Something strange has happened in the endless war for domination of superhero movies. After years of Marvel ceaselessly kicking DC’s ass, I feel as though DC has suddenly taken the lead, thanks to the fantastic new Suicide Squad trailer and the Wonder Woman movie footage. What is even happening?
If you’ve read my work with any regularity on io9, you know I’m easily the most negative when it comes to DC’s cinematic output. Not only do I think Man of Steel was awful, I wasn’t much of a fan of Chris Nolan’s dour Dark Knight movies, either. And Batman v Superman seems to take the grimmest, dour-est of both worlds, turning what should be the greatest superhero pairing in cinematic history into an overwrought dick-measuring contest.
See? I really don’t care for DC’s movies! And yet, after watching last night, I realized that I am way more excited about these two upcoming films than I am about just about every movie Marvel has in the near future. This is something that has never happened before. I am looking forward to Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman more than I am Captain America: Civil War, Dr. Strange, and even Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Let me clarify a few things: I still think Batman v Superman looks bad, and I’m not including it on my list here. I also am theoretically excited for Marvel’s Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies, but it’s so early in their process that they’re too nebulous to really know what to expect (certainly, a good Captain Marvel movie is my end-all be-all). And I’m also not certain that either Wonder Woman or Suicide Squad will actually be good. In fact, I can easily imagine both of them being terrible.
However, the footage of both DC movies shown last night proves to me they both have the potential to be good—but more than that, they are definitely going to be different. By finally giving us not just a superhero movie with a female lead, but also a movie where the villains are actually the protagonists, DC has shockingly committed to giving us two modern superhero films we’ve never seen before.
Having lead characters who are women or non-heroes isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea for most comics fans—but somehow, despite it being 16 years since the first X-Men film kicked off the age of modern superhero movies, we’ve never had either on the big screen. Given how bureaucratic the DC/Warner Bros. movie infrastructure is, I truly did not expect that DC would be the company to make these films first, especially given the Marvel Studios’ exponential success since 2008’s Iron Man film. Somehow, despite the fact that Marvel has a dozen movies in less than eight years, they’ve never managed to achieve either of what DC will be doing in 2016 and 2017.
I’m not saying the Marvel movies are bad—that’s of course not true. But they’re definitely homogenous. Marvel Studios assembles them (no pun intended) as if it were a factory, all basically the same but with visible but essentially superficial modifications. The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was as unique as Marvel Studios has dared to get, thanks to its cosmic setting and motlier than usual crew. But essentially, Star-Lord was the same jerk with a secret hero inside him as Tony Stark, Ant-Man’s Scott Lang, or even Thor. It was the same emotional journey, whether the protagonist was accompanied by Pepper Potts, Hope Van Dyne, Jane Foster, or Rocket Raccoon. (Also, while some people may be excited about the superhero throwdown of Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers have failed to get along in both of their movies, and occasionally come to blows already, among several other issues.)
The villains of Suicide Squad may be jerks, but heroism will be forced upon them, making their story-arcs far different from those of Marvel’s diamond-in-the-rough heroes. But Wonder Woman? As a woman, her story is essentially, inalienably different from any male superhero. Now, her gender could certainly be ignored to create a more traditional superhero storyline, but here’s what director Patty Jenkins said last night about WW that makes me so, so excited:
The greatest thing about Wonder Woman is how good and kind and loving she is, yet none of that negates any of her power.
There’s a reason you never hear about Captain America or Iron Man being kind. Brave, sure. But no one calls a male hero “loving.” So to stress Wonder Woman’s kindness just as much as her power—that proves to me beyond a doubt that Jenkins gets Wonder Woman completely, a feat that has traditionally been beyond most comic book writers. Coupled with the male-dominated, brutal World War I setting—which can only serve to contrast a powerful female character joining it—and suddenly I have more faith in DC’s Wonder Woman movie than I do any other superhero movie currently in production.
Add to that a Cyborg movie? An Aquaman movie where Aquaman is played by Jason Momoa, instead of one of the bland white dudes that make up virtually all of DC’s Silver Age-created heroes? DC is clearly trying to do something new with its non-Batman and Superman movies, and I appreciate the hell out of it. Maybe my optimism is unfounded, and maybe it won’t work out. Maybe these will all be disasters, and Marvel’s solid-but-increasingly familiar fare will continue to win the box office.
But for the first time since Iron Man came out, I’m much more interested in giving DC my money than Marvel. Given that I’ve spent years giving DC movies shit, that’s a success all its own.
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