Monday, January 9, 2012

Movie Monday: Wonder Woman

This week's "movie" is the unaired 2011 TV pilot Wonder Woman!

News of the Wonder Woman TV pilot burned across the internet last year, and I had every intention of hunting the show down and checking it out, but somehow I just forgot about it. After watching Doc Savage last week I was reminded of it again, so here we are!

The show opens with a teenage boy, who just got a college acceptance letter. Its clear he and his family are fairly poor, so this is a cause to celebrate even more than it normally would be. But, seconds later, the boy starts convulsing and bleeding from his eyes and ears. The family starts to scream.

After this strange, kinda gruesome opening (am I watching the right show?), we cut to a guy running down a city street, clearly away from something. He's running faster than any normal person could, and then we see who is chasing him:
That's Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights) as Wonder Woman. She catches up to her prey, and jabs him with a hypo, drawing blood(?). The cops catch up, and take the guy into custody...much to Wonder Woman's displeasure.

Later, at the high-rise offices of Themyscira Industries, a company run by Diana and her business partner Henry Johns (Cary Elwes) and executive assistant Etta Candy (Tracie Thoms). Themyscira makes a mint off of Wonder Woman's image, funneling the money into charitable works and Diana's crime-fighting efforts.

The next morning, Diana as Wonder Woman calls a press conference, and publicly accuses pharmaceutical manufacturer Veronica Cale (Elizabeth Hurley) of creating a killer steroid, responsible for several teenage deaths (like what we saw at the top of the show). This despite the fact that, as far as we've seen, Wonder Woman has no evidence. There's also a moment where someone refers to other supposed victims of Cale's being from "ghettos", a word still in use only to super-wealthy white people who only know of them from that one Elvis song.

Things also aren't perfect within Themyscira: Diana is uncomfortable with how she is portrayed in her own company's merchandise; specifically, the anatomical excesses of the new Wonder Woman doll:
Johns manages to argue her down, but Diana takes a stand.

After a scene where we learn WW has a third identity, a secret one as Diana Prince (who has a regular old apartment, a cat, and watches The Notebook while pining after lost love Steve Trevor), she goes back out as Wonder Woman to interrogate the guy she arrested earlier.

After openly flaunting her physique to get past the guard, Wonder Woman basically tortures the guy for information, breaking his hand, and looking positively gleeful over doing it:
We get some flashbacks to Diana's relationship with Steve Trevor, who is now working in federal law enforcement and has taken over the Cale investigation. Diana learns that Steve is now married, which clearly upsets her.

Later, Wonder Woman makes a full-on assault on Cale's headquarters, which is populated by your standard Hollywood goons. Surprising for a David E. Kelley show, its this action sequence that, to me, shines above the rest of the show--its a well-staged, tough, and exciting set-piece, showing Wonder Woman's powers off to dynamic effect, even working in the bullets-and-bracelets bit:
Wonder Woman confronts Cale, knocking her out. Later, back at Themyscira, Wonder Woman gets a round of applause from all her employees, including the prickly Johns.

But despite this this triumph, we see that Diana is still lonely. Back in her apartment, she logs onto Facebook, and chooses to list her only friend as her cat, Sylvester:
...with this downbeat scene, Wonder Woman ends.

When I first heard this pilot was rejected by the network, meaning A)it wouldn't be turned into a series, and B)wouldn't ever be aired, I was really frustrated and disappointed: I'm always up for a comic book-based superhero series, and I think Wonder Woman in particular deserves more attention in pop culture.

But now that I've seen the show, I can sort of see why NBC dropped it: the show, as evidenced by the pilot, is a mess. While
Adrianne, fills out the role well, the script really lets her down: this Wonder Woman is constantly complaining, moping, frowning, and being kinda petulant...when she's not whining about being single (ye Gods, are we back to the 1967 Wonder Woman mini-pilot?).

Maybe this would be more palatable if they had cast someone intriguing as Steve Trevor. But as played by Justin Bruening, who seems straight from the CW, Trevor is a dull hunk who makes me doubt Diana's character that she's so hung up on him.

On top of that, watching Wonder Woman so blithely--happily, even--torture someone was quite troubling. Maybe that would be the kind of mature theme a well-written show could tackle, but nothing else in this show makes you think its capable of really engaging such a serious topic. It comes off more as macho preening, totally at odds with a show featuring Wonder Woman.

Diana having three identities is just confusing, and seems like the kind of thing that would have been jettisoned early into the series. Both Elwes and Hurley are mugging for the back rows; it seems like once they were told this was a comic book-based show, they figured it was okay to play every scene in the most cartoony manner possible. Elwes' character in particular talks down to Diana like she's an errant child, as opposed to a fearsome Amazonian warrior. Sure, this is early in her career, but in some ways we have to see that this is a god walking among us.

(One small but annoying detail: you don't "list" your friends on Facebook by just typing in a bunch of names. If you're going to bother using the brand name of Facebook, at least try and get how it works correctly)

But as I said above, Palicki is good at Wonder Woman, and the action sequence is just great--it was kinetic and fast but never confusing (do you hear that, Mr. Nolan?). Wonder Woman seems genuinely tough, a nice contrast to her general ineffective mopiness throughout the rest of the show. Since this pilot was not finished, you can still see some of stunt harnesses, and there are even a moment or two when a graphic comes up telling us that some FX shots are still to come.

That suggests that Wonder Woman will never surface officially, since someone would have to spend the money to clean it up and finish the effects, and that seems unlikely. Which means Diana still has to wait for a proper, 21st Century live-action worthy of the name Wonder Woman.


Caffeinated Joe said...

Well, glad you saw it for us. Now I don't have to wonder. (Pun not intended, but apt!)

Craig Michael Patrick said...


Based on your writing, seems to me this pilot suffered from the same ol' problem: writing.

That said, I really dig the direction Azzarello has taken Diana in the new comic book series. It's faintly reminiscent of Perez's reboot a few decades back, only a bit more grounded in a Gaiman-esque fashion. It's a return to the mythology that birth WW in the first place.

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