God-Killer: Why 'Wonder Woman' Is the Javits Center Party We Never Had

June 04, 2017

Wonder Woman has broken the glass ceiling of superhero movies

Buffy Summers, Max Guevara, Nikita, Sydney Bristow,  Xena — the true wonderment about Wonder Woman, by all accounts the first truly hit female superhero movie, is that it breaks ground where television has trodden back and forth. Wonder Woman herself already lassoed her way to the small screen, Lynda Carter slipping into the title role a full decade before Gal Gadot was even born.  

Cinema, that dinosaur of all entertainment pillars, has been painfully slow to move in a zeitgeist that has given more visibility to the divine feminine in fiction. By the time production for the inevitable Wonder Woman she-quel rolls, Diana Prince's DC stablemate Supergirl will have been wrapping up her third season on TV.

There's no point in griping. Wonder Woman 2017 looks every bit the apotheosis of Bechdel-Test-aspiring cinema that it has been hyped up to be. It is the belated smashing of the Javits Center glass ceiling, a vigorous God-killer against the deified, toxic masculinity reigning over capitols worldwide.

Sure, there have been action vehicles for women, from Uma Thurman in Kill Bill and Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider to Sigourney Weaver in Alien and Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil. But time and again these blockbusters have been classed as "flukes." More recently, The Hunger Games movie series elevated Jennifer Lawrence to a bankable megastar. Scarlett Johansson, the slut-shamed token female in The Avengers, scored a hit with Lucy. Yet misses such as Catwoman continued to irrationally underpin the confirmation biases of Hollywood honchos against female-fronted superhero movies.

Most dishearteningly to comic-book fans, the CEO of Marvel, the publisher behind legendarily progressive titles such as X-Men, cited Elektra as definitive proof that superheroines are box office poison, the incriminating Sony email leaks showed. This despite a shockingly long compendium of male-led superhero titles bombing upon release over the years. Until Wonder Woman, more than 10 years after Elektra ran in theaters, no film with a budget of more than $100 million had been greenlit for a female director. It took DC, the provenance of macho superhero movies, to turn the tide.

Yet director Patty Jenkins knows very well the transitory space in which Wonder Woman 2017 exists. Although it big-ups the mythos of Diana, the plot skirts emasculating male characters altogether. It does not give short shrift to Steve Trevor, the male lead and romantic interest played by steely-eyed Chris Pine. But boy oh boy, does the film bask in its gender flips; a gratuitous female gaze at Pine's Herculean body is a highlight, as are the Annie Hall/Clark Kent tailored suit and a bold zinger about reproduction. The fact that Trevor is running behind Diana in the posters is a leap forward for gender equilibrium.

Gadot especially lent poignancy to the chilling No Man's Land sequence, an inspired depiction of female empowerment in motion. Alas, it is not the best scene. The transcendental moment of the movie happens when Diana, confronted with the chance to smite the villain, chooses sisterhood.

For really, it is in themselves and other women that females oft-find their greatest enemy. Ask Bette Davis and Joan Crawford; behind every great female rivalry are huge helpings of testosterone manipulating the background. Women have been hardened to centuries of disenfranchisement, hardwired to the delusion that there is only one spot, nay, crown in the workplace for them.

Incidentally, there's a scene in American Horror Story: Coven where Danny Huston, who plays the nefarious General Erich Ludendorff in Wonder Woman, interrupts infighting among the sorceresses but gets a fatal lesson in better-togetherness. Perhaps Huston's role in this powerful scene went into the casting decision?

Playing up such solidarity early in the movie pays. Themyscira sweeps the screen like the eighth wonder of the world, as much for its unearthly cascades as the prodigious sight of women, many of them past their youth, guarding this paradisiacal maternity den and routing invaders in enthralling synchronicity.

They say that the litmus test for this movie is the number of men and little boys in the audience, never mind that 49.6 percent of the world's population is female. For galvanising the matriarchy to the cinema, Wonder Woman is already a coup, that it was directed by a woman even more so.

Little boys striking Wonder Woman poses? It foreshadows a great future that sees men finding adoration and emulation of strong women familiar. It envisages a final realization that we're all born naked and the rest is drag. At that point it won't matter if a Captain Marvel, Storm or Black Widow movie stinks like Superman Returns, Green Lantern, The Phantom or Suicide Squad. Female-driven superhero movies will be allowed to fail, succeed, and simply just thrive.

But who are we kidding? The Golden Age of Television is upon us, and maybe we won't have to stumble around, questing for diversity in the darkness of the theater.

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