Here’s a fact worthy of Avengers fans spiralling into a Hulk-like rage over: we’re probably never going to get a Black Widow movie. When Disney and Marvel, whose Age Of Ultron has already made £34.84m at the UK box office alone, mapped out their five year plan last October, spanning a further eight tales of big-budget super-heroism, there was no sign of one. This week, we got a reason for this, easily deduced from fresh leaked Sony emails: female superhero movies just don’t work, you guys! According to Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, Elektra, Catwoman and Supergirl were disasters – undisputable evidence, apparently, that female-led superhero movies are fatally flawed and must never be allowed near cineplexes. In the fantastical Marvel Cinematic Universe, a place where Norse gods with luscious golden locks and natty capes clatter around New York and giant green men with anger issues do battle with robots, the idea of a woman being anything other than a sideline to the big, burley, wise-crackin’ men around her is the only thing that’s truly implausible.
The infuriating thing about all this is, if there’s anything to be taken from Age of Ultron, it’s that Black Widow has a story to be told. Raised in an assassin den by a stone-faced Julie Delpy who teaches both ballet and how to shoot, we learn – light spoilers ahead – that she and her associates were sexually violated as teens. Compare her story to Iron Man’s, an egomaniac billionaire who’s essentially a really fuck smug Inspector Gadget. Black Widow’s maybe the most complex and compelling of the super-powered ensemble. But instead of exploring her story in a standalone film, like most of the other Avengers, we’ve got Paul Rudd as Ant-Man to look forward to this July courtesy of Marvel – a movie about a man who gets very small and also very strong. Coooooool.
We know that Scarlett Johansson can carry an action movie, having brought compassion to her role in Ultron, as well as an astute fearlessness while co-piloting Captain America: Winter Soldier. She also triumphed in last summer’s Lucy. This is about more than Scarlett Johansson and her role in Avengers, though. What this is about is the stigma that surrounds female-led films in general, but especially female-led action ones. Elektra, Supergirl and Catwoman were awful movies. But to can all future female-led action movies based on three missteps would be like disbanding the Spiderman franchise because Spiderman 3 was a shit-show that reached a new nadir with that horrendous emo dance scene.
Studios keep handing money over to male directors for male-starring movies that may or may not make a return. When Ant-Man was announced, it wasn’t questioned whether we’d want to see Paul Rudd carry an action movie or whether we want another “male action film” – his name was announced and we moved on, minus the sorrow surrounding Edgar Wright’s departure as director. But considering the all-female Ghostbusters reboot was met with such vitriol (and was subsequently followed by an all-male Ghostbusters reboot) speaks volumes: a deep-rooted sexism plagues the movie industry, and for that we all suffering.
A Black Widow movie could change that. By allowing Natasha Romanoff the same luxury as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk (sorry Hawkeye – maybe next year), we’d get a much-needed look into her backstory, helping us to better understand her, and as such, to better understand her relationship with the rest of the Avengers. It would also send the message to young, burgeoning filmmakers that action films aren’t “boys’ movies,” and that female action heroes aren’t second string to their male counterparts. Not to mention finally extinguishing the idea that if you’re a woman, the subject of your creativity better be amazing, or you can find yourself permanently in a man’s shadow. There is a glimmer of hope amid all this gloom: the character Carol Danvers will come to life as Captain Marvel in a stand-alone film slated for 2018. Regardless of that movie’s success or lack of it, Black Widow is deserving of her own time in the spotlight. Even Mark Ruffalo, who plays Hulk, has called out Marvel on the character’s neglect, pointing to the lack of merchandise available. So how about it, Ike Perlmutter?