The latest DC Extended Universe entry, Wonder Woman, is a triumph for female characters in movies, while this weekend’s big release, The Mummy, undermines any attempt at progress with its final twist. There are a few similarities between Wonder Woman and The Mummy. Even though their source material is vastly different – one comes from the pages of comics, the other is inspired by a 1932 horror movie – both films are positioned as summer blockbusters, and action/adventure films in which their lead characters discover the heroes within themselves. In a larger sense, however, both movies hit theaters with a great deal of pressure on them to succeed for the sake of their respective cinematic universes.
In the case of Wonder Wonder, Patty Jenkins’ DCEU installment arrived on the heels of back-to-back films that received largely negative critical reviews and mixed reactions among moviegoers (those films being Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad). As such, many hoped Wonder Woman would be the first DCEU entry that was generally well received by critics and moviegoers alike – which, considering reviews of Wonder Woman and the film’s massive box office, it was. Meanwhile, The Mummy is tasked with being the official launchpad for Universal Studio’s Dark Universe – the shared cinematic world of classic movie monsters that the studio has been planning for years. The Dark Universe was initially thought to kick off with Dracula Untold in 2014, but that film’s negative reception and poor box office made it a non-starter – though Alex Kurtzman’s update on the classic monster isn’t faring much better in terms of reviews for The Mummy.
Of course, there are also a great deal of differences between Wonder Woman and The Mummy, particularly in the way the films portray and treat their female characters. This won’t be a discussion of whether Wonder Woman or The Mummy are themselves feminist films, since labeling any one piece of art as feminist is a tricky business, but an in-depth look at the treatment of the films’ characters (and readers can draw their own conclusions from there). Additionally, though this close of a look at The Mummy’s female characters may not have arisen if it had debuted earlier in the summer movie schedule, in light of the discussion around women in Hollywood thanks to the success of Wonder Woman, a closer look at how female characters are portrayed in a typical summer blockbuster is warranted.
Much has been said about Wonder Woman’s strong female hero – which is to say, Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince is a well-written, three-dimensional superhero with a notable journey from a naive warrior to the more educated protector of mankind. The film’s depiction of Themyscira and the race of all-women Amazonian warriors has been praised for depicting the strength of women. Further, Wonder Woman confronts sexism both within the world in which the film is set and Hollywood as a whole. Even Wonder Woman’s, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), flips the script on the damsel in distress trope by giving him his own character arc that is tied directly to Diana’s.
To be clear, however, Wonder Woman is an outlier in Hollywood. Data scientist Amber Thomas found that women only spoke 27 percent of the words in the top 10 grossing films of 2016, which included superhero tentpoles like Captain America: Civil War, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad. Behind the camera, 2016 also saw a two percent decline in the number of female filmmakers, with only 7 percent of directors in 2016 being women, according to San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film as reported by THR. Women fared better when it came to being screenwriters, comprising 13 percent. In the case of Wonder Woman, the film is credited to Allan Heinberg with contributions from three other male writers.
The Mummy, however, falls more in line with the statistics laid out above since it was directed by Kurtzman from a script by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman. Contributing to the story of The Mummy were Kurtzman, Jon Spaihts, and Jenny Lumet. As for the cast, Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny Halsey and Sofia Boutella’s Princess Ahmanet are the only two main female characters. Although there isn’t an in-depth breakdown of the cast and dialogue, The Mummy’s lead roles are predominantly men, and Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll has a great deal of dialogue, even telling the story of Princess Ahmanet in a lengthy voiceover. But, it’s how the characters of Jenny and Ahmanet are treated within the story where The Mummy truly fails.