come up regularly, and it always gets ugly and ends badly. It usually comes down to a fight between posters who will argue that only certain characters are worthy of sleeping with Diana, or that with her history she should remain eternally celibate. On the other side of the issue are posters who find the very suggestion of Wonder Woman's celibacy offensive and argue that it's a sexist, repressive attitude that runs counter to the powerful feminist message that Wonder Woman offers.

(It is funny how in comics, every other female character can date, and few readers will read into it and try to make some sort of sexual political issue out of it. But the instant Diana even flirts with a guy, the message boards explode! Not sure why that is. To be fair, somewhere along the way there seems to have been a story where it was implied that if Diana ever slept with a man, it would cost her her powers.)

In short, any writer who tiptoes near Wonder Woman's sex life is playing with fire. You think people had a problem with Superman having a kid out of wedlock? Just wait until this hits theatres. Jon Peters' giant spider has nothing on this plot twist.

Anyway, I get what they're trying to do with this -bring Diana full circle from hating men to embracing intimacy with them. If it wasn't so ham-fisted (and better developed along the way) it might have worked. Chalk it up to first draft-itis.

The next day, Steve and Diana report for work with plans to go over Artemis' head. Before they know what's going on, Artemis has them arrested. Steve inadvertently seals their fate when he urges Diana to cooperate and not reveal herself - and then she's promptly handcuffed over her bracelets. That's enough to sap her of her strength and her will to resist. Though Steve endures interrogation without giving up the island, Diana tells Artemis what she wants to know, much to her own horror and Steve's.

I'm not wild about the bondage stuff being put back in, but at least it's being used for something.

With Steve and Diana prisoner, Artemis launches an attack on the island. She reveals to her captives that - as I said before - she's a descendant of Diana's aunt... and a consort of Ares. Ares had been biding his time for centuries, trying to get revenge on the Amazons for humbling Hercules and his men. When Artemis joined the military, he became aware of her and revealed himself to her. In the process, he showed her the truth about her own past and now the two have teamed up to wipe out the Amazons and steal whatever power the gods left them to possess.

Meanwhile, Ares pulls off a coup on Mount Olympus. With the world on the brink of war due to some of Ares's other efforts, he's got more power than they do. All of the Amazons patron gods are incapacitated, making it clear that the Amazon warriors are on their own.

There's an awesome invasion scene as the military attacks the Amazons island. It's probably going to look like Saving Private Ryan meets Braveheart. (Though I wouldn't be shocked to find this was inspired by Avatar.) The Amazons weapons are a mix of ancient ones and techno-magic. This could be really cool on-screen. Apparently they can't bomb the island from above because of the magics that protect it, but they can do damage with ground forces.

Meanwhile, Steve breaks out from his cell, incapacitates a guard and gets to Diana's cell. She's described as being "zoned out" just sitting in the middle of the room staring at a wall. Steve gets her cuffs undone, just in time for some guards to arrive. You can guess where this goes - without so much as a warning, they fire and Diana - now back to herself - deflects the bullets with her bracelets. She moves in a blur as at least four guards open fire. Impressively, she deflects every single bullet... except one. Steve gets hit in the gut and dies in Diana's arms.

Cue kickass Wonder Woman action scene. It's awesome, she flies to the island and adds her own might to the Amazonian forces. It's like watching Optimus Prime kick all that Decepticon ass at the start of Transformers: The Movie. All that's missing is Stan Bush on the soundtrack.

Even more impressive, she does it without killing any of the invading American soldiers. She recognizes that they are all under the influence - magical and otherwise - of Ares - and decrees to her sisters that these men are pawns. I don't know if I buy that the Amazons managed to get this deep into the battle and NOT kill any of the men, but I'll go with it.

Having turned the tide for the Amazons, Diana uses a portal on the island to access Mount Olympus. She faces off against Ares, eventually doing him in with the Golden Lasso. This breaks his hold over the other gods long enough for them to vanquish him. Finally, Diana removes Artemis from command and brings about an end to the fighting.

As the story ends, Hippolyta considers opening up relations with the outside world, appointing Diana to be their permanent ambassador. Hera appears to Diana and tells her that she was touched by Steve's selfless sacrifice for her and all the Amazons, and thus, he shall be revived. (If any Amazons were killed in the fighting, their fates go unaddressed and there's no mention of any of the other pawns being resurrected.) Steve and Diana are reunited, happily.

As the film ends, Diana is told to find Artemis and see if there are any other descendants of Hipployta's sister's tribe still out there. It's also made clear that Ares power is far from crippled, as political tensions rising all over the world bring the threat of war, and thus empower him. Diana's mission is one of preaching peace and to prevent the outbreak of war at any cost.

So it's clear that Warners is trying to set up more than just one film here. I like the "bigger picture" sense offered by the ending. Still, while everything wraps up well, I've got a lot of major issues with how it gets there. The broad strokes of this thing work, but Warners would be smart to dump the sex scene, let the rape backstory be subtext rather than explicity, and totally change Diana's characterization in the first half. I get that the "wide-eyed innocent" approach to her character might have been seen as a cliche, but over-correcting to the other extreme really doesn't work if we're going to fall in love with this character.

Having said that, the action scenes seem like they could be cool and Steve Trevor is completely awesome. Warners, I implore you, fix what doesn't work in this draft but don't through the baby out with the bathwater.

[ ] worse than Wolverine
[ ] Did Jon Peters have a hand in this?
[*] Like a Bryan Singer superhero film, this could go either way.
[ ] On a par with Spider-Man 2
[ ] Better than The Dark Knight, Superman the Movie and Iron Man put together


  1. Wow -- a ScriptShadow parody, complete with poor spelling and sentence structure. Love it.

  2. Er... yes! Poor spelling and sentence structure - totally intentional! 100% planned, and the result of hard work and dedication to the tribute. John, you win the prize for getting the most buried in-joke of all!


    You guys bought that, right?

  3. Why I didn't even think anything strange of your little ScriptShadow parody rating, I don't know.

    BOOOO I fell for it. :)

  4. is this your pitch for a WW movie disguised as an April Fool?

  5. @AntoBlueberry - Considering that I deliberatly loaded this thing with every element I could think of that would stir up a lynch mob from WW fandom, it's pretty safe to say that this ISN'T my pitch for a WW movie. It might be fair to call it an anti-pitch though.

    Unless someone from Warners saw that and wants to pay me to write it. Then it was totally a real pitch.

    What? It's not "selling out," it's "buying in."

  6. I'm so bloody gullible me. aaaah

  7. One thing that jumps out at me is the provisos to the "being manacled" thing. I was always under the impression that it only robbed Diana of her powers, not her will. I think the sapping of her will power, leaving her "zoned out" is just overkill and actually undermines the character.

  8. Aaannnndddd.... that's what I get for not reading the comments or checking the posting date.

    *off to smack head against a wall for a bit*

  9. OCR it and post it! No water mark will survive that..