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With Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, the Female Superhero Strikes Back

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood October 31, 2014 at 1:55PM

Suddenly there's momentum for female superhero movies, thanks to Warner Bros. and DC breaking the ice with Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," followed by a standalone feature. And Marvel announced this week its own own female counter-attack by turning the spotlight on Captain Marvel, aka Major Carol Danvers (coming July 6, 2018). Who will Marvel cast as its first leading female superhero? Let the best action actress win.
Wonder Woman

This led to Sony entering the female fray with a Spider-Man spinoff scripted by Lisa Joy ("Burn Notice," "Pushing Daisies"). No confirmation yet if it's Spider-Woman, but it's a significant development. And this week industry leader Marvel, with plenty of female superheroes to choose from, finally announced its own own female counter-attack by turning the spotlight on Captain Marvel, aka Major Carol Danvers (coming July 6, 2018). Who will Marvel cast as its first leading female superhero? Let the best action actress win.

We still don't know the fate of a Marvel feature starring Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow (Nicole Perlman, who plucked "Guardians of the Galaxy" out of Marvel's bin of second tier comics, turned in a treatment in 2011). Fan pressure has been mounting ever since Black Widow become an important fixture of The Avengers. She's busting to break out on her own. The timing couldn't be better and there's no further proof of Johansson's star power after scoring a box office triumph with her badass, cerebral Lucy in Luc Besson's trippy sci-fi/actioner.

Marvel Comics started mixing things up when they announced lady Thor on "The View" after divulging that Falcon will become the first African American Captain America. But then there's always room for experimentation in the comic book world.

However, despite Marvel's impressive string of box office successes, there's definitely awareness of superhero fatigue and what better way to combat it then by turning to Wonder Woman? Fangirls have been impatiently waiting to embrace one of their own and Hall H went gaga over the first Xena-like Wonder Woman pose of Gadot. "Dawn of Justice," then "Justice League," and, finally, Wonder Woman will break out on her own. And that could be the tipping point.

Before then, though, Sony will have an indication of how much interest there is in tapping the female side of the Spidey universe (slated for release in 2017), in which casting will be key and freshness will be imperative after diminishing interest in Andrew Garfield's sophomore turn as the Marvel web-slinger. (Marc Webb's "The Amazing Spider-Man 3" has been pushed back to 2018.)

But, of course, there's already box office evidence of a growing female demo that's worth catering to: the phenomenal success of Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games," and the competitive surge in young adult novels that are consequently being gobbled up as potential franchise fodder by the studios. And Disney has had a perpetual Cheshire grin after "Frozen" took the world by storm with a double-dose of female empowerment, courtesy of Anna and Elsa. (Jennifer Lee is turning her attention to a film of Madeline L'Engle's trippy YA classic "A Wrinkle in Time.") And Angelina Jolie's "Maleficent" also dominated the summer box office.

Still, Marvel president/producer Kevin Feige, who already has a full slate through 2017, insists that it's a matter of timing in this all-important superhero chess game. True, there are bitter memories of Halle Berry's Catwoman and Jennifer Garner's Elektra, and the conventional wisdom is that guys usually aren't drawn to female superheroes that aren't part of a superstar ensemble, but with the right combination of elements, there's no reason to think that a gender balance of power shift can't be successfully achieved.

So why not a Black Widow movie or even a "Guardians of the Galaxy" spin-off with Zoe Saldana as the smart and deadly Gamora? The great thing about "Guardians" is that it veers off the beaten track and opens up a whole new Marvel world of possibilities. And audiences immediately embraced it. We're craving something new and unpredictable. Makes no difference if you suddenly put a female in charge of saving the universe as long as she's capable, compelling, and doesn't take herself too seriously. 

And why stop with Captain Marvel? Marvel has scads of established female superheroes without having to bring a female Thor to the big screen. Then the hammer would really come down hard on them for such gimmickry.

This article is related to: Marvel, Immersed In Movies, Women in Film, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy, Zoe Saldana, Scarlett Johansson, Scarlett Johansson

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.