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Friday, March 21, 2014

Why Zoe Saldana needs to be Wonder Woman

                I was in the middle of watching the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer for about the third time when it hit me- Zoe Saldana needs to play Wonder Woman. 

                I can’t be the only one thinking this, right?  I can’t be.  It seems too obvious.  And yet, I’ve heard nothing from anyone else suggesting this.  And before you try to interrupt me, yes, I am aware that Gal Gadot is currently cast as Wonder Woman for the (supposedly) upcoming Batman/Superman combo act.  You’ll have to forgive me for being skeptical, at least for the immediate future, that that will actually pan out.  The movie has already been pushed back another year to avoid the space-time-continuum-obliterating singularity that would have resulted had that film really ended up duking it out for box office dominance with Avengers 2 and Star Wars 7 in 2015 (just thinking about even the possibility of that happening gave me the shivers).  And Nolan’s Batman trilogy aside, Warner Brothers has had a terribly troubled time of it making any other efforts of theirs stick, capped by the ongoing debate over whether or not Man of Steel went way too far, so for now, shut up and let me fantasize about that particular casting choice getting flushed down the tube somewhere down the line. 

                Look, there’s no getting around a very uncomfortable truth when you look at a lineup of the main characters of each superhero/comic-book film that’s come out since this current age roughly began with the release of Batman Begins and Marvel’s launching of the Avengers project; all of them (at least the ones to get prominent, successful releases) have been about white men.  All of them, without exception.  No main female characters, no main characters of color other than Greek yoghurt.  The lone African-American characters of note thus far have been Idris Elba’s Heimdall (granted, an AWESOME bit character), and War Machine, and anyone who’s been following this blog long-term already knows how I feel about his on-screen treatment.  Same goes for Pepper Pots (worst waste of a superpower EVER), and while I proffer my hat to Scarlett Johansson for her considerable efforts as Black Widow, there’s no use pretending her existence on screen is not purely a product of the studio wanting a token fan-service character on screen to kind of balance out the gender factor (but NOT the race one).  Case in point- the very first shot of her in The Avengers is literally a 3D breaking-image of her boobs threatening to burst out of the screen.  There is also Nick Fury, but he barely counts, because Samuel L. Jackson is not bothering to create a character or give a performance for that role. 

                Granted, it does look like this will be partially remedied this year.  The Winter Soldier will introduce Falcon to the Marvel movie universe (also a side role, but still), and Guardians of the Galaxy will feature a female co-lead (possibly two?) duking it out right alongside the guys.  A female co-lead who, coincidentally, is being played by Zoe Saldana. 

                Which brings me back to my original point; we need, in a very bad way, a superhero movie starring a female hero.  We need, in an equally bad way, a superhero movie played by a minority, be it black, Hispanic, Asian, or (my personal preference) Native American (ahem, Lone Ranger is racist horseshit, ahem).  An African-American (or Hispanic, or Native American) Wonder Woman is the perfect, kill-two-birds-with-one-stone solution for both problems. 

                As far as a need for a female comic book hero is concerned, Wonder Woman is the obvious choice, because she is easily the most well-known female comic figure currently in existence, and honestly, she’s every bit as pervasive and recognizable a part of our culture as Batman and Superman are, so it’s really nothing short of a federal crime that the latter two have a combined 13 movies between them (no, really), and Wonder Woman has…..none.  No, the direct-to-video one doesn’t count, I’m talking about a big-screen, summer release with full studio backing.  So, yeah, there’s no good reason this to not have already happened. 

                Now, as far as having a lead of color is concerned…..okay, obviously, the big issue here is that, since comics started out within the white domain, there really aren’t any mainstream, instantly recognizable superhero figures who are “traditionally” portrayed as anything other than white.  Hence the inexplicable outrage over Idris Elba being cast as Heimdall in the Thor series, even though he has been nothing other than amazing in both films thus far.  There was the black Green Lantern in the Justice League show (which is the version I actually grew up with, it’s still the only image I can conjure up when you say the words “Green Lantern” to me), but again, that’s a show, and it’s a lone example among dozens of Green Lantern incarnations.  So in order for this very pressing issue to be properly tackled, a studio, any studio, is going to have to gird their loins, get in a good stretch, pick a character, making a daring, all-balls-to-the-wall casting pick, and just stick with it to the end, taking on all the pain and, to be polite, utter bullshit that will inevitably be piled on them as a result.    

                Alright, alright, I’ve extrapolated long enough.  That the first movie featuring a female hero will be Wonder Woman goes without question.  And I think most people (that is, most people with functioning frontal lobes) would be perfectly fine with her being cast by a woman of color, provided, obviously, that it’s a smart casting choice.  So why do I think that perfect choice is Zoe Saldana? 

                Well, to be blunt?  Why the hell not?  What isn’t there to like about that?  First off, her action chops should not be a question mark in anyone’s eyes, given her roles in 3 massively successful summer action blockbusters (Avatar, Star Trek, Star Trek Running Into Darkbrain), and her role in Guardians looks like it will be even more fighting-heavy than her previous films.  Granted, the sequences in Avatar were done almost solely with a massive special effects department, which included CGing nearly all of the actual fighting, but there’s no use pretending for a second that the eventual Wonder Woman movie will be any different.  The days of Bruce Lees, Jackie Chans, and Keanu Reeves dominating major summer action pieces will likely be a thing of the past before too long. 

                Second, and most importantly, the woman is a damn, damn good actress, evidenced by the fact that, although the previous movies of hers mentioned above were primarily visual spectacles with mostly shallow characters and tired plot devices, she was able, in each and every case, to give a performance on which each of the films end up turning.  She’s the most interesting character giving the most heartfelt performance in Avatar (where nearly every other performance was just as phoned in as the effects), and she has been the soul of a Star Trek reboot that is starting to stretch itself thin attempting to hide how little service it does to nearly every other member of the crew.  It is an impressive feat to be able to shine through even the laziest Abrams screenplay, one that far too many people seem to be underestimating (although plenty are not). 

                In short, she is a gorgeous and immensely talented woman, I’d argue one of the most underrated actresses in the business today, and her own personal record in summer blockbusters thus far has been impeccable.  She has all the needed chutzpah to give us a Wonder Woman worth remembering, regardless of how the rest of the movie ends up being.  It’s worked for Marvel thus far, there’s no reason it can’t work for Warner Brothers, if they would only see the light. 

                So there you have it.  I believe quite firmly that the smartest move any American movie studio could make in the immediate future would be to throw their weight behind a Wonder Woman project that makes the bold, courageous decision to make her a woman of color (perhaps getting a female director to take the helm?), and I further posit that Zoe Saldana is, at present, the perfect actress in the game to take on such a great and laudable challenge.  Disagree?  Don’t care, it’s my blog, but feel free to lambast me in the comments either way. 

                Let’s do this people.  Zoe Saldana for Wonder Woman.  Make it so. 

-Noah Franc 

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