‘Wonder Woman' & 'Captain Marvel' Are Experiencing Problems That Might Make You Worry About Female Superhero Films

It should say something — something unnerving, no less — about just how dire the state of female superhero cinema seems to be that all the progress we've made seems to derail when one piece of bad news goes public. We could not help but worry about Wonder Woman as a result of the recent departure of director Michelle MacLaren. Even with Patty Jenkins set to direct Wonder Woman in MacLaren's absence, people are still worried.

Extending beyond the single picture, however, we're still worried over big screen superheroinism in general. Making up half of the list of female-led comic book flicks on the docket — and the more palpable half at that, with Captain Marvel having yet to seize any discernible form — Wonder Woman has become an all-eggs-in-one-basket kind of prospect. Every bit of information we can stand to consume about the movie is treated with double the gravity, building or breaking hope for what has taken way practically as its own sub-genre.

In this light, we now set concentration on Jenkins, honing in on the bounties of her 2003 biographical thriller Monster and small collection of television credits. Curiously, Jenkins has endured these very same difficulties of the system that seemed to have caused MacLaren to Wonder Woman : hired as the original director for Thor: The Dark World, Jenkins was ultimately replaced in favor of Game of Thrones helmer Alan Taylor.

Shakeups like these are hardly without their precedent in Hollywood. Last year, news blazed about Edgar Wright’s defection from the Marvel project Ant-Man , prompting an upped volume in the fan community’s lamentation of the studio’s dedication to aesthetic hegemony. As loud as the cries for Wright’s vision were, the circumstance didn’t seem quite as drastic as that which had befallen Jenkins a few years prior, or that would come to ensnare MacLaren this past week. The genre’s inability to “make it work” with a woman behind the wheel speaks to bigger problems than simple insularity of cinematic style.

Jenkins’ hire for Wonder Woman, a quick address of the MacLaren wound, offers its own claims to optimism. Her creativity on Monster and functional capability across the small screen genres of comedy, mystery, and thriller are nothing to cast aside; she doesn’t have MacLaren’s résumé, but that shouldn’t necessarily stamp her as an unworthy successor. The worry is that her minimal feature experience might be exactly why Warner Bros. chose her for the project; without an established authorship of her own, Jenkins might prove an amenable subject for franchise manhandling, turning out a product that belongs more to an endless supply of studio notes than her own creative prowess.

Captain Marvel, still without a director, suggests disparate issues. Though a long way out from its intended 2018 release, the film has exhibited characteristics that might be read (perhaps misread) as studio ambivalence, from the shafting of a character cameo in the forthcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, to the continued absence of a central star — especially in light of Chadwick Boseman’s positioning at the head of Black Panther, another 2018 release — to the potential hiring of the yet untested Meg LeFauve as a co-writer, alongside Nicole Perlman, co-writer of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Could LeFauve and Perlman be exactly the fresh voices Captain Marvel needs to work as an inventive new direction for the studio? Of course. Could they also be the right combination of acceptably decorated (LeFauve’s Inside Out will show off her skills later this year) but small enough to override with the sort of Joss Whedon rewrites Marvel employed on Thor 2? Likewise believable.

The suggestion of Marvel’s interest in a heavy hand over the creative forces behind Captain Marvel goes out the window when you lend credence the rumors that Disney is courting Angelina Jolie to direct Captain Marvel. Granted, she’s more of a name than an auteur — her two pictures to date, The Land of Blood and Honey and Unbroken, haven’t exactly exhibited much talent behind the camera — but one with enough of a dominating identity as to evade the threat that DC might be casting over Jenkins, or that Marvel has cast over its many non-Whedon directors to date.

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All this considered, it’s easy to get a little dismayed over the future of female-led and female-directed superhero movies. We were invested in the optimism of a MacLaren-helmed Wonder Woman, but saw that booted from view just when we were ready to accept that anything in the Man of Steel franchise might be watchable. We were excited to see Captain Marvel make her first appearance in Age of Ultron, hoping that such a turn might suggest Marvel’s escalating investment in the character.

But although there’s plenty to be jostled about, there’s just as much calling for positivity: freedom for MacLaren to pursue a project worthy of her bona fide innovation (and free of the studio sledgehammer), another turn from half of the team who wrote the daffy and enjoyable Guardians script, and — possibly — an actually enjoyable movie from Angelina Jolie. Anything could happen.

Images: Warner Bros.; Disney; Marvel Comics; Getty