The last week of film was, admittingly, a pretty low-key one. There weren’t a slew of major releases into theaters with most talk, if any, was set on discussing movies that could wind up winning major awards. While there wasn’t much discussion to be had about the current crop of features, there was a huge amount of talk about what was coming next, specifically from Marvel and DC.
DC has been producing several major hits in recent years, either critically or commercially, while Marvel is… well Marvel. But in the span of five days, both franchises decided to release their first looks at their respective upcoming, female-led superhero movie. DC showed off Wonder Woman 1984 after years of anticipation, while Marvel strutted out Black Widow for MCU fans to gorge on.
Both trailers have been viewed millions of times, with the current Youtube totals for Black Widow hitting a little north of 36 million views as of this writing, while Wonder Woman 1984 has about 15 million (it’s important to note that Marvel released their trailer December 2 while DC released their December 7). The normal circles have been analyzing these trailers trying to piece together all of the little continuity nods they make, as they do, but one thing stood out to me after watching both trailers back to back; they’re the same movie.
The more I thought about it, the more that I realized that both trailers have the same initial premise, nearly the exact same set-up, with their current worth in their respective universe are up in the air. Structurally, they’re identical. Yet the more I thought about these trailers and rewatched them a handful of times just to solidify my thoughts, I do think that one trailer is far superior to the other.
To better illustrate my point that these two trailers, as well as the premise of their movies, are identical, let’s break them down first. Each movie takes place sometime in the past before the most recent point in their respective cinematic universe. Our heroines, who are the leading feminist icon in their respective shared-universe, have to encounter some respective person from their past that they have a deep connection with, whether it be a lover or an old friend. Along the way, a shadowy political force is developing some scheme that will drag our heroine into the action, with each trailer culminating in a large set-piece. There’s no word on how much impact, if any, these movies will have on their respective cinematic universes, due to Black Widow’s sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame and DC’s seeming abandonment of the DCEU shared continuity approach of their films.
You can actually do a study on how these trailers aren’t just similar to each other, but how pretty much all major Hollywood trailers follow the same approach, but that’s an entirely different topic for another day. It can’t be a coincidence that Marvel just happened to release a Black Widow trailer mere days before Wonder Woman 1984 was set to make its world debut at CCXP. Unfortunately for Marvel, I don’t think their bet paid off as well as they thought it would.
After watching the Black Widow trailer, the prevailing thought that comes to mind is “familiar.” It’s a spy thriller, almost in the same vein as Atomic Blonde at times, but it just feels so very Marvel. After watching Endgame, fans were left scratching their heads why Phase 4 of the MCU would be led not by a new hero or a character with a burgeoning fanbase, but with Black Widow. Not to say that Black Widow isn’t popular, but her story has ended. Unless death means nothing in the MCU, her character arc has come to an end. So the trailer not only had to sell unsure audiences, myself included, why we should care about Black Widow, but also had to firmly declare that just because the Infinity Saga has closed that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still relevant. Unfortunately, Black Widow didn’t accomplish this and only serves to reinstill my fears going forward.
Compare this to Wonder Woman 1984’s trailer. Like Black Widow, it had to justify its own existence because the DCEU has become a radically different place in the two years since the original Wonder Woman entered theaters. They’re no longer beholden to continuity and are willing to experiment more with their properties, but Wonder Woman 1984 is a direct continuation of that original DCEU story just by mere association. So why should we care about a midquel to a story where not even the company producing it cares that much about the narrative connection between installments?
Wonder Woman 1984’s answer is to focus on the character relationships as well as lean hard into that strong fanbase the original movie made. Let’s face facts, while Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow debuted almost a full decade before Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, it was Gadot who was starring in the first modern blockbuster superhero feature film whose selling point was the fact that it was starring a woman and had a female director. Wonder Woman was a major milestone for feminist representation in film. Black Widow, for the entirety of the MCU’s lifespan, has always been a supporting character, never a lead. To put it another way, Wonder Woman matters more than Black Widow does in the pop culture landscape.
The new Wonder Woman 1984 trailer has spectacle to stand out from the crowd. It has a bright color palette, it has some bound to be iconic imagery with Wonder Woman lassoing lightning and a general sense of style that makes it stand out from the crowd. On the other end of the spectrum, Black Widow has a very muted color palette with several very formulaic sequences, topped off with a growing realization that if you removed the Marvel tag from the movie, it could be any cheap spy-thriller with a larger than average budget. The aesthetic isn’t uncommon with MCU movies, I would argue that Civil War and Endgame both adopted that bleak color palette, but those were massive crossovers where the push wasn’t based on themes and ideas, but rather watching a bunch of heroes get together to fight or beat up a bad guy. Black Widow doesn’t have that and without that immediate hook, it feels like a movie created for the laziest reasons possible; to try and replicate Wonder Woman’s success critically and commercially.
Now, this isn’t to say that the quality of their movies is set in stone. Black Widow may be extremely popular and turn out to be one of the best MCU movies ever made. On the flipside, Wonder Woman 1984 could have DC doing what DC does best and ruin any goodwill they may have gained from the original movie. It’s certainly possible. Anything is possible! But I hope this can at least illustrate why I feel that DC is in a much stronger position on the “strong feminist icon” front in comparison to Marvel.
With both movies releasing a little more than a month apart — Black Widow releasing May 1, 2020 and Wonder Woman 1984 following suit on June 5, 2020 — this is something that I definitely plan on coming back to. I’m curious to see which movie audiences will gravitate more towards. Will they become enamored with Black Widow because of her prior MCU status, or will Wonder Woman and her legion of fans prove to be the more successful movie? Let’s put a pin on it and pick this up once both movies have released and we’ve had enough time to digest them.