There’s a mystery surrounding Marvel’s movies – and it’s not how does Spider-Man go to the toilet, or why Tony Stark is still considered a good guy after creating an artificial intelligence that destroyed a country – and levelled Leipzig.
Nor is it why no villain manages to make it through a movie without a) being killed off or b) compared unfavourably to Tom Hiddleston.
No, the bigger question is this:
Why hasn’t there been a Black Widow movie?
Scarlett Johansson has played Natasha Romanoff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for seven years now, starting off as an intriguing part of Iron Man 2 (some would argue the best part), before progressing through to her roles in The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Civil War. In each of them, she’s been an integral part of the plot and character development of the other main stalwarts of the series. She’s been the man who brings Hawkeye back from the brink when he’s under Loki’s spell, Steve Rogers’ confidant and partner – as well as a connection to The Winter Soldier’s past, and earns Tony Stark’s trust before betraying him.
So it’s fair to say she deserves her own feature, if nothing more than to explore the backstory of her training and brainwashing that was only hinted at in Age of Ultron. The rationale that’s normally used against a Widow-centric feature is that a female-led superhero movie is too much of a gamble for a major studio. That argument has now been debunked by the critical and financial success of Wonder Woman by Warner Bros. And for all the mistakes that studio has made with its franchises, it took Marvel to school in how to create a charismatic, enthralling female lead, and trusting that character to be the face of a solo movie.
So what’s the hold up – Scarlett Johansson herself hinted at time pressures and a good enough story needing to be in place before she would commit in February 2017 when speaking to Total Film magazine:
“I’ve talked to Kevin Feige about it. We’re creatively really compatible. I think we both agree that the character is right for a standalone, it’s just a case of timing at this point for both Marvel and myself. Marvel has a really huge roster. They’re looking four years ahead. I also have a lot of things that I want to do. If I did it, I would dedicate myself completely to making it amazing. It would have to be the best version that movie could possibly be. Otherwise, I would never do it.”
So that’s heartening, right? Equally though, it’s heartbreaking – when you consider that both Avengers: Infinity War movies have to happen (as that’s where the studio’s focus lies right now), and we’ll be well into Marvel’s Phase 4, before that elusive Widow movie were to happen – by which time Johansson will have been connected to the character for well over ten years.
So what would Marvel, Johansson herself and crucially the moviegoer have to gain from a Black Widow solo feature sooner rather than later, and how could it work?
Scarlett Johansson is a box office draw.
Granted, Wonder Woman is a more well known character than Natasha Romanoff, and that film’s success was built around the concept of people already knowing some of the Themysciran Princess’s backstory and appearance. But that would be offset by the fact Gal Gadot is nowhere near the Hollywood box office draw Scarlett Johansson is. Her name would mean big business for Marvel, and she’s capable of holding an audience – as evidenced by her roles in Lucy and Under the Skin – however mature the audiences those films were intended for. Cashing in on her stardom now would mean that the movie would have a recognisable name.
There’s another female superhero movie on the horizon.
Brie Larsson’s casting as Captain Marvel, and her own solo movie to follow in 2019, sent collective cheers through Marvel’s fandom, that Carol Danvers, one of the books’ genuine heavy hitters and most recognisible characters, would finally be joining the cinematic pantheon, and in her own feature to boot. Captain Marvel is a powerhouse, with cosmic abilities that put the Guardians of the Galaxy to shame. So it stands to reason that once she’s established as a solo hero – she’ll receive the bulk of Marvel’s marketing and promotional time to reflect her stature. That’s why it’s important to give Black Widow her own story now, before the need to actually do it is eclipsed.
You don’t need the other Avengers.
While Iron Man, Thor and Captain America’s individual outings have had intriguing plots, they all tend to involve huge action set pieces – by their very nature of being superhero movies. With a Black Widow film though there is a chance to do something a lot more personal and subtle. Glimpses of Romanoff’s history are seen in both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Her work as a spy, assassin and double agent would be unique within the sometimes bombastic continuity Marvel has established for itself. For that reason, separating it from any of the other main characters would be a huge benefit for the story, allowing it to genuinely be a story about Romanoff, and not inextricably linked with one of her team mates. That also means it can be done on a much more prudent budget than having to shell out for the likes of Robert Downey Jr, and Chris Hemsworth to appear. That money can then go into crafting an intelligent and structured thriller that would enhance the character even more.
It could tie into the Netflix TV continuity.
Marvel has been at great pains to limit the amount of interaction between its sometimes light-hearted movie properties and the grim world of its Netflix heroes. The odd reference to the Battle of New York notwithstanding, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have largely toned down the links, so much so you’d be forgiven for thinking they were different timelines altogether. Thus, a hero with no superpowers, who relies on cunning, skill, intelligence and training would seem to be an ideal fit. It’s too short notice to incorporate Black Widow into Netflix’s Punisher series, but it’s inevitable success should, in our opinion, open up the door for Romanoff to be part of a second outing for the vigilante. The two have interacted in the comics many times, as they share a past working with black ops military agencies, so to draw the parallels makes perfect sense. Crucially, it wouldn’t seem out of place despite the different tones of the movie and Netflix continuities.
It’s too good an opportunity to miss.
Finally, it makes no sense not to do it. At a time when diversity within superhero movies is needed, Johansson’s character represents an ideal way to provide a strong female character, who can stand toe-to-toe with her more physically powerful male counterparts. Not only that, Wonder Woman’s success means that the world has never been more ready to accept that an A-list actress can lead a comic book movie on her own, without the benefit or a large male ensemble cast. Black Widow is an independent, engaging character – to leave her without a solo movie would be a disservice to the actress who plays her, as well as the moviegoer themselves.