Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018
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Kirk Baird

CULTURE SHOCK

The heavy burden of ‘Wonder Woman’

Hero's debut comes with significant questions, pressure

  • HOLLYWOOD-WATCH-GAL-GADOT-5

    Gal Gadot first was seen as Wonder Woman in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’

    WArner Bros.

  • Kirk-baird-mug-1

  • Jeff-Brown-Bowling-Green-State-University

    Jeff Brown, professor in BGSU's department of popular culture

  • 2017-Film-Preview

    Gal Gadot stars in ‘Wonder Woman,’ the latest superhero film based on DC Comics.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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After 75 years, Wonder Woman finally has the big screen all to herself.

And with her debut comes significant questions and pressure.

Can DC Comics’ iconic superheroine reverse the floundering state of its Extended Universe (Batman v Superman)?

Will she help save a vastly underperforming summer box office?

Oh, and only the fate of female superheroines in movies of their own hinges on Wonder Woman’s success.

No worries.

In fact, there’s more riding on Wonder Woman’s clout with audiences than with any of the myriad movies starring her male DC Comics contemporaries, Batman and Superman, said Jeff Brown, professor in Bowling Green State University's department of popular culture.

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Jeff Brown, professor in BGSU's department of popular culture

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“Those franchises are too big and valuable to let one or two bombs stop them,” Brown said, “but Wonder Woman is in a different position.”

If Wonder Woman fails, then Hollywood can shrug and say, “[We] tried to make a superheroine movie and it bombed,” he said. “They still point back to early failures like Catwoman and Elektra. But those movies didn’t bomb because” of gender. “They bombed because they were bad movies.”

MOVIE REVIEW: 'Wonder Woman' is action-packed, funny, light

Hollywood has already kinda-sorta gotten the message about expanding beyond men in tights.

Marvel’s Captain Marvel starring Oscar winner Brie Larson is slated for a March, 2019, release, and DC’s Batgirl was just announced, with Joss Whedon, no stranger to strong female action heroes as the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, writing and directing.

If Wonder Woman is a hit — a real possibility given its widespread early approval by critics, with a 97 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes — it paves the way for even more super-powered women.

“If it does well financially and the reviews are positive, then I think it's going to be make everything else fall into place a little better,” Brown said. “They'll plan a sequel right away, and you'll start seeing female superheroes that people have never heard of.”

2017-Film-Preview

Gal Gadot stars in ‘Wonder Woman,’ the latest superhero film based on DC Comics.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

Being a trailblazer isn’t new to Wonder Woman.

The superheroine was created in the early '40s by noted psychologist William Moulton Marston as a response to the lack of strong female comic book crusaders for impressionable teenage girls and younger.

When DC wrested creative control of the character from Marston, though, the brave, heroic version of Wonder Woman “was watered down” as a reflection of social norms in post-World War II America, Brown said. As Rosie the Riveter left the workforce and returned home to raise children, Wonder Woman assumed a new role as well: a glorified secretary in the Justice Society of America (a forerunner of the Justice League).

The feminist movement of the '60s, however, engendered Wonder Woman's return to a strong, independent heroine, and in July, 1972, she graced the cover of the inaugural issue of Ms. magazine.

Only three years later the campy TV series Wonder Woman starring Lynda Carter introduced her to a new generation as a pinup beauty who also saved the world each week.

Such malleability as a woman of her times has made her an enduring icon. Ask any non-comic book reader to name a female superhero and Wonder Woman is the default — if not only — answer.

HOLLYWOOD-WATCH-GAL-GADOT-5

Gal Gadot first was seen as Wonder Woman in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’

WArner Bros. Enlarge

“She is the archetype for female superheroes,” Brown said, “but also for the strong action heroes in general.”

In a funny twist, not only did Wonder Woman foster this archetype; she also benefitted from it.

“We understand Katniss [Everdeen] in The Hunger Games as the evolution from Wonder Woman, but then the success of The Hunger Games films and novels helped open the door” for the Wonder Woman movie.

“They proved a female-led action movie can be a blockbuster, and I think that's the kind of thing that let a Wonder Woman movie get green lit. But she is the starting point of all of this.”

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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