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Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon - About Heroines & Wonder Woman - Usatoday.com Interview

By Susan Wloszczyna

Saturday 25 June 2005, by Webmaster

Joss Whedon, the onetime boy wonder who brought TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer to vibrant life for seven seasons, is out to save comic-book legend Wonder Woman from a fate worse than those tacky star-spangled hot pants from the ’70s TV series.

It’s a curse that has yanked the cape of many in her super-powered sisterhood. Namely, a crummy movie adaptation.

"I said yes, because in the process of trying to say no, I thought about her character and fell in love with her," says Whedon, who will direct and is currently writing the adventure based on the lone female equal to Batman and Superman in the DC Comics universe. "She is a warrior in a world of complicity and compromise who will never lay down her sword."

But will moviegoers lay down good money to watch her? We may soon find out as several films brave the genre’s pitfalls and attempt their own she-heroes this year. (Related story: In search of a serious protagonist)

•The Invisible Woman in Fantastic Four, opening July 8. As the star of TV’s Dark Angel for two seasons, Jessica Alba had the cool moves and sultry pout to convince as a sci-fi vixen. Now she takes on one of the most revered of Marvel Comics’ female characters - Sue Storm, also known as the Invisible Woman.

Sue is a scientist and acts as mother, sister and girlfriend to the rest of the fab Four - namely, Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm (The Thing), Chris Evans as Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) and Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). What she isn’t, says Alba, is a robotic bombshell.

"She’s the backbone of the family," she explains. "She is not a (butt)-kicking girl at all." Not that she’s a wimp. "If anything, she is the strongest of the four. She can manipulate everyone else’s powers. She doesn’t need to walk around in a bikini to impress."

Director Tim Story does admit the temptation was great to put Alba in her curve-hugging supersuit every chance he got. But that just wouldn’t have been true to down-to-earth Sue. "With Jessica, we don’t have to work to make her sexy. What we have to do is to make every other aspect of her shine - her intelligence, the maternal nature of her character."

The main distinction between men and women action heroes, Story says, is one of motivation. "Males go out and start shooting people. People understand that. But with women, it’s not that easy. You’ve got to put a real package around them to explain why they are an action hero."

•Domino,Nov. 23. Gorgeous teen model (Keira Knightley) with an aggressive streak craves a new kind of high and finds it as a bounty hunter. The outlandish premise might sound too good to be true. But Domino Harvey, daughter of the late British actor Laurence Harvey (the original Manchurian Candidate), is the real deal, even if the film warps the facts of her life to include a reality show featuring actors from TV’s Beverly Hills, 90210.

Unconventionality reigns when it comes to relating Domino’s unique story. That includes its star’s tomboyish attire. "The minute I clamped my eyes on Keira, I threw out the wardrobe we had and let her wear her boyfriend’s jeans that she had on," says director Tony Scott (Top Gun), doing a female-driven action film for the first time.

Scott says Knightley, who was a gung-ho warrior Guinevere in King Arthur, is capable of convincingly hunting down Domino’s dangerous prey. "She’s very sexy, tough and different from anything else she has done. She is this girl."

•Aeon Flux, fall. Shortly after the stunning Charlize Theron won her Oscar last year for getting down and ugly as a man-killer in Monster, it was announced that she would receive $10 million to play a live-action version of MTV’s animated sci-fi assassin who leads a rebellion against an oppressive society.

While most wouldn’t have a clue how to even pronounce the title of the nihilistic cultish cable series (it’s EE-on), expectations have been fueled by the high-caliber female talent behind and in front of the camera. Karyn Kusama, who beat Million Dollar Baby to the punch with 2000’s Girlfight, directs her long-awaited second feature. Gale Anne Hurd, who cut through the testosterone in The Terminator series and Aliens, co-produces. Standing alongside Theron are fellow Academy Award winner Frances McDormand (Fargo) and nominee Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda).

As for the plot, Paramount Pictures and the filmmakers are keeping most details undercover. In an MTV online interview done on location in Berlin, Theron insisted that there is more to Aeon than just revealing outfits and Blade Runner-style futuristic action.

"Even though it’s a very physically demanding part, it doesn’t lack in the acting department," she said. "If it did, I wouldn’t be here. Aeon is pretty self-destructive, and sometimes thinks of herself as quite indestructible, and I can get into that."

Both the studio and Hurd declined to be interviewed, not wanting to lump their flawed killer with other female action figures.

Instead, they issued this clarifying statement: "Aeon Flux can’t be pigeonholed into easy categories - it’s a film about ideas. Director Karyn Kusama’s vision for this future universe has resulted in a film that’s unlike anything else."

Their reluctance to say more speaks volumes about the risks in making and marketing a woman-led thriller. So does the treatment of Domino’s release. After the film’s first test screening, New Line Cinema suddenly pulled it from its Aug. 13 opening and moved it to a November slot.

Producer Joel Silver, who helped launch such blockbuster action franchises as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and The Matrix, knows there’s a healthy interest out there in forceful females. Consider that Carrie-Anne Moss as leather-clad Trinity in 1999’s original Matrix tested more popular with audiences than any other character, including Neo, played by star Keanu Reeves.

Yet Silver has struggled for years to get a Wonder Woman movie off the ground. If anyone could make audiences care about a raven-tressed titan with bullet-deflecting bracelets, it’s the guy who pumped fresh blood into a stake-wielding high-schooler. "I hunted him down like a dog," Silver says of Whedon. "He understands the material."

If only the rest of Hollywood did. Most filmmakers can’t seem to get a handle on tough women. More likely, they manhandle them, as in those recent twin comic-book disasters known as Catwoman, starring an ill-used Halle Berry, and Elektra, top-billed by a grim Jennifer Garner. Even the femme mutants in the X-Men adventures are strictly second-class misfits.

The crisis in the female action genre stretches beyond the comic-book universe. Consider the cartoony capers of Angelina Jolie as video-game vixen Lara Croft, and Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz as the jiggly gigglers from Charlie’s Angels. Their idea of empowerment? Exploiting their own sexuality. As for Uma Thurman’s heartfelt avenger in the Kill Bill films, her impact was lost amid showy visuals and carnage.

From The Avengers to Alias, weekly TV has always been a more nurturing arena for strong women, a series staple since the early days of the boob tube. "To me, it is kind of a no-brainer," says TV vet Whedon about converting Wonder Woman into a film. "Then I see these movies with no brains. I never thought about how innovative Buffy was. Having a female as a star shouldn’t be a new genre, but it is. I have to accept it as that."

It wasn’t always so. Back in the waning days of women’s lib, a shining symbol of feminine fortitude emerged. Sigourney Weaver’s capable and captivating Ripley in 1979’s Alien as well as its first sequel, 1986’s Aliens, was on par, if not superior, to any man. She remains the gold standard.

A close second: Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, whose sculpted biceps far out-bulged her breasts in 1991’s Terminator 2.

But where are their cinematic equals now? Certainly not all those waifish wailers who have screamed and clawed through the year’s bottomless pit of cut-price suspense thrillers and horror remakes.

Given the odds, you can’t blame a few skeptics for taking a wait-and-see stance with Wonder Woman, either.

"He is undertaking an endeavor that no one has done successfully," says Larry Carroll, an MTV online reporter who wrote a cautionary "open letter" to Whedon. "If he does it correctly, he can be the next Sam Raimi," the ultra-hot director of Spider-Man. "But if he blows it, we won’t see another attempt for another 20 years. It will be like what happened to pirate movies after Geena Davis starred in Cutthroat Island."

What’s needed to give tough-chick flicks more credibility and appeal is an extreme makeover. A female answer to Spider-Man, which humanized the skyscraper swinger while attracting a diverse audience.

And Wonder Woman just might be the one to break through. No actress is yet attached, though casting speculation includes The O.C.’s Mischa Barton and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Jessica Biel. The script will have to be complete before any name is announced.

But not to worry, Whedon says. There is no rush

"As Joel said, she’s been around for 60 years," he says. "She’s not going anywhere. It’s always a good time for Wonder Woman."