Finally: Marvel Is Embracing Female Heroes
For far too long now there’s been a major, nagging issue at the heart of the massive “Cinematic Universe” that Marvel has created over the past decade or so: women have been confined almost entirely to weak and/or supporting side roles.
Through the first few Marvel Cinematic Universe films (that basically began with Iron Man in 2008) and even including the multiple Spider-Man franchises we’ve seen, female characters were romantic (or sexual) interests and secretary types, seldom getting in on the action or factoring into major plot points. In some of the more recent films, there have been very hollow attempts by Marvel to right this wrong: empowering Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts character with some kind of zombie serum so she could be involved in an action sequence in Iron Man 3, for instance, or introducing the wildly generic Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) for no apparent reason in The Avengers. It’s no fault of Paltrow’s or Smulders’; Marvel just hasn’t been able to draw up strong female characters for the most part.
The one exception, really, has been Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). She’s been a legitimate crime-fighting force in four Marvel films, beginning with Iron Man 2. Black Widow has been a pivotal character in lacing together the narratives of various other heroes, and along the way she’s kicked her fair share of ass all on her own, thank you very much. And yet even the success of this character has largely served to emphasize Marvel’s leading lady problem. It’s partially because she’s been a lone wolf in this category, and also because the studio has until recently avoided the obvious fact that she needs her own freaking movie.
Fortunately, the last year or so has brought about some pretty significant changes in Marvel’s attitude toward female heroes, and we can now fairly say that the studio is beginning to embrace such characters. Better late than never!
It started with some of the new announcements and release dates regarding the so-called “Phase 4” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They were posted on The Verge in October and confirmed rumors of a Captain Marvel character making her way to the big screen. Despite her painfully unimaginative name, Captain Marvel is one of the better-known female superheroes in the Marvel canon, so this was a welcome announcement (even if her film isn’t expected to reach theaters until 2019).
More instantly gratifying was the announcement that an Elektra character would be added to the second season of Marvel’s Daredevil series on Netflix. This had been expected for some time, in part because the series was very successful and traditionally Elektra is a big part of Daredevil stories. However, it’s also because the character hasn’t really disappeared from Marvel’s projects, despite the 2005 Elektra film flopping. She’s featured in various app games, and actually has her own title among the casino games at Gala Bingo, where most similar titles belong to characters already featured in films. Next to the likes of Thor, Captain America, additional Avengers and Daredevil, the Elektra slot machine game may even have been a hint at the development of her character in a modern cinematic project. And now we know for sure that she’ll play a major role in the upcoming second season of Daredevil, where she’ll be portrayed by largely unknown French actress Elodie Yung.
Meanwhile, as all the excitement about Daredevil and the Elektra rumors was going on, Jessica Jones pretty much came out of nowhere. Well, that might not be entirely fair. Those paying close attention to Marvel releases knew some time ago that a successful Daredevil release would mean subsequent shows, including one for Jessica Jones. But this series followed Daredevil more quickly than many anticipated. And, really, it was the first MCU project to feature a female superhero as a true lead and primary protagonist. Best of all, it was sensational. The reviews at Rotten Tomatoes characterized this latest Netflix project as arguably Marvel’s strongest TV franchise to date, and sure enough it was renewed for a second season.
Just last month, however, we may have received the best news yet regarding Marvel’s gradual acceptance of the fact that women, too, can star in superhero movies. According to a report from Comicbook.com, the Russo brothers (who just directed Captain America: Civil War) are interested in finally giving Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow character her own film, answering the steady calls of fans who’ve been waiting years for such news. That doesn’t mean it’s been slated into the MCU schedule just yet. However, with Black Widow becoming more popular with each new release and some of the most prominent creative figures working for Marvel now interested, it’s starting to seem inevitable.
It’s been a long time coming, but this is all representative of a very positive trend for Marvel!