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The Wrong Lesson From Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman has claimed the top spot for the second week in a row, and suddenly everyone seems sure that a female-starring superhero(ine) film is the next big thing. I’m afraid this is totally the wrong lesson to take away from Wonder Woman’s success in that everyone seems to be focusing on the “woman” rather than the “wonder” in her name.

I should also probably preface this post in that I thought it was a good movie rather than a great one. I think it lucked out from the low bar it needed to clear from all the other DC films, such that it just needed to not fall on its face at the first hurdle to be considered a smashing success. But, that said, it also had the Hollywood millstone of being headed by a female around its neck, so I guess it probably balances out. Plus, all my complaints are really just technical missteps like the active protagonist being reduced to a passive MacGuffin for the majority of the second act rather than out and out bad storytelling, so that means I had a pretty good time watching it.

Anyways, again, a good film that suddenly everyone assures us means that females can carry the traditionally male-centric superhero genre (as if Catwoman and Elektra no longer exist), and suddenly I’m having flashbacks to the late aughts/ early teens when Marvel unveiled its shared universe leading up to The Avengers and everyone was clamoring to make their own shared universe. DC is your most obvious copy-cat, but other examples range from the somewhat sensible Universal Picture’s “Dark Universe” movie monsters to the truly bizarre combination of Men In Black and 21 Jump Street (!?!).

In a way, you can’t really blame them: They saw Marvel’s success and wanted a piece of the pie. But what they missed was the crux of Marvel’s success as they aped the trappings of the shared universe rather than focusing on the real cause of it.

Which was that all the movies Marvel had made up through The Avengers were good movies. Each one, from Iron Man to Captain America: The First Avenger was a legitimately good and enjoyable film on its own. And so though The Avengers was gestaltishly better than the sum of its parts, those parts themselves were good, which made the final product great.

Yeah, that seems blatantly obvious when I type it out, but the failure of Universal Picture’s Dark Universe in The Mummy the week after Wonder Woman proves said lesson went unheeded. Same as the unasked for franchise of Guy Richie’s King Arthur less than a month prior. The original sin of both these films (and the unwieldly titled Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) was not trying to be enjoyable standalone films within a shared universe, rather setting up a franchise right out the gate.

They didn’t put in the legwork at the micro level of each individual film, and as such the macro level, shared universe edifice fell apart before it was even built. Total cart before the horse.

Which brings us back to Wonder Woman in that this was the first good film DC has put out, which is why I people are flocking to it; not the fact it was headed by a female. I think The Hunger Games pretty much proves people will go see female-led movies in droves, so long as the film itself is good. And yes, I think Katniss is a superhero in everything but name, and dare you to argue with me. Inversely, Catwoman and Elektra did not fail because of their female leads, rather because they were objectively terrible films.

Other flashbacks I get are to Deadpool, where suddenly everyone was sure an R-rated superhero film was the next big thing as if Kick-Ass and Wanted didn’t exist. Like Logan that followed, Deadpool didn’t succeed because it was R-rated, rather because it was a good film with its own vision of what it wanted to be. Same with The Hangover, which took everyone by surprised and was suddenly proving that an R-rated comedy was again viable: Hollywood again took the wrong lesson to heart and decided people wanted shock comedy rather than a hilarious and fairly touching story about friendship and growing up.

Anyways, this has pretty much devolved into a rant when what I’m hoping is that Hollywood and the audiences that feed them will take the right lesson from Wonder Woman’s success and focus more on making wonderful movies worthy of their women characters rather than snatching the first female characters they can find, putting out a substandard/ Dark Universe style knock off, and then act surprised when they have another Catwoman or Elektra on their hands. You get out what you put in; and if you put out an inferior product, you can’t blame that on your lead’s gender.

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MD Presley is a screenwriter, blogger and occasional novelist… which basically means he’s a layabout.  He has written two books on fantasy worldbuilding, and teaches worldbuilding techniques, tricks, and tips at Forging Fantasy Realms once a week on YouTube. 

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