Photo: JD Hancock, CC BY 2.o
I’m gonna start this week’s post with a plea: please, for the love of all that is good, go see Wonder Woman. Please. Go to a theater, give them money, and see this movie. This weekend, if possible.
I’m uncomfortable tying women’s empowerment to consumerism. (Dove does that enough for all of us.) But in this case, it’s a necessary evil. Wonder Woman needs to do well. If it doesn’t, Captain Marvel will be the last superheroine solo film for some time (if they even decide to continue.)
Female superheroes have gotten a super short shrift in cinema. There have been more Marvel movies starring a man named Chris than there have been Marvel OR DC superheroine films, period. Women in in superhero films are most often relegated to being love interests or parts of an ensemble. And when they’ve had the chance to stand on their own… things haven’t gone well.
But this string of cinematic failures brings us to the main reason I desperately desire Wonder Woman to do well: when comic book films starring men fail, the media and studios will blame a number of factors, including script, stars, tone, pacing, director, editing, etc. When comic book films starring women fail, the media and studios blame women. Every failure of a female-led comic book movie is seen as proof that “female comic book movies just don’t do well.” And that standard isn’t applied to male-led films. At all. Green Lantern was a terrible, awful, no good movie. The only redeeming factor was Ryan Reynold’s abs. But when it failed, did studios say “Oh, wow, male-led comic movies don’t do well, we shouldn’t have another one for a while.” Did they say “Gosh, superhero films led by males with well-defined torso muscles don’t do well, we shouldn’t have one for a while.”
Hell, they didn’t even say “Ryan Reynolds superhero movies don’t do well, we shouldn’t let him lead another one.” (Though thank goodness for that.) But when movies like Elektra and Catwoman don’t do well, studios say “Well, superhero movies starring women don’t do well. We probably shouldn’t try that again.”
Do you know why Elektra and Catwoman didn’t do well? Because they were shitty movies. They had terrible scripts. They had weak villains, and odd pacing. In Catwoman’s case, they had basically no understanding of the source material, and no resemblance between the movie character and the comic character besides the use of a whip, stealing some jewels, and a cat costume. I would honestly have so much more respect for the Catwoman film if they’d just called it Halle Berry Wearing Leather because that was both the apparent point and the best feature of the movie. If you had a Batman movie where the main character was named Ezra Burke and he was a personal assistant at a tech company and his parents were alive but he just decided “fuck it, I wanna be a superhero” and part of his hero persona inexplicably involved developing bat hearing and a bat cry and his villain was a tech nerd who was trying to take over the world with Fitbits, that movie would probably do poorly, too. But the lesson everyone took away from that Catwoman was “female comic book movies don’t do well.”
Until recently, it seemed as if Warner Brothers was trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by basically doing as little as possible to ensure Wonder Woman succeeded. They had a truly bizarre process for hiring writers. Their first director left thanks to creative differences (mainly, the original director wanted the same awesome origin story every male superhero has gotten). They either didn’t advertise, or they made facepalm-inducing decisions like doing a cross promotion with a weight-loss bar. It’s almost as if they wanted a reason to not have to do another woman-led comic book film.
On the bright side, it’s looking like Wonder Woman will likely do quite well. It’s a 97% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s received largely positive reviews. But that isn’t going to be enough. Not if we want to silence, forever, every studio exec, every producer, who has ever even thought “superheroine films don’t do well.” I want that to happen. I need hat to happen. I need this movie to do well. I need this movie to match, if not outperform, Man of Steel. I need its second weekend to do almost as well as its first. I need studio heads to treat it the way they did Deadpool and pick through it for “what it did right” and how they can steal those elements for future movies. I need the producers of comic book movies to constantly ask, “How can we recapture the female audience demographic that did so well with Wonder Woman?” I need a well-directed, well-cast, well-written movie about a female superhero to do very well so that the next time I’m arguing with some and they dismiss woman-led comic book movies, I can shout “WONDER WOMAN” at them before they even have the chance to form the word “Elektra.” As a female comic book fan, as a feminist culture critic, I need this film to do well.
I’m seeing this film (for the first of probably multiple times) this Friday night. Please join me in doing the same.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not buying tickets to see Wonder Woman in theatres, she studies gender in popular culture.
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