Carter’s Comic Corner XII: Suicide Squad Preview

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Image via bgr.com

In the second and final week of picking apart DC Comics’ hour-long film presentation,  we turn to their villain-team film “Suicide Squad.” When the project was showed off at Comic Con, the response was mixed at best. With a moody tone and eerie song, the feel of the film wasn’t the comic, Guardians of the Galaxy-esque film people were expecting.

With the latest trailer presented, the film has taken a 180 in tone.  Cut flawlessly to Bohemian Rhapsody, drowning in quips, and with a kinetic, colorful energy, you’d think the footage was taken from a different movie. The response has been immensely positive, welcoming a movie that looks weird, colorful, and fun.

Let’s get down to business. This change is a calculated deliberate marketing move by Warner Bros. A trailer doesn’t present a film, but the feeling the studio wants you to have for a film. And it is clear they want you to imagine something along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy: a rowdy, fun romp with unconventional characters. This is a complete rebranding of the film, as even the posters have gone for a neon, vibrant palette. But just the fact that Warner Bros has the awareness to make this change, especially when they decided double-down on the bleak, hopeless tone of “Man of Steel” with “Batman V Superman” regardless of the former’s backlash. Maybe they have finally realized that the same gritty tone isn’t an all-purpose tonic for superheroes.   

I really love the trailer. It had energy to it. It felt unique. And most importantly, it gave a sense of direction to the story. My main assumption was that the film would be mostly paramilitary fights,  but the trailers showed off weird, magical aspects. Now, heroes who mainly use guns and fire against magic? That’s an interesting spin. As someone who has been dreading seeing my favorite characters getting a “Dark Knight” treatment, it is genuinely reassuring to see DC characters having fun.

But again, this is marketing, and seeing such a radical shift for “Suicide Squad,” a now-forgotten DC project comes to mind: “Green Lantern.” The infamous disaster met similar criticism with its first trailer, which was made primarily of Hal Jordan on Earth, not the epic space adventures the character is defined by. Shortly after, Warner Bros released new “recut” trailers which prominently featured scenes in space with the entirety of the Lantern Corps.  When the actual film came out, it turns those trailer were “stretching the truth” to say the least, as almost every scene that took place in space was feature the 3 minute trailers. That is the ultimate example of Studio changing their marketing based to appeal to fans, while misrepresenting their film.

Is “Suicide Squad” guilty of this?  Hard to say, but my instinct would say no. Base on what little we know of the plot, it sounds like the main villain isn’t the Joker as we’ve been led to believe, but the Enchantress, or a magic-based character. In that case, the more fanciful elements of this trailer would be the rule, not the exception. And frankly, I hope so. Yes, I’m a big Marvel fan boy, but the film would be better with two equally matched competitors. If DC wants to achieve that, they need to find ways to branch out from their grim-dark tone that has previously defined it. If this trailer is an accurate representation of their product, there are going to make something different, something weird, and dare I say fun? I can buy into that.

Carter Glace is a staff columnist for the Highlighter.

Hump Day Update: 2/3/2016

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Via Marisa Hagerty at https://www.behance.net/marisahagerty

Welcome to Hump Day Update, the place to find out everything you need to know about what’s been going on in the entertainment world for the week. I’m Rachel A.G. Gilman. But enough about me, let’s get to the news.

This Monday, you were either following the Iowa Caucus, or you were following a much more important race: that of“The Bachelor” on ABC. Either way, you were in for edge on your seat drama and false emotions. Apparently resident mean girl Olivia (who has memes dedicated to her large mouth) was finally given the boot, and part of me really hates that I know how much of a relief this is. Political mean boy Donald Trump is sadly still in the running for President.

Monday was also Harry Styles’s of One Direction’s birthday, where the former boy-bander (the premiere of the “History” music video confirmed their break-up, right?) tweeted lyrics from ex-girlfriend Taylor Swift to celebrate “feeling 22.” Emoticon responses from fangirls aside, we can’t deny the song’s annoying and catchy as heck.

The group One Million Moms is lashing out against the new FOX series “Lucifer,” which features an appealing version of the Devil assisting the LAPD in crime by protesting the show’s sponsor Olive Garden. I guess conservative moms are just against ridiculous ideas in general, because we all know Olive Garden is a sad excuse for Italian food.

Rihanna finally released her new album “ANTI” this week, with slightly disappointing results – 27th on Billboard’s Top 100. When you compare the songstress with the other leading lady who returned to the music scene just recently, we realize people are more concerned with being sad than with having sex (you keep racking in those album sales, Adele!).

The SAG Awards aired this week, where we received the most diversity we’re going to get this awards season. Jeffrey Tambor completed his collection of awards for his role on “Transparent” with his win, meaning he has yet another heavy, useless object to lug around on talk show appearances.

Without Kanye West, this column is sad, and this week he makes the news for entering into a Twitter battle with Wiz Khalifa after announcing the renaming of his upcoming album yet again from “SWISH” to “Waves,” which Khalifa argued is a stolen idea from rap artist Max B. The pair exchanged a pretty heated conversation, but after reading it, I still don’t understand what’s so “wavy” about “waves” in general (guess I’m not “wavy” enough).

Get out your coffee cups and start drinking because the “Gilmore Girls” reunion was finally confirmed this week. Most of the cast has agreed to return, though things are still up in the air about whether Melissa McCarthy and any of Rory Gilmore’s ex-beaus will make appearances. I guess if they decide not to the plot could always be about Sookie and Logan running away together after Rory shook off his proposal (anyone else disappointed with that decision?).

Coldplay released the music video for their latest single “Hymn For The Weekend” with Beyoncé. If you don’t have time to check it out, just picture “Slumdog Millionaire” meets Free People’s spring collection.

And finally, “Grease: Live!” finally took place this week on FOX, and featured more blasts from the past than just the show itself: Joe Jonas sang, old Frenchy (Didi Con) met new Frenchy (Carly Rae Jepson), and best of all Vanessa Hudgens returned into the musical part of her lives. The show was so busy you almost forget it’s really all about teens willing to be freaky between the sheets – who doesn’t agree that’s wholesome, family fun?

Hope you enjoyed this week! See you back here next Wednesday.

Rachel A.G. Gilman is a staff columnist for the Highlighter.

Dazed and Confused X: The Virgin Suicides

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Image via thedissolve.com

“The Virgin Suicides” is a slightly campy version of a Terrence Malick teen movie. There is real beauty in the way that it makes a tragedy out of both the five sisters who kill themselves and the boys who were in love with them. There are also many points where it becomes clear that Sofia Coppola is a first-time director who lacks total control of her style.

The story is framed from the point of view of one member of a group of boys looking back on his adolescence. He and his friends become obsessed with the Lisbon sisters both because they are beautiful and because they are always at a distance. We see the way that they project layer upon layer of meaning onto people they almost never speak to. The movie is touching in the way that it evokes longing for an ideal, a theme that Coppola has often returned to.

The sisters themselves are the stars for most of the film, but they remain mysterious. So much of them is shown without any concrete sense of their personalities developing. Raised by very strict, deeply religious parents, the girls rebel as much as they can. They listen to rock music and drink at a school dance. Lux, played by Kirsten Dunst, has some hook ups. Basically, they seem normal.

Why, then, do they commit suicide? The easiest answer is that they feel too confined in their home. But this feels unsatisfactory. The point may also be that the movie is about the mystery itself. If so, why does the movie present so many hints? Ultimately, it is hard to believe that Coppola herself knew what the suicides meant. This vagueness makes the entire movie somewhat confused.

This does not stop the movie from having many great merits. Visually, the film shoots the suburbs extremely well. Where most movies emphasize the mundane, repetitive houses found in suburbia, Coppola focuses on the lawns. Besides that, the soundtrack is classic. Its 70’s pop classics match the sentimentality of the characters perfectly. The rock songs serve as reminder that the 70’s were a time when rock was at its most popular, but also its most excessive. Hearing songs like “Crazy On You” and “Come Sail Away,” you can see why the parents of the film think that society is crumbling.

The movie’s acting is generally good, but Kathleen Turner and James Woods must be singled out for talent. As the parents, they are not meant to be very sympathetic, but they find a way to be. Turner conveys real fear about the changing world. Woods gives off the feel of someone who wants nothing more than to quietly go about his life. While the style of the movie can be distant, Turner and Woods are touchingly human.

Tony Schwab is a staff columnist for the Highlighter.

On a Deeper Level I: Devil May Cry

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via dualshockers.com

The “Devil May Cry” video game series has long been defined by its seamless, combo-intensive combat system and its iconically “edgy” protagonist Dante. During the late 90’s, Dante typified the very ideals of coolness, serving as a testament to the latter portion of the decade as a whole. From his bleached white hair to his universal sense of smugness, Dante went down in history as one of the medium’s most recognizable protagonists. In January 2013, the franchise was completely overhauled with the release of “DMC: Devil May Cry.” Unnecessary acronyms aside, the release of this game was met with unimaginable contempt from established fans, primarily because of the redesign of the protagonist. Players likened the new Dante to the appearance of Taylor Lautner, complete with chiseled features and closely cropped black hair. In short, this was not the Dante they had grown up with, causing fans to argue that this was instead the company’s failed attempt at trying to align with the “new definition of cool.” Oddly enough, everything about what makes “Devil May Cry” and “DMC” different serves to highlight the drastic change in social attitudes that occurred over the past decade or so. From the demeanor of the protagonist to the narrative conflict, “DMC” proves to be a game that is noticeably in tune with mainstream popularity.

Putting the visual alterations aside, the discrepancies between old and new Dante underscore the changing definition of “badassery,” for lack of a better word. Old Dante’s general personality is based around complacent apathy, never fully giving in to the idea of actually caring about something; specifically, never showing that he cares about something. From the very moment that a motorcycle comes crashing through the doors of his workplace, Dante meets every threat with a sense of calm. The ability to disregard fear in favor of unadulterated confidence is a trademark of his identity, and this ability was largely admirable in the late 90’s.

The new Dante, conversely, exists in surprising juxtaposition to his predecessor. Teenage values have largely changed in the time span between “Devil May Cry 4” and “DMC”. The days of shrugging off conflicts are largely gone, in favor of a generation more prone to activism. The new Dante takes on a strictly aggressive role as opposed to his counterpart’s passive-aggressive one. Apathy has diverted from being seen as the pinnacle of cool, to now being primarily associated with utter narcissism. The new Dante meets his opponents with a sense of bitter contempt, mimicking the game’s prevalent “punk-rock” undertones. Angst takes center stage in “DMC,” showcasing a Dante as a youthful loose cannon perpetually ready for a fight. His hypersensitivity to being manipulated is another testament to the game’s emphasis on angst by allowing for a protagonist that is readily willing to bring down societal authority figures.

In regards to the new Dante’s relationship with authority, it is important to define the central conflict of the narrative itself. The central antagonist of the game is a demon disguised as a ruthless banker, who dreams of plunging the entire world into debt to take it over. He is accompanied by a news propagandist (showcased as a one-dimensional caricature of Bill O’Reilly) and a succubus that brainwashes the population through soda intake. Combine these three forces together and you find yourself manifesting a teenage nightmare. Although these characters are undeniably shallow in terms of development, it is what they all represent that is worthy of note. The news reporter appeals to the notion that modern conservative media cannot be trusted. This O’Reilly doppleganger speaks as a doomsayer, condemning the modern youth and all the customs they associate themselves with. The succubus and banker reflect the corrupted ideals of gluttony and greed, respectively. Dante is able to physically see writing on the walls revealing the intentions of the authority, akin to the film “They Live.” In many regards, DMC closely ties itself to conspiracy oriented stories like “They Live,” “The Matrix,” or even “Brave New World,” with the game acting as a singularity of disenfranchisement.

Even the level design conveys a sort of “us-against-them” attitude. Buildings and walkways veer into a multitude of different formations around you, with Dante having to adapt to these surroundings at a moment’s notice. The older “Devil May Cry” games largely took place in static gothic landscapes complete with muted colors. This put Dante’s colorful appearance at the forefront of attention, in turn showing that Dante was the master in this environment. DMC’s environment is constantly shifting and contorting, putting Dante at the mercy of his surroundings. Blinding lights and oversaturated color palettes do a good job of both energizing the player and noting the artificial nature of Dante’s society.

Both the old and new versions of Dante are able to flawlessly replicate their generation’s definition of disenfranchisement, in turn serving as relics to the zeitgeists of their respective era.

Michael Dellapi is a staff columnist for the Highlighter.

Seeing Stars in “Touch”

Touch featuring Josh Triplett and Alex Etling Photo credit Lauren Morrison
Photo provided by Lauren Morrison

For a city where the stars above are hidden each night by all the light of the streets below, “Touch,” written by Toni Press-Coffman and directed by James Masciovecchio, brought a sky’s worth of stars and their pensive wonder to the stage.

The cozy black box at Under St. Mark’s was appropriately fitted with three simple chairs wrapped in white fairy lights, a window frame suspended and similarly wrapped, and a few rocks, scattered around the edges of the stage. With a soft lighting scheme, the audience was led enraptured through the story of Kyle, an introverted astronomer who just experienced the violent and devastating of his first and only love.

While the few characters – Kyle (Josh Triplett), his best friend Bennie (Alex Etling), Kyle’s sister-in-law Serena (Cassie Wood), and a Kathleen (Kiley Caughey) – were creatively conceived, the actual details were disappointingly stereotyped. Kyle, as a man of the stars, was quiet and withdrawn throughout high school. He had no friends, by his own admission, but for Bennie (who went to a different school) and Zoe, his now-passed wife. The audience learns that Zoe, who was vibrant and quirky and vivacious in her time, brought out the vivacity in Kyle. Their love was immediate and unquestionable and they married the Christmas after high school graduation. Bennie was a doctor who couldn’t stop himself from helping “fix” Kyle, even if he did not quite know how, and Serena, Zoe’s sister, was a fourth-grade teacher who had an overflowing passion for words and a belief that she knew best.

Though the characters were lacking in any impressive amount of depth, the climax of the plot was riveting. The leading lad, depressed and nearly catatonic Kyle, takes the audience through the story: the first time he saw her all the way until the moment he finally was able to let her go. It is evident from the beginning that Zoe will expire, but the foreshadowing does nothing to prepare for the heartbreak so well acted by Triplett. Etling expertly lends aid to his friend, and the transition between and introduction of each other character is cleverly and carefully executed.

The play ends like a Disney love story – wrapped up neatly in both a routinely predictable and slightly roundabout way. The vast unknown of space is brought back from its nihilistic tendencies, and love lives again. The Big Bang may not have been totally reconciled with the Spirit believed in by so many, but audience members may leave satisfied that big bad things work themselves out into simple stories with swallow-able happy-ever-afters (for everyone but Kathleen, apparently).  “Touch” puts the stars back in the sky and the monsters back in the closet, locked where they belong.

Highlighter Highlights: A Proper Start

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photo & flyer by Hailey Nuthals

Now that all of our beloved staff writers have returned, and most of storm Jonas’ snow has melted away, things have gotten off to a proper start here in the Washington Square News offices. This week, by university standards, still counts as the “beginning” of the term, so we’ve got some updates for you, our dear reader.

First off, we have some new columns coming out! Thanks to Club Fest on Wednesday and our first open house this past Saturday, the Highlighter has recruited new blood and stirred up new ideas. What you can look forward to, so far:

  • Downtown Dramatics, reviewing the oft-overlooked theaters in downtown Manhattan and digging up history we’re pretty sure you wouldn’t have already known.
  • Now, Then; which will review each of the “Now: That’s What I Call Music!” collections, starting with volume one and continuing on until the columnist reviewing these albums is fired.
  • On A Deeper Level, which will bring you the socio-political curiosities of the gaming world.
  • Silver Linings, taking second looks at universally disliked movies to find their redeeming qualities.
  • and as always, more to come! (Specifically, something culinary.)

Now don’t forget – if you’re an NYU student and you want to write your own glorious column: you can! Simply shoot an email off to Hailey at hnuthals@nyunews.com with your idea, and we’ll get you Internet-famous just as soon as you can type up your first installment. Columns can be anything art-related, from photo series to reviewing weekly episodes of your favorite television show.

Not so sure about your commitment? Feel free to come meet Hailey any Sunday at the WSN offices (5th floor of 838 Broadway), or come to this Saturday’s open house! The open house will be from 1-4pm at the offices, and there will be representatives from every section of Washington Square News (but most importantly, from the Highlighter).

We look forward to seeing you, because we know you look forward to seeing us.

Dazed And Confused IX: Pulp Fiction

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One great feature of filmmaking, and art in general, in the 1990s was a sense of aimlessness. Very often, the movies are almost void of story, and what story that is there is basically absurd. In “Kicking and Screaming” the plot hinges on whether Grover will call his girlfriend; in “Dazed and Confused,” on having fun at a party. With plot sidelined, atmosphere becomes key.

Pulp Fiction is a supreme example of this. Each of its plots can be found in a thousand other movies, but it feels like nothing else before it. Every detail of the movie goes towards building a completely original world.

In this world everyone is knowingly campy. Uma Thurman is not a normal seductress, but one who is so bored that she stretches her act to its breaking point. Samuel L. Jackson talks about how he says his famous bible verse not for any reason beyond it seeming cool.

Compared to Tarantinos later work, Pulp Fiction is very much a writer’s movie. The locations are memorable, but the characters are always the focus. Each one is really developed. It is striking that they are all dealing, one way or another, with being close to middle age. Butch, Honey Bunny and Pumpkin all turn to crime in hopes of getting rich enough to never have to work again. Mia seems to be an extremely bored housewife. Marcellus is away, laying around an island. Vincent and Jules both seem dissatisfied with being hitmen. Jules walks away, while Vincent dies because he will not.

Another very writerly touch is the film’s overall structure. The sections follow in a structure that at first seems random, but makes more sense on later viewings. Casual, more comical scenes are followed by more serious ones. Jules and Vincent take back the briefcase and then Mia almost overdoses after dinner. Christopher Walken delivers his great watch speech, and then Butch is kidnapped. With the beginning scene matching the end, there is a feeling that these events could all happen over and over.

The soundtrack shows a nostalgia for the 50s that links Tarantino to David Lynch. They both use the era’s innocence in counterpoint to their characters chaotic lives. Both of them are extremely successful.

Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece in a way that none of Tarantinos other films are. In it there is a feeling of the entire history of film being synthesized. His other movies are simply very good, creative examples of genre pieces. This does not make them any less re-watchable, but it does leave a feeling that Tarantino could push himself more. Why choose one genre when you are capable of choosing all of them?

Anthony Schwab is a columnist for the Highlighter. Email him at hnuthals@nyunews.com

Hump Day Update: 1/27/16

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Via Marisa Hagerty at https://www.behance.net/marisahagerty

Welcome back to Hump Day Update, the place to find out everything you need to know about what’s been going on in the entertainment world for the week. I’m Rachel A.G. Gilman. But enough about me, let’s get to the news.

We move closer to the release of Kanye West’s newest album everyday, and this week he revealed not just his poor handwriting, but also the track listing for the February 11th release posted on Twitter. He also dubbed it “the best album of all time,” which is a big vote of confidence – who loves Kanye more than Kanye?

“The Bachelor” is back on ABC with a new man and new women. This season we’ve already had a woman get very emotional about her disproportionately large ankles and seen bachelor Ben struggle over his decision of which girl in a pair of twins he would prefer to keep on the show. In other words, it’s just continuing to strive to be relatable.

Former 1D member Zayn Malik released information about his upcoming solo career this week, revealing his album will contain a good deal of sex. You have to be careful with that stuff, Zayn – didn’t you hear your old band mate just became a daddy? By the way, congratulations, Louis Tomlinson on Sydney Rain (there likely won’t be another child in his year with the exact same name).

Rumor has it “The Good Wife” herself Julianna Margulies will be leaving the CBS drama in April along with show creators Robert and Michelle King. Not sure what the network will do if the titular character departs, especially because switching the focus to her spouse and renaming it “The Bad Husband” simply doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Madonna and Ariana Grande took to the stage together this week on Madonna’s Rebel Hearts tour to perform, both refusing to act their age. Madonna finished the performance by spanking Ariana, which was probably for the best (it’s about time someone treat Ariana like the little girl image she continues to perpetuate and sexualize).

NBC has finally found primetime success in their series of shows taking place in the windy city, and to add to this multitude, they are in the works developing “Chicago Law” (a working title) to accompany “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Med,” and the original “Chicago Fire.” Basically, you’ll soon be able to experience all careers paths in Chicago without actually having to ever live them.

In weird collaboration of the week, Miley Cyrus is slated to star in Woody Allen’s upcoming TV series for Amazon, which as of yet is untitled despite the plan to start shooting in March. However, we do know it will be set in 1960s. Anyone else curious how Miley’s going to incorporate her twerking in with the Mashed Potato and the Twist?

It was announced this week that Shonda Rhimes will continue to dominate at ABC with another role as executive producer of an upcoming series that continues the story of “Romeo and Juliet.” Not sure why they chose Rhimes for the project since all of the best characters in that story have already been killed off.

And finally, most indecisive of the week goes to Jennifer Lopez, who after a less than impressed debut of her new NBC series “Shades of Blue” decided to go back to music again and started a stay in Vegas where she had a bit of a wardrobe malfunction. Let’s just hope she wasn’t wearing her own clothing line, because that sure would be bad advertising.

Hope you enjoyed this week! See you back here next Wednesday.

Rachel A. G. Gilman is a staff columnist for the Highlighter. 

Carter’s Comic Corner XI: Wonder Woman – Wonderous?

 

wonder-woman-movie-gal-gadot-filming-start-dateWarner Bros. decided to start the year off with a bang. With their grand plans for a shared cinematic universe hinging on the success of “Batman V Superman,” the firm rolled out an extended presentation showcasing their future films on the CW. Many of the projects are still in the conceptual phase, and footage was shown for two projects: “Suicide Squad” and “Wonder Woman.”

Yes, after 75 years, the most iconic female superhero is finally getting her own movie! Given that we’ve had to wait so long, it is critical that filmmakers capture what the character represents, and that director Patty Jenkins and her cast acknowledged Wonder Woman’s significance as a feminist figure during their presentation. But Wonder Woman is a character that has been fighting an uphill battle for years, trying to remain the same subversive character she was originally, while DC has gone out of their way to water her down.  And based on the little we’ve seen and heard, it seems like the film will struggle to bridge that gap.

Granted, a lot of this is speculation based on what has been seen, but unless people misspoke, I feel my concerns are fairly valid. Based on what we’ve seen, there has been a bit of an overhaul to her origin. The core concept is still present: in the footage, Wonder Woman is one of many Amazonians who live on Paradise Island, free from men.  But when a pilot from the United States crashes on the island, detailing to its residents the horrors of the ongoing World War II, they send Diana Prince as an ambassador to help fight, taking up the mantel Wonder Woman.

But as described in the presentation, the Amazon women were designed to “protect man’s world,” abandoning it because “[the men] weren’t worth it.” That is a noticeable deviation from Wonder Woman’s original story. Created by psychologist William Marston in 1941, Wonder Woman was Marston’s way of expressing his theories on gender and feminism in a pulpy comic setting. In the comics, the Amazons were captured by Hercules and forced into slavery. After their escape, they isolated themselves from men, forever wearing their cuffs as reminders of their entrapment. Two critical themes of early Wonder Woman were the dangers of hyper-aggressive masculinity and the modern woman breaking the chains that kept them from becoming world leaders. Making Amazons servants of the men they abandoned removes their choice to finally use their power to better the world.

Another area of contention is the action scenes. The handful of scenes prominently featured Wonder Woman fighting with a sword and shield. One of the points of the character is despite being the most powerful heroine in the room, she never resorts to violence. She uses empathy and wit to defeat her opponents, and employed non-lethal takedowns. She could refrain from violence in the film, but there’s a reason why her primary weapon is a lasso — it’s very hard to use a sword in nonlethal way.

And while this is slightly nitpicky, the transition to WWI instead of WWII is disappointing. Granted, I love the First World War as a setting, but WWII made sense for Wonder Woman because the Nazis served as a symbol for the violent, destructive hyper-masculinity she fights against, and the era of Rosie the Riveter and home appliances simplifying traditional housekeeping represented women finally having the freedom to prove themselves.

Still, I hold out hope that this film will be phenomenal. The enthusiasm the cast and crew show is immensely reassuring, and they clearly understand the significance of getting this character right. While they may make a powerful, interesting character, I fear that Warner Bros. and DC will let her history disappear:  history that made her not only a feminist icon, but a revolutionary one. One that argued even the weakest woman is as powerful as any man, that empathy defeats hatred and is the key to equality, and by breaking the chains put on them by a male run society,  woman can save the world. After 75 years, the character deserves something that wonderful.

Carter Glace is a columnist for the Highlighter. Email him at hnuthals@nyunews.com