Thursday, June 1, 2017

The longest gestation

I remember sometime as long ago as the early 1990s, before superhero movies were literally a dime a dozen, thinking how incredibly weird it was that Hollywood had not figured out a way to put Spider-Man in a major motion picture. It doesn't feel that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but in terms of superhero movies, it's ancient history.

I mean, it was really weird that one of the five most famous superheroes of all time, as determined by me, had yet to make a cinematic dive for our wallets.

Sure, the 1990s probably would have found special effects in an awkward no-man's land between the bad blue-screening of Christopher Reeve's Superman movies and the whiz-bang digital creations we yawn at today, making a believable rendering of Spider-Man's web-slinging and web-swinging difficult at best. But Hollywood has always found a way, and I found it strange that they hadn't yet with the erstwhile Peter Parker.

Now it's 2017, and since that time the character of Spider-Man has appeared in six different films. A month from now, it will be seven.

And Wonder Woman is only just finding her way into her own movie now.

Yeah, we saw the erstwhile Diana Prince in last year's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and she was the best part of that movie, if an ill-conceived part. But she's only now headlining a movie, and it's kind of embarrassing for her that she had to be broken in to our climate of infinite shared superhero universes alongside these other two guys.

At long last, Diana Prince's time has come.

On the one hand I'm not surprised, as comic book geeks have hesitated to accept Wonder Woman on the Mount Rushmore of their heroes, a place she deserves to be. Even with 20 solid years in which Hollywood execs knew that they had to give us women who kick ass in movies -- and they have complied quite exhaustively in that regard -- there was still something about Wonder Woman that scared them. They just couldn't imagine her scaring up the bucks, and maybe they were right.

But on the other hand, it's a shock, as Wonder Woman is also one of the five most famous superheroes, I would argue, alongside the aforementioned Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. The fifth? I'm going with the Hulk, but you can feel free to argue that point. And your answer likely differs if you have a recency bias, in which case Iron Man would probably have the better case.

But it's also a shock because each of the other four have had no fewer than five big screen incarnations, each played by at least three different actors. (Has Hulk gotten to #5 yet? Is he in that second Thor movie that I haven't seen?) Superheroes far less famous than Wonder Woman have had their own multiple incarnations. In fact, characters who would be about the 30th or 40th most famous superhero have gotten their own movies before she has.

Maybe, though, the wait has been worth it. Maybe, just maybe, DC got it right this time.

Wonder Woman does come out here earlier than in the U.S., a whole day ahead on the calendar, which actually equals two days with the time change. But I haven't seen it yet. As I am writing this after midnight on June 1st, it comes out today, but I didn't go to a midnight screening tonight or anything.

However, I do have a bit of an advanced idea of how good this movie might be from an event I did attend tonight. One of the five podcasts in heavy rotation on my iPod is the Slate Culture Gabfest, hosted by Stephen Metcalf, Julia Turner and Dana Stevens. They are based in New York and do most of their shows from there, but lately -- or perhaps always, but I've only been listening for three years -- they've been doing live shows in different cities around the country. This past week they've done their most ambitious venture in that regard, a two-city trip to Australia. First they hit Sydney on Saturday night, and finished up here in Melbourne tonight.

Simply put, Dana and Julia loved Wonder Woman. They went on effusively, at length, about Patty Jenkins' movie, starring the perfectly cast Gal Gadot. (I've never been a huge fan of her acting, but she sure looks the part.) They both used the word "love" multiple times. This after the early buzz was that DC would just be digging itself a deeper creative hole from which to climb out.

Stephen was more measured in his praise, or perhaps did not praise it at all, though he seems to have taken the temperature of the room and tamped down what he might have wanted to say. And that does worry me a little bit, as some movies do divide viewers along gender lines, and it's certainly possible that a female viewer might excuse glaring flaws just because it's Wonder Woman, goddammit, finally getting her own damn movie.

But I don't think I'm likely to align myself with men just because I'm male. I loudly shot down the notion that Ghostbusters was a suspect property because it starred women rather than men, and truly, I welcome female superheroes in all their glory.

Perhaps the clearest promising sign about this movie, though, is that it tracks most closely with the Captain America movies in the Marvel universe. Both Cap and Wonder Woman seem to be anachronisms thrust into "modern" society, Cap actually moving forward in time from World War II to present day, Wonder Woman staying in the World War I era (at least for now) but born of some kind of god (I don't know the mythology) so must familiarize herself with the "modernities" of the nineteen teens. Both the first Captain America movie and this Wonder Woman movie have a period piece quotient to them, and that kind of thing really works for me.

But just to listen to Dana and Julia go on about why they liked this movie, even admitting that it made them cry at multiple points, I feel like there's something genuine here, something good, beyond creative choices made in production design and casting. Something worth discovering on my own. Something worth not writing off as just another bloated summer tentpole.

Hey, if I had time for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales -- which I watched after the live Gabfest show -- then I certainly have time for a long-overdue dollop of possible true feminism in our superhero landscape

Long, long overdue.

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