I know there’s a lot going on in the world. I know that I should wait for the “right time” to bring this up. But damn it, there’s never the right time!
I’m tired of waiting for a Wonder Woman movie. There. I said it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love me a comic book movie. I went through the bladder olympics required to see Iron Man 2 in theaters just one week before I gave birth to my kid — because that’s how much mama wanted some Tony Stark (before they shit all over that franchise with Iron Man 3). I got choked up when I watched Batman Begins. I’ve seen all the Spidermans, Avengers, Thors, Hulks, The Crows, Elektra, The Fantastic Fours, both Ghost Riders (yes, both), the Hellboys, most of the Men in Blacks, Tank Girl, V for Vendetta, Wanted, Watchmen, all the X-Mens (but curiously neither of the Wolverines) and so many others. I’ve seen almost all of the Supermans (even the awful Richard Pryor one). And I’m not even a hardcore comic book geek like some of y’all! Still, I’ll sit through just about any comic book movie — except Daredevil or Halle Berry as Catwoman. (I mean, even Ben Affleck agrees that Daredevil is unwatchable.) And that’s saying a lot because I’ve watched Green Lantern, twice(!).
But I digress.
For some of you, this probably all comes as quite a surprise (unless you’ve been following me on twitter and seen all my late-night movie tweets). Hardcore feminist who is also a hardcore geek? Well, actually, that’s pretty normal in my circles. But maybe that’s just me. Or maybe it isn’t — check out my peeps over at Bitch Flicks, or Girls Gone Geek. And while comic books as a medium have had a shaky history of positive female heroes (and writers/artists), they exist and so do some pretty feminist books. And do I really need to say this? Yes, ladies read them.
All this is just an origin story, if you will, of so many girls who grew up to be women like me who are waiting and waiting for our due. Because here we are still waiting for Wonder Woman! Even the New York Times noticed. (They even stole my headline that was in my drafts folder since July, jerks). In his NYT op-ed last month Frank Bruni hits on all the notes of the movie that fails to materialize:
MAYBE because I have seven nieces whose dreams matter to me, maybe because I have so many female friends whose talents dazzle me, or maybe just because I think it’s madness not to encourage and recognize the full potential of half of the human race, I keep looking to the movies for something better. For something more equitable. For women saving the world or saving the president or at the very least saving themselves.
Every so often I get my wish. This year it actually happened several times. The astronaut fighting to survive in “Gravity,” the kind of effects-laden extravaganza that typically drowns in testosterone, was played by Sandra Bullock. And in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” Jennifer Lawrence returned as Katniss Everdeen, the stoic, steely archer on whom nothing less than the hope for a livable tomorrow rests. Both movies made buckets of money, proving that audiences had no trouble, none at all, with a woman leading the way.
But around the same time that I savored this happy turn, I read some less happy news: Wonder Woman was finally en route to the silver screen — but not, alas, in a vehicle of her own. She’s slated to be an appendix to Superman and Batman in a sequel to “Man of Steel.” For all I know she’ll be zipping out to Starbucks for their lattes or the dry cleaner’s to fetch their capes. Meantime, producers scrape the bottom of the superhero barrel for male demigods to put in the foreground and the title. Just last week Variety disclosed that Paul Rudd was in talks to play “Ant-Man.” Yes, “Ant-Man.” “The Green Hornet,” “Spider-Man” — maybe Wonder Woman isn’t insect enough for the major leagues. Maybe she needs to make like a mantis.
For decades now a Wonder Woman movie has been chattered about, longed for, plotted, scuttled. The director and writer Joss Whedon took a failed stab at one after he did “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on TV and before he included Scarlett Johansson in “The Avengers.” At this point it’s not so much an unrealized project as an ongoing taunt: a metaphor for the stubborn gender gap in the sorts of action-oriented blockbusters that rule the box office; proof that the more things change, the more they remain the same, at least in Hollywood, whose superficially progressive politics mask overwhelmingly conservative business instincts.
I mean, if all-powerful and feminist-loving Joss Whedon can’t make it come to be, how are we ever to get a shot at seeing Wonder Woman? (Maybe it’s time to give Alias-creator and new Star Wars franchise puppeteer J.J. Abrams a call?) Didn’t the old 1975 TV show theme song promise that “all the world is waiting for you/and all the power you possess”? Sigh.
So here we are in 2014 and we’re still sitting by our phones waiting for it to ring, so to speak. We’ve suffered the terrible 1984 Supergirl and 20 years later we got Catwoman, followed in quick succession by Elektra. Three. Three superhero movies with female headliners. That’s it. All of them crap (sorry, Jennifer Gardner). And all of them did crappy at the box office. I guess the theory here is that since these terrible movies that had no chance of being hits did badly we should just pack it in for any hope of a Wonder Woman-led franchise. By that logic, the automobile should be extinct after the failures of the Edsel, the Pinto, and the Yugo.
No, my friends. Making movies, especially superhero movies, is more like the old Babe Ruth truth — you have to swing the bat. (Hell must be freezing over if I’m stooping to baseball metaphors.) The Babe was the best hitter, yes, but he also held the record for most strikeouts when he left the league. Now I can hear some of you saying, “Well, maybe those three female superhero movies are like ‘three strikes and you’re out.’ ” Except the entire comic book genre didn’t die after Batman & Robin, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and Spider-Man 3. What, no three strikes you’re out, for the boys?
So, obviously laying giant turds at the box office is not the end of the line for more comic book movies when it comes to male leads and male franchises. Hell, Ben Affleck made Daredevil and he’s been tapped to play Batman in the upcoming Superman/Batman film slated for next year! If that’s not a lesson in second-chances, I don’t know what is.
Meanwhile, the rumors are swirling about how Wonder Woman will be featured in the same Superman/Batman film after it was announced that the character, played by Gal Gadot, will have a cameo (or more?). One such rumor is that the famous Amazonian will have an entirely new origin story — as a Kryptonian. But there are many, many more rumors, all of which jump off from comments made by the movie’s writer, Bill Ramey, that Wonder Woman will be a small (perhaps weaker) supporting role ala Scarlett Johansen’s Black Widow in Iron Man 2. From Cinema Blend:
Now, the controversial stuff. Ramey seems to mix some opinion and some scuttlebutt he’s heard regarding Wonder Woman’s character, so it’s uncertain how much of this is legit or vaguely speculative. Ramsey claims, and/or is willing to “bet” that the Amazonians will be descendants of ancient Kryptonians, and that the female warrior will have spent enough time on Earth to adapt, therefore becoming slightly less powerful than Superman. The combination of Gadot’s WW having a “much smaller” role than Affleck’s Batman (and having a role similarly-sized as Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in Iron Man 2) and her origin being folded into a more-powerful Superman rankles, since it reaffirms her status as a secondary character. Not only is this dismissive of the rich history of the character and her chance to break ground as the first major onscreen female superhero, but it’s also bad franchise-building, since they intend to make a solo Wonder Woman movie off the bat of this crowded Zack Snyder hero orgy.
Truth be told, I had absolutely no desire to see the Superman/Batman thing. For one thing, it is going to mostly be about Superman, who is kinda boring to me. Then there’s the whole two-major-movie-franchises-in-one-movie problem of having Superman and Batman in the same movie. Did you all see Batman & Robin? I don’t know how many superheroes and villains it takes to tip the scale to too many in a film, but that movie sure showed us how bad it looks when that happens. Now after hearing that Wonder Woman has been added to this new Superman movie, I’m just scared of it. I’m scared that this is a crap-storm already and adding WW is not going to help. I’m scared that having Wonder Woman as a character in a shitty superhero movie will be the final nail in the coffin of ever seeing a legit launch of a Wonder Woman franchise. (Or even just a fucking Justice League franchise. I mean, how badly are you getting your DC asses handed to you by Marvel, anyway? Those guys seem to be doing just fine with each Avenger and then the assembled Avengers and a slew of role-outs until almost 2020. I mean, Ant Man?! Seriously? Ant Man gets a movie before Wonder Woman?!)
Let’s face it, the Superman/Batman movie has catastrophe written all over it. That thing is like the Titanic in dry-dock. It’s just waiting to sink.
Now the other thing that people like to talk about is the marketplace. If a female superhero could sell tickets, we’d make it. So, let me get this straight. If powerful female characters make money, you’ll make us a Wonder Woman movie? I don’t even have to roll up my sleeves for that one.
Let’s break down the money-myths about women and movies:
- Myth 1: Movies with women characters don’t make money: Of the 50 top-grossing movies of 2013, those that passed the Bechdel test — when two named female characters talk about something other than romantic interest in the male lead — made 1.56 billion more than the rest of the top-grossing movies, combined. That’s billion, with a B. Then there’s the fact that SIX of the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time are about (all or in part) female characters. Also, Hunger Games: Catching Fire is ninth highest grossing action movie of all time (and second highest grossing film of 2013). (PS: Bridesmaids not only bested any other Judd Apatow R-comedy to date, but supplanted Sex and the City as the top-grossing R-rated female comedy of all time.)
- Myth 2: People won’t go to action movies about women: Except that they really do. For examples, please see: Terminator 2: Judgment Day; Lara Croft; Kill Bill, Vols 1 & 2; Aliens; Charlie’s Angel; and The Heat — all of which not only made money based on their original budgets but often times doubled (or more) their money.
- Myth 3: Women don’t like action movies: Here’s a fun fact, ladies like all kinds of movies. In fact, women make up 51 percent of the total movie-going market and drive the success of top-grossing movies like horror film Mama (61 percent) and action films like Fast & Furious 6 (50 percent).
So, to recap, the Wonder Woman movie problem is not about whether or not women like action movies or whether or not movies with female leads make money. This is not a problem of a scarcity of story material because you’ve got more than 70 years of material to pull from for Wonder Woman. This is not a problem of being canonized in comic book legend. Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941, just three years after Superman and two years after Batman, which easily makes The Amazon a contemporary and as culturally relevant as DC’s top two male franchises. (Meanwhile, Marvel’s Spiderman and The X-Men didn’t come on the scene until 1962 and 1963, respectively.)
No, the reason why we are still waiting for Wonder Woman on the silver screen is because there are too many Hollywood writers, directors, and producers standing around with their dicks in their hands. Women may have starred in some of the highest grossing films of 2013, but finding a female director amongst the tent-pole summer movies is not only rare, it’s impossible. The Heat may be one of the top-grossing films of 2013, but there’s a scarcity of women behind the scenes making movies from writing (9 percent) to directing (15 percent) to producing (25 percent).
As much as I love Whedon’s Buffy Summers or Abrams’ Sydney Bristow (or even Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars) — all of those, with the exception of Buffy, are mainly small-screen heroines. I’m afraid we may have to wait for Hollywood to fix its deep-seeded sexism problem before we can ever see any iteration of Wonder Woman on the big screen that’s worthy. I’m not saying that a dude can’t get it done. I’m saying that dudes aren’t getting it done … at least not yet.
But hey, this is one time I will happily be wrong. So, prove me wrong Hollywood. Make a movie worthy of Wonder Woman. I can promise you that there will be legions of fans — of all genders — lined up around the block and for generations to come.