The road through “Development Hell” is littered with the carcasses of movies that might have or should’ve been; dynamite pairings of material, director, and maybe a few choice actors, that for whatever reason (budget, timing, creative differences) just couldn’t get their shit together and just make the damn thing! Welcome to Movies That Could’ve Been, a new feature where we pour one out for the lost masterpieces that just may have made their way to the silver screen… if only the movie gods had been nicer that day.
With the release of DC’s latest superhero flick Wonder Woman, we thought we’d go back in time to 2006 when a fresh-faced TV writer/director called Joss Whedon was hired to write the long-languishing movie version of Wonder Woman.
In 2006, Joss Whedon wasn’t the blockbuster director that he is today. Sure, he’d had some success, but it was mainly limited to the small screen and his classic TV shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer and it’s spin-off Angel. His newest sci-fi series Firefly had been unceremoniously dumped by Fox after 13 low-rated episodes, but somehow he’d managed to wrangle a feature adaptation of the series to fruition. Serenity had come and gone with the same mix of fan fervor, critical praise, and wider audience indifference that greeted the series.Cut to the Warner Bros offices, and Whedon is handed the keys to the invisible jet. The long-gestating project finally has new life and he excitedly starts writing what was supposed to be Wonder Woman’s screen debut. Speaking to Rookie Magazine, Whedon gives his take on the powerful superheroine:
“[Wonder Woman] was a little bit like Angelina Jolie [laughs]. She sort of traveled the world. She was very powerful and very naïve about people, and the fact that she was a goddess was how I eventually found my in to her humanity and vulnerability, because she would look at us and the way we kill each other and the way we let people starve and the way the world is run and she’d just be like, ‘None of this makes sense to me. I can’t cope with it, I can’t understand, people are insane.’ And ultimately her romance with [classic Wonder Woman love interest Steve Trevor] was about him getting her to see what it’s like not to be a goddess, what it’s like when you are weak, when you do have all these forces controlling you and there’s nothing you can do about it. That was the sort of central concept of the thing. Him teaching her humanity and her saying, OK, great, but we can still do better.”
A superpowered Angelina Jolie (or just a regular Jolie, depending on how you see her), could be cool I guess, at least if she’s written by Whedon. Unfortunately for him, and WW fans in general, Warners had different ideas on how their prized Amazon princess should be handled. As he explained on his blog:
“I had a take on the film that, well, nobody liked. Hey, not that complicated. Let me stress first that everybody at the studio and Silver Pictures were cool and professional. We just saw different movies, and at the price range this kind of movie hangs in, that’s never gonna work. Non-sympatico. It happens all the time. I don’t think any of us expected it to this time, but it did. Everybody knows how long I was taking, what a struggle that script was, and though I felt good about what I was coming up with, it was never gonna be a simple slam-dunk. I like to think it rolled around the rim a little bit, but others may have differing views.”
This movie went into development right after the both Catwoman and Elektra failed to find critical or audience favour, so it’s understandable that the studio was hesitant to hand the reins over to their most prized female hero if they didn’t 100% like where it’s headed. Warners balked at the script that was turned in and Whedon’s version of Wonder Woman never saw the light of day.Ordinarily, that’d be the end of the story, a fun debate to have with friends after seeing Patty Jenkins‘ movie. However, it just so happens that a copy of the script made it’s way online (via Indie Ground Films), and now we all have the opportunity to really see how the two might compare. I’ve taken the liberty of reading JW’s script so you don’t have to (but I recommend it, it’s a pretty entertaining read).
The Two Wonder Women
POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT: This part may go into some plot points of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie to see how Joss Whedon’s script differs. I’ll try to keep it relatively spoiler-free, but in the interest of comparison, I can’t promise anything. Look away if you don’t want anything to be spoiled.
So how do the films compare? Was Warner Bros right to cast aside the eventual director of The Avengers?
Both stories start relatively the same way; Steve Trevor crash lands on Themyscira and is saved by Diana. They diverge quite quickly though, as Whedon’s Amazons are much more hostile to Trevor and sentence him to death, which is quickly followed by a knock-down drag-out fight between Diana and her mother Hippolyte. Trevor is saved, and he and Diana leave the island and enter the real world where they’ll encounter Albanian warlords, drug dealers, and our big bads, a tough corporate CEO and her demi-god henchman.
The biggest difference between the two Wonder Woman‘s is the time period. Whereas Patty Jenkins’ version is set in 1918 (with some modern day bookends), Whedon’s take is firmly in the present, or at least the 2006 present. Steve Trevor thus morphs from roguish secret agent to brooding humanitarian, whilst losing none of his sarcastic edge. In fact, Whedon’s version might even be more cynical and quippy than Chris Pine‘s Trevor. The relationship between Steve and Diana probably isn’t as fleshed out as in Jenkins’ version, there are none of the smaller moments that work so well. Whedon’s Steve is a bit more outwardly hostile to the princess and it takes much longer for their back-and-forth to warm up.While Gal Gadot fights WWI baddies General Ludendorff and Doctor Maru, with the spectre of Ares always in the background, the main villains of JW’s version are Strife and Arabella Callas. Strife is an imposing supernatural being with a white face, red eyes, and metal skull cap, whilst Callas is the tough-as-nails CEO of Spearhead. Spearhead is a powerful tech/weapons company headquartered in Gateway City, where the bulk of the story’s action takes place.
Callas is charged with being the human cypher of Ares (a character the two films do have in common), who want to bring an everlasting war to Earth. Whedon’s villains suffer from being a bit underdeveloped, like Jenkins’, and I think that’s a criticism that blankets the entire superhero genre. Besides The Dark Knight‘s Joker, most superhero movies have failed to provide a truly engrossing bad guy/girl.
Without the benefit of an existing war as a setting, the villains have to cook up a war to make Ares happy, and to do so they’ve dreamed up a mechanical beast called the Khimaera, a long snake-like machine with a rock-drill/lion’s head at one end, and a digger/ram’s head at the the other. Callas and Strife use it to try and destroy Gateway City from underneath, and presumably, start some sort of conflict… but that part isn’t made crystal clear.
There are a couple of great action scenes in the Whedon’s version, although none really hit the heights of the No Man’s Land sequence in the finished film; Diana takes on an Albanian warlord and his posse, she tangoes with Strife in a crumbling building (which is probably the highlight), and the final battle is suitably high stakes, but like a lot of superhero movies it tends to reach for the ultimate in destruction whilst losing some of the humanity. The final battle actually feels similar to aspects of the climax of The Avengers, which Whedon did direct, so it’s good that he got his giant mystical/mechanical beast in a movie somewhere.The other big change from the movie version is actually a large part of Diana’s arc in the unmade script. Whedon gives her a larger taste of what being human feels like than Jenkins’ movie does. The first time she tries to confront a bad guy, she is unceremoniously shot in the chest. It obviously doesn’t kill her, but it knocks her out and provides a running verbal gag on her distaste for guns.
She also loses her first two fights with Strife; the one in the crumbling building, and then a second one where she is made to give up her Amazonian powers entirely to save Steve’s life. This allows for an extended sequence where Diana has to fight to survive, all without the benefit of her special abilities. It brings a humanity to the goddess and allows her to see firsthand the struggles of being human, which provides her with a bit more substance than if she was just bulletproof throughout.
All in, it’s a solid origin story with Whedon’s trademark wit and knack for female characters shining through. It feels slightly dated, but I’m sure that’s purely from the fact it was written 11 years ago. Having both seen the movie and read the script, I think I’d give Jenkins’ version a slight edge. The film has a lot of great character moments that the script is slightly missing, and these carry you through the eventual CGI-fest climax.
As an extra little tidbit, through the magic of social media, we also have a glimpse of what Whedon’s Diana Prince might have looked like. Shared to Twitter by costume designer Shawna Trpcic who’s worked on many of Joss’ projects (Angel, Firefly, Serenity), these sketches show a Wonder Woman that leans heavily on the classic comic book look whilst also trying for modernity. It’s also a far cry from the Ancient Greek inspired getup of Gal Gadot’s incarnation
Well, that’s it for the first edition of Movies That Could’ve Been. What are your thoughts? Love Jenkins’ movie, or would you have preferred to see Joss’ take? Sound off in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
If there are any “lost” movies you’d like to know more about, drop us a line and it could show up in a future installment!