The nerd world has been abuzz recently with Kevin Feige’s recent admission to Variety that a standalone Black Widow movie is a definite possibility – he stated that there has been some “development work” in that regard, though that is of course still no guarantee that anything is actually going to happen. While Black Widow has been relegated to a fairly minor role in all Marvel outings thus far, she apparently figures quite prominently in Captain America: Winter Soldier, which will allow the audience to become much more familiar with the character; about all we’ve gleaned so far from the movies is that she’s Russian, has a history with Hawkeye, and is pretty good at punching things. But while comic fans everywhere are shouting “Yessss, finally, a female helmed superhero movie”, admittedly my initial reaction to the news was more along the lines of… “meh”.
Why, you ask? Why am I not more excited about the first female led superhero movie since Halle Berry flounced across our screens in ridiculous fetish gear, forever tarnishing Catwoman’s good name? (Michelle Pfeiffer. Always.) The simple answer is this… Scarlett Johansson. Because there has been nothing in Scarlett’s portrayal of Natasha thus far that leaves me screaming “MORE PLEASE”. This means that as a character, I have found Black Widow to be the weakest link on the Avengers team.
Black Widow is lacking the “super” part of “superhero”. She’s just an ordinary girl, who kicks ass and takes names. Yes, yes, I know in the comics she has some additional powers due to the Super-Soldier serum, but we’re talking the Black Widow of the Marvel cinematic universe here. There has been no hint whatsoever of any physical enhancements. And as a character that is lacking in powers, I need to believe that she can kick my ass. And, quite frankly, this is where I find Scarlett to be lacking. She certainly has the sexpot appeal, but I just don’t buy her ability to throw a punch – at all. She simply doesn’t have the physicality of someone who is supposed to be an expert gymnast and martial artist. The intimidation factor isn’t present. In addition to the physicality, I also simply do not have faith in Scarlett’s ability to carry a film on her own. She has excelled in supporting roles in her career, but she lacks a certain gravitas that is necessary in a leading lady. I can honestly say that I have yet to hear anyone say “Hey, Scarlett Johansson is in this movie? Let’s go see it!”
Let’s face it – when you think “female superhero”, the first name that pops to mind isn’t Black Widow. DC probably has the most popular female superhero of all time in Wonder Woman, but Marvel has some big names with Elektra, Ms. Marvel, Red Sonja, She-Hulk, and well, a tonne of female characters with X-Men. The only reason that the general public is aware of the character of Black Widow is because of Avengers. And aside from Iron Man, the individual Marvel movie franchises haven’t fared anywhere near as well as Avengers. The target audience for a Black Widow movie isn’t going to be comic book fans clamouring for a film about their favourite Russian spy, but rather those moviegoers who found the character enjoyable enough in the existing films that they feel like making another trip to the theater. And if the character hasn’t made enough of an impact, that audience simply isn’t going to be there.
To be clear, I am all in favour of women kicking ass and taking names, especially in cinema. The lack of female-led superhero movies isn’t something limited to the genre – it’s indicative of the gender bias in Hollywood as a whole (because apparently studio heads are stuck in a time warp and still believe the movie-going American can’t handle women-led movies, which I think is actually ridiculously insulting to the movie-going public as a whole, and a rant for another day). So I should be entirely more pumped for the prospect of a Black Widow movie. And while I champion the “idea” of the film, I simply think the execution of it will leave me wanting.
And then what happens if the film flops? Marvel already has some major hurdles to overcome, in that it will “star” a less popular character, portrayed by an actress who isn’t a huge draw at the box office. If the film doesn’t perform well, what do you want to bet that Marvel won’t be accepting of the fact that maybe they made some poor choices, but rather they’ll trot out the “OMG, no one wants to see female superheroes” excuse? Something like this would be horribly detrimental to the prospect of seeing lead female superheroes in future films (as everyone is expecting with Wonder Woman) – everyone would point their fingers at the Black Widow movie and scream “See, it doesn’t work!” (See: Elektra, Catwoman) I don’t understand why some studios don’t grasp the simple fact that it isn’t about the fact that there is a female in the lead role – it’s a matter of whether or not the movie is GOOD.
Given that nothing has been set in stone regarding a Black Widow movie, my guess is that a decision won’t be made until after Winter Soldier. Since Black Widow seemingly has quite a bit of screen time in the film, studio bigwigs might be waiting to see how the character is received before green-lighting anything. And given that the plot in Winter Soldier centres around two characters who have been enhanced by the Super-Soldier serum, might we see Natasha getting “suped” up at some point? If anything, if we do get a Black Widow movie, I am not expecting it to be heavily focused on an individual character, like the Iron Man films. I would expect it to be more along the lines of how they are proceeding with Winter Soldier; an ensemble film that has more of a political thriller bent to it rather than a straight up action flick.
Studio bigwigs out there, if you want to get it right, here’s an idea; cast Katee Sackhoff as Ms. Marvel and be done with it. Now THAT is a movie I would pay to see.
 Though the same could be said of the Black Panther movie, which was pushed from Marvel’s Phase Two production slate; though there is still talks that it will be part of Marvel’s Phase Three.