Wonder Woman: Marvel’s Greatest Failure
Wonder Woman was a good movie. Thank God.
Since the release, there’s been a lot of talk about the movie: what it did right and what it did wrong.
Frankly, the internet’s got it covered, so I’m not worried about defending or critiquing the movie in particular. Rather, I wanna talk about something else I’ve been thinking about since Wonder Woman was announced a few years ago.
Next year will mark ten years since Iron Man came out and the Marvel Cinematic Universe began.
I remember sitting in the theater with a group of my friends watching that movie at the midnight premiere. I remember loving it, being floored by it, but most of all, I remember my jaw dropping when watching the after-credits ending. I remember freaking out about Nick Fury talking about the Avengers to Tony Stark. I remember how my friends, who although were definitely nerdy, still turned to me afterward and asked, “Who’re the Avengers?”
Times change. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is here to stay with regular movies churning out each year. By this point, everyone knows all about who the Avengers are, and even if you don’t watch the new films, you probably still keep track of them in some way.
It’s been a funny transition as a comics fan going from freaking out about a movie version of each character I know and love to nowadays being more worried about the film industry itself and over-saturation of superhero storytelling in this medium. But I digress.
The reason I thought of Marvel while watching Wonder Woman’s continued success is because in ten years of movie making history, the king of cinematic superhero storytelling has not released a single movie about a stand alone female superhero. Not one in ten years.
Why is that? Why no movie featuring a stand on her own super heroine?
Let’s put group movies aside and just look at how many stand alone character films Marvel has released. Ruling out Avengers 1 & 2, GotG 1 & 2, and Captain America: Civil War (and only counting official MCU films) you got:
Iron Man 1, 2, & 3
Captain America 1 & 2
Thor 1, 2, and 3 (The third is coming out this year)
The Incredible Hulk
And Spider-man: Homecoming (Coming out this year which is like what, the sixth Spider-man movie from three different studios? Sheesh.)
That’s twelve feature length films in nine years depicting a male superhero in a solo rule.
Sure they have side characters and other hero cameos, but you get what I mean.
The part that really gets me though is how redundant so many of these movies are. For example, Iron Man, Ant-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Doctor Strange all tell the same tale of a gifted white man (with a quirky or eccentric personality) who is put into an extreme situation which results in them acquiring a unique ability that enables them to save the world.
These movies all vary in how those story elements come about, and I don’t personally think any of these four movies are bad at all. But it’s still the same groundwork with different features. In at least a big picture way, it’s the same story told again and again, instead of trying something different.
But even if you put aside redundant storytelling, do we really need a sequel and then a third film to Iron Man, Captain America, and oh yeah, even Thor before we see a single female superhero story? At some point, it becomes ridiculous. At some point it feels like Marvel keeps putting off making a female superhero story.
Wonder Woman is Marvel’s greatest failure, because Marvel doesn’t have a Wonder Woman.
From day one, DC’s character Wonder Woman has had her own backstory from her own world. She isn’t directly related to any of the heroes that came before her, but rather joins the ranks of the Justice League and other teams after firmly establishing herself as a kickass superhero. From day one, DC has had Wonder Woman as one of their greatest heroes.
Marvel doesn’t have a Wonder Woman. Every great female character from Marvel’s comics—and there’s a ton of them—every A-lister is either A. Tied up in the stories of male superheroes that came before them or B. Were created to be members of an established team.
They’re either girlfriends, ex’s, or family members of male counterparts, or their identity as a crime fighter is completely wrapped up in a group or team.
That’s why you won’t get a Gamora, Invisible Woman, Black Widow, or a Storm movie because they are all team players. So much of their identity as a superhero comes from their team affiliation that when comic stories attempt to transition them from team players to stand alone characters, most end up floundering, struggling to find solid footwork.
These stories struggle to be fleshed out and don’t feel real and engaging because the character in mind was never developed to be a stand alone character. From the start, they were designed to be an integral part of a bigger team. It’s the same reason you won’t see a Hawkeye, Cyclops, or The Thing movie. The cracks in their creation begin to show once the characters are removed from their team dynamics.
And when they aren’t a part of a team, Marvel’s (as well as much of DC’s) female superheroes are part of a male counterpart’s backstory. She-Hulk is Bruce Banner’s cousin. Elektra is a romantic foil for Daredevil. Wasp is Ant-man’s wife.
Marvel’s been working on creating new female heroes to cheer on, but even these encounter the same creation flaw. Jane Foster, the new Thor, was Thor’s love interest. Spider-Gwen is Spider-man’s old girlfriend. Ironheart is Iron Man’s protege.
The only exception is Ms. Marvel, who, by the way, is beyond incredible and a must read series. She brings a refreshing change from woman-looking-to-man for inspiration to woman-looking-to-woman, with her character being inspired by the original Ms. Marvel, who’s now Captain Marvel. That’s honestly great, and only a little marred by the fact that Captain Marvel was once dating the original Captain Marvel before he died.
It’s not that Marvel’s being careless with the four heroines mentioned above: new Thor, Spider-Gwen, Ironheart, and Ms. Marvel. In fact it’s the opposite: Marvel’s being intentional with introducing these new female characters through well established characters. They’re introducing female characters based off best sellers like Iron Man and Thor because new ‘no-name’ heroes just don’t sell well in the comics industry. It’s hard to get people to try a name they don’t know, and much easier to introduce a new character through a title fans instantly recognize.
It’s why pretty much everyone from Aquaman to Wolverine has a female underling, protege, sidekick, relative, or lover who picks up some aspect of their mantle. Don’t get me wrong; I love Batgirl, Supergirl, She-Hulk, and Wasp, but all of them, as great as they are, still have this awkward thing about them — the fact that a guy had to come along and do it first.
The success of Wonder Woman puts the spot light on this missing storytelling element in the MCU. And right now, there’s only two women who could possibly attempt to contest Diana Prince in the box office.
The first is Spider-Woman, who while her backstory has nothing to do with Peter Parker, her very title still invokes a name so familiar people justly and naturally assume they’re related somehow. So unfortunately, that rules her out.
And then there’s Captain Marvel. As I mentioned above, while her original backstory stems from the death of her boyfriend, for her film version releasing it 2019, Captain Marvel appears to be having her backstory rewritten, which is a smart move on Marvel’s part. Carol Danvers is a great character all on her own, and I’m hopeful to see what they can do with her if they work from the ground up with her story.
But even with those changes, the damage has already been done. Wonder Woman’s success demonstrates that there’s been a need from fans that’s been ignored by the MCU, based on a flaw Marvel has had from the start and never really sat down and dealt with: creating independent, kickass female characters.
For now we’ll have to wait two years for Marvel’s first female lead movie: Captain Marvel (which, fun fact, was pushed back due to Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Two movies that totally, absolutely just had to exist before a Captain Marvel Movie…).
By 2019, Wonder Woman, and let’s be real, Wonder Woman 2 will probably both be out, so Captain Marvel will need to come out swinging when it’s released. Which I’m sure it will, and I’m sure I’ll love it…but by 2019, it’s kind-of too little too late, right?
Marvel had it’s chance, had ten years of movie successes and a huge line of female characters to choose from, and yet Wonder Woman still made it to film first. For all their success, this is an embarrassing loss for Marvel.
While not in sales and certainly not in film success, DC will always have this one victory over Marvel: they’ve always had, and always will have, a woman in their top three greatest heroes, one that doesn’t need the other two, or anybody else at all, to be the absolute best hero she can be.