Tag Archives: Batman

‘Batman v Superman’ and The Six Things I Never Want to See Again in a Comic Book Movie

After months of anticipation by fans eager to see their ultimate comic-book fantasies come to life, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” debuted to a record-breaking domestic haul of $166 million.

Last weekend, the movie set another very different kind of record. In a phenomenon referred to as a “second week slump,” its box office dropped by 68%. That’s the eighth biggest drop-off in history when it comes to similar sorts of films.

As a recent Los Angeles Times story points out, this is no real sweat off the backs of the makers of “Batman v Superman,” considering how much money the movie has already raked into their coffers.

But this development did spark an interesting debate about whether the so-called slump was due to poor word of mouth or because everyone who was planning to see the superhero showdown simply turned out to see it that first weekend.

Widely panned by critics and received less than enthusiastically by many moviegoers, according to exit polls, “Batman v Superman” isn’t the tedious failure reviewers have proclaimed it to be. Still, there’s no question the film could be better, especially with a few more polishings of its capriciously nonsensical screenplay.

The face-off between the Man of Steel and Gotham’s Dark Knight — with a little Wonder Woman as the filling in this superhero sandwich — is a labor of love by director Zack Snyder.

Snyder has a gift for faithfully duplicating sacred comic book moments hardcore fans are dying to see, while leaving the rest of us in the dark.

On a visual level, he trades in striking, if cliched, imagery that is undeniably entertaining. When it comes to narrative and dialogue, things get bumpier. Snyder movies are a lot of flash, little substance.

Strangely enough, it isn’t these trademark qualities that most annoyed me about “Batman v Superman.”

Rather, it’s the fact that the movie leans so heavily on lazy, exhausted and, frankly, exhausting comic-book tropes seen too frequently in franchises of this genre, whether the films are produced by Marvel, DC, or someone else entirely.

If Hollywood expects us to continue to accept a new world order in which every other film it produces features spandex, capes and godlike beings who stoop to save puny earthlings, then filmmakers must stop serving up more of the same and offer more of what we haven’t seen before.

In that spirit, here are six things I never want to see again in a comic book movie.

(Warning: Mild spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen “Batman v Superman.”)

1. Wanton Destruction of Major Cities 

In 2013’s “Man of Steel,” a good third of the film is devoted to the cataclysmic clobbering of comic book capital Metropolis as Henry Cavill’s Superman attempts to thwart would-be Kryptonian overlord General Zod from conquering the planet.

This goes on for so long and with so much casual carnage, it becomes disturbing and, ultimately, tedious.

In “Batman v Superman,” we discover there is a method to the madness of this urban annihilation — it sparks the conflict the sequel centers on — but unfortunately this only gives Snyder the opportunity to rehash the Metropolis massacre.

I totally get that the impending end of the world, as embodied by havoc wrecked on recognizable urban landmarks, is a staple of comic book climaxes, but we’ve seen this so many times  now, it doesn’t even register anymore.

Whether the Avengers are defending Manhattan from Loki and his computer-generated Chitauri army or the Guardians of the Galaxy are stepping in to save the day after the entire Nova Corp fleet is blown to oblivion, there’s no urgency left in this most overused of urgent plot devices.

And while we’re on the subject, is anyone else bothered by the way these movies — Snyder’s especially — trot out 9-11 imagery for cheap emotional impact?

I know it’s been awhile since that dark day in American history, but I still can’t stand seeing skyscrapers on the point of collapse while workers utter desperate prayers and copy paper and dust clog the streets, accompanied by ear-ringing sound effects. It’s heartbreaking, not to mention tasteless.

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2. Origin Stories (Unless We Haven’t Seen Them Before)

When it comes to comic book origin stories, none have received more cinematic play than the young Bruce Wayne’s dramatic, traumatic loss of his beloved parents.

The horrific scene, complete with a dark alley, theater marquee, wild-eyed gunman, slow motion, and shattered pearl necklace, has been dramatized several times on film, including 1989’s “Batman” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”

Though “Batman v Superman” doesn’t delve too deeply into the backstory of Ben Affleck’s aging, world-weary Bruce Wayne, Snyder feels the need to revisit this formative, horrific moment yet again. He has his reasons, of course, which we realize toward the film’s end, but they’re not very good ones.

I don’t know why directors feel the need to keep returning to our favorite superheroes’ roots. Heaven knows, we’ve sat through Spider-Man’s origin story about 50 bajillion times now, not to mention Wolverine’s, which has been examined from just about every possible angle.

So how about we institute a new rule? No more origin stories, unless it’s one we haven’t seen before or, at least, most of us aren’t familiar with.

I’d argue that’s half the reason the Iron Man trilogy was so successful — many of us were unfamiliar with the character — and a big part of why the recent Deadpool was a hit as well.

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3. Damsels in Distress

Considering that comic book movies sprouted from an industry that historically has not valued strong female characters, it’s no surprise Hollywood lags behind in this area as well.

Still, the studios have been making some encouraging progress lately, introducing more strong women with superhuman abilities in substantial roles, even if there are still only a handful of them.

Among these promising female role models are Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven, and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. And Hollywood has more female-centric comic book flicks in the pipeline, including a “Wonder Woman” movie and “Captain Marvel,” featuring a woman in the lead.

Snyder at least introduces Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) in “Batman v Superman,” even if she only gets to really strut her lasso-wielding stuff in one scene. But troublingly, the rest of the film is populated by damsels in distress whose only function is to serve as bait for the gallant Superman.

In an egregious waste of the talents of Amy Adams, intrepid reporter Lois Lane spends the entire movie being rescued by Superman or doing inexplicably dumb things to motivate him, like tossing a Kryptonite spear into the water, only to clumsily attempt to retrieve it two scenes later.

Meanwhile, Supes’ beloved Ma Kent (again, a waste of Diane Lane) is held hostage in harsh fashion simply as a vehicle for the resolution of the male heroes’ conflict.

Fanboys may argue that the damsel in distress is a tried-and-true staple of comic book lore, but this is the 21st century and there is no excuse for any film’s female characters to languish without a reason to exist apart from their male co-stars.

And if all producers have in mind is lowest common denominator box office, it can’t hurt to present positive depictions of women that appeal to both genders.

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4. Easter Eggs for Movies I’d Rather Be Watching

This doesn’t happen all that often, but it did while I was watching “Batman vs Superman.”

There’s a scene in the movie in which Affleck’s Batman retrieves an old photograph of Wonder Woman. In the picture, she’s all set for adventure, wearing her classic character get-up and posing with three fascinating looking guys.

At that moment, I had an epiphany: This photo is the movie I wish I was watching right now!

I’ve experienced similar feelings at various points in the Avengers franchise or while watching the most recent Spider-Man reboots and I think this is going to happen more and more as we’re subjected to a continued onslaught of vaguely familiar sequels, reboots and spin-offs.

Part of the fun of comic book movie franchises is that directors lace the latest chapters with in-jokes just for the fans and references to favorite plot points or story threads. They also tease us with sneak peeks at future heroes, villains or developments, a la Marvel’s now famous end credit scenes.

The danger in this comes when a film’s purpose is merely to set up yet another film. If that’s the case, who can blame the audience for wanting to skip ahead and get to the good part?

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5. Boring Villains From Outerspace

Ok, so we all know extraterrestrial baddies are a big thing in comic books.

On the big screen though, this trend hasn’t proven to be very compelling, thanks to an abundance of brightly colored body makeup, cheesy CG effects, hammy acting, and a lack of motivation we humans can relate to.

In “Batman vs Superman,” for instance, Snyder introduces not one, but two extremely popular extraterrestrial megaliths the Man of Steel famously faces off against on the comic page.

To be fair, one of these big baddies is only hinted at, not shown, but even the prospect of this creature’s impending arrival fails to stir anything more than obligatory excitement. (And if you’re not a comic-book reader, you probably don’t even know what’s going on here.)

It can’t be just me who doesn’t give a fig what lumpy, purple computer-generated overlord Thanos is up to, floating around on that space rock, or why blue-hued Ronan (despite poor Lee Pace’s best efforts) is so hot and bothered about … er … I can’t even remember.

In the upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the fabulous Oscar Isaac dons the weird makeup of the epic villain the film’s title refers to, but the prospect only fills me with dread because these evil dudes from outer space and regions beyond are rarely worth remembering.

Give me a recognizably human baddie any day, like Heath Ledger’s Joker, with his chillingly uncertain motives and passion for chaos, or David Tenant’s Kilgrave — if I may reference the Marvel television series “Jessica Jones” — who channels his power to sickeningly selfish ends rather than aiming to conquer the world.

The human propensity to evil is always more terrifying than any otherworldly threat.

6. Joylessness Masked as Grit

One of the reasons critics have been quick to pile on “Batman v Superman” is because the film isn’t always fun to watch.

An over-the-top clash between two of comicdom’s biggest heroes should be full of giddy energy, to say the least, but too often the movie bogs down in a gloom thicker than the dust that lingers over a devastated Metropolis.

There’s a lot of glowering, and grumping, and daddy issues, and gravely cynical pronouncements about the nature of power, and muddy, muddled action sequences that don’t send our hearts racing or keep us teetering on the edge of our seats.

That’s not to say comic book movies shouldn’t be dark, or edgy, or disturbing, or that they should all be kid-friendly laugh-fests, like the Marvel movies tend to be.

“The Dark Knight” trilogy is lauded for its grit, but it’s many other things as well — elegant, stylish, thought-provoking and complex with kick-ass action and nonstop thrills.

“Deadpool” is shockingly jaded, but it’s also a hoot. Or consider Snyder’s own “Watchmen,” a film that, like its source material, is seriously twisted, but also very playful.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was a massive hit because director James Gunn infused it with pure, infectious joy. Contrast that with the recent failure of the unbearably glum “Fantastic Four” reboot and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

Even the grittiest of comic book movies should speak to our sense of wonder.

Photos: http://www.youtube.com, marvel.wikia.com, marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com, blogs.indiewire.com, Marvel.

 

 

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This Weekend, See ‘Birdman,’ Skip ‘Exodus’

This weekend, a tsunami of holiday films will crash down upon us, threatening to submerge us in cinematic overindulgence.

(The deluge actually began Wednesday with the release of the final chapter of “The Hobbit.”)

With dozens of movies vying for your attention and Christmas fast approaching, it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself with much free time.

However, if you should happen to be in the mood for an alternative to the obvious yuletide fare — like “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” or “Into the Woods — there is one choice that rises above the rest, along with one over-hyped epic that deserves to be passed over.

Here’s why you should see “Birdman” and skip “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

Birdman
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (language, sexual content, brief violence)
119 minutes

There are few cinematic experiences that truly astonish, but “Birdman” is one of those rare discoveries.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s darkly funny, painful, unexpectedly deep rumination on showbiz, ego and the human condition is a movie that has to be seen to be believed. Nominated for seven Golden Globe awards, the film has a serious shot at carting off the best picture Oscar in February.

“Birdman” is exciting on several levels, beginning with the way Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki create the illusion the film was shot in one long, exhilarating take, winding its way through backstage corridors, out into New York’s Time Square and back again.

The movie is fun to watch even as Inarritu heaps his signature humiliations upon his characters, chiefly Michael Keaton’s has-been actor, who briefly tasted fame in a before-its-time superhero flick and seeks redemption by writing and starring in a Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway.

The role feels more than a little autobiographical for former Batman Keaton, who basically lays all his wrinkles and a receding hairline at our feet in a vanity-free performance that is a breathtaking revelation. The entire cast of “Birdman” is amazing, including an adorably messy, big-eyed Emma Stone and Edward Norton, so vital and commanding here, you’d think he somehow resurrected his younger self from his “Fight Club” or “American History X” days.

Playfully meta with a feverish intensity that recalls “Black Swan” and “All That Jazz,” “Birdman” has smart, clever, pop culturally literate things to say about our celebrity obsessed society. It’s the anti-“Avengers,” but like a good comic book movie, it’s a total rush.

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Exodus
Two stars (out of four)
PG-13 (violence, battle sequences, intense images)
150 minutes

With “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” director Ridley Scott intends to give one of the most famous Old Testament legends the blockbuster origin story treatment, but instead he ends up remaking his 2000 hit, “Gladiator.”

The filmmaker takes more than a few liberties with the Biblical account of Moses, but sadly none of them are very compelling. In this version of the scriptural saga, the revered leader of the Israelites is played by Christian Bale as a wise and brave general in Pharaoh’s army, raised alongside heir-to-the-throne Ramses (Joel Edgerton, bald and resplendent in eye liner).

Sibling rivalry and daddy issues breed resentment between the siblings, just as they did between Russell Crowe’s general and Joaquin Phoenix’s prince in “Gladiator.” When Pharaoh (portrayed in an odd bit of casting by John Turturro) kicks the bucket, Ramses becomes Egypt’s ruler, even though Moses is the better man. Ramses discovers Moses’ true roots as a Hebrew slave and is terribly, terribly vexed, while his adopted bro reluctantly begins his journey as revolutionary savior of his people.

With its opulent Egyptian sets and costumes and impressive rendering of the plagues and other divine judgments in CGI, “Exodus” aims for the pomp and melodrama of great Biblical epics like “The Ten Commandments,” “Ben-Hur” and “King of Kings.” But with a running time of two-and-a-half hours, it plods along so slowly, it begins to feel as if the audience has been wandering the desert for 40 years.

When it comes to Moses’ identity, Scott and the “Exodus” screenwriters can’t commit. Bale talks to God — the form the deity takes is bound to miff some viewers of faith — but only after suffering a blow to the head, so it’s possible his hero enjoys a direct line to heaven. Then again, he might just be insane.

In the end what “Exodus” lacks is a well defined vision and the courage to examine religious conviction in all its complexity.

Photos: moviesmxdwn.com, http://www.digitaltrends.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Tortured Love Affair With Comic-Con

Dear San Diego Comic-Con,

We’ve had our good times, you and I, but over the last few years, we’ve had our differences too.

I’m not the bright-eyed, energetic pop culture junkie I once was. I’m older. I have a kid. I have responsibilities. I can’t be bothered with noise and crowds and inconvenience. I still consider myself a die-hard nerd, but you probably won’t catch me standing outside movie theaters at midnight with my lightsaber or Harry Potter wand anymore. I no longer have the stamina to part a sea of hygienically challenged fanboys, poster tubes strapped to their shoulders like samurai swords, backpacks full of munchies and Monster Energy Drinks.

I’m not the only one who has changed. You used to be this cool thing that only certain people knew about. Then suddenly, you were popular. You started off as a small gathering of comic book collectors in a hotel ballroom. Now you’re a juggernaut, sprawling all over the San Diego Convention Center and beyond.

Every media outlet, from Entertainment Weekly to the 5 o’clock news, is compelled to cover you. Your latest installment, kicking off tonight, is expected to attract a horde of at least 130,000. Attending used to be a relatively simple affair, as long as one was on the ball and made one’s plans early. It now requires an exhausting scramble for tickets and exorbitantly priced hotel rooms.

So several years ago, after much agonizing, I quit you, Comic-Con. But I have a confession to make.

I still miss you.

I miss ducking out of work early and rolling into San Diego on Preview Night just in time for badge pick-up. We’d check into our over-priced hotel and stuff our faces with Extraordinary Desserts while marking up the official Comic-Con schedule, formulating our strategy for the long weekend ahead.

After a night of terrible sleep, we’d rise early, tug on our nerdiest T-shirts, and hike the mile to the Convention Center. If we were in a hurry, we’d splurge on a cab so we could join the queue to gain admittance to that wondrous place known as Hall H, the cavernous room where early-bird movie buffs catch a glimpse of Hollywood’s most anticipated future flicks. We were lucky if we got to sit in the very back of the room, where giant video monitors saved us from squinting blearily at the celebrities on stage, whose heads appeared no bigger than pins.

Sure, there was the year we had to sit through the “Twilight” panel and listen to thousands of “Twilight” moms shriek over Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. There was the time the hall went on lock-down after a guy in a Harry Potter T-shirt stabbed another guy in the eye with a pencil. And there was always that one slobbering idiot just waiting to ask Scarlett Johansson an incredibly inappropriate question during the Q-and-A session.

Still, I must admit I miss Hall H. I miss sitting in that massive room from sun-up to sundown, listening to actors and writers and directors talk about their upcoming movies and watching sneak previews, new trailers and footage fresh from the set. Somehow, it didn’t matter that it was going to be up on the Internet by the next day. We didn’t mind subsisting on hot dogs and cardboard cheese pizza or the delirium that kicked in about the fourth hour spent in that windowless prison. There was something electric about being there, about being one of the first people to witness it all.

That time the entire cast of “The Avengers” took the stage was pretty awesome. So was the time Harrison Ford showed up to promote “Cowboys & Aliens” and was absolutely flummoxed by the standing ovation he received. Anything moderated by Patton Oswalt or featuring Guillermo del Toro and his favorite word — it begins with an “F” — is always a good time. Impeccably dressed in a natty suit, Robert Downey Jr. is … well … he’s just the man.

Heck, I even miss standing in that endless, serpentine line for Hall H, which resembles something out of “The Hunger Games.” In that mass of humanity, you are guaranteed to meet a stranger who shares whatever interest floats your geeky boat, whether it be Harry Potter, “Doctor Who,” “Transformers,” “The Goonies,” “Star Trek,” “Firefly,” or some obscure anime series. Communing with like-minded nerds is a huge part of your sloppy charm, Comic-Con.

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Let’s not forget the cosplayers, a brave and astonishing species unto themselves, living out their private fantasies in public in a shameless parade of elaborate finery. Here’s to you, glow-in-the-dark “Tron” pajama guy, chubby Batman, baby Thor, and Slave Leia, bold enough to don the sacred gold bikini. Here’s to you, amateur Tony Stark, builder of the most awesome, fully functional Iron Man suit ever. Here’s to you, Stormtroopers, always kind enough to pose for a picture, and tiny Jawas with light-up eyes, and that dude dressed like Luke in the Dagobah training sequence, a baby strapped to his back, clad in a Yoda costume. You rock.

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As if that wasn’t enough, there is the exhibit hall floor, a veritable wonderland of geek culture, where fans jostle each other shoulder to shoulder in search of that elusive collectible or a must-have surprise — a T-shirt, an action figure, a bumper sticker, a handmade Harry Potter scarf, an indie comic book, a signed poster.

At Comic-Con, there are wonders waiting around every corner. You might happen upon Stan Lee in the hallway or the entire cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — sans Patrick Stewart, of course.

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I think what I remember most fondly about you, Comic-Con, is dragging myself through the Gaslamp Quarter at dusk in search of a watering hole where my friends and I could rehash the amazing events of our day, swapping stories and laughing over newly forged inside jokes. We’d head back to the hotel, dump the contents of our complimentary Comic-Con bags out on the bed and sort through our swag. Most of it would inevitably end up in the trash, but at the time it seemed like the most precious of treasures.

Then we’d settle down for another night of terrible sleep so we could wake up and do it all again the next day. It was the best.

I think that says it all, dear Comic-Con. Maybe one day I’ll return to you. I hope you miss me, too, just a little bit.

Affectionately yours,

Lavender

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Lavender Vroman and Kristy Rivas at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget Batfleck: The Real Outrage is That Hollywood Still Hasn’t Given Us a True Superheroine

The latest potential casting development in the controversial saga of Zack Snyder’s “Batman vs. Superman” film materialized yesterday with rumors that Joaquin Phoenix was in talks to tackle the role of the Man of Steel’s ultimate nemesis, Lex Luthor.

If the rumors are confirmed, they’re likely to be met with the passionate debate and perhaps even outrage sparked by the news that Ben Affleck will don the Caped Crusader’s cowl in DC’s epic superhero face-off. That event, which almost blew up the Internet, was followed by more fan consternation when it was announced that Gal Gadot, a Miss Universe contestant featured in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, will appear in the movie as Wonder Woman.

Some have hailed DC Comics’ decision to quietly sandwich Wonder Woman into the “Man of Steel” sequel as a smart move. After several notorious botched attempts to bring the Amazonian princess to the big and small screens, this is a sneaky way to introduce the classic comic book character to moviegoers without the risk of investing in an expensive film that would rest solely on her muscular shoulders. It also appears to be part of a strategy to quickly introduce multiple characters from the DC universe to facilitate an inevitable Justice League movie.

DC is all too aware that it lags behind Marvel in its attempts to build its stable of superheroes into a formidable collective box office force, a la “The Avengers.” If moviegoers respond positively to Gadot in “Batman vs. Superman,” the studio can breathe a sigh of relief and plow ahead with a Wonder Woman spin-off. It they don’t, DC can shrug it off and move on. This may be shrewd strategizing from a business perspective, but to me it feels like a defeat.

The fuss over Snyder’s perplexing “Batman vs. Superman” casting selections is merely a distraction from the real outrage brought to light by the sequel: the fact that DC repeatedly failed to produce a Wonder Woman movie and has, for the moment, abandoned all efforts to do so. The marginalization of Wonder Woman is also a potent reminder that Hollywood has failed to bring us even one successful comic book movie headlined by a female superhero.

Over the past few decades, Hollywood has made a few weak attempts to bring superheroes who are women to the big screen. There was 1984’s “Supergirl,” the 2005 Jennifer Garner vehicle “Elektra” and, of course, 2004’s much ridiculed “Catwoman,” featuring Halle Berry as the feline supervillain. The dismal reception of these films could be considered evidence that comic book movies starring women don’t sell, but that would be disregarding the fact that these projects were ill conceived, poorly written and sloppily executed. You can’t blame audiences for rejecting them.

In today’s cinematic landscape, superhero movies have become so lucrative that Marvel and DC are constantly mining their archives for new properties. It’s not just about pop cultural juggernauts like Batman and Spider-Man and Superman anymore. Less familiar crusaders, like Iron Man and Thor, have emerged from the pages of comics to astounding success. And the studios are planning to mine even more obscure properties in the near future, including Ant Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.

There’s no excusing that women in comic book movies are still largely relegated to the role of sidekick. There are strongly scripted female roles to be found in the most successful franchises: Anne Hathaway’s smart, slinky Catwoman, Gwyneth Paltrow’s no-nonsense Pepper Potts, the powerful female mutants of “X-Men,” Scarlett Johansson’s conflicted Black Widow in “The Avengers.” But despite Johansson’s tough portrayal of the redheaded Russian spy, the focus on the character too often comes down to how great the actress looks in her tight, black bodysuit. And consider the recent “Thor: The Dark World,” in which astrophysicist Jane Foster is relegated for much of the movie to a simpering damsel in distress.

The sad fact is there has never been a better time for a film studio to step up and take a risk on a female-driven superhero movie, a time when women are proving themselves to be hot commodities at the box office as never before.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” starring Jennifer Lawrence as the bow-and-arrow-wielding Katniss Everdeen, recently grossed a staggering $700 million worldwide, while Sandra Bullock led the outer space thriller “Gravity” to an unexpected $640 million in global ticket sales. The upcoming “Divergent,” based on a dystopian book trilogy that revolves around a butt-kicking heroine named Tris, is expected by some analysts to outperform even “The Hunger Games.” Many of Disney’s recent animated hits are princess flicks -– think “Brave” and “Frozen” — with considerable girl power that nonetheless appeal to boys and girls alike. Even the comedy genre is currently dominated by women, from “Bridesmaids,” to “Pitch Perfect,” to “The Heat.”

My friend, Kristy Rivas, an avid comic book reader who enjoys such titles as Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Birds of Prey, dreams of the day when girl power at the box office finally translates into a movie featuring a heroine as mighty as the Caped Crusader or the Man of Steel.

“I absolutely love Tris and Katniss,” she said during a recent text exchange on the subject. “They are reluctant heroes though. It would be nice to have a true ‘hero’ role model for girls. Batman and Superman chose the life of a hero as did Batgirl and Wonder Woman.”

It’s high time Hollywood let such a hero emerge.