As seems typical, breaking news always seems to emerge a day after the official news article for this column. At any rate, the recent announcement by DC Entertainment was too big to let sit for a week. As has been known since the summer, Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment are set to release a still officially untitled sequel to this summer's "Man of Steel" which has tentatively been dubbed "Batman vs. Superman" (or "Superman vs. Batman") on July 17th, 2015. That would, by sheer coincidence, be the summer when Marvel Studios' "Avengers: Age of Ultron" debuts. Since the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne, rumors have swirled as to which characters and actors would be set to appear in a piece which is at least inspired by Frank Miller's 1980's epic "The Dark Knight Returns". Around mid-November, rumors were that not only were Warner Brothers brass looking to cast the role of Dick Grayson/Nightwing in the film, but also the role of Wonder Woman. Three actresses were up for the latter, and a report by the unofficial "Hollywood bible" website Variety confirmed it.
Gal Gabot, best known for appearing in three (out of six) of the "Fast & Furious" film series has been cast as Wonder Woman in this "world's finest" film. She was one of the actresses vying for the role last month according to previous rumors, and the actress herself confirmed this news via Twitter. The film will be directed by Zack Synder ("Man of Steel", "Suckerpunch", "Watchmen", "300") and will also see returning stars from "Man of Steel" reprise their roles - Henry Cavill as Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Ma Kent and Laurence Fishbourne as Perry White. Gabot's credits as an actress beyond the "Fast & Furious" films are slim, but she was a former model who represented her native country Israel in the 2004 "Miss Universe" pageant before becoming an actress. She's 29 years old, stands 5' 9'' and has had two years of training with the Israeli military; it was that training with guns and vehicles which led to her roles in the "Fast & Furious" series. "Fast & Furious 6" was one of the top grossing action films of the year.
Suffice it to say, this announcement has gotten a lot of attention. Some are optimistic of the potential, seeing it as similar to Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow who appeared in "Iron Man 2" before a larger role in "The Avengers" last summer (and a reportedly larger role in next year's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"). Others nitpick details such as her body type or how tall (or short) she is compared to the comic book Amazon - especially when paired with the 6' 1'' Henry Cavill and the 6' 4'' Ben Affleck. However, it is probable that Gabot will train for the role and various camera tricks often make actors taller than they are - the best recent example being "The Dark Knight Rises" where Tom Hardy was made to look as tall if not occasionally taller than Christian Bale's Batman, despite being shorter in real life. It will be the biggest role Gadot has had to date, in terms of exposure.
Perhaps the bigger concern, besides Zack Synder's less than consistent treatment of female characters in his films, is what this says about Warner Brothers' commitment to the character. There have been two attempts to return her to the small screen where she ruled in the 70's (as played by Lynda Carter), which resulted in an aborted pilot at NBC and a concept in "Amazon" with The CW which was put on "hiatus". Meanwhile, a TV show for "The Flash" has been quickly green lit at The CW after spinning off of the second season of "Arrow", star in place. The Variety article also mentioned that the Flash is expected to also be cast in "Batman vs. Superman", with Callan Mulvey ("Zero Dark Thirty") being courted to play the unnamed villain. Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment, has long claimed the heroine was "tricky" to translate to another medium. While Wonder Woman may not have been the first super-heroine to debut in North American comic books (a few predate her first appearance in December 1941), she is the most well known and recognizable ones around the world, as well as one who was never a distaff counterpart to a male hero nor best known for her exclusive role on a team. And after 75 years with dozens of film treatments for male heroes (both Batman and Superman have had almost ten between each other), the first big screen appearance of the world's best known independent super-heroine will be her appearing in a supporting role in a film about two male heroes. That says a lot about what WB thinks of her, and it isn't all positive.
Let the record show that the list of film adaptations of female comic book characters as the stars is a very slim one within the past 75 years of Hollywood. The first was "Supergirl" in 1984; next was "Tank Girl" in 1994, "Barb Wire" in 1996, "Ghost World" in 2001, "Catwoman" in 2004 and "Elektra" in 2005. In contrast, Batman alone has had six films since 1992. Female heroes, many executives claim, cannot sell despite dozens of examples to the contrary; those who do seem to grace the big screen wind up with low budgets, terrible scripts, often questionable casting choices and are all but predetermined to fail. Wonder Woman is a bigger name and icon than all of those six films combined and yet her first film appearance won't even be in "Superman vs. Batman"; it will be as one of many characters in "The Lego Movie" in February 2014. To add to the disconnect, this past Thanksgiving day weekend all but shattered any misconception of the ability of female led franchises to bring in boffo bucks at the box office in America and worldwide to any but the most stubborn and ancient of showmen. The second "Hunger Games" film has earned almost $277 million worldwide within its first five days, with Disney's "Frozen" beating out "Toy Story 2" for the biggest take for an animated film during Thanksgiving weekend with just under $94 million. Meanwhile, "Gravity", which starred Sandra Bullock, just opened in China and has earned a staggering $616 million worldwide. Add in the commercial success of the "Twilight", "Underworld", and "Resident Evil" film franchises (often lambasted but very profitable) and it exists as a sample of the audience a properly cast, budgeted, written, and performed "Wonder Woman" film could have. Instead Warner Brothers may be so desperate to lead from behind to assemble a "Justice League" film that it may have cast aside the last die it had over Marvel - ownership of the best known female hero in pop culture.
At any rate, Gal Gadot playing Wonder Woman as part of "Batman vs. Superman" will at best be a baby step towards the start of better things, or at worst be a well intended misfire of what could have been something truly great.