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‘Wonder Woman’: What Does One Great Female Superhero Mean For the Future of the Genre? — Analysis

Now that one female superhero movie has taken off, should we expect more? The IndieWire team considers the next chapter.

"Wonder Woman"

“Wonder Woman”

Editor’s note: As Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” hits the box office for what looks to be a massive weekend for the brand new DCEU outing, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, David Ehrlich, Kate Erbland, Anne Thompson, and Jamie Righetti traded emails about how — and if — the film will change the superhero movie landscape as we know it.

KATE ERBLAND: It’s finally here — not just a female-focused franchise superhero film in a box office glutted with offerings from Marvel and DC, but a female-helmed franchise superhero film. Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” is already earning rave reviews from critics and is poised to have a record-breaking weekend at the multiplex, so it’s easy to assume that the film will bust down barriers which have so far kept women from getting equal representation both in front of and behind the superhero camera. But will that actually happen, even if it so obviously should?

The film, like so many of its current ilk, is designed to fit inside another series (in this case, the burgeoning DC Extended Universe), though it stands proudly on its own, crafting a standalone story filled with the kind of heart and humor and forward motion the genre often lacks. Gal Gadot — already a standout in “Batman v Superman” and the latter half of the “Fast and Furious” franchise — shows up with a massive star turn that brings a necessary spark to the beloved character. The supporting cast is strong, the action is often jaw-dropping, and the message is one of hope and joy in a movie landscape that doesn’t usually embrace such ideas. It’s good, and it sets a high bar for more DCEU fare, along with other female-driven superhero films that are finally starting to bubble up, like “Captain Marvel” and “Silver & Black.” So how will all of that impact the genre in the coming months and years?

READ MORE: ‘Wonder Woman’ Will Win the Weekend, and Maybe a Box-Office Record

In short, is “Wonder Woman” going to change the landscape of all superhero films? And if not, what possibly can?

DAVID EHRLICH: When it comes to the question of whether “Wonder Woman” is going to change the landscape off all superhero films, I think the answer is “yes and no.” Or, more accurately, maybe it’s “yes, but almost imperceptibly.” First, to reiterate something that you definitely don’t need me to tell you: “Wonder Woman” is a big deal. It’s a fraction (of a fraction) of the film that “Fury Road” is, but it would be impossible to overstate the extent to which genre compounds the impact of female representation here.

This isn’t such a seismic event because it’s an action movie, it’s a seismic event because it’s a superhero movie, one that — unlike, say, “Elektra” — is being released directly into the heart of the zeitgeist and at the height of a cultural sensation. I’ve seen way too many superhero movies in my day, but watching this one in a packed theater ahead of the release felt like a completely new experience (at least until third act started overflowing with CG sewage and nonsense story beats and I was reminded of every other film in the DCEU). You could feel it in every iconic reveal and with every speed-ramped kick to the face.

You could feel it in every pitch-perfect gender reversal, in every wonderfully calibrated moment when Chris Pine became the damsel in distress and Gal Gadot his virtuous knight in shining armor (watching “Wonder Woman” is essentially like watching “Thor” in a mirror). This wasn’t just an audience of comic book fans getting to see a beloved character on the big screen, it was a crowd experiencing some kind of mass catharsis. If it was this awesome just to witness, I can’t begin to imagine how satisfying it was for them to experience first-hand.

“Wonder Woman”

Having said all that, “Wonder Woman” won’t be able to change a damn thing on its own. Yes, it’s going to make a zillion dollars, but Hollywood is filled with the skeletons of beautiful unicorns. I think the trick is to stop thinking that any single movie is capable of busting down barriers — in fact, I don’t think that meaningful change will be possible until we stop thinking that any single movie is capable of busting down barriers. So long as every female-driven movie is seen as a referendum on the commercial viability of female-driven movies, representation will never be equal. The same is true for any other underrepresented group.

There’s been a lot of (very justified) talk about how wantonly male filmmakers are given the keys to the kingdom, and how the future of male-driven superhero movies doesn’t appear to hang in the balance every time someone tries to reboot Spider-Man. Women won’t enjoy the same privilege behind or in front of the camera until the studios recognize that there is a permanent and endlessly renewable interest in seeing stories about women, and in seeing women telling stories about women. It has to be made clear that women are going to create and lead monolithic blockbusters no matter what, even if some of them bomb or aren’t any good. It’s the difference between a mediocre “Ghostbusters” reboot and a national conversation about misogyny.

READ MORE: ‘Wonder Woman’ Is the DC Universe’s Best Superhero Movie Yet, Proving the Future Is Very Much Female — Review

DC has “Wonder Woman,” and that’s a great step in the right direction. But it’s deeply pathetic that she’s alone out there. It’s time for Marvel — and everyone else — to step up. “Captain Marvel” isn’t enough. They should be announcing “Captain Marvel 5” next week. There should be so many of these things that nobody even notices when another one comes out. “Wonder Woman” is a big deal, but it will be a much bigger deal when one of its sequels is not.

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Comments

Recognize

Good discussion. While I know Katniss wasn’t a superhero, I think she deserves mentioning, along with Jennifer Lawrence, as paving the way for Wonder Woman. Jen carried that franchise on her shoulders, and provided more than enough evidence that women would pay to see strong female role models on the big screen.

The real question is, why is it taking so long? The male executives who run the studios are supposed to generate revenue. They owe it to the shareholders. Why isn’t someone demanding they make more films about and by women? Women are over 51% of the population, and they still don’t get equal representation.

It’s really stupid, because women have proved that they will turnout when offered something worth watching. Fanboys are not the only ones buying tickets to see movies. Put more women in charge of greenlighting films. It’s way overdue.

MR DIXON

Great discussion. I dont think pinning all your hopes on one film to fix everything is a good idea. Dont get me wrong, this is hollywood and money talks, and the films success, given that is is an action film starting and directed by a women is a great thing, but i think in the last few months things are already starting to change. Silver and Black is being made, plus Captain Marvel, Gotham City Sirens and Batgirl.

Funny that Eric Kohn is trying to get the Bad Batch some attention when the talk is about Wonder Woman, Bad Batch is unlikely to change much in Hollywood as its a small indie without that much commercial appeal as people of all ages are not likely/unable to watch it given its theme, subject matter and lack of wide cinema release. I would also argue that Wonder Woman is not your run of the mill superhero movie or as Eric Kohn puts it “loud, ridiculous superhero movie”. Wonder Woman is a superhero movie yes, but it is a superhero movie with high fantasy elements, a coming of age story, a WW1 movie, a fish out of water story and a romance.

I enjoyed this film a lot and i think that films that are more inclusive of the movie going public are a great thing. I look forward to seeing what happens next for patty Jenkins

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