So late last week Michelle MacLaren — producer/director of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones fame — left/”you can’t fire me I quit”, the long-gestating “Wonder Woman” project. According to multiple sources, the rift was the oft-invoked “creative differences”, but primarily, that Warner Bros (which currently has 11 DC Comics in varied stages of production) wanted to take the Wonder Woman film in a more “character-driven” direction, whereas MacLaren wanted to stage an action-packed origin epic in the style of “Braveheart”.
As I wrote last week in my post about Twitch, CHARACTER is one of the key terms in diagnosing the symptoms of NARRATIVE COLLAPSE, because what Hollywood and BIG FIVE PUBLISHING mean by “CHARACTER” isn’t what they think they mean. “CHARACTER” seems to be a GLOWING SIGNIFIER in search of something to SIGNIFY, a word shouted into an abyss begging for an angelic answer. It has a tinge of existential lament at this point — “We just need more…character.” But what I kind of hear is…
We don’t want to spend much on individual stand-alone SUPER-HERO MOVIES to introduce a character, when our ultimate goal is to fuse them all into one giant BOUILLABAISSE film like “The Avengers” (and the upcoming “Suicide Squad” and “Justice League), which feels like the filmed equivalent to a model UN with capes (draw your own political conclusion there). Now don’t get me wrong, “The Avengers” does what it does well, but it is most certainly not “CHARACTER-BASED”…
When we discuss films like “The Avengers” and their ilk we’re in the realm of MYTH.
MYTHOLOGY doesn’t have CHARACTER. Where in myths do you find your JAKE GITTES, your TRAVIS BICKLE, your NORMA DESMOND (although maybe a little SALOME in there, but you get my point)? Those are CHARACTERS. They’re multi-faceted, contradictory, self-destructive, and in some cases redeemed. IRON MAN/TONY STARK is not a CHARACTER. He’s an ARCHETYPE. He’s the BOY KING, with some ELON MUSK thrown in for seasoning.
Really what every single superhero movie boils down to is one thing: A MATURATION STORY. You learn to accept the burden of being a HERO, which I’d argue in an age where over 30% of people cresting thirty still live with their parents, is probably both a valid MYTH and wish-fulfillement fantasy wrapped into one. But let’s leave politics and psychology out of this, because Hollywood usually does…
Hollywood clearly believes they caught lightning in a bottle with this single realization: The reason super-hero films failed in the 80’s and 90’s (by and large, excepting BATMAN and SUPERMAN) was they failed to give the HERO a FLAW, a VULNERABILITY, and make him/her RELATABLE (ugh what a word!) to the audience at large. And once Hollywood realized this, every SUPERHERO had to get a flaw.
But ARCHETYPE + FLAW doesn’t give you CHARACTER per se, it gives you ACHILLES.
Achilles, a great archetype, was enlivened and given pathos by granting him a FLAW — but it certainly didn’t make him MULTI-DIMENSIONAL. No one is going around confusing Achilles with Gatsby (although maybe in Hollywood). Giving more and more BACKSTORY and PSYCHOLOGICAL COMPLEXITY to a MYTH, or point of fact, eliminating backstory in total (as in the JOKER), still leaves you with AN ARCHETYPE. Was the Joker not just an especially malevolent form of THE TRICKSTER?
So what I hear via WONDER WOMAN is: WE HAVEN’T FIGURED OUT THE FLAW YET, haven’t found the vulnerability to traffic in. That’s the underlying masonic Hollywood code for “CHARACTER”.
And every film in the HOLLYWOOD BACK-CATALOG made with some degree of ambiguity is being excavated in search of CHARACTER. I mean was there ever a worse decision than to let ROB ZOMIBE (a genuine horror auteur I have a ton of respect for) create a Freudian-Jungian — with a discreet varnish of John Douglas tossed in — backstory for one of cinema’s ultimate blank canvases, MICHAEL MYERS? Hell, even a bonafide classic like BLADE RUNNER isn’t safe from being rooted around in and having all it’s ambiguities stripped and researched.
This is a NECROPHILE endeavor, but necrophilia is what suits FRANKEN-FRANCHISES and FRANKEN-NARRATIVES. They restore and reanimate UNWANTED LIFE to that which was perfectly content being DEAD or UNANSWERED.
But I think what I find even more fascinating than all of this is: the ENORMOUS FISSURE at the heart of most films today. A level of VISUAL ENERGY that has absorbed even the furthest outliers of the AVANT GARDE (Tony Scott was the master of this technique), wedded to AN ENTIRELY REGRESSIVE NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE.
Think about it: Film must be the only artistic medium that has gone through CLASSIC, MODERNIST, POST-MODERNIST, and into POST-HUMANIST VISUAL TECHNIQUE, without a single alteration in NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE. This the CRISIS OF REPRESENTATION in film. Sure, you have your occasional narrative experimenters, Godard, Altman, Kubrick: but they’re not MAINSTREAM. The only possible NARRATIVE BREAKTHROUGH one could point to in film is this: THEY SPED IT UP. But it’s still primarily DRAMATURGY.
Has this ever happened before? The most cutting edge techniques of expression wedded to an entirely RETROGRADE narrative apparatus. Imagine if literary MODERNISM and POST-MODERNISM had told the exact same stories as the 19th century, but just CHANGED ALL THE WORDS. That’s unthinkable. But it’s what you have in HOLLYWOOD NARRATIVE today.
And that digressive explanation is why Wonder Woman needs more “character”.