Lois Lane and the Case for the Female Superhero Movie

With Amy Adams' incarnation of Lois Lane in Man of Steel we finally get an attempt to characterize our heroine as a modern shit-talking, hard-drinking, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. The early glimpses of Lois are not perfect, but they show us why more-than-ever we need a female superhero.

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Just moments after we first meet Amy Adams' incarnation of Lois Lane in Man of Steel she looks up at Christopher Meloni's colonel and says, as a transition, "if we're done measuring dicks..." Even in this oh-so-serious superhero movie, it comes as a shock: finally an attempt to characterize our heroine as a modern shit-talking, hard-drinking, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. But as the movie goes on that version of Lois deflates. She's relegated to minor heroics, aided by Superman's daddy Jor-El, and make out scenes with the hero. That's not entirely the fault of the character. Everyone in this movie gets dwarfed as the buildings start to fall. The early glimpses of Lois are not perfect, but they show us why more-than-ever we need a female superhero.

The superhero movie market is intensely saturated these days with Marvel and now DC embarking on long-term franchise plans. But as of yet, there are no concrete plans for either of those companies to lead with a woman. Joss Whedon, Marvel man and Avengers director has acknowledged the disparity. He, if anyone, should. He created Buffy, a tough, intelligent, and, yes, hot female superhero. The type of female superhero we'd love to see take over the big screen. He told Marlow Stern of The Daily Beast how angry the lack of women makes him, even though a character like Katniss in The Hunger Games series gave him hope: "Toymakers will tell you they won’t sell enough, and movie people will point to the two terrible superheroine movies that were made and say, You see? It can’t be done. It’s stupid, and I’m hoping The Hunger Games will lead to a paradigm shift. It’s frustrating to me that I don’t see anybody developing one of these movies. It actually pisses me off." 

But even Whedon, admits that it's hard. At a recent Q&A someone in the audience asked Whedon if he was going to be adding more female Avengers, who currently have Black Widow as the only female in their ranks. Whedon, who has mentioned that he's adding another female Avenger the Scarlet Witch to the follow up film, said: "We do need to even it out a little bit," but added that that can't be accomplished in one movie. In fact it's not easy to accomplish at all. Just look at the case of Wonder Woman. Even Whedon failed at making a Wonder Woman film in 2007. A David E. Kelley Wonder Woman pilot for NBC in 2011 is now a joke, and a CW Wonder Woman prequel pilot has been was recently given a new writer. Warner Bros. reportedly has a Wonder Woman script in the works as part of their DC franchise. 

DC's Lois in Man of Steel's certainly proves frustrating. Sure, Lois proves her shoe-leather work tracking down Clark Kent and figuring out Superman's identity before he even joins the Daily Planet staff, but that robs her of the opportunity to feel inherently superior to Clark Kent's newspaper reporter as Margot Kidder's Lois does in the 1978 film. Though Nathalie Atkinson of the National Post explained how the comic book series Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane was reductive, on screen the character has often been strong, likened to characters played by Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell. At times even the Lois that appeared in the first episode of the early 1950s television show seemed to have more agency that Amy Adams'. Why, for instance, does Adams' intelligent Lois, who has been embedded, wear towering heels when she walks onto Zod's spaceship? But as not-quite-there as it is, there at least seems to be a concerted effort, if not a wholly successful one, in this summer's testosterone-laden films, to make our heroines more than just pretty faces. And our villains. Alyssa Rosenberg points out on Twitter that Zod's evil Kryptonian warrior Faora is pretty great: "Don't tell me you can't give me a female superhero who will be a thrill to watch in fights when Faora's on the big screen." Even Pepper Potts finally got the chance to kick some butt and save her superhero boyfriend, doing more than manage Tony Stark's business affairs in Iron Man 3. That said, she did have to go through a classic damsel in distress situation, mind you. 

Now might in fact be the perfect time to bring a female superhero—leading her own film—into one of these worlds. Male-centric movies are overwhelming. Just look at the calculations NPR's Linda Holmes did on Twitter this morning: "Thoughts on a Friday: There is a 91 percent chance that a movie showing within 10 miles of my house today is of a movie about a man or men." But perhaps superheroes can take a page from the comedy book. Bridesmaids came at a time when it felt like Hangover and Apatow-esque dude humor was going to reign triumphant and proved that girls could do it just as well on screen and at the box office.  Obviously the stakes are different here. Bridesmaids had a production budget of $32.5 millionMan of Steel had one of $225 million. Taking a chance on a female-driven superhero movie would be a big risk. But it's one worth taking.

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