At a time when five out of every four films contain superheroes, this year’s Wonder Woman feels fresh and amazing. After more than a decade of the Marvel Universe, the superhero sub-genre seemed to go about as far as it can go. Director Patty Jenkins has shown us what is missing from almost every comic book movie — passion for the characters.
When Iron Man was released in 2008, no one expected it to kick start an entire universe of films. Tony Stark was a character known only to comic fans as Marvel’s answer to Batman . Yet the filmmakers cared about making a good movie and audiences responded. Studios, being staffed by the most insightful people on the planet, assumed that what we needed was more explosions and executive meddling and less of that passion. Look how Marvel treated Edgar Wright and his attempts to make Ant-Man.
And then Jenkins makes a movie about characters who inspired her when she was younger. She had the same passion and energy Jon Favreau had about Iron Man.
The fact she was given such a huge budget to make it at all is a miracle. Female directors have had a hard time in Hollywood. A guy directs a car commercial and he’s handed a tent-pole project at Disney. A woman directs Oscar winning films, but still struggles to get major films greenlit. Jenkin’s feature film debut was Monster, the movie that won Charlize Theron an Oscar. She followed up this huge artistic success by directing an episode of Arrested Development and two episodes of Entourage. Now these overlooked directors may have found a new way to finally win that fight for recognition.
So, now that Wonder Woman has proven a success, let’s take a look at the future. What acclaimed female directors should make what female superhero film?
Batgirl (Kathryn Bigelow) — So far, Barbara Gordon’s sole film outing was the disastrous Batman & Robin. Instead of being the troubled genius daughter of the one good cop in Gotham, she was turned into a valley girl who became Batgirl because she could guess a simple password.
Fans of the Batman comics know that Barbara is Bruce Wayne’s most valuable ally and doesn’t even need a costume. After the Joker paralyzed her, she reinvented herself as Oracle. This way, she could use her computer genius to basically turn code into magic. Listening to her dialogue is like listening to a tech thriller. But stories focusing on Barbara also have feminist themes that have never been fully explored. Even though she’s the smartest person in the room, she struggles with Bruce Wayne’s ego and the number of times
It reminds of Jessica Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty, which is why Kathryn Bigelow would be the perfect director for a Batgirl film. She could capture Gordon’s sense of being stuck in a world that she can’t control, even though she knows the solution to fix everything. And Bigelow has long had an obsession with surveillance and technology being unable to beat human intuition. The aforementioned Zero Dark Thirty was about how a massive use of force couldn’t beat intuition. And Strange Days took surveillance to a nightmarish alternate reality where people could experience each other’s lives with headsets. Imagine Barbara fighting the Mad Hatter as he gets Gotham addicted to similar technology. And, as Near Dark demonstrated, Bigelow can effectively directed an action scene.
Bigelow has already created Barbara Gordon like characters in her recent films. It’s time for her to tackle the real thing.
Zatanna (Julie Taymor) — I know that Julie Taymor’s last attempt at tackling the superhero genre practically ended with a body count. Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark is the sort of work that people speak of in hushed tones around the campfire to scare the newbies in show business.
But Taymor is also one of the few female directors who has been allowed to develop her own visual style. Her adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is one of the most underrated films ever made. Across the Universe was probably the only jukebox musical that worked with its psychedelic visuals and characters that weren’t just representative of the pretentious nostalgia baby boomers have for the 1960s but represented youth across all time.
Taymor’s visual style makes her the ideal candidate for any number of superhero films. But which superhero film is the most appropriate? I would say it’s Justice League member Zatanna. She’s probably the most obscure character on this list, but that’s not stopping studios anymore. She’s a stage magician who is also an actual wizard. So all the tricks she’s doing onstage are really happening.
The story would probably be very similar to Doctor Strange, as a talented stage performer discovers that she may be able to perform her tricks for real. Also, in the hands of Julie Taymor, a Zatanna film would be among the most visually stunning superhero movies ever made.
She-Hulk (Lisa Cholodenko) — Of all the characters on this list, She Hulk is the character I struggled with the most.
It would be very difficult for a film to nail the tone of She Hulk. Unlike her cousin Bruce Banner, She Hulk is not a tragic figure fighting demons that live inside her. On the contrary, she prefers her hulk form to her waifish Jennifer Walters persona. She Hulk is basically two very different female identities rolled into one. That still creates tension as Jennifer realizes that people only care about her for the amazon sex symbol that resides inside of her rather than for her own skills as an attorney. That’s more difficult to capture than Bruce Banner’s anger problems.
She was also Deadpool before there was a Deadpool. She Hulk was one of the first mainstream comic book characters that realized her actions were at the whim of whatever staff writer Marvel assigned to her comic. She would taunt her readers for taking her adventures seriously and at the Marvel staff for their ridiculous story choices.
It’s very difficult to find a director who can match both tones, but I think Lisa Cholodenko is the ideal choice for the material. Cholodenko has defined her career with quirky indie comedies about women who are struggling with their identity and their past. The Kids are All Right, a movie about a lesbian couple whose family life is interrupted by the arrival of the sperm donor they used to have children, shows a talent for light comedy that a She Hulk movie would need.
But it also demonstrated an interest in the different personas women struggle with. The couple in The Kids are All Right actually represents both sides of She Hulk. Annette Bening is a nerdy intellectual while Julianne Moore is a fun loving extrovert. All Cholodenko would have to do is combine them into one character. The one thing I’m not sure about is the action, but then She Hulk doesn’t need to be an action packed extravaganza. It needs to be a story about a character that feels conflicted but knows that conflict is silly. Cholodenko’s work shows she is up for the challenge.
Death (Sofia Coppola) — Death has long been the breakout character of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series. The battle to get the comics to the screen has been a long and painful one that is still ongoing.
It seems premature to talk about a Death movie, but it would be a good way to introduce a movie audience to the world of the Endless. Death is a more accessible character because she’s not based on an abstract concept. Everyone has been visited by her and wishes they could ask her a question while they’re still alive. And Gaiman changed our concept of her. She was a character who loved life and loved meeting people at their final moments. Her task wasn’t a burden, but a gift that she wanted to share.
There aren’t many directors who could do well with the material. They would try to add some unnecessary gothic imagery or magic. But one person who could make a good Death movie is Sofia Coppola.
I’m not Coppola’s biggest fan, but her subtle style is perfect for the material. The High Cost of Living is a very subtle work that doesn’t have a lot of comic book action. It’s about a quirky woman trying to understand a culture she’ll never be able to. Coppola made that film once and won an Oscar for it. She’s also one of the few filmmakers that could, perhaps, get the project off the ground.
Supergirl (Lexi Alexander)- Of all the characters on this list, Supergirl is the most well represented in popular culture. She’s had her own solo movie, has made numerous appearances in the various DC cartoons, and now has a show on the CW. Lexi Alexander has directed a few episodes of the TV show.
So why does Supergirl need a new movie at all?
It’s partly because the character still feels like a B-list character despite her association with the sainted Superman. DC had no issues killing her in the 80s, and then brought her back in the 90s just so she could be Lex Luthor’s boyfriend. And, in recent times, DC decided that Supergirl was more interesting as a villain and then decided to kill her again.
DC has constantly used Supergirl as an extension of Superman. She’s forever a side character while Clark Kent gets all the credit. Now that Wonder Woman has proven itself a success, DC finally has a chance to fix this lapse. She doesn’t just have to be identical to her cousin, especially when the world expects different things from her. How does this make her feel? Does she want to follow in the truth, justice, and American way path? Considering that DC is determined to build the same universe Marvel has for its characters, Supergirl is a welcome addition.
So why should Lexi Alexander direct a full length Supergirl film? Because her career is very similar to Supergirl’s character arc. Alexander directed one comic book film (Punisher: War Zone) that now enjoys a strong cult following. But it was released to critical anger and remains the lowest grossing Marvel film ever made. This despite the fact that it’s a lot more fun than Age of Ultron and Alexander made a great action film that Michael Bay could only dream of.
So despite her skill, Lexi Alexander is regulated to the sidelines while her less interesting peers are given iconic status. She’s the natural fit for Supergirl.