On Wednesday, July 15th, 2014, Marvel announced that a new Thor comic book series would star — wait for it — a woman in the title role as the new God(fess) of Thunder. Thor’s mighty hammer, Mjolnir, has rarely been wielded by a woman, and for the first time in the 52 years since Thor’s first comic book appearance, “Journey Into Mystery,” a woman will become the mightiest — and Godliest — of all superheroes. The official rundown on Marvel.com states:
“This really is a Thor story unlike any we’ve ever seen before, and it’s not meant to be fleeting. It’s not a one-time thing or an alternate reality. This is the new version of Thor in the Marvel Universe.”
Cue shocked gasps from the masses:
Statements proceeded with proclamations like “I don’t hate women, but…” or “I’m not sexist…” or even “I’m all for equality. BELIEVE ME I TOTALLY AM!!1!1!” are really just shields with which to cloak blatant sexism. Why do we feel the need to even make statements like this? Why do is this called a gimmick? Why is it ‘incomprehensible’ that a woman can be the most worthy God to protect all the realms? As this Twitter user posed:
Why are we so afraid of women having/controlling/wielding power?
The recent controversy over Thor-as-woman (say it like that and sounds totally caveman-ish) just sheds light on the fact that women heroes are oft-forgot about; they’re rarely given the spotlight that male heroes revel in, and as such, Hollywood doesn’t produce nearly enough big budget female-lead blockbusters. As a result, young girls are forced to look up to male heroes as their role models, and young boys are left with the impression that female heroes aren’t good enough or strong enough to stand up next to their favorite male heroes.
Think about it: When was the last time Wonder Woman was shown the same respect and given the same screen time as Batman or Superman? Not since Linda Carter donned the Amazonian’s star-spangled costume has Wonder Woman appeared in a live-action adaptation.
Big budget films based on Wonder Woman have been in development hell numerous times, and all have fallen by the wayside because, in the past, female-lead action movies didn’t sell tickets. Flash forward to 2014 and, thanks to the success of The Hunger Games, female heroes like Katniss Everdeen (and the wonderfully irreverant Jennifer Lawrence), Tris Prior (Divergent), and Queen Elsa of Arendelle (Frozen) are now not only selling tickets, but they appeal to male audiences as well.
At the end of the day, as proven by The Hunger Games films, a well-written, solid story will sell, right?
So why haven’t there been any action/comic book movies with female leads yet? There’s a tendency in Hollywood to conclude that if a female-fronted film flopped, it’s because it was lead by a female, and until Katniss Everdeen proved that there is, in fact, a place for heroines, many of the female-fronted action movies weren’t the biggest pulls at the box office. Films like Aeon Flux, Halle Berry’s take on Catwoman, Electra — it was hard enough to take Ben Affleck as Daredevil, which a lackluster effort at best to begin with, Sucker Punch, and Charlies Angels 2, to name a few. But what the aforementioned films have in common is not that they were fronted by females, but that they were truly terrible movies with questionable acting and even worse writing. I’d like to blame these intended cash cow-turned-flops on pre-Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy Hollywood. See, before Nolan took Batman and turned him into a thoughtful, gritty “real” hero, we had the campy Batman’s of Tim Burton past, which was how most superhero films were produced; they were caricatures of themselves, and that’s why, I think, the female-led action movies mentioned above were doomed to fail. Before 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises saw a savvy and self-made woman Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, the most iconic portrayal, at least on film, was Michelle Pfieffer’s Selina Kyle in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992).
But even then, she wasn’t the only villain, nor was a self-made woman. She was a scared, voiceless secretary who was afraid of her own shadow before being murdered-turned-resurrected as the deliciously campy Catwoman we all still imitate (or, wait, is that just me?) Where is the self-assurance? Yes, Pfieffer’s Catwoman was strong and kick-ass and everything we’d want from a female (anti)hero, but she only became that way once she got the (literal) shit kicked out of her and donned a leather mask, showing girls — and boys — everywhere that girls can only really kick ass if they hide their identities and/or experience some sort of radical transformation because who they are wasn’t ass-kick-worthy enough already. Granted, there was hardly any backstory for Selina Kyle in Batman Returns, so we don’t really know what happened to her to make her so weak, but in the end, the film that we have is all viewers got, and it speaks volumes. Even The Dark Knight Rises didn’t fully flesh out Selina Kyle’s character, despite Anne Hathaway’s nuanced performance under Nolan’s direction, who always likes to keep his viewers truly guessing.
In a post-Nolan world, where Batman and the various Avengers are all carefully drawn out, real heroes with real problems, now is the perfect time for a true kick-ass heroine to emerge. 2016’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (which is the worst title ever, but c’est la vie) will see Wonder Woman return to the big screen, but is it enough? And the question that begs the biggest answer is this: Will she see her own spin-off film or, better yet, franchise? And if she does, will audiences support a female-led film?
There is already too much testosterone at the box office where action movies, specifically comic book movies, are concerned — Man of Steel, The Wolverine, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, all of those were released in the last year alone; The Avengers: Age of Ultron (which features Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow — score 1 for the ladies!), Ant-Man and the much-anticipated Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, X-Men: Apocalypse, The Amazing Spider-Man 3, will be out within the next two years. Notice how many of the films feature the word “man” or “men”? Now, I’m not saying that it’s unbalanced. Except that I am, because it is.
Maybe a female Thor is exactly what we need. Or Wonder Woman. Any female-driven hero (who isn’t Katniss Everdeen) would be
about damn time a nice change of pace. It’s also time that stellar writers got behind these heroes and give them the stories that they deserve, not just for legions of female fans out there, or even for the little girls who yearn to look up to someone who isn’t a man in a cape, but for all the boys out there who think that girls just aren’t good enough, strong enough, awesome enough, or worthy enough to be more than just a love interest/sexy plaything/sassy side piece. Do it for the boys who think that women could never do what a man does because they’ve never seen anything else.
Do it for them. Because they need it most.