This past weekend at Comic-Con, Warner Bros. released the first trailer for Wonder Woman, and, refreshingly, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. This was far from a guaranteed reaction. Wonder Woman directly ties into the widely-derided Batman v Superman, and the internet has been less than kind to other female-led blockbusters (to put it very lightly). But hey, what wasn’t to like? Gal Gadot cuts a badass figure as Wonder Woman, the action is vibrant and exciting, and the trailer featured something that’s become something of a rarity in Hollywood big action tentpoles – a touch of romance.
Actually, more than a touch. The trailer begins with Diana/Wonder Woman meeting love interest Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) for the first time, and ends with them sharing some affectionate banter. Sure, there’s also plenty of explosive action to be had, but the scenes between Diana and Steve as they dance, discuss their past, and negotiate the boundaries of their relationship give the trailer its spine. The message is loud and clear – there’s going to be some serious mushy stuff in his movie. And you know what? That’s a great thing.
So many recent blockbusters have been strangely chaste affairs, with sex only being broached via winking jokes or juvenile flirting. Jurassic World tries to set Chris Pratt up as the rogue-ish charmer, but leaves him and Bryce Dallas Howard hanging at the end. The new Ghostbusters strips away the rom-com elements at the heart of the original movies in favor of Kristen Wiig playing the lovestruck middle-schooler. The Avengers and Captain America movies largely send the love interests to a desert island, and force Scarlett Johansson into the role of scolding den mother. And don’t even get me started on Star Wars: The Force Awakens – the makers of that movie have done backflips to dispel the notion that anybody in the movie might be romantically interested in each other. Finn and Rey? Finn and Poe? Uh, BB-8 and R2-D2? Sorry, folks. If there’s any love coming to a galaxy far, far away, Disney doesn’t want to talk about it.
Why are movie studios suddenly so scared of the touchy-feely stuff? It’s hard to say. Is a scene that doesn’t involve exploding cars, transforming robots or collapsing skyscrapers just considered wasted screen time now? Is there some misguided belief that romance is out of date? That being progressive requires sex be swept under the carpet and all female characters remain as celibate as they are strong? Whatever the reason, it’s pretty safe to say most moviegoers, regardless of gender or age, continue to be pretty keenly interested in love, romance, and sex. If Hollywood thinks romance turns audiences off, they’re either deeply confused or doing it wrong.
Of course, Jurassic World and Captain America: Civil War were still hugely successful – dinosaurs and a dozen superheroes beating on each other will do that – but we’ve also seen some recent sleeper hits that succeeded largely because they dared to insert romance back into Hollywood’s current slate of sexless blockbusters. Pre-release hype giddily focused on Deadpool‘s R-rated violence and raunch, but audiences and critics responded to the movie’s unexpectedly sincere romantic core. Creed revived the Rocky franchise by going back to the star-crossed lovers setup that made the original movie a hit. The Fast and Furious movies take their romances (and bromances) surprisingly seriously. Audiences want deeper, more substantial relationships between characters – again, just look at how desperate Star Wars fans are to ship any and everybody from The Force Awakens.
If Wonder Woman truly embraces the relationship between Diana and Steve (and it looks like the movie will), it has a great shot at being a box office smash. And no, not because “women like kissy stuff” and thus will be more likely to see the movie. We may be reluctant to admit it, but most guys like romance too. Certainly plenty of men enjoyed Deadpool and Creed. This is a universal thing — people want to watch heroes who feel and act the same way they do.
Aside from that basic truth, Wonder Woman‘s romance has the potential to be a cinematic breath of fresh air. Diana is no damsel to be rescued or won. She’s pretty clearly the dominant one in her relationship. That said, Steve needn’t be the grovelling buffoon either. I mean, why would a demigoddess be interested in that? When done right, the Diana/Steve relationship is about a powerful woman allowing herself to be vulnerable, and a dude with a big personality checking his ego to be with someone who could crush him like a Dixie cup. It’s the story of two strong, capable people taking risks to make that connection, which isn’t something you see in all that many movies, particularly mainstream summer fare. Of course, just because a romantic scenario is a rarity in theaters doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen all the time in real life. Hopefully Wonder Woman can open the door a crack for other unconventional romantic dynamics and pairings.
Wonder Woman is poised to break plenty of new ground. It’s the first major superhero movie to star a woman, and one of the few to be directed by one. That’s big, and deserves to be the lede story. But hopefully Wonder Woman can change the blockbuster movie scene in more subtle ways as well. If the movie can usher in an era of female-led superhero movies, and help Hollywood get over its phobia of romance and real human emotions, well, that would be truly wonderful.