She Has No Head! – The Superheroine Age?
With intriguing columns about superheroine movies over the past months from io9 and Jezebel to USA Today and The BBC everyone is talking about this issue — that issue being “Where are all the Superheroines in Film?” Readers (or at least writers) cannot get enough of the topic. CSBG’s own Sonia Harris was interviewed last week for a Huffpost video, and I was interviewed last week by both CNN/HNL and SciFi Now Magazine for upcoming pieces on the subject. It feels like we’re hitting a point of no return where the people will simply demand a supeheroine film come hell or high water. We probably can’t call anything a “superheroine age” without some movies (and toys and all that comes with such things) but it does feel like we may finally be headed there.
I wrote over a year ago about why The Avengers got The Black Widow so right, and suggested some superheroine movies I’d like to see on the heels of that (I also wrote about both Catwoman and The Black Widow on Lit Reactor), but I was a bit too early for the rush it seems – and now, unwilling to be left out of the frenzy, since it’s an issue so clearly dear to my heart — here I am again.
In last year’s post I not only made some suggestions of superheroine led films I’d love to see, but also casted them and assigned directors (I’m optimistic like that). I still standby those suggestions, though obviously in this current climate I’d cast Katee Sackhoff as Captain Marvel instead of Valkyrie. Valkyrie made decent sense at the time given the popularity of Thor and even Sif’s small role IN Thor, but Marvel seems to be pushing Captain Marvel and for good reason.
Captain Marvel is, first and foremost, the best possible branding you could ever hope have — I mean her name is literally the same as the company’s — you can’t do better than that. She’s also, unlike The Black Widow, a big, bold, larger-than-life-flying-around-super-strong-traditional-Superman-type-hero, which audiences clearly have an interest in and can immediately relate to. Letting her be super powerful in a way that men typically are and not shying away from it is an approach I like and thanks to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s fine work on the Captain Marvel title, and Jamie McKelvie’s fantastic costume redesign (which would translate perfect to a film), I like Carol Danvers better than ever and she’s more well-positioned than ever before. She’s also starring and guest starring in a lot of strong high profile titles along with her own title. It’s clear Marvel would like to make her “their Wonder Woman.” That obviously can’t be done without going back in time, Carol will never had Diana’s history, but the longer they wait to establish their own iconic female lead the bigger Diana’s headstart becomes.
And Wonder Woman is yet another reason that a Captain Marvel movie is a good idea – Carol is a legitimate competitor to Diana in a way that Natasha really isn’t. They have similar power sets, and are more traditional superheroes rather than super spies, assassins, or more “street level heroes.” As a side benefit, it’s also potentially easier to steal DC’s thunder if Marvel manages to get to theaters first with a superpowered heroine flying across the screen. That said, if Marvel can figure it out with Captain Marvel, it might give DC a roadmap with Wonder Woman. But quite frankly, I’m all for that. In fact, DC and Marvel might care about who’s “doing it better” but I don’t care a bit, I just want to see a commitment to getting these ladies on the big screen.
Still, excitement about the rumors both of Captain Marvel showing as a cameo or end of film teaser in a future Marvel movie and that it might seed the field for her own film (as well as the flurry that Katee Sackoff has been in talks with Marvel about SOMETHING) are a bit optimistic to me.
As detailed above, I think Captain Marvel is a great move on all fronts, but I also don’t see any reason on Earth why we don’t already have a Black Widow film in development.
Black Widow has been introduced in exactly the same way that we’re all speculating that Captain Marvel is going to be. She first showed up in a smaller role in Iron Man 2, she was then a huge success in a the big ensemble monster hit that was The Avengers, and now she’s showing up again for a (supposedly larger) supporting role in Captain America 2: Winter Soldier. With all of that under her belt audiences are (and will be) well-introduced to the character via three films, one of which it seems like everyone on earth with a passing interest in movies or comics, managed to see. Add to that the fact that Scarlett Johansson is a hot young star and why on earth isn’t a super cool spy meets superhero movie in development already? I’ve talked about this before, but I think it has new relevance since we’re all getting so sure that this is the same approach Marvel is taking with Captain Marvel. I get that Marvel can only spend so much money on the table for movies every year, and I appreciate that they seem to be invested in Captain Marvel, but it truly frustrates me that with all the set up for Natasha, that’s not even something that appears to be on their docket.
To add insult to injury, while there’s no “The Black Widow” in development, we have news that Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are both in the queue. I understand why they are because of how Marvel is developing their universe, but from a practicality standpoint both are big risks, especially compared to Black Widow.
It’s a huge insult that The Green Lantern got to the screen before Wonder Woman and it’s an even bigger one that it looks like we’re getting The Flash before Wonder Woman as well, but given the excellent job Marvel has done of setting up The Black Widow isn’t it an even bigger insult that we’re probably getting Ant-Man before The Black Widow?
Ant-Man has almost zero name recognition outside of comics fandom. Nothing against Ant-Man, it has the potential to be a very cool movie, especially if it’s got a sci-fi bent to it. I will watch THE HELL out of an Ant-Man movie, but I’m a comics lover, I know who the hell Ant-Man is in the first place. Can Ant-Man work? ABSOLUTELY. But it seems a whole lot riskier to me than Black Widow. By the same token, while Guardians of the Galaxy is potentially a ton of fun and very in keeping with Marvel’s superhero/action movie meets comedy cocktail that has worked so well for them, it’s definitely a risk. It’s a lot of characters and a complicated story. And the more wild space elements have the potential to be as confusing and intractable as a lot of what weighed down the horrible Green Lantern movie. Again, it can absolutely work, and given the magic that made The Avengers movie work — something that was also a huge risk — it could be epic. But none of it quiets my wondering about why we don’t have a comparatively low-risk 80 – 100 million-dollar Black Widow movie already in development?
If it’s a case of over-extending themselves, then again, I think she should be in line well before GotG or Ant-Man. If it’s a case of Johansson being busy or not interested, I think someone would have just said that to shut us all up. So what is it?
I just really have no goddamn idea. Anyone have an idea?
For a long time I was seeing the whole “movies with female leads are failures at the box office therefore we’re going to not make female-led films” argument. Of late, I’ve seen a lot of push back on the argument with the eminently logical comment that most times those films that fail have nothing to do with being female-led but instead have to do with just being bad films. When a film with a male lead fails, no one would DARE to say it was because it had a male lead. Nobody would say that because it’s absolutely absurd. And it’s just as absurd when it comes to female led films. So it’s good to see that attitude changing and hopefully the dialogue evolving on the media side reflects actual change in Hollywood, or at least a trickle down that will eventually change the thinking in Hollywood.
io9’s Charlie Jane Anders did an absolutely fantastic piece last week that focused on female-led action films (and franchises) and showed how incredibly inaccurate it is when Hollywood takes the position that female action heroes don’t make money. It’s actually shocking to see the breadth of the list. I certainly wouldn’t argue that all the movies are good (neither does Anders) but what she does argue (and the numbers back her up nicely) are the financial success of these films. I’m particularly fond of her last line: “There isn’t a track record of decent female-led action movies tanking, but rather a moderate number of really terrible films that deserved to fail.”
Another idea I’d like to advocate for is that just because we have a female lead a superhero film doesn’t mean it has to be done perfectly right out the gate. I mean, obviously that would be ideal, but this idea that if it’s not a perfect monster hit of a film then we don’t get another shot for a decade is frustrating. Batman has had seven films and four Bruce Waynes. Superman has had six films and three Clark Kents. Hell, Hollywood tried two Hulk films within five years of one another, both HUGE failures, and they still weren’t afraid to put him in The Avengers (where he worked like gangbusters). As much as we all want Hollywood (and Marvel or DC/WB) to get a superheroine film right for so many reasons including so we don’t have to endure any more tragic films like Catwoman or Elektra, the idea that they can’t try again for a decade or more if they fail, is wrongheaded thinking as well. Lots of superheroes get a couple tries to get it right, it should be the same for superheroines.
While I’m here, I might as well throw this one last bit on the fire. Whoever does finally get a big time superheroine on film first, I’d love it they could keep an open mind. Not EVERY superhero story has to be an origin story. As a comic book reader I’m probably MORE bored of this approach than your average film goer, but I just think the reliance on the origin story for some of our famous (and not so famous) heroes is a crutch. Not every movie has to introduce (or re-introduce) how a superhero came to be. Aren’t we all pretty interested in Black Widow without knowing every single thing about how she came to be? It’s not that I’m uninterested in her origin, or in seeing it on film, but it’s not necessary to watch an engaging film with her. Why the superhero genre in particular is so insistent in dwelling on origin stories I can’t quite figure out, but they’re, frankly, hard to do well, and not always necessary. I would love it if a Captain Marvel film skipped over the bulk of her origin, the beginning of someone’s story isn’t always the best beginning of a film. More to the point though, I’d love it if we could keep all our minds open when it comes to making the best possible film. After all, have we learned nothing from Robert Valley’s unbelievably awesome Wonder Woman shorts? What you need is creativity and talent, and most importantly, vision, not to be beholden to every idea that has come before.
A lot of people have been writing about raising the profile of female superheroes in comics for a long time now – talking about everything from problematic portrayals to their general awesomeness and how much more we’d like to see of them in our stories. But as we all know, the comics audience is very small compared to film audiences, especially blockbuster films, so when people start talking about movies, a whole lot more people start paying attention to this issue. While as die hard comic fans some of the commentary might not be up to our standards — sometimes it’s frustrating to watch people who know a lot less about a subject weigh in on an issue we’re well-versed and passionate about (and been talking about for a long time) – it’s only good for us. At the end of the day the more high profile and mainstream media outlets that report on the frenzy over a superheroine film coming theaters in the near future can only help us get there sooner. And I hope they’re going to help us do just that. How long can Hollywood, ignore these stories that are popping up everywhere. Has the demand become so great that they will have to give in? I can only hope!
Listen, I admit I’ve got skin in this game. Not only do I love comics and lady superheroes with a passion but I spend a good deal of my life writing about this kind of thing, so it’s great for me that people are interested in it, both as something to write about and eventually to see on the big screen. Perhaps even more importantly, I wrote a book about two teenage girls with superpowers, so obviously, I love to see raised interest in this subject, and the possibility that that interest might someday make a The Girl Who Would Be King film possible too.
A girl’s gotta have a dream.