It seems that every year we get more and more movies that dominate the social spectre as they approach release, sitting on the tips of everyone’s tongues simply begging for dissection and discussion. Mis-steps in advertising, casting or general quality can kill a film before it even gets off the ground. Every movie that gets released is important; people have invested their hard earned time, money and passion in these films and carry the pressures of the entertainment business on their shoulders. But some are naturally more important. Some influence whether or not other movies get made. And heading into 2017 there’s one movie that stands out as incredibly important to the next few years of cinema.
Wonder Woman (because the header image didn’t give that away…)
There’s not another movie with more riding on its shoulders than Wonder Woman. And yes, I’m counting the other movie she’ll appear in – Justice League – as well. Now obviously there’s a lot riding on the Justice League. It’s been a bumpy ride at best for the DC Expanded Universe films, none have received the universal acclaim of their Marvel counterparts and there’s no bigger swing for the fences than Justice League. But the thing is, Justice League will do well in spite of itself. The same allure that Batman v Superman and The Avengers had will carry through here. It’ll be the first time we see the A-listers DC have to offer (and Cyborg) all together and so it’s all but guaranteed big numbers.
Wonder Woman doesn’t have this advantage. Sure it’ll draw a lot of opening weekend numbers because it’s a new comic book movie starring a big name, but a solo film doesn’t carry the same weight that a team-up film does, especially now the novelty of the superhero film has more than worn out by now. We saw a bit of her in Dawn of Justice, but it was little more than a cameo. Here the movie is centred around her and it doesn’t seem like she’ll be calling upon anyone else from the DCEU to help her out. Success or failure will lay squarely on her shoulders.
There’s two key factors that make Wonder Woman so important:
This is the first superhero movie being headlined solely by a female hero since the terribly forgettable Elektra in 2005. Before that we were treated to the abysmal Catwoman movie the year prior and an 80s Supergirl movie that falls firmly in the ‘so bad its good’ territory. We are in dire need of a great female superhero movie. If Wonder Woman succeeds, both critically and financially, it’ll do for the superhero genre what Deadpool did this year.
Before Deadpool, most companies avoided the ‘R’ rating like the plague, especially if they were headlining with a mainline hero. A movie like Watchmen or 300 you could justify going ‘R’, but a character like Wolverine? No chance. Yet after Deadpool proved to be a hit, we got our ‘R’ rated Wolverine movie in development. Deadpool proved you could narrow your target audience and still succeed if you execute what matters.
Even if the companies want to deny it, there’s no doubt part of the reason the superhero genre has been male dominated is because they’re seen as a safer bet. Wonder Woman can help buck that trend. If Wonder Woman does well, suddenly Marvel can have more faith in their Ms Marvel film with Brie Larson. Margot Robbie has a case to make for her Harley Quinn spin-off film (or even better, a Gotham Sirens v Birds of Prey movie like rumoured). A door will be opened to possible starring roles that were previously thought off limits. If Wonder Woman gets to some arbitrary line that suddenly tells executives that females are marketable (because that trend hasn’t already been proven…) then you can expect to see Squirrel Girl greenlit.
What if the opposite happens? What if it under-performs and receives the same critical response Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad received? Sure some will blame it on DC being DC, but it’ll all but definitely put the brakes on any superheroine movies that were sitting on the fence. Marvel’s already committed to Ms Marvel, but don’t expect that Black Widow film, or Zatanna to sit anywhere but firmly behind Constantine in the Justice League Dark movie marketing.
And to be perfectly honest, it’s important for Wonder Woman as a character to succeed. Because in the pantheon of heroes, she’s one of the women better suited to being a positive role model for young girls. Iron Man and Batman might be subjectively cooler, but Superman and Captain America provide young boys with something more positive for them to aspire to be. Young girls deserve and need a female counterpart to look to as well. Harley Quinn is incredibly popular with both men and women (for varying reasons) but she’s not an aspirational character – or at least she shouldn’t be. Wonder Woman is.
And if we’re being honest, we’re still severely lacking in well developed female heroes in either of the Marvel or DC universes. Black Widow’s played a supporting role in a bunch of films, but her character development has been a bit limited (not to mention questionable at times). Gamora was a good fighter, but there wasn’t that much to her character. Scarlet Witch was shoehorned into her comic book romance with Vision which honestly came across as awkward in Civil War despite showing some promise as a character. Harley Quinn is arguably the most developed of the bunch, but her movie counterpart needs to go through the struggle of the Joker to get to her stronger comic comparison.
But it’s more than just about proving the women can succeed. It’s about proving DC can succeed. I’m one of those rare butterflies who for the most part like what DC have been doing cinematically, but the fact is I don’t share the critical consensus. DC need a bonafide win, and really they need it before Justice League, because they can’t afford to have to fight a public consensus of failure before their main attraction releases – which will be what happens if Wonder Woman doesn’t succeed.
If Gal Gadot can carry Wonder Woman to the best critical response for DC since Christian Bale left the cowl behind, suddenly things start to look up. Expectations and hype can be built off of more than just hope, but something tangible, especially with Wonder Woman being in the film (alongside the other great success of Batman v Superman: Batman) if people just keep assuming DC are going to misfire on every attempt, then that’s all they’ll see.
It’s a great mercy that we got Wonder Woman in Dawn of Justice too, because it provided Gal Gadot with a platform to establish herself without the spotlight being too heavy. People were not on board with her as Wonder Woman when it was announced, letting her join Ben Affleck and Jesse Eisenberg in the “DC can’t cast” lineup (to be fair, I was with the public on Eisenberg, then and now). But as a day 1 bandwagoner of the Gadot Wonder Woman train I’m glad to see how much that bandwagon has grown once people stopped worrying about the size of her chest and arms and started paying attention to what she was capable of.
So far, people are on board with the trailer. And there’s a lot to like from what we’ve seen. But – people were also on board with some of the BvS and Suicide Squad trailers. Trailers can only give us a glimpse. We need to leave the cinema in June with that same positivity.
Wonder Woman carries the pressure on multiple fronts. She needs to succeed for the sake of DC and for women. If she does, suddenly the comic film landscape drastically changes and doors are opened. We need Wonder Woman to lay the foundation for a Khamala Khan Ms Marvel movie to be possible, because if the biggest female name in comics can’t hit the mark there’s no way they take a punt on a female muslim lead, no matter how great the potential story is. We need Wonder Woman to light the runway for the next set of DC movies. Because if the queen of DC stumbles, don’t expect people to get behind Aquaman in the following year. But mostly we need Wonder Woman to be good, because damn it the character deserves it.
Help us Gal Gadot, you’re our only hope.