Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is set to make her solo feature film debut in 2017, which is groundbreaking for multiple reasons. First, this is the first female superhero film to be released in at least ten years, and second, this film is also directed by a woman. 2017’s Wonder Woman is being directed by Patty Jenkins, who helmed the 2003 Oscar-winning drama Monster, based on the life of the prostitute-turned-serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
A superhero movie directed by a woman, starring a woman, is long overdue particularly with the explosive presence of Marvel and DC over the last few years that has filled our screens with an abundance of testosterone and very little estrogen. Wonder Woman will be testing the waters this weekend in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and feminists, along with any other human who supports equality, are crossing their fingers that Snyder and company get the opportunity of first exposure for this character right.
Previous attempts at bringing female superheroes from comic to screen have been less than impressive, and the creators of these characters have repeatedly made the same mistakes when it comes to representing the “kinder, gentler” gender. Some of these characters, such as Elektra, suffer from underdevelopment. Elektra is tough as nails and can kick anyone’s ass, but she almost entirely lacks empathy depth in her attempt at a solo endeavor.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I enthusiastically and unabashedly loved Elektra when it was released in 2005, even if the reasoning is as simple as my desperation to see a female superhero who wasn’t oversexualized (Halle Barry’s Catwoman, anyone?). It’s almost as if director Rob Bowman was trying to overcompensate, sacrificing any semblance of femininity for a failed attempt at gender equality that included removing all empathy and humanity from this character once she went from Daredevil’s femme fatale to leading lady.
If a female superhero hasn’t suffered from lack of development, it’s likely her story arc revolves fully around her dependence and relationship with a man. The women of the X-Men franchise suffered tremendously from this fate, specifically Rogue and Mystique, and even Jean Grey’s arc revolved around a love triangle until she became the Phoenix in X3: The Last Stand. Rogue becomes discouraged enough with her inability to be intimate with her boyfriend that she attempts to get her hands on the “cure” for her mutation.
In the original trilogy, Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique’s every action is aligned with her loyalty Magneto, and by the end she is reduced to nothing but a woman scorned. In the prequel First Class and subsequently Days of Future Past, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique’s motivations are still fueled by the acceptance and approval of the men in her life, including both Magneto and Professor Xavier. We don’t learn much about these characters beyond how their men have molded their self worth.
Independent franchises like Buffy the Vampire Slayer have succeeded in creating a female superhero with depth and layered nuanced that hasn’t been solely influenced by the impact of a romantic interest and isn’t broadcasted simply as a scantily clad vessel for visual stimulation, but traditional comic book adaptations have struggled to get it right. Marvel has slowly evolved to become the exception, even though they’ve stumbled with the Thor standalone franchise, which contains female protagonists that exist to fail the Bechdel Test repeatedly. How could the character of Sif have been botched so effectively that she becomes nothing more than a catty, jealous mean girl?
However, where Marvel has succeeded has been with Black Widow, and with what fans can gather with only Age of Ultron to reference, Scarlet Witch. Both of these characters have been created with as much if not more complexity than their male counterparts. Scarlet Witch’s backstory was only briefly touched upon in the last Avengers film, but she is forced to choose a side after dealing with her brother’s death, which implies that her own story has just begun to be told.
Although Black Widow’s characterization has fallen under fire since her romantic involvement with Hulk and the revelation of her struggle with sterility, I’d go as far as to praise this step in her evolution. Her stature and ability as an individual hero was established in canon before any kind of romantic interested with another character was introduced, and even then, their relationship was one that was presented as a strength to them both, particularly to the Hulk during the times he lost control. Black Widow was his grounding, what brought him back, and his feelings for her didn’t function as an Achilles heel to her effectiveness as part of the Avengers.
It was revealed that Widow was made sterile as part of the process when she became a spy, a not so subtle implication that an intrical part of what makes a woman, a woman, had to be removed in order to turn her into a soldier, in order to lift her up to the same level as the men. How does bringing this to light detract from her ability to be a superhero? It doesn’t, it only humanizes her and establishes her femininity, and what’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, so the world needs more.
So Marvel, let’s hurry up and give Black Widow or Scarlet Witch the standalone films they deserve. And DC, better late to the party than never, so jump on board and give us the Wonder Woman we deserve so we can get excited for 2017.
Featured Image: Warner Bros.