One of the interesting things about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is that even though it’s billed as a clash of two comic-book titans – “the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world,” to quote the film’s Lex Luthor – is why people are flocking to see it.
A survey conducted by Fandango, released by Deadline shows audiences are most excited about seeing Wonder Woman. Despite not appearing the title, 88 percent of the survey’s participants were most looking forward to seeing Wonder Woman on screen.
Of course, there are a number of reasons for that. It could be that the 88 percent who saw the numerous trailers and were intrigued how Princess Diana of Themyscira, only glimpsed in the teasers, arrived in Gotham. But other figures suggest that’s not the only reason. The survey revealed 82 percent of advanced ticket-holders had seen Man Of Steel, and 66 percent were fans of Zack Snyder’s work, hinting that it’s the die-hard that want something new, while logic may lead you to deduce from those stats that a large proportion of the 18 percent who hadn’t seen Henry Cavill’s first outing as Superman were off to see Dawn Of Justice because of Wonder Woman as well.
Gal Gadot will return as Wonder Woman in her own film next year, but the fact it’s taken this long for the character Lynda Carter first brought to life on screen in 1975 to get her own film is crazy. Since Carter hung up her golden lasso of truth in 1979, six actors have played Batman on the big screen, while a 2011 Wonder Woman TV pilot, starring Adrianne Palicki, remains unaired.
The president of DC Entertainment, the company behind Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, said in 2013 that bringing the character to film was difficult because she “doesn’t have the single, clear, compelling story that everyone knows and recognises.” But doesn’t this underestimate the audience? How many of the people who contributed to its global £500m box office knew who Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Star-Lord, Rocket and Groot were before they saw Guardians of the Galaxy? GOTG’s plot is almost inconsequential. How much of its success was down to a funny script, excellent characterisation and, notably, a female character on the poster?
Marvel, the company behind Gaurdians Of The Galaxy, has also given us two box-office-breaking Avengers films, hits with audiences not in spite of Scarlett Johansson’s presence as Black Widow, but perhaps because of. It’s no surprise ensemble casts work – audiences want a character that represents them on screen and The Avengers have something for everyone (even giant green people mutated by gamma radiation).
The lack of a Black Widow standalone is frankly ludicrous. The small snippet of her backstory we got from Avengers: Age of Ultron was a tantalising glimpse of what could be. But instead of finding out how she was born and raised in a Russian school for assassins, sterilised to stop emotion overtaking duty and later defected to the US, Marvel will serve up yet another Spider-Man movie next year, with a third actor playing Peter Parker. How is there a Doctor Strange film on its way before we’ve seen more of Black Widow, Scarlett Witch, Storm, Rogue, Emma Frost or Jean Grey as Phoenix? To DC, how about giving Catwoman another, proper go?
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By the time Marvel gives us a female-fronted comic book film – that’s Captain Marvel, scheduled for a 2019 release – their mind-bendingly successful cinematic universe will have brought us 20 other films. Ant-Man and the Wasp will be released before it, with Evangeline Lilly reprising her role as Hope van Dyne and graduating to the film’s title, but this after the character was relegated to teaching Ant-Man how to punch in the first film, rumoured to appear in Age of Ultron before being scrapped, and the character’s mother and original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, was all but written out of the story altogether.
In a wider context, since 1998’s Blade, there have been around 60 Marvel-related films, including X-Men franchises and so on. Of these, only 2006’s Elektra has seen a woman in the title role. It absolutely tanked at the box office, but it’s perhaps unfair to blame Jennifer Garner for that. It failed because it’s a dog of a film, spun-off from Ben Affleck’s wretched take on Daredevil. On the other hand, Marvel’s Agent Carter and Jessica Jones have both been huge successes, and Elektra is one of the best things about Daredevil’s second Netflix series. Surely the studios aren’t telling us woman can only be the leads on TV, that it takes 13 hours rather than two to show us they can be heroes as well as men?
Kevin Feige, Marvel’s boss, when pushed on the issue of women in the studio’s films last year said: “There has been a shift in the press and the public in terms of a very vocal clamouring for standalone female character films,” as if forgetting he’s in charge of the billion-dollar machine and could’ve made one if he wanted to, adding that Marvel has always gone for “smart, intelligent, powerful women” over damsels in distress, citing Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, Iron Man and Thor’s girlfriends, as proof.
Fandango’s survey proves these attitudes are no longer backed up by box-office receipts, if they ever were. With audiences starting to vote with their feet, the calls for female superheroes simply cannot be ignored any longer.