In superhero genre, movie girl power is in short supply
05:00 AM, Aug 26, 2013
Earlier this month, Brett White took to social media to address the state of female-centered superhero movies: Rocket Raccoon, a Marvel Comics cult-favorite animal armed with machine guns who’s featured in next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie, will be on cinema screens before Wonder Woman, arguably the top heroine in DC Comics’ 79-year history.
The writer and comic-book journalist found others sharing his perspective on the matter: His Twitter missive has had to date more than 3,600 retweets and was favorited 1,400 times.
“It seems kinda ridiculous and backward, but sadly, that’s the landscape,” says Mike Sampson of the movie website ScreenCrush.com.
It’s a golden era of superhero films where The Avengers and The Dark Knight can rule the box office for weeks and months, yet while many of these movies feature women from comics in significant and integral roles Scarlett Johansson’s Russian spy Black Widow in Avengers and April’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Anne Hathaway’s antiheroic Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises flicks centered on superheroines are nowhere to be found.
It wasn’t too long ago when the superhero genre in general wasn’t de rigueur Sampson remembers a time before the Tobey Maguire films when no one knew what to do with Spider-Man on celluloid.
With their ubiquity now, though, “we’ve gotten to a point where it’s becoming blatantly obvious to not just comic-book fans, but superhero movie fans, that something is missing, and that something is seeing our favorite female superheroes on screen,” says Jill Pantozzi, associate editor for geek-culture site TheMarySue.com.
“Hollywood as a whole are more used to showing strong male characters on screen than strong female characters, especially when it comes to action films, and that’s all they think will be accepted.”
White feels that part of the problem is Hollywood is stuck in patriarchy, and industry higher-ups state behind the scenes that “women can’t lead movies and that women don’t go see genre movies,” he says, “when that thought process is not supported when you consider how massively successful the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games franchises are, whose success has all largely or nearly entirely been spearheaded by women.”
There’s also a worry that superheroine movies will be screwed up, simply because they have been in the past. In the 2000s, Catwoman and Elektra both tanked critically and financially, and Supergirl hasn’t been back on a big screen since flopping in a 1984 movie.
Nowadays these movies are so expensive, “to not know if you’re going to get a $100 million film out of it, it’s just too big a risk,” says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.
Grant Morrison, a longtime superhero scribe and the writer of an upcoming Wonder Woman graphic novel titled The Trial of Diana Prince, echoes the fact that those fears exist in Hollywood circles. “They also believe the audience is composed mainly of 18- to 30-year-old men who don’t want to know about women,” he says with a laugh.
“There are certain attitudes that have been around for a while and I think people just don’t question them anymore, and things like Wonder Woman always fall prey to it.”
The character, whom Bock refers to as the potential “holy grail” of superheroine films, hasn’t been able to catch a break since Lynda Carter lassoed TV bad guys in the late 1970s.
Since then, Joss Whedon wrote a Wonder Woman movie script way before directing The Avengers that was shelved, a 2011 Wonder Woman pilot starring Adrianne Palicki was not picked up for series, and Amazon an origin tale for the character similar to Smallville for Superman is currently on hold at The CW. Meanwhile, the Flash will be running around this next season of the superhero-inspired Arrow.
“You can’t keep putting out Superman film after Superman film, or Batman film after Batman film, and assume people won’t ask for her,” Pantozzi says.
Putting her on a movie screen is a no-brainer for White: “Imagine a film that mixes the most inspirational moments from the best Superman movies with the fish-out-of-water comedy of Thor and the epic scope of Lord of the Rings.”
But Bock thinks everything has to be perfect for a Wonder Woman movie to work, from a great script to a passionate director to, most importantly, an actress who can pull the part off.
“We have a lot of bruising dudes who can strap on some spandex and it’s very believable that they can just plow through 100 people. With women, it’s a lot different,” Bock says.
“Angelina Jolie has the body, the makeup, the energy to believe that she’s just crazy enough to kick all of these people’s (butts). Uma Thurman, throw her in, too. It’s just very rare for a female to be able to kick butt on all of these different levels you have to be a good actress as well.”
While Wonder Woman fans wait to see if maybe she’ll be introduced in the 2015 Man of Steel sequel with Ben Affleck as Batman or the proposed Justice League for Warner Bros. or Hathaway really proves game for a Catwoman solo effort Marvel Studios and Disney are seemingly swimming in cinematic female possibilities.
Black Widow, the warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander) of the Thor movies and government agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), second-in command to Samuel L. Jackson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. honcho Nick Fury, are all “superhero characters worthy of the spotlight,” White says. Plus, Marvel has “given us women like Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in the love-interest roles, women who still have agency and a range of emotions, independence and lives outside of their partners.”
The Agent Carter short film with Atwell “is a fantastic first step in having a strong, smart female heroine tell an exciting story,” Sampson says.
“Maybe what Hollywood needs is an upstart movie with an indie vibe not unlike Chronicle that breaks the mold and creates some new superwoman. If Marvel and DC can’t get out of their own way, a writer/director might have to come along with their own creation to get the ball rolling.”
White feels that fans are ready and willing for a good superheroine movie, and in a much deeper way than just desire.
“Our culture needs to see female heroes in order to survive,” he says. “Media and pop culture is incredibly powerful and transformative, and fiction can succeed in showing people what it’s like to be someone other than themselves.”
Sampson agrees, but adds that the world of superhero fanboys can still be a very sexist place. When Shailene Woodley was originally cast as Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2, “there were so many negative comments about how she wasn’t ‘hot enough’ for the role. It’s embarrassing for the community, but a lot of that still exists.”
There’s one famous fanboy, though, that is ready for a woman in the spotlight.
“There’s a hunger, not just from guys to see hot girls fight but from girls to be empowered in a very real kind of way,” Jackson says. “Historically, just because we’ve had Wonder Woman and all these other characters that haven’t been done yet, there’s an audience there.
“They test the waters to see what people think, and people clamor: ‘Yeah, we’re ready for that!’ And they hear that cry.”