Ben Child of The Guardian is bullish on the upcoming release of the reimagined Wonder Woman.
I’m a bit less bullish. Superheroes have been done to death, and then some.
And we’re mostly talking about the same superheroes, redone again and again, ad nauseam.
Am I exaggerating here? Well, let’s see: The first Superman comics were published before Hitler invaded Poland, in 1938.
I saw one of the first Superman remakes at the theaters—in 1978, when disco was king and leisure suits were in style. Prior to that, the studios had cranked out a handful of Superman movies, going all the way back to 1948.
Batman saw action when my grandfather—a World War II vet—was still a teenager. I used to watch the television adaptation of Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. I watched it in reruns, though: It ran from 1966 to 1968, its new episodes ending shortly before I was born.
Beside these geriatric superheroes, Spider-Man is a relative youngster: The first Spider-Man comic hit the stores in 1962, when John F. Kennedy was president. Spider-Man, too, has been adapted for film and television many times, across many decades.
We all know why the movie studios keep feeding us the same superheroes: audience recognition. Everyone has heard of these characters. (How could you have avoided them, after all?) The idea is that by giving us the same characters that our parents, grandparents (and maybe even great-grandparents, for the youngest moviegoers) watched, the studios can create a sure thing.
Which brings us to the remake at hand, that of Wonder Woman. She’s been with us since October 1941, about ten months after Pearl Harbor!
And yes, in case you’re wondering (or in case you’ve forgotten): There was also a television series, Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter. It ran from 1974 to 1979.
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The “done to death” issue isn't the only the only problem with Ben Child’s analysis. Since Wonder Woman is a female superhero, Ben Child feels compelled to Say Something Significant About Feminism.
And, as Child says, one of the things the new Wonder Woman movie will accomplish for the DC Extended Universe is that is will…
“Re-establish the DCEU’s feminist credentials” (!)
Because everyone knows that that’s the first priority when planning a Friday night at the cineplex, right?
No, I’m not saying that we shouldn't have a female superhero. That argument is a straw man, anyway. We’ve had many of them, for many years. (Remember: October, 1941).
It’s all fine and good to have strong female characters, female heroes, female superheroes. But once a superhero movie becomes “about feminism” the train has gone off the tracks. The studio is no longer entertaining people, but preaching at them.
Audiences watch superhero films for escapist fun, not to be treated to the latest installment of the Western world’s never-ending wars over identity group politics.
I used to read comics all the time as a kid. I never once asked myself, “Hey, what about this superhero’s feminist credentials?”
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Child also argues that when we go to a superhero movie, what we’re really looking for is a good belly laugh (after we’ve had our feminism, of course):
“Jokes can help audiences adjust to preposterous plots by reassuring them that both the film-makers, and indeed the superheroes themselves, are well aware how intensely fantastical their stories have become.”
There is, indeed, a place for using humor to provide a momentary release of tension in any serious film.
What is more often the trend nowadays, however, is for every horror, action, and science fiction film to be constantly “ironic” in a self-referential way.
On the contrary, this jolts the audience out of the film. Whatever suspension of disbelief had already been established is broken.
Parody has its place. I liked the Austin Powers movies. I also enjoyed the original Beverly Hills Cop, which everyone knew was going to be funny, because Eddie Murphy was in it.
But there is a difference between parody and purposeful comedy, and an action film that uses humor simply to hedge its bets, because both the writers and the directors realize that the movie doesn't work when played straight (which is, more or less, what Ben Child is saying).