Script-O-Meter rating: 9
Premise: When a woman from a secret Amazonian nation discovers some of her God-like powers, she saves a fighter pilot, who tells of devastating world war conflict, which the Hero knows she can stop by finding and defeating Ares, the G-d of war.
To see Wonder Woman as a masterful blend of genres is to understand one of the many achievements of this film.
First, the genre of Mythology: Diana is an archetypical Woman/God, which makes her conflicted throughout the story. This gives her a unique Weakness/Need that is missing in many stories like this. She is part warrior; part female who loves babies/kind relationships; she’s generous to those around her; she’s sensitive, smart, independent and emotional.
Wonder Woman is an Origin Story of this woman/God, whereby Diana embodies the naïveté of a young girl mixed with the warrior creed of her Amazonian nation. The Amazons were created by the God Zeus to protect mankind. But Diana does not celebrate battle or death or the urge to conquer, which is the male warrior inbred myth. Rather, she celebrates life and preservation of her nation in utopian existence together with a toughness of spirit and courage when forced to do battle.
Adding to her archetypical Godlike nature and her naïveté in a cynical world at war, we then have a “coming of age” story, whereby the Hero not only discovers her innate powers, but her ability to make choices that can sometimes have dire consequences.
The Hero’s dilemma: Should I engage in war and its evil consequences or should I stand down and let the humans solve their own problems? While the Generals wage war strategically, ordinary mankind is gassed in villages by Dr. Poison and German Opponents – an obvious precursor to more dastardly tactics not too long after the end of WWI.
Action/Adventure is the “technical” genre that gives the plot its spine: Diana has a clear Desire Line/Goal: Find Ares and kill him. We are told that Ares, Zeus’s son, became jealous of humanity and orchestrated its destruction. A story element in both mythology and adventure is the journey. In Action genre, the Desire line comes quickly, whereas in Myth, the journey is the Hero’s destiny, and therefore, the Desire line is discovered later by the Hero. In Wonder Woman, Diana knows almost instantly that Ares is the cause of all the suffering and destruction. This is tied to her naïveté and becomes part of her Character Arc, which leads to her Self-Revelation about mankind and what exactly she needs to be doing in the mundane world.
To update the myth element to the WWI era in the mundane world, Ares is the Fake Ally Opponent of the story, which is a powerful way to transcend the “search for the evil Opponent” – First Diana kills the German General, but it is a pyrrhic victory – When she engages in the Battle/Climax Sequence, she uses full force the as yet untapped powers that her Amazonian people (the Fantasy genre) knew she had all along. This discovery of who she really is and what she is capable of doing is a counterpart to the Tagline: “Mankind doesn’t deserve you.” The Self-Revelation is that Diana realizes both the good and the evil, but knows that she must stick around to set things right.
Another element of Myth is the use of symbols, a.k.a. Talismans: “Godkiller” sword, the lasso, and Diana’s armor, all employed by Diana with a unique sense of surprise and self-discovery. And more Archetypical Characters are recruits Spy Sameer, Marksman Charlie, and Smuggler Chief, and “Everyman” pilot Steve Trevor, with a salient sense of humor to offset the gravity of a world engulfed by war.
A flip occurs when the mythical belief that destroying evil will lead to good is juxtaposed with the Drama genre which emphasizes the mix of good and bad within the human. Therefore, the defeat of evil in the Fake Ally Opponent does not mean that Diana can wipe it out for good. It lurks in all corners of the mundane world, so Diana has her work cut out for her. This, of course, guarantees that we will be getting many sequels to this blockbuster hit!
The Drama genre is infused with the other main genres: Audiences feel Diana’s conflicted moral dilemma throughout the story. This is one huge reason for the film’s success – Diana’s universal appeal to the “everyman,” despite the fact that she is a SuperWoman God-figure. She is raised by a loving and protective mother, who doesn’t want her to find out about the evils of mankind because the mother wants the daughter to have a pure heart, untainted by the mundane world.
The Fantasy genre is centered around the island of Themyscira – an Amazon island that is a secret enclave entered through a mystical passageway from the sea. It is a utopian society of women. Diana, whose mother, Hippolyta fashioned her from clay, has God-like powers, but her mother fears for her daughter once she understands her full ability. She knows that Diana will not return home. Like all parents, this is the hesitation to allow their young to “fly the nest.”
Also, in Fantasy genre, the Hero normally moves from the mundane to the fantasy world, but then returns to the mundane world. In Wonder Woman, as with all mythological based stories, the opposite is true. Batman, Spiderman, Superman all come from the fantasy world to the mundane world of ordinary mankind. The flip here is that Diana is a female Hero with Godlike abilities.
Another flip is when male warriors in the mundane world discover the secret passage and invade utopia. These female warriors defend their nation using bow and arrow and incredible fighting tactics. Diana witnesses her first encounter with the mundane world and its potential for war and destruction. She also witnesses Antiopa, her aunt, who has been Diana’s mentor and trainer, sacrifice herself for Diana and their nation.
We have the 4-Point Opposition = Opponents: Erich Ludendorff; Isabelle Maru, Dr. Poison, who is trying to invent gas to release on the soldiers at the Front, and Sir Patrick Morgan (Fake Ally/Opponent), together with the love interest Steve Trevor (the American pilot)commander, trying to negotiate an armistice with Germany.
Please note an important trap to avoid: The director stated that she wanted part of this story to be like Casablanca, which has all the elements of Romance genre/Drama/and Historical Epic. But there is no set up for this in Wonder Woman. It comes off as an “add-on,” and a manipulation when there is no set-up. Steve Trevor is the love interest, but because this story is not in the Romance genre, we are not shown his flaws, Ghost, Back Story until he conveniently is in No Man’s Land, the village of Veld in Belgium. We have an uncomfortable break in the Narrative Drive for the Diana and Steve Romance.
Then the plot gets a bit muddled after Diana intends to kill Ludendorff, believing that he is Ares and thus killing him will end the war. Steve stops her to avoid jeopardizing his mission, allowing Ludendorff to unleash the gas on Veld, killing its inhabitants.
Now, the writer needs to have Diana blame Steve for intervening to give her a motivation for pursuing Ludendorff to a base where the gas is being loaded into a bomber aircraft bound for London. Diana fights and kills Ludendorff, but is confused when his death does not stop the war. Diana then pushes away her lover, as she is obsessed with her Mission. This is the set up for Steve sacrificing his life to save the world from the hydrogen gas.
Therefore, up to the Midpoint Break at Veld, the Narrative Drive was forward moving. By injecting Romance genre, this caused the plot line to become contrived. The famous farewell scene in Casablanca, where Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart have a Double Revelation, so characteristic of Romance genre, is attempted in Wonder Woman, but we are not invested in this romance because it seems like an “add-on.” An “almost could have been, but wasn’t” scene at the Midpoint would have saved the story from a Narrative Drive slowdown and a feeling of being manipulated.
Lesson to be learned: Have faith in yourself that the story you’re telling is uniquely fascinating and doesn’t need a fabricated version of another story that is in a different genre. Go with what your audience has invested in emotionally. Go with your unique genre twists and turns.
In sum, Wonder Woman will guarantee many sequels! Hopefully, each sequel will be a self-contained story, without relying on the phenomenal box office success of the first film, which means that the Character Web needs to stay intact; a new Premise needs to have strong Story Beats, and the genres need to be believable and melded together as well as in Wonder Woman #1 (with the Romance exception).