You might have heard that the Wonder Woman television series has been in development hell for years. There’s a good reason for this, and begins with her title, “Wonder Woman.” The days when quaintly identifying power with gender are several decades old (even D&D now refers to monsters as “lizardfolk” instead of “lizardmen”), and Wonder Woman’s costume has evolved to only be a little less ridiculous. She’s an Amazon, living a modern world, who flies an invisible jet, and lives by a code in which men are inferior. Is she an ancient Amazon with a quaintly anachronistic view of the world or an alien from a highly advanced society with technology so advanced that it looks like magic? The “Wonder Woman” film is not interested in giving you answers.
What “Wonder Woman” does well is provide a mythical grounding for the character. Wonder Woman, AKA Diana, is basically a mythical goddess on par with Thor. It’s all the bizarre trappings that dilute her — her weird magical lariat, the fact that she’s dressed up like an American showgirl (“we made you a costume to fit in,” say the Amazons, and that’s a sadly ironic statement), or that she flies the aforementioned super jet when there appears to be no other technology on the island.
Wonder Woman (Keri Russell) isn’t just a superhero, she’s godlike, so her strength, endurance, etc. are unmatched. And yet she seems perfectly comfortable in a dress and heels (although she’s not afraid to complain about it) and highly suspicious of womanizing hot shots like Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion). But that’s okay, they’ll probably fall in love anyway, because Wonder Woman is still playing in a boy’s world.
The truth is that Wonder Woman’s background doesn’t lend itself to modern storytelling, and this installment does its level best to bridge the gap by smoothing over the rougher edges. There’s a running battle with Ares (Alfred Molina), the Greek Gods make an appearance, and Wonder Woman does get to show off just how physically powerful she is. But the writers aren’t courageous enough to just dump some elements without messing with the continuity of the broader universe Wonder Woman and her Amazons inhabit.
Thing is, Wonder Woman is mythology-light. She’s an Amazon but doesn’t wield a sword, a warrior princess but still works with men, and an anachronistic throwback but but not so outdated that she can’t use technology. Until some writer courageously cuts the fat, we’ll continue to end up with well-intentioned but muddled backstories like this one.
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