By Cory Provost
In an uncertain and dizzying time of unpredictable daily developments, we mustn't forget the importance of staying true to our identity. While many have their own way of coping with their issues, some turn to the art of film. Comic-book films, for that matter, are a refreshing place for many to contemplate and study why we relate so much these varying character studies. While there have been dozens of superhero films before it, the imminent release of “Wonder Woman” proves more vital than some that have preceded it.
"You'll believe a man can fly," Richard Donner promised audiences in 1978 with "Superman: The Movie" and did he deliver. Not only was the film a commercial and critical hit boasting groundbreaking effects, but Donner had the arduous task of getting audiences to empathize with a boy from an alien world. While “The Last Picture Show”, “American Graffiti”, and “Grease” were all landmark coming-of-age films, they were all ensemble pieces highlighting different aspects of youth navigating their life in America. None of these quite tackled the theme of identity quite like "Superman." The film painted vivid parallels of one finding one's cultural past, significance, and what personal gifts they can offer to the world, contributing to a more peaceful, prosperous society.
In a grand, sweeping, romantic style, watching Clark Kent transform into Superman bestowed confidence to youth growing up longing to be an extraordinary hero. At it's core, the film aims to remind you that you already have the power to do super things in everyday life.
"Superman: The Movie" is widely regarded as the first successful comic-book movie and one that would usher in a new era of comic book fans and aspiring filmmakers.
While there were comic-book films to succeed "Superman," none were quite as impactful as Bryan Singer's "X-Men" over 20 years later. Similar to “Superman”, “X-Men” dealt with a misunderstood group of outcasts from a multitude of backgrounds being discriminated against. Just like Clark Kent, these colorful mutants felt like outsiders in a world not quite their own. This hit home for many in more ways than one. The mutants dealt with trusting their power and accepting what makes them unique, makes them powerful.
The film even opens with a Holocaust flashback scene- something unusual for superhero fare and a subject matter not normally seen in the genre. Ian McKellen agreed to do play the film's scornful villain, Magneto, because of how it reminded him of LGBT rights. Shades of identity and accepting one's destiny are more vibrant than ever in a surprisingly political comic book adaptation.
These themes proved even more critical upon the release of Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man". Eight months after 9/11, there was still a sting of dread lingering in New York. Thousands of families lost their loved ones and grieving was still fresh. Hate crimes towards Muslim Americans were the highest they had ever been. The original posters and a teaser trailer using the Twin Towers for the film were immediately scrapped. Yet, despite all the intense pressure, "Spider-Man" was a smashing success and there was a sense of community to the film brought by having the Big Apple as its backdrop. People were gushing out of the cinemas ecstatic, sharply copying the web-slinger's iconic poses. Repeat viewings soared, the film brought many New Yorkers an impervious pride, and millions connected with Tobey Maguire’s outcast, socially awkward introvertedness.
As we've all been bullied, this was a time where the film's theme was even more pertinent given the angst Americans felt in their everyday lives. Seeing Peter Parker overcome his personal hardships and ascend to his true self is something we all know and work on everyday.
Fifteen years and over a dozen superhero films later, Wonder Woman finally gets a chance to flaunt her indestructible gauntlets. 76 years in the making, the development of a "Wonder Woman" film has been more than an uphill battle. In a genre where male dominance in front of, and behind, the camera is everywhere you look, the release of the film has a lot of significance to the industry, and the world.
Coming off her Oscar-winning film “Monster", Patty Jenkins originally met with Warner Bros. in 2005 to direct a Wonder Woman movie. Things didn't pan out, and Jenkins was given the opportunity to direct "Thor: The Dark World" for Marvel in 2012, but departed after creative differences. In fact, there were more female directors working in 1998 then there are today. Jenkins is one of the few females to direct a blockbuster with a 100 million plus budget and the first, really, to direct a female superhero film. "Catwoman" and "Elektra" both bombed and while, yes, they are female lead comic-book characters, they are more antiheroes that were directed by men.
Female lead characters are steadily climbing in movies, 37% of major characters last year were female, up 3% from 2015, so if "Wonder Woman" is a hit, studios will hopefully be aiming for more female centric films. "Captain Marvel" and "Silver and Black" are both in development at Marvel, with a male/female directing duo, and Sony, with a female director attached. Things look hopeful in a time where sexism is a depressing daily occurrence. Jennifer Lawrence, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, and many others all have spoken out about the frustrating issue of unequal pay. "Wonder Woman" star Robin Wright even fought to get equal pay opposite Kevin Spacey for her multiple Emmy Nominated role in "House of Cards". Wright agreed to do "Wonder Woman" because she wanted to inspire a young generation of boys and girls with a strong female they can look up to.
Inspiration is crucial these days, especially when things are being scaled back for females. Planned Parenthood getting defunded, contraception prices skyrocketing, pregnancy now a preexisting condition (whereas erectile dysfunction isn't) under a preposterous new health plan. Numerous unfortunate new developments under Trump's Administration are making it increasingly difficult for millions in America, to put it simply. Parents want their kids' future to be positive, successful, but are continually fighting for equality. The mounting stress among Americans has resulted in a box office predicted to be it's lowest in 3 years, but that's where "Wonder Woman" comes in.
Wonder Woman stands for truth, justice, and above all else, the belief that there is good in all of us. Jenkins recounted how the original "Superman" changed her life when she was seven years old. "I cried for Superman. I was Superman. I wanted to be good, I wanted to change the world." Jenkins told a rousing crowd at Comic Con in 2016. She wanted to model "Wonder Woman" similarly to the classic origin story formula "Superman" used.
"Wonder Woman" is more than a coming-of-age story, it can be the beacon of hope that is exactly what audiences need right now, especially youth. It can be a crumbling time trying to find one's identity but maybe watching Diana go from a warrior to a hero in a dour World War I setting will ignite many to go out and fight injustice in our world. We can hopefully look past the differences in us, come together as a community and think about what's compelling for all of us. After all, that's what Wonder Woman would hope for.