Just an hour before my column about the ladies of the Marvel Studio movies went up, a column that in part lamented our lack of announcements on female-led films, we got an announcement about a female-led superhero film being developed.
But that announcement came not from Marvel Studios but Sony.
MUCH MORE RESTRAINED JOY. :(
It’s not rocket science. While Marvel Studios have been killing it with their films - and they seem to be getting better and better – The Avengers (2012), Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) are their three best films (except perhaps Iron Man (2008) which set us off on this incredible superhero resurgence in the first place) – Sony has been kind of the opposite of killing it.
Their Toby Maguire Spider-Man movies are salt to taste at best - to be honest they don’t work at all for me, largely because I don’t respond to Toby Maguire as Peter Parker or Kristen Dunst as Mary Jane and those are very big hurdles to overcome. I was in the camp that thought The Amazing Spider-Man, for all its many flaws, was a far superior attempt if only thanks to brilliant casting. Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May? SOLD. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are a nearly perfect Peter and Gwen and their chemistry is magnificent. But even with all those things in their favor, those are mediocre superhero movies at best when compared with what Marvel Studios is doing.
Anyway, I just really want Marvel Studios to get there first. They’re in no way infallible, but I certainly trust them far more at this point with film than Sony, Fox, or DC/WB. And it DOES matter how good the first new one out of the gate is. I don’t want it to matter, but it does. When these movies come out they need to be good or we’ll have ten more years of “Female superhero movies don’t work, just look at Elektra and Catwoman” which is as common a phrase as breathing is in superhero movie discussions. Only with a new flop they’d have even more titles to add to that list (we can already add Supergirl I suppose, but most people leave it out for whatever reason, age I guess).
So, yeah. Marvel Studios may not care about getting there first -- and when I say first, I mean first in this “new” superhero movie boom we find ourselves in – there have always been and likely always will be superhero movies – but since 2008’s Iron Man proved that you can make a great and hugely successful superhero movie even if the character isn’t named Batman – we’ve had more than 30 movies based off of comics properties since 2008 – that’s more than 30 movies in 6 years and many of them are breaking box office records AND getting critical acclaim and fan approval. Those successes have spawned a potential superhero littered future with another 30 dates announced for just Marvel and DC properties through 2020! Anyway, now that we’ve clarified “first,” yes, Marvel Studios seems to not care about getting there first and it IS smart of them to care more about getting it right than getting there first. But I dunno, if I’m Marvel I see that announcement from Sony and it lights a damn fire under me. It's a challenge. I WANT to get there first. In fact, I'd move heaven and earth to make sure we got there first AND right. Those two things don’t have to be exclusive of one another. And getting there first and doing it right ensures the health and well-being of the superhero industry in general and female led films specifically, whereas letting someone else get there first and do it wrong…well, that’s not good for anyone.
In the meantime, as we wait for Marvel Studios to get their ducks in a row, who could the Sony female-led Spider Universe movie be? Let’s discuss!
Felicia Hardy is perhaps the most obvious option. She’s a sexy thief cat character (which we all know is just the kind of thing Hollywood loves. Cue: EYEROLL). You add to that a Felicia Hardy cameo in the last Amazing Spider-Man movie and it almost feels like they’ve already made up their mind. But I really hope they don’t do this. And here’s why:
#1. It’s Sony. If it was Marvel Studios I’d be more willing to see them give it a try. They’ve proven they can do the skintight black bodysuit thing in a tasteful and practical way (with Black Widow). And one of the best things about Felicia Hardy is her sense of humor, she’s not Deadpool-funny, but she’s a freewheeling wisecracking chick, and Marvel Studios has proven they know how to do superhero comedy better than anyone else. With some small exceptions, this is not Sony’s strength.
#2. We’ve seen this already. Black Cat can easily get lost in all the Catwoman that’s already out there and might even be confusing to non-comics fans. Ironically, even though we’re pitifully low on superpowered female characters, the ONE thing we’re already full up on are versions of the “sexy cat burglar anti-heroine.” Even if those characters aren’t Felicia Hardy, it will be hard to break new ground here. And you’re going to be chasing ghosts – the ghosts of awful shit like Halle Berry’s Catwoman (2004) and the ghosts of great shit like Michelle Pfeiffer's Batman Returns (1992) Catwoman and Anne Hathaway’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Catwoman. It's harder to find a win here as you're going to be up against both the greatest stuff and the worst stuff. Does a film like this really need MORE challenges?
#3. It’s just REALLY obvious and tired. While I like Felicia Hardy/Black Cat as a character, it just feels annoying and obvious that the “first” female led superhero film out of the gate would be a sexy cat burglar anti-heroine – again. That’s almost exactly what we got the last time film studios bit the bullet and tried the “female led superhero film” - in the form of 2004’s atrocious Catwoman. It would be nice for film audiences to see a lady with more legitimate superpowers on the screen – superpowers that don’t lean heavily on sex appeal, training and obscure "luck" powers. Not every lady has to be a brutal borderline femme fatale, right? Right? God. We're doomed.
#4. White Hair. I don’t think this needs explanation so much as a “See: Storm and Quicksilver” note. For whatever reason, the white hair thing, very popular in comics, translates TERRIBLY to film. They keep trying and we keep getting EPIC failure.
Sidebar: has any artist ever drawn a cover with Felicia’s costume not cut down to insane levels of cleavage? If they have the Internet has not been informed of this fact. : /
To be honest, this would be great. Though she’s not my personal pick, it would be easy to get behind this choice. First, it’s a real departure from all the “spider stuff” so it doesn’t feel derivative but you can easily tie her to the Spider characters and world. Secondly, She’s a great character that’s also on the young side (and with the bonus of not being called “girl”) and so she might appeal to young female audiences in a nice role-model/superhero capacity. Imagine young girls taking up the Firestar banner the way they’ve taken up the Katniss Everdeen banner. Also, unlike many women on the list she’s not overtly sexual, which is good in a few ways including keeping the rating lower and more accessible to young audiences.
Firestar is also not a damn anti-heroine. I LOVE a good anti-heroine, they are some of my favorite characters, but the obsession with women as anti-heroine/femme fatale is getting really old. Look at the list of male superhero movies -- Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Superman, Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Green Lantern, X-Men, Fantastic Four, etc. Except the GotG there’s not a real anti-hero among them. They are dyed in the wool heroes. And that’s what Firestar is too. It would be nice to see some of that for the ladies instead of a sexy femme fatale with questionable allegiances rolled out over and over again. See: Catwoman and Elektra and their murky ideals/alliances/motives – we’ve already seen this a lot. Let’s see something else!
All that said, I suppose Firestar may not have the preexisting audience needed to get people pumped? I don’t know? With how small comic book audiences are these days compared to movie audiences it doesn’t really seem like it should matter, but I suspect everything matters at least a little.
Some of the same reasons why this is a rough idea for Black Cat apply here, most notably the white hair thing and the overtly sexy thing.
Again, if this was Marvel Studios, after seeing GotG I’d say go for it. Make an awesome R-rated Silver Sable mercenary movie and TAKE MY MONEY. Silver Sable is a great character, but getting the tone right is going to be tough and this is not Sony’s strength.
Sable is again another overtly sexy character. There’s nothing wrong with that, but is that the best way to start off? As always this is a “context is king” argument. If there were other lady superheroes already out there headlining their own films then a super sexy badass would be a welcome addition to the tapestry, but there’s not, there’s basically nothing right now and so is that the best way to begin? We have enough male-led superhero films that it’s easy to understand that male heroes come in all kinds - nerdy spider-kids, billionaires that build armor, billionaires that build bat costumes, mythical gods, impossibly handsome human-looking aliens, cocky pilots, old-fashioned super soldier war heroes frozen in time, space pirates, etc., but if the only major headlining female character is a super sexy anti-heroine (again)? WELL, OF COURSE SHE IS! At the end of the day, it’s just not the best idea. It can work, but it adds a whole other set of challenges we just don’t need.
And if you want to think about what HAS already come before prior to our new boom then again you're faced with Catwoman who was also a super sexy anti-heroine and Elektra who was you guessed it…also a super sexy anti-heroine.
There’s more than just that out there, right?
Perhaps even more frustrating is that, though Marvel Studios has done great work with Black Widow as a character that technically doesn't have super powers and is just in peak physical condition and exceptionally well-trained, etc., it would really be nice to see a heroine with some "legit super powers." Being an awesome "technically powerless badass" ala Batman is not a bad thing, but really, Black Widow, Catwoman, Elektra three of the biggest superheroines in film thus far are all version of the "technically powerless" female character that is also a superhero (or anti-hero)...let's get us a lady with some LEGIT SUPERPOWERS. Seriously. What's the hold up here?
I kind of hate the idea that the first one of these “new” comic book based female-led films would be not only technically derivative of a male property but also have GIRL attached to it. I can live with the derivative thing, but that plus the GIRL aspect is pretty frustrating…it’s not like we’ve all been laying out money to see Spider-BOY.
Peter’s daughter May Day Parker is a possibility as she has a nice fan base and she’s a good character, but I think that’s a rough leap for movie audiences. Daughter of Peter Parker is pretty confusing.
However, Sony could solve the sticky potential ownership problem of a Jessica Drew Spider-Woman (no pun intended) AND the lack of female led films AND the lack of diversity in these roles in one fell swoop by using Spider-Girl Anya Corazon.
Corazon also happens to be a fantastic character. She didn’t always work for me, but any doubts I had were easily erased by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Warren Ellis’s whip smart and hilarious take on her in Avengers Assemble. Spider-Girl Anya is my second runner up pick. Just look at this panel to see the tiniest taste of why:
If you want to avoid the Spider-GIRL problem you naturally go with Spider-Woman…except…
Oh, what a tangled web (sorry! More puns!) This is one of those legal tangles that nobody seems to really know the answer to (well, at least not anyone that’s talking). Seriously, I asked the Internet and it DOES NOT KNOW.
In a nutshell, like the odd quagmire that is Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch and who owns them for film Marvel Studios or Fox – Spider-Man and related characters are owned by Sony…but Spider-Woman (the Jessica Drew version – which is definitely the most widely known in comics) is not really a Spider-Man character, she’s basically an Avenger character (which obviously Marvel Studios own) who happens to have a Spider-based name. Her costume is totally different and she really has no connection to Peter Parker or the Spider-Man Universe. She just has a spider-name and powers. She's probably not owned by Sony. Sony could make an argument for her, but it seems like a nightmare best avoided.
Julia Carpenter and Mattie Franklin seem like they likely ARE Spider-Man characters owned by Sony since they wore versions of Peter’s costume and were more closely tied to that universe. I’m not that familiar with either Carpenter or Franklin (though the design for Franklin is all caps AWFUL, so let’s hope they stay away from that), so I have no real interest in either of them. They're pretty minor characters in the scope of things. When most people think of Spider-Woman it’s Jessica Drew they think of, it certainly is who I think of.
But she’s probably off limits. So what do you do?
Well, you think outside the box and maximize all your best assets and go with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey as Spider-Woman. It’s not that hard to resurrect her from the dead in some Spider-y way that ends up with her having Spider superpowers. And comics have actually paved the way a bit here as Gwen Stacey is debuting in Marvel’s “Spider-Verse” shortly as an alt reality Spider-Woman. She even has an utterly fantastic costume (see above by Chris Samnee and colorist Jordie Bellaire).
If for any annoying legal reasons you can’t call her Spider-Woman (which I think you probably can especially since Marvel has now actually created a Spider-Universe character that is exactly that character) but if for some reason you can’t use the name then you call her Spider or The Spider and you put her in the incredible Samnee outfit with a few film tweaks and well…you’re done.
It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to go out on a limb to bet on bankable star Emma Stone plus the popularity of her version of Gwen Stacy plus general Spider-Man popularity, right? A female led superhero film is gonna be some level of risk no matter what, so why not take all these things that already work and make something wonderful and new?
Anyway, I would THROW ALL MY MONEY at that movie. Even if they screw it up, which let’s face it, it’s Sony and superheroes, the odds are reasonable they will screw it up, it would still be pretty exciting to see.
So. That’s what I got. What about you guys? Thoughts? Comments? I’m sure you have them!
Kelly Thompson is a freelance writer living in Manhattan. She is the author of the superhero novel THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING recently optioned to become a film, and her new novel STORYKILLER is out now. You can find Kelly all over the place, but twitter may be the easiest: @79semifinalist