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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I think the really bankable stars will stay away from a regular TV series -- and Johannsen is in that tier. A TV show is a long time commitment -- and for continuing series, an indefinite one! --  and that time can be better invested in a number of projects when they're at their hottest, rather than just one. Later on, when they start moving off the A list, TV is a good place for them to land, especially on prestige projects like House of Cards. But TV is a different schedule, and now isn't the time when Johannsen would only want to put out 1-2 movies a year, when she could be making 4 or 5. My guess is, if Johannsen wanted to buck the economics of it and do a regular TV show, it wouldn't be Black Widow. It would be something she owned, top to bottom.

Harry Shearer said one of the reasons he left the Simpsons after 26 years was it was interfering with other projects.

There has also been a move in recent years involving actors who are financially secure choosing to make TV series so that they can stay with their families rather than spend long periods of time far from home making movies.

The quality of writing and production for TV series has improved quite a bit in recent years, which also attracts high-profile actors and directors. Emmy awards have been going disproportionately to Netflix and cable stations for awhile now.

Detective 445 said:


Ron M. said:

Isn't Netflix considered a step down from regular TV?


No, the television landscape has changed quite a bit in recent years.

Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:

I think the really bankable stars will stay away from a regular TV series -- and Johannsen is in that tier. A TV show is a long time commitment -- and for continuing series, an indefinite one! --  and that time can be better invested in a number of projects when they're at their hottest, rather than just one. Later on, when they start moving off the A list, TV is a good place for them to land, especially on prestige projects like House of Cards. But TV is a different schedule, and now isn't the time when Johannsen would only want to put out 1-2 movies a year, when she could be making 4 or 5. My guess is, if Johannsen wanted to buck the economics of it and do a regular TV show, it wouldn't be Black Widow. It would be something she owned, top to bottom.

That's changed, too. Matthew McConaughey is on top of the A-list and as bankable a star as there is, and he did True Detective, an anthology show that also featured Colin Farrell, Woddy Harrelson, Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams, also A-list stars. 

Prestige TV shows are a viable option for actors and aren't necessarily a step down or a step backward anymore. 

Just to play Devil's Advocate, isn't it at least possible that one of the reasons that Hollywood does such a bad job with female super-heroes is that, historically, the comic book publishers have done such a bad job with female super-heroes?  Take Black Widow, for example, sure, we have a popular supporting character played by a bankable actress, but what does the Widow herself, as a character bring to the table?  She has no rogues' gallery of her own (unless you count the newer, younger Black Widow--nothing sexist or demeaning there!), and no supporting cast besides SHIELD and the various Avengers.  Add the fact that the various spider-themed gimmicks that made her a super-hero, rather than a secret agent, have been forgotten for decades at this point, leaving a character who for the most part, is interchangeable with Maria Hill, Melinda May, or Sharon Carter (only played by a higher profile actress), and if they wanted to make an Agents of SHIELD movie, you know they'd just as soon star Samuel L. Jackson.  The comic book Widow's origin is a mess, and I still can't believe that the same company that was in a tizzy because being married made Peter Parker seem too old had no problem with Natasha Romanova being the world's sexiest Octogenarian!  The movies could certainly streamline her back story, but we've already been told that she was both a KGB agent and she was born in 1982, so the math isn't looking good (admittedly, the Red Room could have acquired her in infancy, but still...)

Most of the other female super-heroes have many of the same problems--even the most "These Toys were made to be broken" male heroes at least retain a solid core that a film or series can be built around: Tony Stark/wealthy industrialist/ playboy with several usable supporting characters (Pepper, Happy, Rhodey, Bambie) and a slate of foes (Iron Monger, Mandarin, Whiplash, etc).  For the female heroes, not so much: Supergirl has been Linda Lee,  Linda Danvers, Mae Kent, Kara Kent, Linda Lang, and now Kara Danvers, belongs to the career path of the month club, and her only memorable boyfriends have been a part-time horse and a demon named Buzz Aldrin.  True, most of the other "name" heroines aren't quite as messed up as Supergirl, at least in terms of keeping track of their civilian names (altho most have the same career instability and boyfriend/supporting cast deficit).  The general public is mostly aware that Wonder Woman is Intelligence Agent Diana Prince (military or otherwise) and works with Steve Trevor & Etta Candy, and that Batgirl is librarian Barbara Gordon, the police commissioner's daughter, but that's about it, and doesn't really reflect their comic book realities over the past few decades.  She-Hulk's law career was pretty stable, but she never stayed in any one setup long enough to establish a supporting cast like Daredevil's--did Jen Walters ever even have a secretary, or a law school classmate? 

Dave Elyea said:

Just to play Devil's Advocate, isn't it at least possible that one of the reasons that Hollywood does such a bad job with female super-heroes is that, historically, the comic book publishers have done such a bad job with female super-heroes?  

The short answer: No.

And why not? 

Because comics are comics and movies are movies.

Movies are their own creative enterprises, driven by their own needs, storytelling and otherwise. The existence of any given comic series or comic character is what gets a movie version greenlighted -- but after that, the moviemaking machinery takes over, and the movie has to stand or fall on its own merit.

We often forget that all of the comics fans in existence won't make or break a movie, because there simply aren't enough of them. All of the comics fans in existence wouldn't total one day's box office take, assuming that all of them went to see a particular film, which is highly dubious. Movies are made for movie fans who may know little to nothing of the continuity from the source material AND DON'T CARE ABOUT IT. They're there for the movie, not a history lesson in what was in the comics, or books, or whatever the source was. Harry Potter was a big success as a book series, but it was a bigger success as a movie series because there are more movie fans than book readers.

Thus, movie makers are free to pick and choose from the comics what works for making a good movie. Sometimes the results are good, like most of the Marvel movies. Sometimes not. In other words, for example, Catwoman didn't fail because legions of comics fans said, "That's not the Catwoman from the comics!" Catwoman failed because it was a bad movie. 

If they went by long term comic book successes they wouldn't have tried Guardians of the Galaxy. Just a few years ago that was a completely different group of characters. My knowledge of Star Lord was he appeared in a couple of black and white magazines in the 70s and had a weird mask (which the movie didn't even use.)

Dave Elyea said:

She has no rogues' gallery of her own (unless you count the newer, younger Black Widow--nothing sexist or demeaning there!), and no supporting cast besides SHIELD and the various Avengers.

Virtually all of the bad guys in the Arrow TV show are borrowed from other heroes. Marvel could follow their lead in this regard.

Add the fact that the various spider-themed gimmicks that made her a super-hero, rather than a secret agent, have been forgotten for decades at this point...

Even if they wanted to do so, using spider-stuff with her might be seen by the public as a rip-off of Spider-Man, even if Sony was OK with it.

The movies could certainly streamline her back story, but we've already been told that she was both a KGB agent and she was born in 1982, so the math isn't looking good (admittedly, the Red Room could have acquired her in infancy, but still...)

I thought it was a poor choice to tie her to the KGB (or course today Russia has the FSB, a "rose" by another name). The movie versions of James Bond replaced the KGB adversaries from the earlier books with the for-profit terrorist group SPECTRE. They seemed to be hoping for better relations between the West and the USSR (Dr. No preceded the Cuban Missile Crisis) while continuing to vilify China, which was shown actively assisting Goldfinger. The Marvel movies should probably have had Hydra creating these young spies/assassins instead of the KGB.

I'm aware that comics are not movies, and vice versa, but it seems to me that a big part of the appeal of comic book characters (and prose based ones like Harry Potter) to Hollywood is not the built in fan base, but that the creative heavy lifting has already been done.  If someone in Hollywood has to go to all the trouble to build a world from scratch around Black Widow, why pay Marvel for the privilege when they can create their own movie, like Lucy, and not have to bother with an outside source at all?

Sure, many of the villains on Arrow come from other features, as do a number of the supporting characters (even tho Felicity Smoake of the TV series bears little resemblance to Ronnie Raymond's "wicked step-mother" from the comics), but at least the few existing GA villains from the comics have been represented, like Merlyn the Archer, Clock King, China White & Count Vertigo.  Try and put together a list of Black Canary foes--and Lady Shiva hardly counts, she'll fight anybody!

And more to the point, the fact that the publishers of these female heroes keep reshuffling everything about them to a far greater degree than their male counterparts seems to set the bar too low for Hollywood--if DC doesn't care who Catwoman is, or what she's really about, why should the people who made that awful Halle Berry movie?

I fail to see where the Black Widow's retired gadgets impinged on Spider-Man at all--he's got nothing at all like her Widow's Bite, which is closer to the Wasp's Sting than Spider-Woman's venom-blast, the line she used to fire and swing from was much closer to the lines used by Daredevil & Batman, or Sandman's old wirepoon than Spider-Man's much more versatile and visually distinct webbing, and Spider-Man was scarcely the first or the last hero to stick to walls & ceilings, and she never looked as creepy-crawly when she did it as Spidey or Nightcrawler do.  I'd just like to see something to show why she's a super-hero, and folks like Sharon Carter are just supporting players.

Truth to tell, I really hope that we get that Black Widow movie, because maybe then, she'll get some friends & foes of her own that will translate into the comics.  Just out of curiosity, which Marvel villains do you think would work well as Black Widow foes?  The Red Guardian would make sense, either the original version who'd be revealed as her supposedly dead husband, or the female one before she gained stellar powers, but most of the other commie plot villains would just add to the age problem.  Madam Mask and/or Count Nefaria could be fun, and it's unlikely they'll ever turn up in an Iron Man movie.

Having her fight someone that turns out to be her supposedly dead husband would work better, but would that still work with the backstory they're giving her? Count Nefaria and Madame Masque would really need one movie to set them up (ending with Whitney Frost escaping) and a second where she'd turn up again disfigured. Might be interesting to bring in the Astrologer. Do some really weird New Age stuff.

Technically she's not a superhero, but then neither is Batman, and that hasn't hurt his movie career.

Actually, with her current Red Room background, I don't think her dead husband was ever actually her husband, just like the ballet career she thought she had never happened.  OK, I admit, I'm kind of cranky because they seem to have gotten rid of all the interesting bits of her background in order to double down on the hopelessly out of date KGB stuff.  The other stuff could have stayed in place if she'd been quietly updated to being a Russian Mafia Princess who was recruited for industrial espionage, met Tony Stark, seduced Hawkeye, etc.

Technically, she's not a super-hero, but Batman & Green Arrow, for example, are still costumed crime-fighters, as are at least a few of her fellow Avengers, at least in the comics.  They are clearly a different type of character than secret agents like Sarge Steel or Rick Flagg.  Since most SHIELD Agents favor the same sort of skin-tight leather outfits Tasha wears, how is anyone to tell why she deserves a spot on the Avengers more than Sharon Carter (in the comics) or Maria Hill (in the movies)?  Even movie Hawkeye still has his gimmicky arrows, and in Age of Ultron, his outfit got more "costumey" to mark him as something other than just another SHIELD Agent.

The Astrologer might also be a fun way to bring in a movie version of the Zodiac (and hopefully do them right for a change)--they're going to need some kind of "thread" device once they wrap up the Infinity Saga, and having one or two Zodiac villains in the various solo movies building to all twelve turning up in an Avengers movie could be fun--maybe Sagittarius could finally be an archer!

As far as I'm able to determine, Marvel Studios has the following movies scheduled.

2015:
Ant-Man

2016:
Captain America: Civil War
&
Doctor Strange

2017
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
&
Untitled Spider-Man film (Jointly with Sony/Columbia Pictures)
&
Thor: Ragnarok

2018
Avengers: Infinity War Part 1
&
Black Panther
&
Captain Marvel

2019
Avengers: Infinity War Part 2
&
Inhumans

I don't see where they would fit the movie proposals we're discussing. Except for his appearance in Civil War they appear to have wrapped up Iron Man. I get the impression that the Ragnarok movie will wrap up Thor. I also think that, based on the Harry Potter and Hunger Games movie series, when they start splitting movies in two it's an indication the series is ending. A Black Widow movie might still fit in with the smaller-scale movies scheduled a few years from now (Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Inhumans). Whether Scarlett Johansson would want to do it is, I think, in doubt. We really don't know what will happen with her character in the Civil War movie.

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