I have a confession to make. Whenever I see a poster for the new Wonder Woman movie, or see an ad online, or hear someone mention it in a conversation about summer blockbusters, I am filled with an unholy terror. My heart starts racing, my palms begin to sweat, and I am filled with an irrepressible urge to hug a stuffed bear. In short, Wonder Woman has me STRESSED.
But Calvin, you might say, don’t you love Wonder Woman??
I do. I LOOOOOVE her. And that’s precisely why the thought of this movie fills me with dread. Because it simply has to be good, and I’m very, very worried that it won’t be. Let’s talk why. First, I’ll break down why I feel this flick needs to be good, and then I’ll get into why I’m so nervous it won’t be. Off we go!
Wonder Woman had better be good because…
The Character Deserves It
Wonder Woman, aka Diana of Themyscira, is a treasure of a character. Princess of the Amazons, Champion of the Olympian gods, Ambassador for peace…she is an unparalleled warrior who never backs down from a fight, but she is also full of a boundless compassion that means violence is never her preferred option. I think that’s why I’ve always been so in love with her: she is every bit as good and loving as Superman, but threaten the innocent, and she has no qualms about dishing out a brand of justice more in line with the Dark Knight.
I grew up watching the Justice League cartoon, so much of my early exposure to the character took place as I sat, utterly enchanted, in front of the family TV, usually clad in brightly colored pajamas. And, as a child who was dangerously obsessed with superheroes in general, it was impossible not to see WW tearing the place up without being filled with…wonder.
(OK, yes that was horrible please forgive me I couldn’t help myself I know I’m the worst kind of person)
Ugh, look at this gal. She’s just so powerful, so in-command of every situation… And OK, she’s mind-controlled in this next one, but when you can literally mop the floor with four other members of the Justice League, you get a gold star in my book.
I think it’s pretty clear by now that this character means a lot to me. You might have noticed, though, that all the proof I’ve presented of Wonder Woman’s awesomeness has been in the form of cartoons and comics. That’s because in the 75 years since she was created, Wonder Woman has never gotten a movie. That’s right; the first, and most famous female superhero has never starred in her own feature film. She didn’t even make an appearance in a movie until last year’s utterly garbage Batman v Superman. In that same time…
Superman has starred in 8 movies…
Spider-Man has gotten 5 movies (with a 6th releasing in July)…
And Batman has had (counting LEGO Batman), 11 feature films!! For a guy who dresses up like a big bat!!
(Nothing against Batman or his Bat-fans, but Wondy is better)
Oh, and let’s not forget Ant-Man.
Ant-Man, the guy who can get really small and ride around on bugs, got a movie before Wonder Woman. And I do apologize to all the die hard Ant-Man fans out there who feel like I’m giving short shrift to the little guy. All four of you.
My point is, Wonder Woman deserves a good movie. Not only because she’s such a great character, but because plenty of people don’t know how amazing she is. And that’s what makes this film so different from a new Batman or Superman film; at this point, we all know who those characters are. Their backstories, their archetypes have become fixtures of pop culture. We know Superman is the alien who grew up in Kansas and has a heart of gold, and we know Batman watched his parents die (we’ve seen it how many times at this point?), suffered immense psychological damage, and that’s why he dresses funny.
But though most people, at least in America, know what Wonder Woman looks like and maybe, maybe know a few of her powers, I guarantee 95% of people couldn’t tell you her origin story. And believe me, I know it’s not an easy one to get straight. It’s so convoluted, and has been altered so many times, that even I, someone who literally sometimes (read: at all times) pretends to be Wonder Woman, get them mixed up. That means that this movie is going to be the introduction that will define the character for a lot of people, like the 70’s TV series did for so many of my mom’s generation. This film could shape how Wonder Woman exists in pop culture for decades to come, how little boys and little girls and little gender non-conforming kids see this wonderful character as they grow up.
I mean, think back to before the Marvel movies started coming out. Before 2012, only comic book fans had any idea who the Avengers were. Now everybody and their mother knows all about them! They’re like, totally cool now! Your little cousin has an Avengers lunchbox, your friend is dying to see Infinity War, your mom thinks Thor’s hot. (Disclaimer: Those people may or may not all be me.) Why this huge explosion? Because the movie was great. Wonder Woman is at the same sort of crossroads. If it sucks, then Wonder Woman herself is going to suck by association. And that would absolutely destroy me. But if it’s the exciting, smart, fresh superhero film I know it can be…well, nothing would make me happier. And not just because I know the availability of Wonder Woman merch would be soooo much better.
The DC Experiment is on the Brink
I’m just gonna say it: none of DC’s new movies have been good. Not one. OK, OK, I’ll admit that Man of Steel wasn’t out and out bad per se, but I will fight anyone who says it deserves anything above a 6, and that’s generous. As for Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad?
This is all to say that the DC Extended Universe, as someone, somewhere, working in an office without a window has decided to call it, is off to a very rough start. Has a successful franchise ever started with three bad, or at least mediocre, movies to its name? Can you imagine if Marvel, the success of whom DC is clearly trying to emulate, had launched their cinematic universe with the middling Thor, then a short while later put out the just-plain-bad Thor 2 and (somehow) Iron Man 2 in the same year? The MCU would have been dead on arrival, the corpse of Captain America wiggling feebly. But because DC launched their efforts in a post-MCU world, and the superhero genre has blown up the way it has, they’ve been able to avoid completely imploding.
Still, this much is clear…Wonder Woman may very well be their last shot to really make the DCEU a success. If WW is bad, there’s almost no chance audiences are going to give no-name characters like Cyborg or even dirty-name characters like…shudder…Aquaman a fair shake.
Marvel can sell something obscure like Guardians of the Galaxy because they’ve built an incredibly strong brand—people know that Marvel films are, by and large, good. They’re like pizza. Even when they’re not great, they’re almost always a fun time at the cinema. DC, on the other hand, is allowing their cinematic brand to become the equivalent of that quiche-thing your mom has been trying and failing to make for years now. Even on her best day, when she comes home from work early, makes sure she has all the ingredients prepared, and times everything to the minute, the result is a crusty, cheesey bit of mediocrity. Sorry, Mom, but that quiche-thing has never been good.
So if Wonder Woman fails, DC’s cinematic experiment might very well fail with it. Warner Bros. might decide that this whole thing just isn’t working out and pull the plug. And that would be an incredible shame, because there are great stories to be pulled out of the DC Comics canon, I just know it. In fact, some of the projects that have been announced already have me quivering with excitement. I mean, look at some of this stuff…
A horror-esque movie about Justice League Dark, mystical heroes who take on occult threats the regular, boring old Leaguers can’t handle…
A movie tentatively being called Gotham City Sirens, which would focus on FEMALE VILLAINS/ANTIHEROES IN GOTHAM!!
The thing is, these movies are still in the embryonic stages of development. If Wonder Woman flops, they could all be wiped away with a few heartbreaking strokes of a pen. And that’s a bad thing for all us who love superhero stories at the movies, not just because we won’t ever get to these ideas realized, but because we’ll never get to see the market react to them.
People a lot smarter than me have been saying for a while now that superhero movies need to branch out into genres other than “peeps in tights beat up peeps in tights.” These types of movies, movies about a group of women anti-heros or superhero Ghostbusters are a wonderful step in that direction. But if DC bows out of the game, then Marvel can keep doing their sweet thing. Their formulaic sweet thing. I mean, I love Marvel, but I have to admit that there are moments in their movies these days where you can practically see the gears working away, where you can see the hands of the director assembling the pieces needed to make a “Fun Marvel Movie (trademark).”
You know what I mean. Self-aware joke here, bombastic action scene there, stakes that never get too intense and villains that never get too scary because, hey, we’re all Having a Good Time Here. They’ll usually throw in a couple melodramatic speeches or moments of white male angst (don’t worry, I’m sure if anyone other than white men starred in their own Marvel movies they’d get their own angst too). The Marvel Origin Story is practically a cookie cutter at this point. More, different superhero stories can only make the market more interesting, as audiences have to pick and choose which ones they spend money on. Or, you know, the market might suffer a vicious, sudden crash as audiences revolt and superheroes as we know them will fade from the public consciousness forever. But won’t it be interesting to see what happens?? That’s kind of my point here. If DC is forced to exit prematurely because Diana doesn’t deliver the goods, we’ll never know what might have been.
It Is Damn Time for Some Superladies
Take a look with me, if you will, at the movies Marvel has delivered into the world since they burst into the market in the late aughts.
Oh my, this is interesting. Over the course of almost ten years and fifteen films, it would seem that Marvel, by far the pre-eminent brand in superhero movies, has released precisely zero films starring women! Did you hear that? ZERO. That is one less than the number of films they have released starring Ant-Man. I mean, how have we not had a Black Widow movie by now? She’s literally in a third of the movies on that list, which is as many as Captain America and more than Thor.
And why might this be? Well it seems that Hollywood studio execs have this idea that female-led superhero movies just don’t work: audiences don’t want to see them, so they won’t end up bringing in any money. And this isn’t just some wild speculation. Check out this article from Indiewire, which shows an e-mail from the Marvel CEO, Ike Perlmutter, that was released in the huge Sony hack a few years ago.
In a message with the subject line “Female Movies,” he lists examples of female-led superhero movies that were notorious box office bombs, apparently as a follow up to a previous phone conversation with Sony’s CEO. He calls each of them a “disaster,” and we can only assume that he’s using them to argue against the profitability of female superhero films in general. What are his films of choice?
Well, we have the very bad Elektra from 2005…
The truly awful Catwoman from 2004…
And the Supergirl movie from 1984 that I’ve never seen but that, judging from its 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, is also generally considered to be pretty bad.
So what happened here? I guess we could look at the things these movies have in common:
- They all lost a lot of money
- They all starred female characters
Wait! I’ve found the answer! Female superhero movies don’t work!!
–From the desk of Ike Perlmutter, Marvel CEO
In all seriousness, if you can reach the idea that female superhero movies don’t work from this (incredibly tiny) sample, I can’t imagine the thought process being all that different from what you see above. I mean these movies were also all critical flops. They were BAD movies. That couldn’t be a reason why they failed, right?
And let’s not forget Jonah Hex, Green Lantern, Steel, Superman IV, Punisher: War Zone, and Fantastic Four 2015, which were all also failures because they starred women. Oh, wait…
And then we have Lucy, which grossed more than $450 million of a $40 million budget, and the Hunger Games movies, which have grossed almost $3 billion worldwide. They might be comic book movies per se, but the stuff those ladies do in those flicks seems pretty superheroic to me.
Basically, I’m saying this perception isn’t fair. There haven’t been enough good female superhero movies to have any idea how they do as a group, if you can even call them a group distinct from other capes-and-tights films, and there are enough examples to the contrary to shout down any arguments that the ones that have come out don’t do well. BUT, fair or not, the perception is there. And it’s up to Wonder Woman to tear it the hell down.
Wonder Woman is the first female superhero film from either the MCU or the DCEU. It’s a major summer tentpole for Warner Brothers. All eyes are on her. If Wonder Woman is a great film, and that translates to box office success, the door for other female-led superhero films will be thrown wide open. DC, to their credit, is already working on that Gotham City Sirens film. Patty Jenkins, the director of WW, has said repeatedly she’d love to make a sequel. DC also recently announced that a Batgirl film is in development!!!
But this should be just the start. I’m talking Black Canary, Storm, and BLACK WIDOW!! movies, stat. Men, and mostly white men, have been dominating the superhero stories on our screens for too long. And why stop at women? The superhero genre is begging for diversity on all fronts. Let’s get some gay heroes into cinemas, PLEASE, since there has yet to be even one. More PoC heroes too! Ummm…is anyone else thinking a Young Avengers movie would be delicious? Because it would be delicious.
When literally one person on the team is (questionably) straight, you’ve got my vote. Points if you can guess who!
At the same time, despite all the fabulous riches that may be on the other side of this Wonder Woman sized wormhole, there is also danger. If the movie sucks and bombs at the box office, DC might decide “female films,” as Perlmutter put it, aren’t worth the trouble. They might decide not to go ahead with Batgirl or Gotham City Sirens after all. And Marvel, who I promise is watching the situation very closely, may very well put the kibosh on any gal hero movies post Captain Marvel, which is scheduled to come out in 2019. It would be a sad, sad thing to happen to the superhero movie business, when studios are already too content to stick with the straight, white male status quo.
So why am I worried?
I hope by now I’ve impressed on you why the success of Wonder Woman is so vital. Or, at least, why a big ol’ Sparkly Rainbow Nerd like me cares so much about it. But why am I so worried that it is, in fact, going to be bad?
Well, as I’ve said before, DC doesn’t exactly have a winning track record. All of their movies have, thus far, failed to be good. And as much I want to ignore it, there’s a little voice in the back of my head telling me DC has been cursed, and is forever doomed to make mediocre films. Wondy, the voice says, will simply be the latest to fall victim to the curse. It’s a pernicious little thing, that voice, and I admit it’s hard to shake the feeling that DC is trapped in a spiral, that someone, somewhere in the upper echelons of the studio is making all the wrong moves.
Someone that looks suspiciously like Mr. Zack Snyder.
OK, full disclosure. I originally planned to write quite a bit about my feelings on Snyder’s work, but in light of the recent news of his family tragedy, the suicide of his daughter in March, and his stepping down from his role as director of Justice League because of it, I thought that would be in poor taste. Suffice it to say that I have not always cared for his work in the past, and that his involvement in the Wonder Woman project (production and story credits) was, for me, not a good sign. That said, I have nothing but sympathy for him and his family at this undoubtedly monstrously difficult time.
And after that enormous buzzkill…Apart from general DC malaise and my fears about Snyder, there have also been some rumors dogging the production of Wonder Woman that have taken some of the wind out of my sails. In September last year, a letter supposedly written by an ex-WB employee called the film “a mess.” Patty Jenkins responded in kind, claiming the letter was BS. And then, in January, another apparent insider claimed to have heard the movie is “disjointed” and “discombobulated,” and that it “lacks narrative flow.” And I know that rumors don’t mean anything, but I still find myself getting nervous. “Disjointed” is one of the things that jumped out at me about Suicide Squad, and I hope to the gods that it doesn’t end up taking WW down too. But speaking of hope…
There is Indeed Hope!
But all is not lost. As we get closer to Wonder Woman’s June 2nd release date, there are more and more signs that this thing might be the success I’ve been dreaming of after all.
First, we have the director, Patty Jenkins. I haven’t seen her previous film, Monster, which by all accounts is quite good, but I just trust her implicitly. Whenever she talks about the character, it feels like she gets her. Like she understands what makes Diana so special. Take a look here:
And then you’ve got the AMAZING posters that the marketing team has been banging out for the past couple months. I mean these are gorgeous!
I am so digging the color palette they’ve gone with here!
Then, even more concretely, we’ve gotten some early reviews on social media over the past couple days, and they are almost all VERY positive.
And, last but certainly not least, we have this PHENOMENAL trailer that still gives me chills every time I watch it.
I mean. It’s just. So good. From that trailer alone it seems that movie is going to be a lot lighter than the rest of the DCEU, which is an absolute godsend. It also looks like the action is going to be great, which already puts it a head above Suicide Squad! Seriously, how was the action in that movie so dull?
Ok. I’ve said my piece. I’m nervous. I’m worried. I’m incredibly excited. If you need me before June 2nd, I’ll be watching that last trailer on repeat while stress-eating Reeses’ Pieces.