The suits and architects of the DC movie universe may be wringing their hands over the critical beatdown Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is getting, but there’s a silver lining—and a golden lasso—to be found in the mushroom cloud of vitriol. It’s also Warner Bros.’s best chance for picking up the pieces of Bat-suit and Superman cape in the rubble of BvS. Can Wonder Woman save the DCU?
No, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. Maybe that’s too much to ask of a movie whose title and premise literally pits one ideal of spandexed comic book hypermasculinity against another. I can’t recall many scenes in BvS in which two women both have speaking lines, let alone talk to each other, let alone talk to each other about something other than men.
That’s fine, I guess. I’m not here to hold WB’s feet to the fire for not making a movie that is specifically about Batman beefing with Superman into a girl power blockbuster. It’s not like any other huge studio superhero movies have done much better (looking at you, Marvel—nobody puts Black Widow in the corner… except the other Avengers and Disney’s merch execs).
Besides, Batman v. Superman will find its multimillions and satisfy plenty of fanboys and girls who’ve been tingling with anticipation for the super-matchup for years now. To everyone else, I can only say this: Come for the joyless man-boys who love their mommies pummeling each other, stay for one of the only things worth getting excited about in the future of DC’s movies: Gisele from the Fast & Furious movies.
Gal Gadot won her shot at playing the most famous female superhero in comics history after driving and shooting her way into the hearts of action fans alongside Vin Diesel and his international familia of criminals with hearts of gold.
After being introduced in Fast and Furious as Gisele Yashar, the ex-Mossad agent and right-hand woman to a cartel leader, Gadot returned to join the Toretto gang in Fast Five. In Fast 6, she sealed her place in Fast & Furious history by going down with the most epic hero’s death of the franchise, sacrificing herself on a car tethered to a speeding airplane to save Han, who then (through the magic of retconning) moved to Tokyo to drift away his heartache and crossed paths with some bad dudes, thus leading back into the events of Furious 7. By one line of logic (mine), the fate of the biggest international action franchise on the planet therefore owes a debt of existence to Gisele and Gadot.
But back when Gadot won the Wonder Woman gig in late 2013, the Internet backlash commenced over her slim frame, her even slimmer résumé, and her ability to carry the responsibility of female superheroism on her shoulders. Ironically, the Israeli actress is one of the only action stars in Hollywood who has actual military training, having served for two years in the Israeli Defense Forces (prior to that, she was crowned Miss Israel—and has no love for Hamas). In any case, her appearance in BvS should lay to rest all those initial fears.
Although she first pops up in BvS in couture playing sultry mind games with Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne across a roomful of well-heeled Gothamites, Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has way bigger fish to fry than her brooding fellow future Justice Leaguers. She’s beautiful and elegant and sexy—at least, that’s how we see first her through Wayne’s eyes—but like any femme fatale worth her salt, she’s exploiting her looks as a front. If you’re a gorgeous Amazonian goddess on Earth, why not flaunt it?
Of course, Wonder Woman’s extended cameo in BvS is a conspicuous play at setting up the future Justice League movies and stand-alones planned for The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher)—all of whom also get their own brief introductions in BvS. They’re intriguing enough glimpses of DC’s future stars in character, but giving Wonder Woman a solid foothold in the hearts and minds of DC fans is for obvious reasons far more important a move to pull off—not insignificantly because she’ll mark the first major comic book heroine in the modern age of superhero movies to get her own tentpole.
It’s worth noting that unlike the angry, tunnel-visioned Batman and the willfully oblivious Superman, Wonder Woman is the only hero in BvS who’s able to keep her emotions in check. While the boys fight over whose brand of heroism is more heroic, she’s also the only one using her superpowers like a smart, mature adult. (It figures: She’s probably half a century older than them.) And when the shit hits the fan, Wonder Woman makes the heroic decision to join a fight that isn’t hers. How refreshing it is to see a hero be a hero instead of agonizing over the choice or making it all about them!
Critics could cry foul over the skimpiness of the outfit Wonder Woman wears in battle compared to the body-con head-to-toe suits Batman and Superman sport. But there’s one key moment director Zack Snyder weaves in as she gleefully crashes around the gloomy Gotham City port, taking on Doomsday. She tumbles to the ground, her bare thighs exposed, and smiles gleefully like the warrior princess that she is. Now, some folks may consider it a gratuitous upskirt shot. I prefer to think of it as her Beyoncé armor. In her action scenes and her Diana Prince moments, Gadot’s Wonder Woman comes off as a self-possessed figure enjoying every facet of her womanly power.
Which, sadly, is more than I can say of the other women of BvS, who merely serve as props for Batman and Superman to work out their man problems. Why are we, as a movie-going society, spending so much time and energy on men who just can’t handle being heroes, instead of the strong badass women around them?
I’d like to call for a moment of silence for Lois Lane, who returns after Man Of Steel to again give Superman someone to emote at. Here, a script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer asks her to make a multitude of insufferably idiotic decisions that she must then answer for, often to her own discredit.
What makes this so aggravating is the fact that in every facet of her work life, Lois is clearly professionally superior to her superhero boyfriend. She’s a star reporter who can commandeer her paper’s news chopper and travel abroad on dangerous assignments. She has an all-powerful press credential that gives her access to all sorts of government proceedings. She wears sensible vests and power skirts and traipses all over Gotham and Metropolis in heels way less practical than the ones Bryce Dallas Howard outran all those dinosaurs in.
So there’s a modicum of satisfaction to be had as Clark fails to be a more respectable journalist. There’s a running character motif about how newspaper editor Perry White assigns him fluff pieces on the shitty sports beat because no one at the Daily Planet takes the pathologically polite farm boy seriously as a journalist.
Which makes it all the more infuriating when the movie decides to take Lois down several pegs. For starters, it makes her utter the excruciating line “I’m not a lady, I’m a journalist” during an interview with a terrorist leader. But after that meeting goes FUBAR, she eats crow and apologizes for going into the desert to do her damn job as a journalist to regain the favor of a judgy government source. Later she makes what is literally the dumbest decision of the entire movie, just to set up yet another scene in which she must be saved.
Meanwhile, BvS’s hatred of journalism extends across the newsroom of the Daily Planet, whose pro-Superman bias is repeatedly slammed. Laurence Fishburne makes Perry White into a morally compromised newsman who’s only after great headlines. He spends most of his scenes barking about headlines at a female character named Jenny whose job title at the Daily Planet is itself rather opaque. Junior editor? Headline intern? Token female who exists only to add more estrogen to the cast quota?
But I digress. While Lois endures the most thankless jobs out of any main characters in BvS (doting girlfriend, bad reporter, princess to be saved), at least she’s an actual character. Which is more than you could say for the nameless woman we see in bed with Bruce Wayne, who is such a non-entity we never even see her face, much less learn who the hell she is. Even Martha Kent, Superman’s dear ol’ ma, is present in BvS to be—you guessed it!—saved. Only Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch gets to show any balls by challenging the twerpy Lex Luthor over his plot to obtain stores of Kryptonite.
All of this is to say that clearly, women are not the focus of BvS. So what does it say that the most wondrous of these women turns out to be more intriguing and watchable in her precious few moments of screen time than our two brooding, boring protagonists? It’s not like we need another movie about Batman or Superman or Spider-Man or Iron Man or Hulk or Thor or Captain America wrestling with their male identity issues, reluctant to take on the responsibility of using their extraordinary powers for good.
What it does promise is that when the dust clears on BvS, we might actually have something to look forward to in the Wonder Woman stand-alone set for 2017. Hell, even this summer’s Suicide Squad, with its motley crew of grimy maniacal heroes and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, seems far more interesting now through the haze of this weekend’s morose Batman and Superman bashfest. And as the rest of the DC cinematic universe takes shape, you can be sure WB execs are listening. If gazing at the future of DC through BvS goggles means we finally get the kind of female heroes we deserve, maybe all the self-indulgent man moping wasn’t completely for naught.