When it comes to their cinematic rivalry, Marvel Studios has taken a clear lead over Warner Bros./DC Films, in both box-office numbers and critical reception. To date, Marvel has 13 films under its belt — a mix of origin stories, team-ups and sequels. Warner Bros., on the other hand, has released just three films under its DC Films banner — one origin story, one versus film, and one team-up — none of which has been widely praised by critics or fans.
Where Warner Bros. has pulled ahead of Marvel, however, is with “Wonder Woman,” the studios’ first female-led solo film (let’s not talk about “Catwoman”), directed by Patty Jenkins, who also happens to be a woman. Marvel, on the other hand, won’t be crossing into that territory until 2019 with “Captain Marvel,” almost 10 years after the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Warner Bros. had another opportunity to surpass Marvel by hiring a woman to direct a second DC Films project, the newly announced “Gotham City Sirens,” which will showcase a team of female characters, led by Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. But while “Gotham City Sirens” will be written and produced by a team of women — Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Robbie, respectively — it feels like the studio missed opportunity by not hiring a female director. Warner Bros. announced this week that the film will be helmed by “Suicide Squad” director David Ayer. By kicking off a female franchise film with a male director, the studio took two steps forward, and then one step back.
Published by DC Comics from 2009 to 2011, “Gotham City Sirens” was a comic book that starred Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Catwoman as a team of female antiheroes who solved crimes and fought various villains in Gotham City. The adaptation was conceptualized by Robbie, who pitched it to Warner Bros. before “Suicide Squad” hit theaters. Now, “Sirens” will be the first “Suicide Squad” spinoff, although Warner Bros. is looking at a standalone Deadshot film, as well as a “Suicide Squad” sequel.
The selection of Ayer actually makes sense in a lot of ways. As the writer and director of “Suicide Squad,” he helped to develop the DC Extended Universe version of Harley Quinn as a memorable and lovable, yet reluctant, hero. Ayer achieved box-office success, with “Suicide Squad” earning $745.6 million worldwide. What’s interesting about the hiring of Ayer for “Sirens” is that the studio is already looking as a “Suicide Squad’ sequel. What does that say about the future of a potential “Suicide Squad 2” if its director is moving on to a different ensemble film? Would Ayer be better suited as an executive producer of the spinoff, so he could focus his attention on “Suicide Squad’s” direct sequel?
The female-led “Sirens” feels outside of the filmmaker’s wheelhouse. Ayer thrives in atmospheres of war, typically with male casts. Prior to “Suicide Squad,” Ayer directed “Fury” and “End of Watch,” both of which delivered incredibly dark and gritty looks at how men deal with the traumas of war. While that tone worked for the male characters in “Suicide Squad,” it didn’t fit the female characters quite as well. Katana, a warrior by nature, had almost no screen time, and Harley, although well-written, was still presented as eye candy, especially in those damn booty shorts. Even Diablo’s wife was relegated to being a piece of ass he could smack before she was obliterated by a fire he created. Does that kind of callous female attention work in a war movie? Possibly, with the women being secondary characters, objects for the male characters to ogle or attempt to sleep with (as in “Fury”). Of the “Squad” spinoffs, “Deadshot” would be such a no-brainer fit for Ayer’s style and tone. But with “Gotham City Sirens” focusing on women, their struggles and their experiences, Ayer’s involvement raises some red flags.
But if not Ayer, who is suited to direct “Gotham City Sirens?” There are plenty of female directors qualified to handle an all-female superhero ensemble. Warner Bros. has already shown its commitment to taking risks on female directors, bringing on Jenkins to direct “Wonder Woman,” despite previously only working on television and smaller-budget films, like the critically acclaimed “Monster.” So often female directors are labeled “inexperienced” or “unqualified,” even when they have just as much experience as their male contemporaries who are hired for big-budget films. For example, Marvel has repeatedly hired unexpected directors to helm its films — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” directors Joe and Anthony Russo’s previous credits consisted mainly of episodes of “Community” and “Arrested Development,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn had previously made his name on television and low-budget horror films like “Slither.”
While studios often consider budget experience when hiring directors, they should be looking at a filmmaker’s passion for source material — such as comic books — and their experience telling similar stories. There are plenty of women who are known for both of these qualities, and budget experience, to boot. Rachel Talalay, who recently directed episodes of “Sherlock,” “Doctor Who” and the DC Comics-based shows “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “Arrow” and “Legends of Tomorrow.” Lexi Alexander is another well-qualified director, having delivered the gritty “Punisher: War Zone,” and episodes of “Arrow” and “Supergirl.” Other recognizable directors whom studios should be courting include, but aren’t limited to, Sofia Coppola (“The Virgin Suicides”), Jodie Foster (“Money Monster”), Amy Heckerling (“Clueless”), Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”), Anna Foerster (“Underworld: Blood Wars,”) and the Soska Sisters (“See No Evil 2”).
While Ayer would be an undeniable asset as an executive producer, a story this focused on women should be directed by any one of the qualified women in Hollywood. With Robbie executive producing and starring, Robertson-Dworet writing, and a supporting cast of women portraying Gotham’s sharpest female villains, DC could stride past Marvel with the superhero world’s first all-female ensemble film.
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