With hit after hit, Marvel Studios is the current juggernaut of comic book movies. But what is keeping Black Widow from becoming their next blockbuster?
First introduced to audiences in Iron Man 2 as an undercover SHEILD agent observing Tony Stark’s eligibility for the Avengers initiative, the character joined Nick Fury as the figurative “glue” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While her first performance was enjoyable, I don’t recall it making much impact with fans or audiences. She was funny, sexy and a good fighter, but I can’t think of much in the way of a promising foundation established.
What was established as a character trait and has continued to be a defining characteristic, is Natasha Romanov’s duplicity and misdirection which comes from her background as a spy.
As the MCU moved on after Thor and Captain America:The First Avenger, it unveiled what fans have been waiting for; The Avengers. Until that point, Agent Phil Coulson had been the connecting tissue between Iron Man, Thor and Cap. After his “death” in The Avengers, his role is suddenly open. Under Joss Whedon’s direction, the character of Black Widow gains a bigger part of the plot and careful ingraining into the MCU as a partner to Clint Barton and someone “With Red in her Ledger” on a search for redemption. After the movie, the question starts being asked somewhat quietly but reasonably, “Where is the Black Widow movie?”
This question began being asked more with Captain America: Winter Soldier and seeing Black Widow once again in action fighting alongside Captain America confidently and competently. She also plays into the plot of the film at the beginning and is key in the climax.
So what’s the holdup?
After Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk, Marvel had a firmly set outline for films going till 2019 involving the rest of the Avengers, the Inhumans and other unnamed projects TBD. So far, Black Widow:The Movie isn’t one of them. Feige has stated that Marvel Studios isn’t good at pivoting due to unexpected success, which I highly doubt. Daredevil Season 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, even the Ant-Man sequel all seem to have been the result of Marvel seeing their gambles pay off extremely well and doubling down. So Marvel can make the sudden shot from the hip and come out on top. Even their lesser successes like The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and The First Avenger are still called successes. What’s stopping Black Widow from joining her more high profile teammates?
#1. Not so Super
All of Marvel’s solo hero movies have focused on guys (duh) with super-intelligence, super strength/stamina and the powers of a Norse god. Only Starlord bucks that trend by just being a space outlaw, but he’s part of a team, he forms a group dynamic from almost the beginning and doesn’t need to justify a film focusing just on him. Compared to Tony, Steve, Bruce and the Odinson; Black Widow is on par with Clint in terms of physical power. That isn’t a coincidence, The Avengers took much inspiration from The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch and put Natasha and Clint firmly in the background while the powered Avengers took center stage. Marvel Studios makes SUPERHERO movies and while Black Widow is an Avenger its hard to call her a superhero.
#2. Hidden beginnings
One other thing Natasha has in common with Clint is a lack of backstory. Every other Avenger (including Vision, War Machine, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) has an origin to explain their powers and motivations. Natasha lacking such a clarity to the audience may make revealing it enticing, but risky. Consider Wolverine, a enigmatic badass whose backstory was only hinted at. By the time his origin was reveled in the comics and in film, the results were a letdown in many respects. “All that buildup and this is what they come up with?” We know Natasha’s background involves ballet, the KGB or some analogous stand-in and surgical sterility. While it can be argued whether each tidbit is valid to forming her character, tying all of them together and revealing her entire history like Steve Rogers has to be a crisp and compelling story.
#3. Technical Support
The main thing holding Black Widow back is one the main reasons she exists; to prop up the other Avengers. Keep tabs on Tony, back up Steve, control Bruce, save Clint; her role on the team seems entirely based on her male teammates. Understanding this, it becomes clear why she doesn’t need a movie when her support role is available in every other movie already.
Contrast this with the character of Mystique in the X-Men films. Through films 1-3 she acts not just as Magneto’s confidant and possible lover, but also her own agent acting to advance the Mutant cause. When Jennifer Lawrence was cast in the role for the prequel/reboot First Class, Mystique began being fleshed out as her own character. Yes, for the majority of that film she blindly follows Charles Xavier’s philosophy and leadership and ultimately switches sides to Magneto, but in the next film she has rejected both of them. She becomes her own woman discontent to fall under anyone’s instincts but her own after seeing the faults of two strong leaders overcome them. From that point on, whoever she sides with isn’t her being weak but instead choosing for herself what path to follow. Her character has become so strong, there is talk of her filling Wolverine’s role in the X-Men franchise. This is what Black Widow needs, a roadmap devoid of Nick Fury or another Avenger telling her where to go or what to do.
Black Widow shows very little in the way of self-determination in the current MCU films, she may feel like she “has nothing to prove” but that may itself be the problem. She has nothing to prove, no story to tell other than cleaning up after her male counterparts.
Giving her a personal movie of self discovery on a modest budget isn’t going to convince Marvel to make that movie when Ant-Man or Thor can make close to a billion dollars guaranteed.
Until we see what Black Widow has something to offer besides playing second fiddle to other heroes, we won’t see her in her own movie. Instead of asking for one, we should be asking Mr.Feige to treat her with more concern to strengthen her character.