Joss Whedon wants out of the superhero boys’ club
After The Avengers became the third-highest grossing film in modern cinema in 2012, Marvel handed him a bag of money and the gig directing the sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now, approaching the release of Ultron and probably also the end of his tenure at Marvel, Whedon sounds more than ready to go. Speaking to Empire, Whedon says, “I couldn’t imagine doing this again. It’s enormously hard.” Which is true—as difficult as making a movie can be, making a Marvel movie is that hard. So it’s understandable that after five years of being Marvel’s “creative director” Whedon is ready to move on. (He’s set to be replaced for Avengers: Infinity War by the Russo Brothers, who are currently helming the Captain America franchise.)
But there’s also a frustration with the genre itself. Whedon considers himself a staunch feminist and has been outspoken on female heroes in the past—he tried to get a Wonder Woman movie off the ground at Warner Brothers but it fell apart—and now, with one foot out the door, he’s not pulling any punches. “There is genuine, recalcitrant, intractable sexism, and old-fashioned misogyny that goes on,” he says. “You hear, ‘Oh, [female superheroes] don’t work because of these two bad ones that didn’t work eight years ago.’ There’s always an excuse.” He’s referring, of course, to Elektra and Catwoman, which still would have been awful movies even if they starred men.
Whedon is absolutely right. This is the attitude. Still, even now, post-Twilight, post-Hunger Games, the argument against female-driven genre movies is that once it didn’t work. Those movies were bad, therefore, all genre movies starring women must be bad. Even the producers who want to make female-lead projects get slowed down by the potential of having to deal with reactions such as these to the female-driven Ghostbusters movie. They talk about the projects in terms of hurdles that have to be overcome, of things that must be “proven” when a woman is at the center of the movie, but aren’t even factors for male stars.
But is it any really different than having to sell people a talking space raccoon? Or Ant-Man? Or even, way back when no one had heard of him and RDJ was still uninsurable, Iron Man? Marvel has made history selling the masses heroes they don’t know they love yet. And yet they act like bringing Captain Marvel to the big screen is some kind of Sisyphean task. To be fair—because this is always the tune folks at Marvel play for me when this comes up—their TV shows have been more diverse. But on the movie side—and there is still a hierarchy in play, sorry TV—we will be EIGHTEEN movies and TEN YEARS in before we get a female-lead Marvel movie.
And Whedon, clearly, has had enough of that feet-dragging boys’ club bullsh*t. “Marvel is in a position to make a statement,” he says, and a couple months after that remark, they did, announcing a Captain Marvel movie will be part of Phase 3. That came on the heels of Warner Brothers announcing a Wonder Woman movie, so it would seem that the studios are finally on board with making female-driven comic book movies.
Sort of. Maybe. I have no doubt we’ll see Captain Marvel in 2018 because Marvel doesn’t mess around once they announce something, but I highly doubt Wonder Woman hits its 2017 release target. WB hired top-notch TV director Michelle MacLaren for the gig, but they have no script and it isn’t actually greenlit. I’ve heard that they want to wait and see how people react to Gal Gadot in Superhero Face Punch before pulling the trigger on the Wonder Woman movie, so her inclusion on their superhero slate was purely for headlines, and not an actual commitment to make the movie.
And that’s what this issue needs—commitment. From the studios greenlighting the movies to the directors and writers making them, people have to commit to making genre movies more inclusive. And it has to be real commitment to making movies, not just a willingness to talk about it because the press looks good. Diversity is a commitment, and it’s long past time that these studios—especially Marvel, who could sell a tin can as a popular superhero—start committing to diversity.