Man and superwoman

There’s a little dust-up going on in the movie and comic-book communities over the lack of a big superhero film with a solo female star.  Plenty of these films, including the current hit “Guardians of the Galaxy,” have female team members, but so far there hasn’t been a solo project with a female star in the vein of Iron Man or Captain America.  Supposedly Marvel has some vague hope of creating such a movie one of these days, but it never gets further than boilerplate P.C. rhetoric about how it’s a swell idea and everyone loves the notion of a strong superwoman carrying her own film.  Film School Rejects has an amusing history of Marvel honcho Kevin Feige wriggling out from beneath this question roughly once per year, every year since 2008.

Supposedly Sony Pictures, which owns Spider-Man and is trying to build an entire cinematic universe around him, is interested in doing a solo project with a female character sometime in the next couple of years.  Many assume this character would be the Black Cat, whose alter ego Felicia Hardy was very briefly introduced in the bloated “Amazing Spider-Man 2″ – a movie so busy laying eggs that would hopefully hatch into franchises that it sort of forgot to be a coherent film in its own right.  Other speculation is that Sony will cook up a female version of Spider-Man or adapt one of the spider-gals from the comics, which would bezzzzzzzzzz (snort) UGMPH sorry about that, I dozed off at the keyboard just thinking about it.

The Film School Rejects crew mentions the idea of giving Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow her own solo film, which would seem like a decent idea, especially since the character had such a good outing in the second “Captain America” film, and ScarJo can unquestionably open a movie.  Over at Warner Brothers, meanwhile, Wonder Woman will finally get introduced in the upcoming “Batman vs. Superman,” leading naturally to speculation that she’ll get her own movie eventually.

I suspect the superwoman solo film will remain elusive, though, for a couple of reasons, all of which Kevin Feige goes to great lengths to avoid saying out loud when he’s asked this question.  First of all, there have been solo female superhero films, and they’ve all bombed pretty hard – “Catwoman,” “Supergirl,” etc.  That doesn’t mean the concept can never work, but you know how studio executives are allergic to any idea with a history of past failure.

Comic books have long been more male-oriented when it comes to the big household-name characters; Wonder Woman is probably the only big, easily-recognized name that isn’t a guy.  That’s not too much of a problem when Marvel is riding so high that they’re pulling out back-catalog names like the Guardians of the Galaxy and making a mint off them, but for any other studio, obscurity is probably still nerve-wracking when it comes to green-lighting a $200 million picture.  Even Marvel isn’t brimming with solo super-gals; the best one they could use is probably She-Hulk, who has the obvious disadvantage of being just a copy of the Hulk, to those who aren’t familiar with the comics.  Her book is extremely witty – besides being the Hulk’s super-powered cousin, she’s a lawyer who works on superhero-related cases, such as Spider-Man suing J. Jonah Jameson for relentlessly slandering him.  Maybe that’s still a bit “meta” for the moviegoing audience, which wouldn’t get all the inside jokes and slice-of-life absurdities that make She-Hulk’s comic so much fun for seasoned superhero readers.

The big problem with a solo female superhero, however, is that the modern superhero art form requires solo characters to get the living hell beaten out of them, physically and emotionally.  There have always been fears this would turn off the audience, including the female audience, if the character going through the ringer is a woman.  That’s not a big problem when doing a film about a team like the X-Men or Avengers, but it makes studios nervous to think about dropping a female character into the template established for contemporary solo superhero films.  (Try to imagine a female character enduring what the hero goes through in “The Dark Knight Rises,” or getting beaten into the dirt like Thor in “The Dark World.”)

I think that problem’s not insurmountable, especially after the success of “The Hunger Games,” but then again there’s a limited supply of Jennifer Lawrence to carry such a movie.  And there’s the other problem studio execs aren’t going to discuss in public: the lingering fear that the vital Teenage Boy audience won’t turn out in sufficient numbers to sustain a big-budget Super Chick Flick, especially during that all-important dash-for-cash opening weekend.  That’s where someone like Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlett Johannsson comes in handy.  If I were advising the big shots at Marvel, I’d tell them to take a shot at a Black Widow movie to test the waters; done well, I think it would do well, and the ice would be broken for more solo female superhero films.

Update: I also wonder if the studios aren’t worried about walking into an ideological minefield with a solo female character.  There are a lot of “missteps” a creator might inadvertently take that would generate an angry backlash from some of the people who express great disappointment that super-heroines aren’t being given movies to carry.  I suspect such considerations will weigh upon the minds of anyone charged with preparing a big-screen “Wonder Woman” film.  Superheroes are a fun and silly genre by definition, which means they don’t mix well with politically-correct anxiety.

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