Tony Black asks why we haven’t seen a Black Widow movie from Marvel…
Spoilers for Captain America: Civil War…
Before you worry this article is going to descend, as so many do, into a Marvel bashing, feminist rant, let me disabuse you of this right off. I have never, and do not, consider Marvel to be sexist when it comes to women. While their main films are admittedly male dominated, they frequently craft strong, developing female characters – Pepper Potts, Peggy Carter, Scarlet Witch, Hope van Dyne, and of course Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. She’s been around the Marvel Cinematic Universe from almost the beginning, first being one of the highlights in the otherwise lacklustre Iron Man 2, all the way through to becoming Captain America’s new best friend in The Winter Soldier, and starting to fall in love with Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age of Ultron. So far, however, she’s only ever played second fiddle to the bigger male heroes and for years now people have been asking the simple question: why isn’t Black Widow getting her own solo movie? Scarlett Johansson is very game, as reputedly is Kevin Feige, Marvel’s producing head honcho, though he seems cooler on the prospect: “Frankly if we do a Black Widow movie after Age of Ultron when she’s been central in three or four movies I don’t think we’d get the quote unquote credit for it,” he commented back in 2014. “People would say “she’s already a big giant superhero!” But if we had a great idea, we’d do it”. The fans are without doubt the most keen, with a recent poll conducted by movie ticketing site Fandango, at the behest of USA Today, asking a thousand fans which MCU character they would most like to see get their own film seeing Black Widow win by a comfortable margin. Why then isn’t she on the Phase Three roster, or why wasn’t she on the Phase Two roster for that matter? What could be holding Marvel back?
It probably isn’t financial logistics or concerns, first and foremost, a fear that a Black Widow movie wouldn’t make money. Johansson is one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, probably able to draw more of a male crowd than female but nonetheless she is a major, pretty much household name. Equally the character is now very well established not just among Marvel comic book fans but the wider film going populous; when people think of The Avengers, they would think of Black Widow almost as much as Iron Man or Cap or Thor by this point, which is a testament to how central she is to the MCU. Natasha is, effectively, the MCU’s First Lady and that makes it even more glaring that she’s been omitted from her own solo adventure. The decision perhaps comes down, simply for once, to storytelling; Black Widow has actually functioned extremely well first working with Nick Fury in S.H.I.E.L.D., helping him establish the Avengers Initiative, and later being Cap and Tony Stark’s ally as S.H.I.E.L.D. is gutted from the inside thanks to HYDRA, and now of course in Civil War has found herself of both sides of their ideological conflict. Natasha has functioned so well as an ancillary co-lead in many of these films that perhaps Marvel feel her breaking out alone isn’t a necessity, given they’re at a point each MCU film is now constructing the bigger picture towards the next major event. Phase Three will be assembling the diverse pieces toward Infinity War, so perhaps they might be saving a Widow film until after that cosmic conflict, for a Phase Four Feige has already said will likely be a very different animal.
One has to question whether Johansson will still be in the role by then, at least. Her contract too will need renegotiating no doubt after Infinity War, and that’s assuming Natasha even survives those films. Johansson will have by then played the role for almost a decade, and bear in mind any Phase Four will almost certainly contain a Guardians of the Galaxy 3, Spider-Man 2, and possibly Ant-Man 3, Black Panther 2 and Doctor Strange 2. Heck it might even contain Iron Man 4 if the rumours Robert Downey Jr now wants to make it are true. That’s not even factoring in new characters and possible films! There’s a good chance Marvel may have wrestled the dying corpse of Fantastic Four from 20th Century Fox by then for example, and The Inhumans undoubtedly isn’t gone forever. Civil War writers Stephen McFeely & Christopher Markus have even recently talked about how they’d like to see Namor, the Sub-Mariner, tackled and you can bet if Aquaman turns out to be a success for DC that Marvel will start looking more carefully into that possibility. Again, this leaves Black Widow quite bereft – where does she fit? What urgency do they have to make a solo outing for Natasha? Maybe, just maybe then, she might fit better closer to another corner of the Marvel universe – closer to the Defenders. In my recent article, I talk about how preferably the Avengers and Defenders would be kept separate, and while I’m not suggesting porting Black Widow into Hell’s Kitchen, what if she would work much much better on Netflix with her own darker, grittier limited run TV series?
Sure, Johansson is a Hollywood megastar but Netflix has no problem attracting the big names given the money they invest in programming (see Kevin Spacey with House of Cards) and they would no doubt bend over backwards to throw money at a Black Widow series. You could attach a strong, edgy, possibly female showrunner like Melissa Rosenberg with Jessica Jones, to really craft out a powerful arc for Natasha and dig much deeper into her character. You could throw Hawkeye in there for good measure – though he’s since played it down to Flickering Myth’s own Oli Davis, Jeremy Renner mused that he’d be up for Clint Barton getting his own Netflix show, but I think far more people would enjoy him factoring into Black Widow’s story. Maybe we could finally find out what happened to them in Budapest, as hinted at in The Avengers. A TV show would have the advantage, as Daredevil & Jessica Jones have done, at allowing Natasha’s backstory to be explored with flashbacks; you could leap off from the vision flashes we saw of her KGB training in Age of Ultron, bring back Julie Delpy for a much larger role, and tell the story of how Natasha ended up working with S.H.I.E.L.D. while giving her a strong modern day narrative. What if her own training is connected to that of the Winter Soldiers? It could be a great place to again use Daniel Bruhl’s Colonel Zemo, even if just in flashback. Given Samuel L. Jackson & Cobie Smulders both appeared in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., maybe they could crop up on the Netflix show as Fury & Maria sporadically. And for the villain? Maybe Delpy, maybe her old mentor in the comic lore, Ivan Petrovitch (played by someone like Rade Sherbedgia) and through them explore the ‘Red Room’ and her crafting into a Russian spy. Or maybe even her old lover, Alexei Shostakov, and how he becomes the Red Guardian. You could throw that role at Alexander Skarsgard and not miss a step.
Crucially, this method would give Black Widow what she hasn’t yet had in the MCU – breathing room. Natasha Romanoff has undoubtedly been an important cog in the Avengers machine, playing key roles in the development of both Iron Man & Captain America–with stop-offs involving Hawkeye & the Hulk along the way–but we still don’t know a great deal about her past, about her origin, about how such a great female character came to be the woman she is today. That would make a fantastic story, one that deserves room to breathe with the darkness and edge a movie may not entirely do justice. So while we may yet get the Black Widow movie in 2020 or beyond, my campaign for her own Netflix series starts here – who’s with me?
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.