Warner Bros.’ live-action adaptations of DC properties has seen a long and bumpy road of both critical and audience reviews. One challenge that they’ve long faced is that they’ve almost always failed what I’ve termed the Aunt Martha Test, but with Wonder Woman, opening June 2nd, it seems like they might have pulled off a passing grade.
It should be noted that the test is not related to the mother of either Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent, but rather to an amorphous supposed individual who has no familiarity with comics or their mythos. I do apologize to any hardcore comic-geeks who happened to be named Martha and are aunts, this isn’t about them; it could as readily be called the Uncle Martin Test.
In the case of Marvel’s marketing efforts, they have often managed to find ways to attract an audience which includes individuals from beyond the men and women who make up the immediate fanbase. One of the reasons they do so well at the box office is because they go outside the comic fans to bring in a new audience. However in the case of Warner Bros. the films’ marketing and word of mouth is targeted more directly at the longtime fans.
To apply the test, one considers Aunt Martha; could you take her to any particular film and 1) would she enjoy it, 2) would she understand the storyline as presented on-screen, or does it require a knowledge of the wider comic universe or backstory to fill in gaps, and 3) would she possibly wind up wanting to find out more about the characters and their stories.
With the exception of the public interest around the untimely demise of Heath Ledger, and it carrying The Dark Knight to a far wider crowd, the Batman films have stayed almost entirely insular with it’s audience. Suicide Squad should have been one such film, but it was hampered by a piss-poor storyline and generally terrible reviews and word of mouth.
Let’s face it, Marvel largely has the approach down to a science – they managed to make a film starring a trash panda and a tree accessible and engaging with non-comic fans. Finally with the release of Wonder Woman, they have a lead character that’s been given a decent story and a solid treatment that should be able to reach outside of the comic-con crowd and to a much wider audience. We’re not even talking about the female-as-a-lead-character, which will garner it huge attention from an entirely too-ignored segment of the moviegoing audience. At the press screening, there were mothers and daughters eager to see the film that are not the same individuals who would have gone to see Batman v. Superman.
Hopefully Warner Bros. will take notice that there’s more out there to be gained by making inroads to new segments of the moviegoing audiences out there than to stick to in-crowd only narratives.