I’ve spent most of my life as a DC Comics fan. I loved certain Marvel characters—Spiderman, Wolverine, Rogue, Mystique, the Hulk, Iron Man—but none of them held a candle in my eyes to Batman or the Flash. And while I could do without Superman and his fortress of Solitude, I had dreams of being Mera, Aquaman’s wife.
Despite being on Team Justice League, I’ve watched the Marvel movies with a new appreciation for all the characters I once wrote off when when I was more interested in Batman’s adventures. I’ve grown to appreciate the Avengers, and all the cast of characters that come under Marvel’s umbrella, including all the Netflix shows. I’ve also been a huge fan of their commitment to diversity, both in their comics (see Miles Morales as the new Spiderman and Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel as the first Muslim character to headline a comic) and in the cinematic universe (Luke Cage and the forthcoming Black Panther movie).
One way the MCU has failed, though, is providing us with a solo female lead. Women read comics, watch superhero movies, and have been asking for a female-driven movie for years (looking at you, non-existent Black Widow movie). Yes, they gave us Jessica Jones which I thought did an amazing job of looking at trauma and victimhood, but a show on Netflix isn’t the same as a summer blockbuster movie.
We have Black Widow, we have Gamora, and we’ve been set up by the end-credit scene from Ant-Man for Wasp make her appearance in a few years. But we’ve also seen Marvel leave Gamora and Black Widow out of toy sets, and again, neither of them have movies. The women Marvel features are usually well-developed, always badass, and dynamic to watch on screen, but they’re always sidekicks. Marvel is almost in on the joke, with Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) actually asking “Where are the ladies, gentlemen?” at one point early in Age of Ultron.
Iron Man, the first movie in the MCU’s road to the Infinity Gauntlet, was released in 2008. Putting aside the television shows for a moment, that means almost nine years and fourteen movies—all without a solo female lead. Three more films are scheduled before Ant-Man and Wasp comes to theaters in July 2018. One could argue that the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) is a female protagonist, but I’m inclined not to count it, since she will be sharing the spotlight with Ant-Man. It won’t be until Captain Marvel comes out in March 2019, eleven years after Iron Man was released, that the MCU will tout a female protagonist. And, I’d argue that Marvel will be releasing it on a downswing, since Avengers Infinity War (May 2018) will presumably end the Infinity War arc that has fueled the MCU’s initial decade of success.
As a girl who has spent most of her life being more of a DC Comics fan, it’s been painful for me to watch DC scramble to catch up to Marvel’s cinematic powerhouse. It makes me wince, but at the same time I haven’t been able to look away.
I think Batman v. Superman could have been a good movie if DC had taken the time to give us a Batman movie and not cram so much into it. It would have been nice to see Ben Affleck actually be Batman for a bit longer, since he does a pretty decent job with what he was given. It’s an older, grittier, beat down version of the Batman that Chris Nolan gave us; there’s promise, but not much was delivered during the movie.
It was even more painful to watch Suicide Squad where, after the success of Deadpool, the DC execs freaked out and ordered reshoots, meaning the movie was meant to be much darker than it actually ended up. Then, despite all of the trailers promising us a lot of the Joker, they cut out most of Jared Leto’s scenes from the version that went to theaters.The result was sloppy, hard to follow, and downright cringeworthy at moments.
There was one shining moment in each of these movies—Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in BvS and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad.
Wonder Woman didn’t capture my imagination much when I was little, not in the way Batgirl, Mera, or any of the female X-Men did. Her stoicism, and the back story of her being a goddess and a princess (even if she was a badass Amazonian warrior princess) weren’t captivating for me. Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman, however (especially that battle scene, which was essentially just a Wonder Woman trailer) hit me hard. This was a female superhero I could get behind. She was strong, in control, and didn’t need the boys to help her try and bring down the bad guy. She didn’t wait for their permission either. Though I left BvS generally disappointed, I was excited and optimistic about what DC could do with their dynamic female superhero as the protagonist in the forthcoming Wonder Woman.
Then there was Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. She was electric. Margot Robbie was born to play the role. She hit every line perfectly, and inhabited the psychiatrist-turned-psychotic criminal character so well. I forgot it was Robbie. She brought depth and nuisance to one of my favorite characters from Gotham. Whenever I think about the scene in the stairwell, where we get a peek at Harley’s complex inner life and she classifies DeadShot as “another textbook sociopath,” it still gives me chills. As soon as I walked out of the theater, I turned to my friend and told him that if DC didn’t release a Harley Quinn movie, they were idiots.
And my wish was granted. Not only is our favorite villain getting her own movie, but Catwoman and Poison Ivy are going to be joining her as the Gotham City Sirens.
Let’s recap—just one year into DC’s expanded cinematic universe, the studio will be releasing not one, but two movies featuring female leads. While they have been struggling to compete with Marvel, playing catch up, I think they have an opportunity to avoid jumping on the superhero movie bandwagon, and capitalize what they have been showing promise in at the same time. By focusing on continuing to cultivate dynamic, female-led movies, they could fill a void left wide open by Marvel. They’d certainly have an audience, and DC has no shortage of compelling female characters to pull from.
So while DC’s cinematic attempts have been less than stellar, I am hopeful that DC can potentially do something great, and will keep those lady superhero and supervillain movies coming. I’d definitely buy tickets, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one.