After the release of Captain America: Civil War, it seems fans are once again being half-promised that there is a studio interest in developing a Black Widow movie. It might happen. For real now.
Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff is the most consistently film-featured Avenger without her own standalone film or franchise, but not for lack of requesting. The reasonable world is dying to see a solid female-lead entry into the superhero film canon. In a world severely lacking of non-male representation in action film, Black Widow seems like the most obvious choice, and yet, Disney and Marvel have sort of innocently stared at their hands over this one for a few years.
But, again, we’re being told it’s a strong likelihood that the movie will be developed soon. So, when it does, the imperative question becomes… the topic of this week’s He v She. We asked the same question to one male and one female Audiences Everywhere contributor and asked them to share their written reply, in hopes of gaining some insight into how this issue, which is right at the forefront of current film discussion, might be perceived differently by both. Neither writer consulted the other in the writing process and neither will know the other’s answer until this very article posts.
You can read their answers below, and afterward, vote on which answer you think is more correct and see the results of our last He v She at the bottom of the page.
Will People Really Watch a Standalone Black Widow Movie?
He says: I have my doubts…
So, Spider-man showed up in Civil War. Crazy, huh? I mean, it’s clear that once he was an available free agent, the Russo Brothers and Disney reeeeally bent over backwards to get him onboard with the next chapter of the MCU money train. They straight up stopped the central Civil War narrative to make room for little Peter Parker, but fans were so happy that few seemed to notice just how disruptive and illogical the shoehorned fan service future film commercial actually was.
By punching the brakes to pick up the iconic hitchhiker, the MCU incidentally lost another excuse against a frequently leveraged criticism of their current trajectory. Apparently it is easy to build in unexpected portions of this ever-expanding universe. So why haven’t they done that for Black Widow yet?
This week, more than ever, it seems likely that we will finally get the Black Widow film that many have been asking for, so I guess the question now isn’t “Should it happen?” but “Will people watch it?”
But superficially either question seems like a no-brainer. There isn’t an argument that holds up.
It’s been said that Natasha doesn’t have superpowers and that may hurt her superhero marketability. Sure, that’s true, but the sloppy action sets of Civil War and the more precisely filmed fight sequences in earlier films display that Natasha’s lethal (excuse me, dangerous) hand-to-hand combat style makes for more a more aesthetically commanding and admirable ballet than the airborne blasts of her counterparts. Essentially, there’s no reason a Black Widow movie couldn’t be The Raid meets James Bond.
Many have mentioned concerns about Star Power. Well, if the question is whether Scarlett Johannson possesses the box office umph, I dare anyone to say she doesn’t now, given that Hollywood just disrespected an entire culture by casting the actress in the lead of Ghost in the Shell citing the need for capital-S Star, capital-P Power in order to get the project off the ground. So, according to trending topics, Black Widow has the most Star Power of any other Avenger, and she shares a ready-made fanbase with the rest of them and has a pool of a dozen heroes from which she can borrow a teammate.
Not that Star Power is that much of a factor anyway, given that Guardians of the Galaxy stands as the most successful chapter in the MCU so far and its acting lead was only drafted onto the Hollywood A-list after the film’s success.
And now we know, thanks to Spidey’s triumphant return, that it is possible to make storytelling concessions to add impromptu chapters of high commercial promise.
And yet, Black Widow’s movie hasn’t happened yet. And there’s still a strong sentiment that it might not work when it does. Why is that?
Well, for the sake of the integrity of the sex/gender-based discussion at the heart of He v She, I will admit: I have my doubts about the idea.
At this stage of the Superhero movie trend/era/plague, success is measured in billions. We also needs to consider that Black Widow, even if formally announced tomorrow, will not hit theaters until at least 2019, and by then, superhero fatigue could be a real threat, particularly if we get more entries as flat and static as Civil War (please wait until the fanboy thrill resides before debating me; I’m right about this). And the ugliest recesses of the internet, as the Ghostbusters reboot has revealed, are full of hideous spirits looking to complicate the terms of success for female-centric film projects. Realistically, the hill for Black Widow might be steeper than that faced by any superhero before her.
So, in my mind, the question isn’t: “Will people watch a Black Widow movie?” Of course they will. The question is: “Will they watch it twice? Three times?”
And my concerned response is: Not yet.
It’s not just that the film could potentially lose the first audience of crybaby pissypants Men’s Rights Activists and the second and third watch of the superhero-fatigued general audience. It’s also that a Black Widow character worthy of a mass second theater visit by her own merits has not been presented onscreen by the Russos or Whedon. Black Widow has very rarely been elevated above the role of a script mover, a plot device. Whether it’s tickling the forearms of and sharing a sense of monstrosity with the baddest good boy of all in Age of Ultron or turning heel at just the right moment to inexplicably allow an escape for the guy she’s been committed to arresting in Civil War (Double Agents, amirite? They always change their mind and won’t stop talking about feelings!), every minor human moment afforded to Natasha has been erased by her reduction to a narrative instrument in the next act.
We have seen glimpses of a relatable and realized personality, most recently in her showing up at a funeral just so a friend won’t grieve alone. But largely, the resonant humanity of her character has yet to be fully uncovered. When we speak of Black Widow being interesting, at least half of that statement’s truth is theoretical. At least for me, the interest in the character is in her potential more than her current utilization. And if the Black Widow movie is going to succeed, her character building almost has to start from scratch. It also has to find the comfortable and confident teller she deserves. Black Widow needs an author who understands that she deserves center-stage and not as a checkbox formality, who knows that her presence as an emotionally accessible character doesn’t need to get in the way of her sex appeal or her secret agent status or her straight up badass presence, and who recognizes that Natasha and Scarlett’s ability to exhibit all those things simultaneously is its own superpower. To get people to go see a Black Widow movie, that’s the author she needs, because she hasn’t had that yet. – David Shreve, Jr.
She Says: I’m hopeful…
Although Marvel has been in the possession of a complex, enigmatic, strong female superhero ripe for building a standalone franchise, DC has managed to beat them to the punch by planning a Wonder Woman feature film for 2017. Only time will tell if the otherworldly beauty can bring in the bucks on her own, but in the meantime Marvel fans are being teased with the idea of delving deeper into a character who has been gracing our screens as Black Widow for over five years.
So if Marvel finally pulls the trigger, will the fans flock to the theater like they do for the rest of the Avengers? I think the answer to this question is still largely up in the air. Historically, people do show up to watch a powerful female kick some serious ass. Lara Croft is popular enough to warrant a rebooted franchise, and audiences may have bought their first ticket to Fury Road to see Mad Max, but they returned to the theater to watch Furiosa. And Black Widow isn’t just a superhero, she’s an action hero. She’s a spy. She’s a badass.
If there’s one actress who can place asses in theater seats solely on her own star power merit, it’s Scarlett Johansson. Lucy, 2014’s bizarre science fiction thriller brought in almost 500 million dollars. What do you think she could do with a character people actually already care about? And that’s the most appealing thing about Natasha Romanoff. The Marvel universe has built her character, but left enough questions unanswered and enough ambiguous background to leave the door wide open for Black Widow as a leading lady. She laid down a story of redemption in the first Avengers film, and she began to reveal a darker past and a feminine vulnerability in Age of Ultron that, although criticized by the masses, was a smart, empowering move from a feminist standpoint. So what’s the potential problem here?
If you had asked me about a year ago, before so much feminine hatred emerged from a culture of men who seem to be dangerously insecure of their own masculinity, I would have told you to take a solo Black Widow film straight to the bank. But now, a female-led Ghostbusters film trailer has set a record for the most dislikes in YouTube. Female superheroes are tanking on the small screen, with the recent cancellation of Agent Carter and the move of Supergirl CBS to the CW. Comic book culture just isn’t buying in to a story that rallies around a woman, unfortunately preferring to see women as scantily clad sidekicks rather than full blown actions stars.
How to we prevent Black Widow from sinking along with Supergirl and Agent Carter? It’s not enough to rely on comic book loyalists alone to buy a ticket to this film; it has to appeal to the casual moviegoer. I have to make an admission here. I don’t read many comic books but I love superheroes, and I never watched a single episode of Agent Carter or Supergirl. Why? I guess because I never really cared about the characters on their own because I was largely unfamiliar with them. I learned about Batman, Superman, and Captain America from the boys I spent time around growing up. I’m ashamed of myself as a proponent for women and their ability to carry a storyline themselves, but it’s difficult to do in a comic book culture that is and always has been predominately male.
So Black Widow’s success as a standalone film subjet is up in the air. She has star power and established character development on her side. I’ll be the first one in line to buy a ticket because I’ve grown to love this character from the place that’s been carved out for her in the existing Marvel universe. I watched The Avengers the first time around for the Hulk and Iron Man. I went to the theater a second time and bought the Blu-Ray for Black Widow. So, here’s to hoping… – Beth Reynolds
In the question of “Who defines the modern female action here?,” readers chose Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road with just over fifty percent of the vote. Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer netted 39%. Popular write-in votes included Ripley from Alien and Aliens, Supergirl from TV’s Supergirl, and Angelina Jolie in Salt.
Featured Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures