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?
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.
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.
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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