To All the Female-Led Comic Book Movies I Haven’t Loved Before
As 2021 comes over the horizon, uncertain as any other day, one thing is clear: Blockbuster movies were tested this year. Not just via their box office draw, but how new release methods like streaming will only serve to highlight preexisting biases with movie criticism, the weakness of many aspects of “the blockbuster,” and (most importantly to this particular piece) how female-led films will be received in this new ecosystem.
Wonder Woman 1984 has proven to be controversy-riddled for a mountain of reasons, and that controversy is different from the criticism of Birds of Prey earlier this year, more like Disney’s Mulan, the closest equivalent in being a movie that was banking on girl power (and, to a degree, nostalgia) like Wonder Woman. Yet, when we look at how people have looked at Birds of Prey, as it was made more accessible via streaming during the early parts of the COVID pandemic, people have warmed up to it overall. The risks it took paid off, and while it may not be a box office “success,” if pit against Wonder Woman in terms of which movie better served female-led mainstream comic book cinema this year, I’m going with BOP.
But it was not the only one. Netflix’s The Old Guard came out earlier this year, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka—great action scenes, an older woman leading the film, a diverse cast, strong relationship between women featured, strong gay relationship, and fantastic combat scenes. It also dealt with what it might be like for an immortal being to live a long life with an inability to form long-term attachments beyond a few people.
Wow, shocking, isn’t it?
Yet, with Wonder Woman not doing well, other projects, female-led and others (not Batman-centric) are seen as “risky.”
What also needs to be addressed is the loaded environment a mixed-reviewed film like Wonder Woman created. Because yes, it was racist, it was heteronormative, and it was boring, but how many movies have the exact same sins but ended up being allowed to move past that? Or have we all forgotten the issues with Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, etc. from Team Marvel? Many of these films have been racist and exclusionary, but have survived because the sum total is seen as worth it.
Wonder Woman 1984 is the only female-led superhero film sequel. Ever. This is a crime in itself, but that makes this movie high stakes because it is groundbreaking by just existing. It is a terrible position to find yourself in as a filmmaker, compared to anyone trying to just make a mediocre comic book movie. Feminism isn’t on the line if you’re making Thor: The Dark World.
So to Elektra, Tank Girl, Catwoman, Supergirl, and, I guess, Barbarella, I’m sorry it has been such a long haul to get to this point where we can have Captain Marvel, Birds of Prey, two Wonder Woman movies, and a Black Widow movie on the way. Were you all terrible? Sure—well, not Barbarella, you slay, and Supergirl and Tank Girl are fun in their own way. Elektra, you are a disgrace, sis, but that was mostly writing choices.
Regardless, all of you were just trying to exist, and while there are tons of bad comic book movies led by dudes, they do not carry the stigma you do. And that sucks.
Wonder Woman 1984 may not have been great to me and many of my colleagues, but you know what? The biggest issue is that it is part of a genre that has lately leaned heavily on spectacle, the talent of the cast, and the cult of personality that has arisen around it. Without it, there is only a lot of noise. So maybe that should be examined for the future of all comic book movies, female-led and otherwise.
(image: Warner Bros.)
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