Recently, I saw Wonder Woman, the new entry in the D.C. Expanded Universe, and a movie that literally everyone has been talking about. I really enjoyed it, especially in comparison to the DCEU’s previous films, so much so that I was worried for a moment that maybe all of my praise was coming exclusively from that. After some careful deliberation, however, I came to the conclusion that I did like Wonder Woman on its own merits. I don’t intend to write about the film itself at length (there’s tons of women out there who are covering the main talking points better than I ever could), so instead I wanted to talk about Wonder Woman in relation to something that scares me: expectations.
I strongly believe in the importance of supporting films that are directed by women, particularly women of color, due to the way that systemic sexism and racism in the film industry keep women from reaching creative and financial peaks. Unfortunately, many films directed by women don’t get as much of a marketing push as they should, so I’m going to make a list of promising narrative feature films that are getting released sometime this year either at a festival or in a wider release, or that are likely to be released this year, organized by genre.
[WARNING: Contains spoilers for both Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Moana. You’ve been warned.]
In the past week, I saw two very different Disney-owned properties. On one hand, there was a family-friendly animated musical adventure loosely based on Pacific Islander folklore; and on the other, there was a spinoff to one of the most successful franchises ever that focused on war and gritty reality IN SPACE and was decidedly not for children. Oddly enough, I found a lot of bizarre similarities in both of them. Not necessarily in story or themes, but how they fit into 2016’s studio filmmaking climate and Disney’s modern branding.
As I have often complained, 2016 was an absolutely hideous year for studio films. Many were outright disasters of construction and born of either incompetence or choking on ambition (e.g. Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, Warcraft, Alice Through the Looking Glass) and the ones that weren’t were either bland and dull (e.g. The Legend of Tarzan, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) or stunk of a particularly noxious white cishet male cult of personality (e.g. Sausage Party, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). So really, it was less a search for studio films that were good and more one for films that kept their heads above water well enough that they weren’t considered utter garbage.
Neither Moana nor Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a particularly great film; both have crippling flaws that keep me from wholeheartedly embracing their good qualities. On the other hand, they still manage to be relatively functional on a film level, so they were rewarded with massive box office grosses and effusive praise. Okay, that’s mean, but my question remains as to why we continue to reward mediocrity rather than showcase greatness, and both of these films are emblematic of trends in studio filmmaking that have been particularly prominent this year.