With The Avengers cashing in more moo-lah than a James Cameron-directed Harry Potter film, the movie-going public have been given a comic book feast, and given Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is only a few month away, the superhero salivation will simply continue.
Marvel and DC aren’t stopping the brigade anytime soon, with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and further Avengers-related instalments currently in the works. Now that the genre’s more successful than it has ever been, one question resides in my mind: where are the super women?
The comic-book-verse is full of superheroines, and yet, film adaptations have turned the cinematic experience into a super-powered sausage-fest. However, given the very few appalling attempts at women-centric superhero flicks, you can understand why some studios are a little edgy about it.
It’s not as if a female presence has been totally absent in the genre, but we’re still waiting for a superheroine-centric film to kick ass (or, at the very least, to not suck). There have been the odd attempts that could’ve produced bankable results, if they ever got a chance to see the light of day.
However, there have been great examples of films that, while strictly not classified as superhero films in the same vein as Batman or Iron Man, display big-screen superheroinism in a way that should be mimicked or taken note of.
But enough with the setup. Let’s start grabbing this topic by the ovaries.
What they’ve tried
Jumping off the crazy success of the Richard Donner films was 1984’s Supergirl, a rather unwelcomed spin-off that contributed to the Superman franchise’s downward slope of quality, released between Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Thinking “oh shitballs, that was a bad idea,” it’d take another 20 years for Hollywood to release another big-budget big-name comic heroine on screen. Then, Halle Berry’s Catwoman appeared, greeted with a collective fanboy facepalm that could be heard worldwide.
Its problems are plentiful: atrocious acting, a limp story, a corny script. It remained completely unfaithful to the character in the comics, with something as simple as the costume change sending fans in an uproar. To the surprise of the film’s producers, less clothing and more boobage does not equal an insta-win in the superheroine genre.
Admittedly, I never saw all of Catwoman. I was rushed to hospital with a brain aneurysm after she said “perrrrrrrrrrrfect”.
Going for another spinoff, they tried Elektra the following year. It was a somewhat puzzling choice, considering the mediocre response Daredevil had gathered from critics and fans alike. However, Jennifer Garner was at a brief peak in her career, so she was ripe for exploitation.
The movie’s pretty bad. Whenever it’s not bland it’s lame. Whenever it deals with some sort of exposition, it leaves out some pretty vital points that remain completely unexplained. Worst of all, the titular character somehow manages to be even more dull and uninteresting than the film she spun off from.
It even managed to shoehorn in a girl-on-girl pashing scene which, again, does not equal an insta-win.
Realising that they could appeal to the female demographic by working the rom-com angle, 20th Century Fox dumped My Super Ex-Girlfriend on us (not actually based on any prior comic, as far as I know). Reintroducing Uma Thurman to the superhero genre wasn’t the Steven Hawking of bright ideas, but what was more criminal was in the way they treated the idea of a superheroine.
Instead of showing strength, they show G-Girl (Thurman) being terribly needy towards the man that dumped her (Luke Wilson). Instead of showing intellect, they show G-Girl’s neuroticism towards being rejected. This all adds up to a woman, who lacks independence and self-control despite having remarkable physical abilities. Before the movie sub-genre could even begin to breathe, My Super Ex-Girlfriend already took the idea of a superheroine, stripped it of all its power and still proclaim “she’s dependant on a man.”
In short, I f**king hate that movie.
There have been other superheroine projects that nearly came to fruition, some that sounded like the perfect starting point for the sub-genre. Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman almost got beyond the concept stage but the producers rejected the outline of his script. After two years meandering around the project, Whedon departed from the adaptation. Many a fanboy and fangirl cried a single Indian tear that day.
A new television series was also in the works. However, the pilot got a horrid reception, so they canned it.
Before that, Tim Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer were amped for a Catwoman spinoff. However, the script was a little too dark and edgy for the producers, who had just released the tame and family-friendly Batman Forever. The contrary style choices prevented the spinoff from occurring, working its way through the developmental sausage grinder until it squeezed out Halle Berry’s Catwoman.
Though the film world has cast a bleak shadow over comic book superheroines, there are some rays of hope that can shine a way into giving the women the spotlight.
What could work
It isn’t necessary to inject a character with a physically intimidating presence to make them an entertaining superhero. You simply need to make that character do a load of cool shit while they’re beating down asses. At least, this is what I learned from Kick-Ass, Hanna and Underworld.
Hitgirl became a foul-mouthed icon, playing off the physical irony of a seemingly vulnerable little girl that could kick your colon into your oesophagus. Also playing off the innocence vs. ruthlessness dynamic was Hanna who, much like Hitgirl, was trained to maim.
Stretching into more age-appropriate territory, Underworld has somehow managed to maintain a franchise with a superpowered woman in the lead role (excluding Rise of the Lycans). Sure, Kate Beckinsale’s still exploited in deliciously tight leather, but the character Selene is strong enough on her own to maintain a general audience’s interest.
These are rather violent examples, but they outline the extremes in which the sub-genre can travel. So what’s my suggestion into making the first prominent step into the comic book superheroine sub-genre of film?
It’s simple really: copy DC’s animated Wonder Woman.
It was released a few years ago, and it’s one of the best superhero animated movies I’ve ever seen. Hollywood simply needs to get the right actress (Gina Carano from Haywire, just throwing it out there), the right director (Joss Whedon, just throwing it out there) and the right script (copy-paste the DC animated one, just throwing it out there) and you’ll have a winner.
Once that door is open, we can get onto a proper Catwoman film.
Am I alone here? Would you want to see a decent superheroine film or should we leave the idea in the kitchen where it belongs (oh no he didn’t!)?