Bonjour, my beloved bubble-wrapped envelopes. Shockingly, the advent of the first good, feminist superhero movie inspired a lot of questions this week. Go figure! Plus: Should you wear Marvel merchandise with the Hydra logo? What should the next Matrix movies be about? And did I mention Wonder Woman?
Note: If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman, by the way, I very must suggest you pay attention to this banner:
A Sense of Wonder
Postman! I caught a Thursday showing of Wonder Woman last night, and loved it. But I keep reading about all the weight and pressure this movie carries on its shoulders, all the feminism and is she or isn’t she a feminist icon? Was she feminist enough or did DC cop out? Just so many philosophical issues, and I get them, I do, it’s been too long for this movie but...
I just like to enjoy movies without the baggage of real life. I turn my mind off when I enter the theater, and if a movie makes me turn my mind back on, I feel it has failed in its sole task, which is to transport me away to wherever? Can someone just enjoy Wonder Woman without having to make a damn statement about it, or coming down on one side or the other on every woman issue under the sun? It’s a good movie, and I want to have nerdy arguments about whether it was better, worse, or same-same but different from Guardians 2, stuff like that. Am I movie-ing wrong?
Here’s the situation: This isn’t about you. At all.
Look, you are 100 percent entitled to think it’s a good movie and leave it at that—just like anyone else, female or male, is entitled to think it’s great and important and empowering and beautiful and overdue.
It’s not wrong for you to not personally attach any cultural significance to the Wonder Woman movie, but you can’t expect other people to feel the same. You may like to turn your brain off when you enter the theater and hope the film doesn’t make you think once you leave—which is fine, I basically do the same with my beloved Fast and the Furious movies. But you can’t and shouldn’t dismiss the importance of Wonder Woman for women who have waited basically forever for a major motion movie starring a female superhero that’s for them, and not at least partially targeted for straight male audiences to drool over. If you ask someone their thoughts about Wonder Woman, you can’t make them divorce those feelings to talk about the film solely as a film.
io9's Beth Elderkin had the best explanation I’ve heard. You have to think of it this way: Imagine almost every one of the dozens and dozens of superhero movies released in the last 40 years only starred women in the title role (the only exceptions being a mediocre-at-best Superman movie in 1984, and Daredevil and Batman films in the mid-2000s, where both heroes wore skimpy, abs-revealing costumes). Then, finally in 2017, the first Iron Man movie came out. Any comics-loving man would be so incredibly, totally excited to finally see a good superhero movie with a man as the star that you’d be losing your mind. Suddenly seeing yourself represented on screen would make it mean a hell of a lot more to you than just another superhero flick. It’s a lot easier not to care about the broader impact of Wonder Woman when you’ve never felt that lack of representation.
Look, I’m sure many people—women and men alike—enjoy Wonder Woman and leave it at that. All I can tell you is, ask around and eventually you will find somebody who likewise wants to divest the film from its broader cultural significance and talk about it as just another superhero film. You’re not wrong to do so. But don’t think for a second that everyone who considers it much more than that is wrong either.
Ye Ol’ Future Postman:
I have a dilemma. Being a huge, longtime Captain America/Nick Fury/SHIELD fanatic, I take every opportunity to buy shirts, hats, etc. with logos or images of these and related characters on it. Recent years have finally started bringing SHIELD logos to clothing thanks to movies/shows. A few years back, I found an awesome bright green hat with a bright yellow Hydra logo on the front and Hail Hydra written in a comic booky font on the back. It is a sweet hat. However, in case you haven’t heard, apparently Hydra equals Nazis these days.
As a long time comic fan, Hydra has never been a 1:1 match to Nazis for me but I understand the argument from those who believe they are despite not agreeing with it. The dilemma? A few years ago, I felt totally cool (uh, cool being relative) wearing my Hydra hat and shirt in public, but in recent months I wonder if people are going to think, “uh, is that guy a Nazi/Alt Right Supporter/Racist?”
The further frustration comes from the fact that I don’t think fans of other fictional properties feel this way. I still see people wearing Cobra stuff post 9/11 (yes, you can say Cobra came first, but still terrorists, even if they are incompetent ones). The Empire is absolutely meant to represent the Nazis and even my 7 year old son has a STORMTROOPER hat! I even had a German friend who was alive during WWII that hates Star Wars because the Empire is too clearly meant to represent the Nazis that company ACTUALLY ACTIVELY HELPED THE NAZIS!!!!
So, if you saw me walking down the street rocking a boss Hydra hat, would you say, “Hello there fellow comic fan and a happy Hail Hydra to you too,” or “My god, that man is a monster for wearing that!”?
I would say, “Huh. I wonder if that guy is just a comics fan, or if he is an alt-right Neo-Nazi who believes in and supports intolerance, fascism, and hate, and who is wearing Hydra logo merchandise as a symbol of his beliefs?” Now, I would put the odds of you being the latter very, very low, and would still assume you were just a comics fan until something evidenced itself otherwise. But I would still wonder, at first.
Not that the viability of Hydra merchandise is the biggest issue to come out of the Captain America/Hydra/Nazi mess, obviously, but here’s the deal: The Hydra logo represents both an icon for Marvel’s generically evil terrorist organization, as well as a symbol for straight-up Nazism. Different people will see it as whichever version they want, and like any passionate, essentially political argument, you’re not going to convince them to change their minds.
Is this fair to comics fans who hate evil but just want to celebrate their love of comic books? Not really, but unfortunately that doesn’t matter. Even if it isn’t the majority, enough people find the Hydra logo heinous that you can’t escape the connotation, no matter what your intention is.
But don’t fault the people who see the Hydra logo as symbol of real-world hate, because it’s not like they got out of bed one day and just decided to be upset. As io9's James Whitbrook so excellently detailed, this is mostly a problem of Marvel’s own doing—it may have spent years extricating Hydra from its Nazi origins, but then the (infinitely more influential) movies and TV shows wanted everyone to know that Hydra equals Nazis. So when Cap joined Hydra, he became a Nazi as well in the minds of many, many people.
But the biggest problem has been today’s political climate, and the actual rise of people espousing Nazi beliefs in America. The fact that there are literal Nazis out there makes anything that isn’t a condemnation of them—even a story in a comic book—appear to be supporting them. And the fact that it’s Captain America, arguably Marvel’s most noble hero—and inarguably its most patriotic—makes it worse. In addition, for the Secret Empire event to continue promoting evil Steve Rogers… look, I think we all know that Cap is going to be a good guy again eventually, but for now Secret Empire reads as pro-Nazi superhero fan fic. (As for Cobra and Star Wars’ Stormtroopers, the primary identity of Cobra is a group of semi-evil incompetents who haven’t been part of pop culture since the ‘80s, while Star Wars is a fantasy universe, which gives the Stormtroopers some distance. Although since some of these people are legitimately defending the Empire nowadays, this could well change.)
So long explanation short: You can wear your Hydra merchandise, but you run the risk of someone thinking it also represents your ideology. This isn’t your fault, and it isn’t theirs. It’s just the reality we live in. You can obviously wear the hat if you want, but I would expect you’ll have to do some explaining now and then. However, were I you, I’d probably just order a SHIELD logo hat. Shows your fandom without any unpleasant connotations at all.
There Is a Spoon, I See It Right Goddamn There
Back in March there were rumors that The Matrix was being rebooted. It sounds like it may not be a true reboot but instead an extension of the original trilogy, similar to the Animatrix collection of short films. If they go with an expansion, what stories would you like to see? I’d love more details on the other “anomalies” that preceded Neo and maybe even a Morpheus-centric prequel.
I’m not going to lie: I don’t care about anything involving Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, or the entirety of Zion, or all that Oracle/Merovingian crap, so I may not be the best person to ask. I actually have never cared much for The Matrix, even the first one, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch the lobby scene few dozen times on my first DVD, as I simply couldn’t believe how pristine the image was.
If there’s something I would be interested in, it would be seeing other people who aren’t 9-to-5 corporate drones discover they’re living in a virtual reality. Because the Matrix is so complete it basically has to contain everything the real world does, doesn’t it? Imagine how a surburban housewife might come to realize her reality is a lie. Or a struggling comic book artist, or a sports star, or a cop. What about a farmer? How would he figure it out? Would he be so isolated from other people that the Agents would need to possess his cows? There are a lot of interesting possibilities here beyond a white-collar guy dissatisfied with his life realizing something’s wrong with it that’s totally not his fault.
I would also be intrigued to see if there were other Matrixes beyond “modern-day, gray America.” Take a page from Westworld, show us a Wild West Matrix, or a feudal Japan Matrix, or Ancient Rome Matrix. Let us see how those guys handle the realization that they’re all batteries for robots.
I don’t expect any of this to happen, and this I expect I’ll be giving these a miss. Basically, once anyone leaves the Matrix, I find the Matrix franchise boring and I don’t care.
Connecting the Thoughts
I was just reading an article on Vulture about one of the main reason the Wonder Woman movie was so successful was because it was self-contained.
You didn’t need to watch one or two other movies to enjoy the story being told in this movie. One of the examples cited in the article was Captain America: Civil War, where you probably were better off watching half a dozen other movies to fully understand what was happening. My question is do you think that after the Infinity Gauntlet story line that we’ll see a MCU where the movies aren’t so interconnected?
This was not the Vulture article I expected to get a question about this week.
The truth is most Marvel movies are stand-alone movies. Sure, you generally need to watch the previous movies before you watch the sequels, but that’s true of most movies. But you don’t need to watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier to see Thor: The Dark World, or Avengers to watch Doctor Strange. Or Avengers to see Thor: The Dark World, for that matter. Yes, there’s the Infinity Stones and the post-credits sequences that give them little connections to each other, but those aren’t required to enjoy the films they connect.
The exceptions here are the Avengers movies and Captain America: Civil War, which for all intents and purposes was Avengers 3, and the upcoming Infinity War movie and sequel. They build off all the movies, so seeing the rest of the output of the MCU provides must of the basis for those films. But at the moment, there are only three movies that absolutely require you to have seen more movies than their direct prequels, out of the 15 out so. That’s not too bad, actually.
But Marvel is never going to stop making these. The big draw of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that all these superheroes live in the same universe, can fight together or fight against each other, and the ramifications from one hero’s actions could affect another. It’s the same thing that’s been true in comics. Nor would it make any sense to. When you watch all the movies in the MCU prior to the tentpole Avengers films, it makes the latter movies more satisfying because you know everything that’s going on. Likewise, these big movies—which include the joy of seeing all these heroes working together, which is practically pure spectacle—make people want to see the individual movies, for the reasons. It’s win-win.
Eventually, though, the continuity of the MCU will get huge, unwieldly, and convoluted, and the amount of time that needs to be invested to enjoy them properly will be more daunting than enticing, and Marvel will need to find a new way to attract audiences. But it’s going to have to be something far more drastic that just making all stand-alone films. I suspect when the Marvel Cinematic Universe starts losing its luster, a new MCU reboot won’t be too far around the corner.
Cheetahs Never Win
Future postman, I hope you had a chance to watch Wonder Woman 2 before the Squartledorps began feeding off of all technology and moist towelettes. Obviously Wonder Woman was an amazing movie so it deserves a sequel! However I always imagined Ares as hunky under that scary armour, maybe a little scarred but in a sexy way. Instead we got Old British Man which is basically every villain ever. Are we going to get a better villain next time around? A sexier one to replace the loss of Chris Pine’s face.
Wonder Woman’s list of enemies is a strange one, and most of them are related to the Greek gods, which according to the DCEU are completely deadsville. Of her remaining foes, Cheetah is definitely the most iconic, but I doubt Warner Bros. would be content with her as the main villain, and I understand why: After fighting the god of war, tangling with a cheetah lady isn’t exactly upping the stakes.
The main enemy of Wonder Woman 2 is pretty much up for grabs, but I’m putting my money on Circe. She’s a sorceress from Greek mythology, but she’s not a god, so they wouldn’t be cheating to have her show up. She’s extremely powerful, and would make for a good fight. I also think there’s a certain appeal in having Diana’s next antagonist be a woman, to stave off the inevitable dumb complaints that she only fights men.
However! I don’t know how likely this is to happen, but I would very much like to see Circe as the boss of several Wonder Woman villains. She could use her magic to create both Cheetah and Giganta, which would be a totally reasonable origin for their powers. Wonder Women fighting all three of those villains in the sequel? That would be awesome.
Warner Bros., you can have this idea for free.
Spinning the Wheel
I know you aren’t the biggest fan of Wheel of Time, but now that it has been announced Sony is going to be producing a series are you hopeful they can produce a show that can tell the story in a more compelling way? I remember reading the series and finding the good parts outstanding, but buried under a kudzu of meandering plot digressions and character arcs that went nowhere.
Isn’t Sony’s only option here to be utterly ruthless in its cuts? Basically if it doesn’t center around the two heroic trios, the villains, and their respective support characters it has to go, right?
Let’s start with this: A Wheel of Time TV series would desperately—desperately—need significant cuts to be watchable, let alone coherent. It would also be absolutely necessary; it would take a miracle for an hour-long, Game of Thrones-style fantasy TV series to make it 14 seasons in this TV climate.
And if it keeps everything in the books, it’s not going to last nearly that long. Its plot is far too complicated and there are far too many entities and groups and weird proper nouns for mass audiences to wrap their heads around, especially once you get to book five or six when it’s basically (Lords of) chaos.
More importantly, the Wheel of Time series slows down to a crawl, plot-wise, which if aggravating for readers will be infuriating for viewers. (Imagine if everyone in Game of Thrones had a non-storyline like Daenerys had in season two, and you get the idea.) Entire side plots need to go, as well as large swathes of main characters’ storylines. Honestly, though? I wouldn’t worry about it. People announce they’re going to try to make a Wheel of Time movie or series every so often, and obviously we’re still waiting. Sony is going to need a network to actually air it—a network with enough money to make the series look good enough for people to watch. There aren’t many of those, and of those that have the cash, few are going to want to take a chance on Game of Thrones Lite But With Two Extra Scoops of Fantasy.
If you’re wondering why networks wouldn’t jump at the chance to air an adaptation of an uber-best-selling fantasy series, please remember 1) it’s been more than 25 years since the story began, and no one has done it yet, but more importantly 2) the equally best-selling Shannara fantasy series only got its TV adaptation last year, but on MTV, and with a budget of about “lunch money.”
If a Wheel of Time TV series does actually get made this time, I suspect it’ll be more Shannara than Game of Thrones. Whether you’d rather have that than no adaptation at all is up to you.
Folks, I’m running low on letters again (a few late columns probably haven’t helped). So: Have a question about a movie, TV show, comic, or their various industries? Want advice on how to deal with anything nerd-related? Have a “what if” scenario that needs settling? Email your friendly post-apocalyptic fake mailman here!