As great as Marvel’s movies are, it’s impossible to deny that they’re basically a boys’ club. Sure, there are a number of supporting female characters, but so far most have been trapped in roles of damsel in distress, comic relief, or plot device. The MCU’s strongest female character is undoubtedly Black Widow. After first appearing in Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson made a bigger impact as the character in The Avengers, most notably during her scene with the caged Loki. Though Joss Whedon and Russos beefed up her role and made her an integral part of the team, she’s still a secondary character whose background is undeveloped. She may have gotten to share the spotlight with Cap in Winter Soldier, but her cinematic journey is always tied ancillary to another character’s. Rumor has it that Natasha Romanoff’s transformation into the Black Widow is something Joss Whedon will explore in Age of Ultron. It’s an exciting prospect, though with everything else going on in the movie, it surely won’t be the film’s priority. Standout action scenes and one-liners aside, Black Widow deserves her own spotlight. She needs her own movie.
In many ways, Black Widow has been the glue of Marvel’s comic book universe for decades. After first appearing in Iron Man’s book Tales of Suspense, she went on to become a recurring character in The Avengers before becoming a team member. In the ’70s she co-starred in Daredevil’s book for four years and the comic’s title was changed to Daredevil and the Black Widow. Afterwards she cropped up in The Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Daredevil, The Avengers and almost every Marvel title you can think of. Interestingly enough, she didn’t get her own solo-title until the early 2000s and those were only mini-series. It wasn’t until 2010 that she received her own series which lasted a mere eight issues. The character didn’t get her own book again until 2014, which heading into its 18th issue next month, is the longest consecutive run for the character’s title.
Because Natasha’s been a supporting character for most of her existence, it may seem justifiable that she should be a supporting character in the MCU. But her 50 years of comic storylines, even in a supporting capacity, have given her plenty of backstory, character development, and adversaries. She may be a secondary character in many titles, but there’s no question that she’s a lead character in the Marvel Universe. So why hasn’t she gotten a movie? As an international spy, she could lead a franchise that could rival the likes of Bourne, and Mission: Impossible. Clearly Hollywood isn’t rejecting espionage action films as we get more bad ones than good. What Hollywood is rejecting, or at least until the recently announced Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman films, is the female led comic book movie. For that we can thank the failure of Catwoman and Elektra, a one-two punch that convinced studios that audiences weren’t interested in female comic book characters as leads. Never mind that both film were egregiously mishandled. Never mind that male superheroes have had a fair share of box office failures. Two female superhero films didn’t make money, so the rest be damned. While studios have taken a chance on other female led action films over the years, backed by star power (Salt, Haywire), those half-hearted attempts never connected with an audience. If someone who actually cared about the character and was passionate about female led-genre films was given an opportunity, I’m certain Black Widow could be a mainstream success stories.
David Hayter, writer of X-Men and X2 was working on a Black Widow solo film for a long time during the 2000s. In a 2011 interview with FemPop, Hayter explained his idea for the film and why it never made it to screens:
“What I tried to do was use the backdrop of the splintered Soviet Empire – a lawless insane asylum with four hundred some odd nuclear missile silos. It was all about loose nukes, and I felt it was very timely and very cool. Unfortunately, as I was coming up on the final draft, a number of female vigilante movies came out. We had Tomb Raider and Kill Bill, which were the ones that worked, but then we had BloodRayne and Ultraviolet and Aeon Flux. Aeon Flux didn’t open well, and three days after it opened, the studio said, “We don’t think it’s time to do this movie.” I accepted their logic in terms of the saturation of the marketplace, but it was pretty painful. I had not only invested a lot of time in that movie, but I had also named my daughter, who was born in that time period, Natasha – after the lead character in Black Widow. I named my daughter after a movie that I wasn’t working on anymore.”
While there’s no telling how Hayter’s movie would have played, it’s a shame that he hasn’t at least been tapped to develop a Black Widow for Marvel Studios.
If there’s any time to make a Black Widow film, it’s now. Scarlett Johansson is at the height of her star power in both the indie and mainstream film circuit. She’s been offered the lead in a number of big-budget genre films including Ghost in the Shell and most recently, Creature from the Black Lagoon and is set to star as one of the principal characters in the Coen Brothers next film Hail, Caesar! Even her turn in last year’s Lucy, which wasn’t a good film by any means, was one of the summer’s surprise hits. There’s a massive female audience willing pay money to see themselves represented without the same tired tropes. If the successes of The Hunger Games franchise is any indication, genre films are not just a male-driven market and they never have been. It’s a shame that so much of our pop culture still categorizes properties into male and female interest. The proactive mindset Disney is showing with a female-led Star Wars should cross-over to Marvel Studios. I’m excited for Captain Marvel, but we’re a long way out from that film and Marvel Studios has a power player whose script could basically write itself at this point. I want to see a Black Widow adventure that spans the globe, one that explores Natasha’s relationship to other black widows from her program, and one that doesn’t use her as an ‘also starring’ no matter how well that’s gone for the character. I want vindication that a female comic book movie can be a hit without her having superpowers. Now is the time, and phase schedule be damned. If Marvel can shift things around for Spider-Man it can surely do it for Black Widow.