The movie and comic book world is abuzz: we’re finally getting Wonder Woman on the big screen. For years, comic movie goers – particularly women – have been hoping that DC’s major female superhero would make an appearance in film. She has been absent from live-action since Lynda Carter was in the 1970s Wonder Woman television series. So when Gal Gadot was announced as the new Wonder Woman, some were excited. Others, however, were disappointed to hear that, rather than getting her own film, Wonder Woman was to be relegated to a (potentially) bit part in Zach Snyder’s male-dominated Batman vs. Superman. The casting also spurs on continued conversation about women in films, specifically in comic book movies, and whether they pass the Bechdel Test.
In recent years, even in the comic books, Wonder Woman has been less a major hero than a secondary figure who gives Superman pep talks, according to Noah Berlatsky of The Atlantic. In “Wonder Woman shouldn’t be a sidekick,” posted December 5, 2013, Berlatsky discussed the origin of the Wonder Woman character, created by William Marston in the 1940s to be an answer to (in Marston’s words) the “blood-curdling masculinity” of male superheroes. As Berlatsky summed up, “Marston’s goal with Wonder Woman, then, was to create a figure who would convince both girls and boys of the value of women and femininity. The whole point of the character is to present a female icon as heroic.”
Wonder Woman was raised on Paradise Island in an all-female culture, gifted with her powers by the goddess Aphrodite. The story of Wonder Woman is one in which women play all the important roles. Which is, perhaps, why Hollywood has failed to create a Wonder Woman origin story for the big screen.
Batman vs. Superman
So what about Gadot’s Wonder Woman? Since the script is not available to the general public, there’s no telling the type of role Wonder Woman will play in the new film. But there are warning signs, as novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig wrote about in his blog, Terrible Minds. In his December 5, 2013 post, “Here’s how you ruin Wonder Woman for the movies,” Wendig noted that Snyder has a track record for creating half-strong women – or women who have independence for about half the movie before they are relegated to useless love interest (Lois Lane in Man of Steel) or rape victim (Gorgo in 300). Other potential problems, for Wendig, include:
- “She’s not part of the trio, but rather, a third wheel to the two men.” The film is called Batman vs. Superman, making it clear who the two primary characters are.
- She’s not getting her own origin story first.
- She might be introduced only to serve as a love-triangle with Superman/Lois.
Wending continued, “If Wonder Woman fails on-screen … the excuse will be, as it has been in various LA-LA-Land meetings already, ‘Nobody wants to see a Wonder Woman film.’ … And this is why the Marvel approach would’ve been so much more desirable. Creating her movie upfront would have given us a chance to have her succeed on her own merits, not fall down because she’s a value-add in a film about two superdudes.”
The Bechdel Test
But even as Wendig supports the Marvel ensemble approach, some Marvel movies, like Avengers, have received criticism from female viewers for not passing the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test is a reference to a 1985 comic by Alison Bechdel, in which one character says to another that any film she sees in the theater has to pass three basic requirements. It must have:
- Two [named] women in it
- Who talk to each other
- Be about something other than a man
Though not consciously constructed as a critical technique, the Bechdel Test has become such a benchmark for films that, according to an article from the Arlington Heights, IL Daily Herald, “Swedish cinemas debut feminist film ratings,” “movie theaters in equality-minded Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias, or rather the absence of it,” by applying the Bechdel Test.
If you’re looking for good research topics in women’s studies or film studies, consider looking at women in comic book movies. As starting points:
- Why has Wonder Woman not had her own big screen feature?
- Compare the lines of female characters in Thor: The Dark World to blockbuster Avengers. Which passes the Bechdel Test?
- What was the last action film with a female star to have box office success?
What do you think the new Batman vs. Superman casting means for Wonder Woman?
For more about feminist film theory, visit Questia.