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Why Women Taking Center Stage in Marvel Cinematic Universe Makes Perfect Sense

Prisha Batra - 49 weeks ago

With Eternals, Black Widow, Thor: Love and Thunder and other films scheduled in Phase 4, Marvel Cinematic Universe is finally moving beyond its perfunctory stories of its female characters.

(Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in a still from The Avengers)

Marvel Cinematic Universe officially started in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, and in the past 11 years, it has been an evergreen source of amusement for its fans. Entertainment quotient apart, it is also an attempt to create an alternate mythology from characters sourced from Marvel comics bolstered with larger-than-life cinematic treatment for millennials. Avid watchers of MCU world films have often observed the disparate representation of female characters in Marvel movies; in contrast to men who are shown as natural fits for super heroism. Marvel has not ignored the female superhero, but one can’t help but notice that more often than not, female characters seem to bolster strengths and achievements of male superheroes in their films. With Phase 4 films, where Angelina Jolie top lines The Eternals and a female version of Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder with Natalie Portman, this might change for good. 

Initially, after the release of Agents of Shield, its producer Jeffrey Bell, had said that the MCU was going to have ‘big’ movies and the storyline would move ‘faster’, which became all the more reason for women characters in Marvel films to lose their vitality. For all these years, they had been shown as either the male protagonist’s better half or as emotional stimulators, acting as a moral weapon to incite emotions in audience. 

(Zoe Saldana as Gamora in a still from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)

Characters like Pepper Potts for Tony Stark (Iron Man), Peggy Carter for Steve Rogers (Captain America), Maria Hill for Nick Fury, Natasha Romanoff for Dr. Bruce Banner are some strong headed women who have been given the role of supporting and encouraging their respective male leads instead of having their own recognition on screen. These women were the backbone for each on-screen mission undertaken by male characters but are shown to work under their command. The ‘heroes’ seemed to be, ironically, more dependent on the female characters but the latter’s importance has often been undermined in these movies. 

(Taika Waititi explaining a scene to Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie) during the shooting of Thor: Ragnarok)

Black Widow, the first film scheduled in phase 4, will mark Cate Shortland's directorial debut in the MCU universe. A female director at the helm of MCU’s strongest woman-warrior character, makes for interesting speculative thinking. Shortland is best known for her small but successful films - Lore and Berlin Syndrome. Potentially, this teaming up of a fresh, young filmmaker with Black Widow’s complex past, promises a great story beyond her superb battle skills. This character’s conclusion in Avengers: Endgame left room for much complaint. Perhaps Marvel will creatively correct this omission with her solo films. 

As one witnesses younger, postmodern female characters like Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch), Gamora, Nebula, Valkyrie, Hope Van Dyne (The Wasp) etc., their evolution marked strong, fighting female characters but none had their character and story sketched well. They bring in a WOW factor and a punch to the plot, especially notable in Black Panther and it’s female fighting force. Wanda Maximoff in Avengers: Infinity War, emerging as one of the most powerful female characters, Gamora and Nebula, in Guardians of the Galaxy, as the fiercest women, the female antagonist Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok who destroyed Thor’s mighty hammer and broke all limits, Hope Van Dyne in Ant Man and The Wasp, without whom the mission would have remained just a dream. With Cate Blanchett playing an antagonist in Thor: Ragnorak as Hela, a superficial evil character was also introduced to audiences. Yet, not one has gone through a satisfying full circle of evolution and emergence in these films so far. 

(Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in a still from Avengers- Infinity War)

Narrowing down to specifics, an ideal character for the above ideology would be Scarlet Witch, who was the only one with the power to take down Thor alone as one could see it in Avengers: Endgame. Her role in the MCU world has been highly disorganized after her introduction in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Her character involved social alienation and suffering after losing her parents and her brother at the end of the movie. The conventional storylines allotted to women characters depict agony and pain after which they are on a continuous mission to either take revenge or find solace in a man just like Scarlet Witch did in Vision

Another witness to the evolution of femininity in MCU was Captain Marvel, which is considered to be the most hastily made movie in the MCU realm. Captain Marvel preceded Avengers: Endgame and minted money as her character was essential to completing the final film’s climax. But Carol Danvers is reactionary to suffering that she faces from men. This simplistic concept - of a woman either dwelling in a sense of incompletion and pain, or simply seeking vengeance needs to be refreshed by MCU. This raises the question as to why women need men to fill in the gaps for them while they themselves are perfectly capable enough of doing it themselves.

(Danai Gurira as Okoye in a still from Black Panther)

With The Eternals, Angelina Jolie takes on the role of a warrior with Thena, she is also a natural leader in the comic books. Apart from an ensemble cast that screams diversity, Marvel has made an interesting choice for director. Chloe Zhao is of Chinese origin and is best known for a Sundance indie Songs my Brother Taught Me. Choosing her to handle the biggest film in Phase 4 indicates a shift in approach to the superhero film. And this holds out promise that women characters will finally find their justifiable spotlight within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Tags

The Eternal / Black Widow / Thor: Love and Thunder / Angelina Jolie / Natalie Portman / Scarlett Johansson / MCU / Marvel Cinematic Universe /

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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