The Sunday Magazine: Wonder Woman

I have taken some time to comment on the new movie “Wonder Woman” here because I was waiting for a couple of things to happen before I wrote about it. Now that they have occurred it will allow me to make a more accurate assessment of why this movie stands out within the superhero genre of movie.

The movies of DC characters are often horrible creative failures because the people handling the heroes don’t understand what makes them popular within pop culture. Christopher Nolan understood Batman in his trio of movies. That’s where the list of DC successes ends. Since those Batman movies Zach Snyder has been put in charge of creating a DC Cinematic Universe as rich as the Marvel version. In the first few movies under his supervision he has decided on making dark gritty versions of the iconic heroes. It is a failure because he is giving way to what a comic fanboy wants but not the general public. The opposite of what Marvel does which is to always make sure their heroes embrace a neophyte. My first view of Wonder Woman, as played by actress Gal Gadot, was in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. She was one of two things I walked out of that movie wanting to see more of. Except there was a voice in the back of my head saying, “Snyder is going to turn her into a nihilistic ninja”. Even in her scant screen time in her debut her sense of justice shone through so there was some hope. It turns out director Patty Jenkins not only understands her heroine she also understands what a woman deals with in a world of men which makes “Wonder Woman” stand apart.

Patty Jenkins

Ms. Jenkins uses Wonder Woman’s immortality as a way of setting her story in World War I-era Europe. The first part of the movie shows Diana from child to warrior. Eventually the war pierces the shield around the amazon island Themyscira. American spy Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, informs them of what is happening in the world. Diana realizes this is the mission she was born for and leaves with Steve to join the world and the battle. The next part of the movie is how Diana inserts herself into a world where women are not seen as equal. Through her actions and her presence, she never is allowed to dumb herself down. Ms. Jenkins keeps it all flowing by making the men seem a little smaller than Diana throughout. Through the entire movie Diana is what a heroine is defined by, caring for the less able, using your power for good, and trying to make right what is wrong. Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Gadot have provided a heroine without any of the grittiness so prevalent in the other DC movies.

Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot)

Which is why I think it has been the most successful DC film in this era of the Extended Universe in the US. Ms. Gadot feels like she can be the linchpin which holds the DC Universe together in the same way Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Iron Man has done for the Marvel movies. I think Ms. Jenkins should be given a seat at the table as Wonder Woman is used in things like the upcoming Justice League movie so she is not tarnished with a coating of grit. It would be a huge mistake for another reason.

By the third weekend of Wonder Woman’s release there were as many women going to see it as men. Gender parity for superhero movies never happens. Even the latest Star Wars with another great heroine was unable to manage gender parity in the theatre. You have a whole new audience who has been invited into the DC Universe by Ms. Jenkins and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is not like the other movies so far. If they take her darker for Justice League they will burn much of the good will they just earned. It seems like they are going to make her the equal of Ben Affleck’s Batman in Justice League and that would be a very wise move; if she stays the positive heroine we just learned to love.

Mr. Snyder and DC have shown an unerring attempt to fumble the ball which is why I am hoping he might hand some of the load to Ms. Jenkins because I think she understands what moviegoers want. The box office and the audience supports that conclusion.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Strong Women in Pop Culture

In 2006 writer-director Joss Whedon received an award from Equality Now. His acceptance speech is one of the funnier things I’ve read. In it he talks about going on press junkets and being asked the same question over and over, “Why do you write these strong women characters?” Over the course of answering the question multiple times in the speech it is his final answer that was most telling of the way things were in 2006, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

In 2006 characters like Mr. Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the women on his show Firefly were anomalies. Now in 2017 we are a week removed from a movie which featured the original pop culture strong woman, Wonder Woman. Which was directed by a female director, Patty Jenkins; becoming the biggest box office opening for a female directed movie.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

In the eleven years since 2006 there has been a steady increase in women taking on starring roles in some of our biggest pop culture mediums. Besides Wonder Woman the character Rey in the new Star Wars movies is as big as any hero in any movie coming out in 2017. The heroine of the storybook television show Once Upon a Time is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. Supergirl has her own show. In comics, a woman wields Mjolnir as Thor. The most interesting thing is I could keep going on and on with examples. In 2006, I would have had trouble writing a paragraph as long.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars

What changed? I don’t think anything changed. What I think happened is a generation of creative minds were influenced by the opportunity to work in the unexplored territory of writing for strong women. If you’re going to tell the tale of the Hero’s Journey why not make it the Heroine’s Journey and claim it for your own? Which is why we have this growing sector of strong women in pop culture. It is also why this will be an enduring change because it has emerged in a natural way driven by the writers, directors, and artists looking for their story to tell.

In 2006, I think we were just beginning to take the first steps to rounding the corner. In 2017, I think we are almost at the point that the change is complete. Which means the question of “Why do you write these strong women characters?” will disappear sooner rather than later.

Mark Behnke