Scarlett Johansson has demonstrated in movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron that she has the chops for a solo movie. By Jay Maidment. ©Marvel 2015

Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron director Joss Whedon used the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) for several emotional story beats. By Jay Maidment. ©Marvel 2015

Looking at this concept art for Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s not hard to imagine a Black Widow movie. ©Marvel 2015

Can you imagine some or all of these Avengers: Age of Ultron heroes  as supporting characters in a Black Widow film? They are (from left) Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Film Frame. ©Marvel 2015

 

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

 

Let us now speak in praise of Black Widow.

I submit that the sultry super-spy, played by Scarlett Johannson in Marvel movies, deserves her own film. Four of the six founding Avengers in the movies – Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor – have had multiple solo films. Dr. Strange, Black Panther and even Ant-Man are scheduled to have their own Marvel movies. But apparently Natasha Romanoff (nee Natalia Romanova) is not in line to get one.

In the words of Daffy Duck, “Thith meanth war!”

One possible clue as to why the Widow has been slighted comes from the infamous Sony hack, where an email from Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter to Sony CEO Michael Lynton was posted by Wikileaks. This email continues a conversation where Perlmutter apparently expressed an opinion about superheroine movies, which we can guess was not a positive one:

 

“As we discussed on the phone, below are just a few examples.  There are more.

 “1. Elektra (Marvel) – Very bad idea and the end result was very, very bad.

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=elektra.htm

“2. Catwoman (WB/DC) - Catwoman was one of the most important female character within the Batman franchise. This film was a disaster.

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=catwoman.htm

“3. Supergirl – (DC) Supergirl was one of the most important female superhero in Superman franchise. This movie came out in 1984 and did $14 million total domestic with opening weekend of $5.5 million.  Again, another disaster.”

 

Actually, despite Perlmutter’s assertion, there really aren’t any more examples of superheroine movies that did poorly at the box office. (Mainly because there aren’t many superheroine movies.) Further, the three movies he names didn’t fail because they had female leads – they tanked because they were awful movies. And he’s ignoring successful female-led action films, like the “Resident Evil” franchise (starring Milla Jovovich) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (starring Angelina Jolie).

But more to the point is the recent Lucy, starring a familiar face: Scarlett Johansson. That film, which cost about $40 million to make, topped that at the box office on its opening weekend, and tripled that in movie theaters alone. No, it’s not a superhero movie. But it’s awfully darn close, and it proves beyond a doubt that Johansson is an A-list actress who can successfully “open” a movie. 

Now, there are some who argue that a Black Widow movie would be too small. That, unlike movies starring thunder gods, narcissistic inventors, super-soldiers or giant, green rage machines, an espionage movie requires a lead who blends into the background and elides threats on the QT.

Really? Ask any of the actors who played James Bond or Jason Bourne how often they were asked to blend into the background. Or how “small” their movies were. The latest Bond Film, Skyfall, was a $200 million effort, which made $300 million at the box office.

And that’s ignoring one of the biggest and best espionage films ever made: Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Sure, it’s technically a superhero movie. But while the Star-Spangled Avenger was clearly the star, Cap 2 was essentially a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie, using the the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe as its playground. And it was boffo.

And, hello, what’s this? One of the essential supporting characters was a kick-butt heroine named Black Widow.

Which makes another compelling argument for a Black Widow movie. Flip the script, where Nat’s the lead and Cap’s the supporting character, and you’ve got another big-budget espionage blockbuster. Only this time it stars a gal who happens to be one of the premier actresses of our time.

And if you have any doubts about Johansson’s acting ability, especially as the Widow, go back and watch Marvel's The Avengers again. In her scene on the helicarrier with the Hulk, Johansson exhibits (in quick succession) sheer terror, a panic attack and then gritty resolve to return to the fray. It’s easy to be heroic when you’ve got a magic hammer or an armored suit, but if you’re just a gal in a cat-suit fighting the incredible Hulk, you’ve got to have a lot of guts. That’s what Johansson showed, in both her character and as an actress. It might have been the acting highlight of the movie.

Then there’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, which just topped $1 billion at the box office worldwide. Once again Johansson’s character had a major dramatic story arc, hinting at her origins, connecting with TV’s Agent Carter and suggesting that her character might be more than just an orphan brutalized into being a spy by the Soviet Union – she might be the U.S.S.R.’s version of Captain America.

But with all that going for her, Black Widow doesn’t have a movie in the pipeline. Marvel has released its movie schedule through 2019, and Natasha’s not on it. Instead, we have:

 

  • July 17, 2015: Ant-Man
  • May 6, 2016: Captain America: Civil War
  • Nov 4, 2016: Doctor Strange
  • May 5, 2017: Guardians of the Galaxy 2
  • July 28, 2017: Spectacular Spider-Man (in conjunction with Sony)
  • Nov. 3, 2017: Thor: Ragnarok
  • May 4, 2018, Avengers: Infinity War Part 1
  • July 6, 2018, Black Panther
  • Nov. 2, 2018: Captain Marvel
  • May 3, 2019: Avengers: Infinity War - Part 2
  • July 12, 2019: Inhumans

 

Sharp-eyed Marvel fans might notice there is a solo superheroine movie on the list: Captain Marvel. And I’m glad to see it. For one thing it will be co-written by Nicole Perlman, who made a space tree and a talking raccoon entertaining as co-writer of Guardians of the Galaxy.

But don’t pin any hopes on Perlman. On Aug. 4 she tweeted (as @UncannyGirl), “Hey folks, before rumors get out of hand: I wrote a treatment for Black Widow in 2010/2011, but I am not actively developing it right now.”

Which is a crime. Marvel has all the pieces it needs to make a terrific Black Widow movie, and all the evidence it needs to practically guarantee success. But, no: Perlmutter doesn’t think girls can carry big-budget movies.

He’s wrong. And once Captain Marvel shatters the glass ceiling – and it will – maybe we’ll get the Black Widow movie we deserve.

 

Reach Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), the Internet (comicsroundtable.com), Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or Twitter (@CaptainComics).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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That's true, but when the first X-Men movie was released the general public had never heard of them. It enabled all the superhero movies that followed.

Ron M. said:

The fact Captain Marvel is popular among comics readers doesn't necessarily mean she'll be a hit with the regular public, most of whom, if they've heard of the name at all, would probably be thinking Shazam.

Doesn't mean the general public knows or cares what characters they never heard of before are the most popular. Comic fans might be outraged but the public will probably just say "is Captain Marvel an Avenger?"

My point was that if a movie is exciting and well-written the characters don't have to be well-known.

The outrage would occur because they have publicized that the Captain Marvel movie features a female as the title character. A lot of people are invested in the movie doing well even if they aren't familiar with the character.

Ron M. said:

Doesn't mean the general public knows or cares what characters they never heard of before are the most popular. Comic fans might be outraged but the public will probably just say "is Captain Marvel an Avenger?"

Something sounds wrong, with them saying they're making amovie about a female hero but they don't want a Widow movie because she's a female hero. Like the guy that's opposed to the Widow getting a film was forced to take Captain Marvel. Executives opposed to a film can ruin it.

Exactly. Making Guardians of the Galaxy was specifically and all about taking a third-tier, unpopular and barely remembered property and turning it into a hit, the better to breed more hits in the future. NO reason why they can't put that kind of commitment into a Black Widow movie.

That's not even the group comic fans think of when they think Guardians of the Galaxy. Still waiting for Charlie-27 to show up.

GotG and Big Hero Six (and the Men in Black and the Blade movies) show that it's possible to make very successful movies from less-successful comic book characters and features. But it doesn't follow that a successful movie can be made from just any. The Guardians of the Galaxy movie wasn't based on the 60s-90s GotG but the Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning version. Perhaps a successful movie could have been made by taking the original characters and premise and adding humour, but perhaps not. There would have been no Rocket Racoon or Groot.

Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four have ensemble casts. So did the GotG and Big Hero Six movies. And so did the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show. Spider-Man is a solo star, but he has a strong supporting cast. So does Iron Man, although there's been variation in it over the years. They also have good villains and memorable storylines associated with them. Captain America used Bucky, Agent 13, Tony Stark's dad, the Howling Commandoes and the Red Skull, and Cap's origin and suspended animation time leapfrog. I won't say a good Black Widow couldn't be made, but more would have to be created to make it work; there's less to work with. 

Moreover, characterisation matters, and the character's relationship to the audience matters. Wolverine became popular because he's a manly man and a man males want to be (and women want when he's played by Hugh Jackman). A Black Widow movie would have to offer something else instead. It might be able to, but my point is it would have to.

It's surprising if they don't think the Widow can make it since she'd been in several films that they'd go with Captain Marvel. She hasn't appeared in any movies so they can't tell if she'll be popular with the general audience. What do they have to work with with that character? What supporting characters or memorable storylines does she have? Last I saw of her she was still Binary.

Luke Blanchard said:

Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four have ensemble casts. So did the GotG and Big Hero Six movies. And so did the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show. Spider-Man is a solo star, but he has a strong supporting cast. So does Iron Man, although there's been variation in it over the years. They also have good villains and memorable storylines associated with them. Captain America used Bucky, Agent 13, Tony Stark's dad, the Howling Commandoes and the Red Skull, and Cap's origin and suspended animation time leapfrog. I won't say a good Black Widow couldn't be made, but more would have to be created to make it work; there's less to work with.

Your point about having an ensemble cast seems telling. Black Widow has been part of ensembles in the Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers movies. The movie-goers know who she is and Scarlett Johannson is a very good actress and a big box office draw. The script would have to be top-notch and she would have to have characters with whom to interact. They might be able to pull it off but I still think Scarlett Johannson has played the character a lot. She's played her in Iron Man 2, Avengers 1 and 2, and Captain America 2. She's is announced as being in Captain America Civil War. We don't know if she will be in the next Avengers movie. I'm sure she's being paid very well but she will want to do other roles soon. If they were going to do a Black Widow movie it probably should have been after the first Avengers movie.

If it had a Shield background it would be fairly easy to put together a cast. I figure the plot would be based on the Red Guardian story from Avengers, but perhaps without the costumed identity. (I've not read that story, but it's the best personal story about BW I'm aware of.)

Ron M. said:

It's surprising if they don't think the Widow can make it since she'd been in several films that they'd go with Captain Marvel. She hasn't appeared in any movies so they can't tell if she'll be popular with the general audience. What do they have to work with with that character? What supporting characters or memorable storylines does she have? Last I saw of her she was still Binary.

I was going to question the choice of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel for a stand-alone movie. I know very little about the character. Then I realized that Ant-Man, Dr. Strange and Black Panther are unknown to the general public. So far Marvel Studios has done a bang-up job with the movies they've chosen to make. I'm willing to bet they will continue to do so. If they had made a Black Widow movie they would have done that well also. Too bad they didn't do it.

Alexandra Kitty said:

You have a bankable actress who has a high-profile role that now millions of people know and the character is now the most recognized heroine to a general audience now thanks to four different movies. There is no excuse. None.
This.  This times one hundred.  Hollywood is leaving so much money on the table here it is baffling.

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