Marvel's failure to bank on the Black Widow buzz is proof of the superheroine stereotype

Marvel's delay when it comes to a standalone Black Widow movie shows the studio's dilly-dally attitude and doubts about jumping in on the female-led superhero flick bandwagon.


                            Marvel's failure to bank on the Black Widow buzz is proof of the superheroine stereotype

Unlike her Americanized avatar with the shortly-chopped blonde hair in Marvel's latest, Avengers: Infinity War, Scarlett Johansson looked more like her character, former Russian spy Natasha Romanova, as she recently made an appearance on the wildly popular The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The actress, like every other big name involved with the multi-million dollar franchise, has been busy doing the rounds with the promotions - with Infinity War making an ambitious opening around the world last Friday.      

With her brunette locks swept to the side, Johansson, however, maintained her usual sassy composure while being fired with a curious lot of questions from the 60-year-old talk show host. The topics ranged from the newest Marvel blockbuster to a recent murmur about a standalone Black Widow movie; which to be honest has been keeping fans on their toes for quite some time now.

Scarlett Johansson at the Avengers: Infinity War premiere (Getty)
Scarlett Johansson at the Avengers: Infinity War premiere (Getty)

Black Widow, the alter ego of a trained and elite female sleeper agent, whose alias includes Natasha Romanoff, has been an integral part of the Avengers flagship taking shape under the Marvel Cinematic Universe, better known as MCU. However, her intriguing Russian origins, as many loyal fans might argue, has hardly been explored to its fullest potential in the 18 movies made till date as part of the MCU mothership. 

Originally in the comics, the character is a highly-skilled assassin, who has charted her way from one intelligence agency to another, after escaping a tortured childhood and the grief of losing her family in a tragic fire accident. From the extremely tightlipped (and of course fictional) Soviet Agency to KGB and the international counter-intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D; Romanoff has been there done that.

Her involvement with the otherworldly bunch of saviors - now better known as Avengers - began in the cinematic universe with 2010's Iron Man 2. She would be, in fact, positioned as the de facto founding member, tasked with bringing together a team; which at the time included Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, to recover a hostage (and her friend Clint Barton) from the grasp of Loki and to put an end to the brewing crisis. 

Black Widow and Hawkeye (Marvel)
Black Widow and Hawkeye (Marvel)

Moving forward, Romanoff aka Black Widow would not only serve as the core member of Team Avengers but also use her special skill sets - a glimpse of which we saw in 'The Avengers' - whenever required to stop the forces of anarchy and destruction. Since that first stint in the Iron Man sequel, this fierce and outrageously attractive superhero from Marvel has made an appearance in altogether six movies and surprisingly enough is yet to be honored with a solo venture of her own. 

Not only is this a waste of the darkly fascinating Russian backstory of the character, which is known to make for a great plot build up, but the delay also it shows Marvel's dilly-dally when it comes to jumping in on the female-led superhero flick bandwagon. At this point, a mention of their counterpart and the rival studio Warner Bros/DC is inevitable, who have already tested the waters with their commercially viable combination of Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot in the first ever female-fronted blockbuster, Wonder Woman. 

And are half way through pre-production and the initial preparation for a sequel to the movie that also happened to be the highest grossing release for WB in 2017. 

Cast of MCU's Avengers (Getty)
Cast of MCU's Avengers (Getty)

On the contrary, MCU fans will get to see the first woman-led solo superhero film only in 2019 when Brie Larson dons the armor for Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck-directed Captain Marvel. While the film is certainly grabbing eyeballs but there's still time before Carol Denvers' conquests in galactic wars actually starts generating buzz. In the meantime, though, keeping Marvel fans hooked and lusty for details is another femme fatale, Black Widow, whose standalone film buzz surprisingly picked up steam right before Infinity War's release. 

It all began with Johansson's recent visit to Ellen's show, where she finally mouthed the words that fans have been waiting to hear since forever.  

“I think there’s room for it," the 33-year-old Marvel star said on the talk show, finally directing the speculations from the "will they/won't they" zone to "there's a possibility" square. 

Johansson explained, "The only way to do it was if it was something we’d never seen before that was groundbreaking and incredibly badass," adding, “But I think if anything could make that happen, my boss Kevin Feige could. He’s a visionary.”

And we couldn't agree more!


A Black Widow movie has been long due and given the transitional stage MCU is in - with the release of Avengers 3 & 4 culminating in the end of phase III and beginning of the fourth phase - it only makes sense that Marvel starts planning ahead for its new roster of superheroes. Mixing old and new faces will supposedly be the ideal choice for the franchise, and considering the "tortured past" of the Johansson-played spy and her multitude of "issues" - Black Widow sounds like the ideal fit for a standalone feature. 

There's this little catch though. And it's with the portrayal of Black Widow - which is either as this insanely hot, clad in leather, martial arts-trained agent or as a femme fatale who calls shots, resolves differences, and packs a punch despite lacking real superhero powers in an otherwise hero-abundant universe.  

Johansson, in her capabilities, has continued to work her charm as the spy-turned-Avenger in all the seven (including the latest Infinity War) movies but the kind of charisma needed to uplift a character from a side-piece to the central star of the action is still missing. This is where the brilliance of the shared cinematic universe's creative board comes in.

When Jon Favreau was in charge of the Marvel characters in Iron Man 2, without any doubt, it transpired that he had reduced Johansson's on-screen persona to an object of male fantasy. With her outlandishly perfect figure and an unnecessary hair flip, the fierce assassin-cum-former-spy couldn't rise above the stereotyped characterization of women in comic book movies.

Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff (Marvel)
Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff (Marvel)

Instead of being a superhero in her own right, Romanoff continues to run errands for other leader-figures in the team, whether its Steve Rogers or Stark. It's not an in-your-face kind of irony, in fact, Johansson has the maximum screen presence compared to many other stars and yet at the end of every Avengers adventure, she stands out but only in supporting capacity. 

Some salvation for this character, however, came with 2012's The Avengers; where under the skilful treatment of Joss Whedon, Nat did more than just attract attention to her deceitful beauty. Her undercover expertise is completely justified in the warehouse scene, where she tricks and then turns the table on her interrogators. 

Another quality of Johansson's superhero that surfaced was her fearlessness and as cliched as it sounds, it's an attribute because Black Widow is more human, susceptible to fatalities than other characters in the MCU. 

A look at the former spy-turned-Avenger (Getty)
A look at the former spy-turned-Avenger (Getty)

Director brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, thankfully, took note of this quality and went on to explore her psychology, moral compass and much more in 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film was even more critical for the Black Widow journey because of the chemistry between Romanoff and her former mentor, Winter Soldier aka Bucky Barnes. 

The upward curve of Johansson's character exploration went suddenly topsy turvy in the following Avengers movies. Instead of treating her fighting prowess as the central story, a shift of focus brought to limelight an awkward relationship brewing between Black Widow and another angry Avenger, The Hulk. And 2016's release, Captain America: Civil War too did little to salvage Romanoff from spiralling back into the same pattern that Marvel's handful of superheroines have fallen into. 

Last time we checked, Black Widow was shuffling between Team Iron Man and Team Cap; and this clearly isn't the fate that fans of this relentless character would like to see her meet. Perhaps, at this point, it won't hurt Marvel to borrow a page or two off the pages of DC Extended Universe, and let a completely separate entity take over the female-fronted flick. 

Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot (Getty)
Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot (Getty)

Case in point: director Patty Jenkins, who not only proved her creative mettle with her portrayal of the Wonder Woman saga in DC's male-dominated universe but also translated the storytelling into commercial success at the box-office. 

If at all a Black Widow movie is made in the near future, work on which as per most comicbook sites seems to be in full swing, it needs to be through the prism of a female-heavy creative board. Not that the Whedons and the Russos haven't done any justice to the Black Widow story arc but to elevate the character from the sexualized, stock character syndrome a change in spectacle is much advised. 

Come 2019, Captain Marvel might be a huge phenomenon, even a vehicle for driving home Marvel's "wempowerment" message but that's a story for another year. Meanwhile, letting the Black Widow wave phase out, without giving the character appropriate screen-time and Johansson her due recognition would be a shame, even for the high-riding MCU success story.

 

Official poster of Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel)
Official poster of Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel)