The Wonder Woman movie releases Friday — and the reviews are almost uniformly positive. With a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it is currently tied with The Dark Knight and Iron Man for best superhero movie ever.
And yet as a DC comic book lover, I find myself skeptical about whether this movie can turn the Warner Bros. franchise of DC movies around. Why? Because I’ve been burned many times before. And I’m tired of it.
I read a substantial amount of the books DC publishes, and I have love for almost every piece of work I’ve seen. Scott Snyder, Jody Houser, Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Joshua Williamson, Gerard Way, Greg Rucka, Marley Zarcone and literally countless other artists and writers astonish me on a weekly basis.
Warner Bros. Animation gave me Batman: The Animated Series in the formative years of my life, and I will be forever grateful. And I can’t be convinced that The Dark Knight is anything but the best film ever made.
But then Warner Bros. almost destroyed that legacy with the monster turds that were Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. (Man of Steel was pretty rough, too. Don’t think I forgot about that one.)
The treatment of some of my favorite characters in these films was concerning. The rumors and buzz surrounding some of the upcoming projects is really concerning. Why can’t the Flash film find a director? Is Batfleck even going to get his own movie?
Clearly, there have been systemic issues with the studio’s approach to the entire DC Universe. Let’s break them down.
The villains are all wrong
There’s clearly a lot of ground to cover, but the best place to start is with the villains. Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman was … fine. But the writing around him was pretty awful.
To this day, I still have no idea what this version of Lex wants. He hates Superman, sure. But based on the movie, nobody seems to know why that is.
Then there’s the absurdity that was Enchantress’s world-ending storm of absolute nonsense in Suicide Squad. This has been said before, but the movie would have been so much more believable if the villain was even a bit more grounded.
I’m not saying that the Joker should have been the main villain. We didn’t see much of Jared Leto’s portrayal, but we saw enough to know that it would not have sat well at all.
The editing is wrong
And that brings me to editing. There is a decent cut of Batman v Superman that makes sense and works a little better, but it’s not what we saw in theaters. We only got that if we shelled out the money for the “Ultimate Edition.” That’s not exactly ideal.
It’s been widely expressed that the editing of Suicide Squad is what pushed it over the edge from “fine with some problems,” to “total dumpster fire.” The entire movie was choppy, and cutting some pivotal scenes between Joker and Harley Quinn removed a lot of context from one of the only good parts of the movie – Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley.
The most egregious flaw in the DC Extended Universe prior to Wonder Woman is the treatment and portrayal of female characters. The overt sexualization of Harley Quinn -– which often manifested as butt shots -– was deeply upsetting, especially for people who have loved the character for years and were excited by the fact that she was finally on the big screen.
Yes, Harley is a sexual lady and her minimal wardrobe was reasonably in-character. But the fact that she spent half the movie soaking wet and/or bending over was absurd. She also didn’t have as much to say as her male co-stars, even though we all know Harley Quinn is a damn chatterbox.
The other female characters were underused in Suicide Squad also. Katana’s only dialogue was about her dead husband. June Moon was deemed worthy because of how Rick Flagg felt about her.
Also problematic: the first indigenous actor to have billing in a superhero film was weaseled into the plot with a crowbar and then killed off in minutes.
Suicide Squad wasn’t alone in these failings. Gal Gadot’s 10 minutes of screen time as Wonder Woman was the only thing that saved Batman v. Superman from being a total sausage fest. Although Amy Adam’s portrayal of Lois Lane is enjoyable, she serves more as a plot device – and a carrot for Superman – than an actual character.
In short, Suicide Squad was not a positive movie for women or minorities, and Batman v. Superman was mostly a bunch of white dudes yelling at each other.
So how do we fix this?
The grand solution
Give women the spotlight, and lean on comic standards. That’s right – it’s that easy.
There are two women in particular that have absolutely made these atrocious films even remotely watchable – Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Gadot’s Wonder Woman.
The initial reaction to Gadot’s movie called it “empowering,” which is exactly what the world needs right now. It’s a time of political turmoil, especially for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
And since Diana, Princess of Themyscira, is a bisexual woman, she serves as a great icon and an image for many of us to rally around.
But it doesn’t look like Warner Bros. has learned the lessons of this movie yet.
The upcoming Gotham City Sirens looks almost as dubious as Suicide Squad. The fact that David Ayer is going to be directing another one of these movies is troubling enough. At least Margot Robbie is the producer, which could balance out Ayer’s toxic masculinity.
What the success of this movie hinges on is the casting of Catwoman and Poison Ivy, and how the three Sirens interact with each other.
Rumors of Megan Fox being eyed for the role of Ivy spark a lot of doubt. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Fox per se. It’s just that she would be another traditionally attractive, white woman cast in a superhero movie as eye candy for the straight male gaze. (Hello — not everyone who watches these movies wants to look at boobs.)
There is a tremendous opportunity here to cast two women of color as Ivy and Catwoman, and I strongly suggest that Warner Bros. take it.
To take it further, it would be a remarkably good move to put Ivy and Harley in a romantic relationship. Fans have wanted it and seen the potential for years, and DC Comics recently made their status official in the DC Comics: Bombshells series.
There has not been a queer relationship portrayed in a superhero film to date — so this would be a meaningful step in the right direction for the DC Extended Universe.
It also isn’t a bad idea to get a comics writer to do the screenplay, or at least be involved in the writing process. Paul Dini – one of Harley’s creators – would be an excellent choice, as would Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. They’ve done amazing things with Harley’s current comic run and they’d be perfect to bring her best attributes to screen.
Relying on staple stories and character traits while being faithful to the comics will lead to success.
I can remain optimistic about Wonder Woman, but that’s not what I want. I want to be excited and confident about the quality of future DC movies. But because of your track record, Warner Bros., I can’t be yet. And that’s heartbreaking.
Do not waste the opportunity to be the best in both comics – which DC is right now, by the way – and in the theater.
And hey, if these films still come out like crap, you have a character that can manipulate reality. Just use the Flash’s movie (if that’s ever actually made) to reset the timeline … and start all over again.