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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Gal Gadot

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If nothing else, at least the Captain America sequel solidified the call for a Black Widow movie. According to Justin Craig at Fox News, Scarlett Johansson “is quickly becoming the smartest, toughest female action star. . . . Forget Captain America 3 or The Avengers 2, it’s time ScarJo gets her very own Marvel franchise.” Slate’s Dana Stevens even thinks Johansson’s “dryly funny Natasha at times comes perilously close to being … a well-developed female character?” That’s high praise in a genre bereft of leading women.

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Why are Batman and Superman onto their third film incarnations, while Wonder Wonder still wallows in 70s TV? Presumably Warner Brothers’ hiring of actress Gal Gadot for the Man of Steel sequel will change that, but the company is making no promises for a stand-alone venture. When asked about her own movie prospects, Johansson had to writhe her way around Marvel’s non-commitment: “Sure, we talk about it all the time. You know, I think it’s something that, um, again I think Marvel is is certainly, um, listening, and if, you know, working with them for several years now, you kind of see how, ah, they respond to the audience, um, demand I think for something like that.”

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You’d think Marvel and Warner never heard of Jennifer Lawrence or the profits Lionsgate is earning from Hunger Games. Not that Lawrence is the leader of a new trend. Her cartoon counterparts changed gender barriers a decade ago.

I’m looking at a 2007 study by Kaysee Baker and Arthur Raney, “Equally Super?: Gender-Role Stereotyping of Superheroes in Children’s Animated Programs.” Even though they’d read one 2004 study that found “no significant differences in aggression between male and female characters,” they still predicted that “Male and female character will be portrayed in significantly different and gender-role stereotypical ways.”

They were wrong. Yes, men outnumbered women almost two-to-one, but those men were no longer portrayed as more intelligent, brave, dominant, technical, or task-oriented. And those women were no longer portrayed as more dependent, jealous, romantic, affectionate, sensitive, domestic, damsel-prone, follower-minded, or likely to cry. And both groups “were portrayed as virtually equal in terms of physical aggression.”

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If you don’t remember what cartoon superheroes were romping around TV in 2007, I do. My son and daughter had recently grown out of Teen Titans and Justice League, but Cartoon Network was keeping both teams alive in reruns. So, yes, I remember Hawkgirl clubbing the shit out Martian spacecraft with that mace of her, and Raven could have dropped the Titan Tower on Robin’s head any time she liked.

“One way to interpret theses findings,” write Baker and Raney, “would be to proclaim that female superheroes are finally breaking down the gender-based stereotypes that have permeated children’s cartoons for decades.” Instead, the authors spin their findings in the opposite direction: “Adding the masculine trait of aggression to a character who is already portrayed as having traditional feminine traits such as being beautiful, emotional, slim, and attractive, while also losing other more prominent feminine stereotypes (i.e., domesticity, passivity), might suggest that to be heroic, one has to be more masculine, regardless of gender.”

Although the authors use the term “masculine” (meaning socially determined) rather than “male” (biologically), I still sense a hint of essentialist nostalgia for those good ole days when men were men and women were, you know, not men. Because if aggression is now gender-neutral, how can being aggressive also be “more masculine”?

However Baker and Raney interpret their data, news of their findings hasn’t revolutionized the culture. There’s a hell of lot more than a hint of essentialist nostalgia in the comments section for a Walking Dead review at the m0vie blog. When Darren Mooney criticized Tony Kirkman for presenting old school gender attitudes as “unquestioned near-universal truth,” a reader responded: “Seems fairly natural that the group would default to the standard lineup, where men protect the women. In case you haven’t noticed, men are far more aggressive and stronger by nature.”

Don’t tell Gal Gadot. Sure, she looks like a skinny little thing, but after winning Miss Israel in 2004 the next Wonder Woman served two years in the Israel Defense Forces. Israel is one of the few countries that requires military service for both genders—and since a 2000 amendment to the law, that’s meant women having an equal right “to serve in any role in the IDF,” including in combat. The new gender norm has made it across the West Bank border too. The Presidential Guards, the most elite Palestinian military force, currently includes 22 female commandos-in-training. They even look like superheroines since their combat fatigues come with headscarves.

The toy industry is catching on too. The New York Times reported in March: “Toy makers have begun marketing a more aggressive line of playthings and weaponry for girls–inspired by a succession of female warrior heroes like Katniss, the Black Widow of The Avengers, Merida of Brave and now Tris of the book and new movie Divergent–even as the industry clings to every shade of pink.” Actually, the Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Exclusive Golden Edge Bow looks purple to me, but it still gets child psychologist Sharon Lamb’s approval: “I don’t see this as making girls more aggressive, but instead as letting girls know that their aggressive impulses are acceptable and they should be able to play them out.”

Meanwhile DC and Marvel, those vanguards of radical feminism, continue to dither over the box office viability of any superhero movie starring a woman. Because, you know, women are, uh, not naturally, um, like that.

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Gal Gadot

I’m tired of reading excuses from Warner Bros. and DC about how hard it is to adapt Wonder Woman to screen. Now that Gal Gadot has been cast to play the character in the 2015 Batman vs. Superman movie, surely her own feature is in the works? It’s not a hard movie to make. Here’s how you do it.

The first obstacle is generic. Most superhero movies are two stories: the origin and a monster-of-the-week. The hero completes his identity arc with the arrival of a new menace in act two, and so defeating the menace in act three completes that act two plot while ignoring act one. What, for example, does a lizard-man menacing New York have to do with a radioactive spider bite? Batman Begins solves the problem by linking the defeat of the act three menace to the act one origin: Liam Neeson trains and then battles Christian Bale.

This challenge is bigger for Wonder Woman because the origin and the menace are already linked. Nazi Germany is her reason to be, but punching out Adolf in his act three bunker is a lousy ending. Her American flag of a costume deepens the World War II link, making an origin update clumsy. And yet you need her in our current time period by the end of the film or no Justice League tie-in. Captain America presented the same problem, so Marvel threw in a suspended animation twist in the framing scenes. They also replaced Adolf with the Red Skull and inserted him into the origin story as a fellow super soldier, solving the monster-of-the-week problem too.

Wonder Woman needs to land in the 21st century as well, but better to make that leap a plot point rather than an epilogue. That means the origin-triggering menace needs to time travel too. That would be hard except that Wonder Woman’s Amazonian home provides the ready-made solution. Paradise Island is hidden in the Bermuda Triangle, a location legendary for such unexplained phenomenon as disappearances and time anomalies.

I recommend a plane carrying a German A-bomb.

Begin with Wonder Woman’s future love interest, Captain Steve Trevor, stowed inside one of two Nazi bombers on their way to incinerate New York. Steve overpowers the crew, seizes control of the plane, and exchanges fire with the other bomber, sending both tailspinning into the mysterious storm clouds of the Bermuda Triangle. When he comes to, he’s on Paradise Island—where he spends the rest of act one until he and Wonder Woman fly off in her magic plane (it starts out a chariot and winged horses before taking the form of the downed bomber). Meanwhile, modern day scuba divers discover the remains of the second bomber and the still functional A-bomb inside. As a result, when Wonder Woman and Steve emerge from the protective clouds surrounding Paradise Island, they’re not in 1944 anymore. The Triangle (or possibly unseen Hera?) has flung them forward in time to continue Steve’s mission—because the terrorists of your choice (I’m picturing an American-grown Aryan militia) now has its hands on that A-bomb.

But back to the problematic Wonder Woman costume. Why exactly is an Amazonian princess of Greek antiquity dolled up in the American flag? That’s easy. Back in scene one, after a pan of the menacing A-bomb inside the first plane, a German soldier pauses to look down at something he’s stepped on: an American girlie magazine open to a centerfold. As he picks it up and rotates the page, Trevor clocks him over the head from behind, step one in his seizing the plane. It’s a quick gag that will appear to stand-alone—until the Amazonian Queen produces the magazine after agreeing to aid him. They have studied it in order to tailor an outfit that will allow Wonder Woman to blend. In she steps wearing the pin-up girl’s bustier, micro-skirt, and stiletto boots—only in the colors of the flag Steve said represented his cherished homeland. (His subsequent protests go unheeded.)

I’m skipping over much of the fun of act one (Steve among those wacky Amazons), as well as act two (Wonder Woman and Steve among those wacky 21st century Americans), to focus on a bigger problem. Wonder Woman is aloof and off-putting. No other superhero is quite so alien. Not only is she an immortal demigoddess princess, but her mother sculpted her out of magic clay. Even Superman, an actual alien, is a homegrown farm boy at heart. Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, Tony Stark, they all have flavors of relatable humanness. Thor is the closest equivalent, but he’s male. A majority of the superhero ticket-buying demographic already think women are alien. Wonder Woman is alien squared.

So embrace that weirdness. Make it her character arc. She starts out a bit like Data on Stark Trek—powerful, brilliant, yet oddly clueless too. She’d never seen a man before, and now that she has, she’s not particularly impressed. But she’s curious and comically off-putting in her attempts to interact—all obstacles to overcome in the inevitable marriage plot of act two. Once thrown into the mutually alien territory of 21st century America, she and Steve only have each other. By the time they’ve thwarted the A-bombing Aryans in act three, they’ll have earned their falling action kiss, possibly more.

The story is her growing humanity. Maybe some of that aloofness was an act. She’s seen men before. And her mother didn’t really mold her from magic clay—her mother escaped pregnant from the war lord who enslaved her. As far as that island of theirs, it’s not Paradise. It’s just the one rock on the planet where no woman has ever been raped. Of course she was aloof. And that makes her closure of her own marriage plot all the more pleasurable.

The magic lasso has potential too. If Wonder Woman ties Steve up to test the truth of his plea for aid in act one, reverse the situation in act three (a trick James Cameron pulled in both True Lies and The Abyss). But please no bondage references. She strings the lasso around herself to prove a point, to answer a question Steve would never have asked on his own. (Does she love him? She says no. But, he wonders afterwards, does the lasso even work on her?)

There’s tons more, but those are the basics. Plus one warning: Do NOT begin with a voiced-over montage of Amazonian history. It’s boring and distracts from the real story. Anything important we have to pick up with Steve on the island.

Diane Nelson, president of DC Comics, said back in July that Wonder Woman “has been, since I started, one of the top three priorities for DC and for Warner Bros. We are still trying right now, but she’s tricky.” Greg Silverman, Warner Bros.’ president of creative development and worldwide production, was even more vague in October, boldly declaring that “We have been doing a lot of thinking for years” and “everything that has been speculated are things that we’ve thought about.”

With Gadot officially cast, let’s hope they can move past all the tricky speculations and make an actual movie now.

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