Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Case Against A Black Widow Solo Movie

With the recent unveiling of Marvel Studios’ plans for Phase 3 and the long-awaited inclusion of non-white and non-male heroes as protagonists in their proper films, some fans expressed disappointment with the lack of a Black Widow solo film. Here’s why that’s not such an interesting prospect as it may seem at first glance.

First things first, as nothing is ever black and white except for the morality in Captain America movies*: there is at least one all-encompassing, shut-the-whole-thing-down argument in favor of a Black Widow solo film, and it’s a tune we’ve all been singing for a while. Big mainstream Hollywood blockbusters with female leads, while growing steadily in number, are still far too much of a minority. If Marvel Studios can contribute to that with more than one entry over the next coming five years, that’d be great. If they do make it, I will support it, because that’s what you do.

Why not, then? Let’s run down the reasons against the opening of a certain red-splotched ledger, one at a time.

1.) We’ve Seen Black Widow

Super-spy Natasha Romanoff is one of those superheroes in the classic Batman mold. No superpowers – just her wits, physical training, and the occasional cool gadget. It’s nice and budget-conscious for the thrifty studio who likes a large roster of marketable names without having to spend a big CGI budget on every one of them (see also: Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Mockingbird). This doesn’t need to be a bad thing: it takes all kinds to fill a fictional universe as well. And besides, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is never less than fun, cool, badass, smart, sexy, in any of her performances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far.

So, by virtue of the very character, what kind of movie would we be getting? Quite likely a  spy thriller, perhaps advertised as “gritty”, “morally grey”, “low-key” (not the Hiddleston kind) and other such buzzwords. Does that sound familiar? If you thought of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, you win the No Prize!

One of the strengths of the MCU has been their diversity of storytelling (if not exactly, prior to the recent Phase 3 reveals, casting). With Iron Man, you could follow the high-life hi-jinks of a playboy millionaire inventor in a robot suit, peppered (heh) with some screwball comedy for good measure. With Thor, you could be witness to the galactic high fantasy melodrama of the Asgardian courts, as well as battles across the Nine Realms. Due to the character’s origin, Captain America is the only one that had a major shift in tone from his first movie to the second – from his origins as a WWII-era do-gooder to a modern-day super-powered government operative tangled up in a BOURNE-like web of intrigue. If you don’t like the IRON MAN movies, THOR could very well be your thang. If you don’t like THOR, why not try a CAPTAIN AMERICA? That’s actually a hell of a smart business decision from Marvel!

Now ask yourself, if Black Widow got her own movie, what would it offer that WINTER SOLDIER already didn’t, besides more screen time for ScarJo?

CAPTAIN MARVEL will be a movie that will basically feature a female Superman, something completely new in the MCU wheelhouse. The Jessica Jones Netflix miniseries will focus on a female private eye who used to be a superhero but retired (unless, of course, they’re changing the whole origin up, which is always possible). There’s Kamala Khan, the Pakistani-American teenager who gains shapeshifting powers after she is exposed to the Inhumans’ Terrigen Mists** and becomes Miss Marvel. She could bring the very first teen perspective to the MCU! Honest question – why bother getting the Spider-Man rights back from Sony if you’re sitting on Kamala Khan whose movie would very much be like a Spidey in tone? With the proper marketing you can definitely get the YA crowds in for this one.

2.) Marvel Does Not Wish To Offend

Black Widow is a far more morally gray character than Captain America. She’s ready to get dirty in a way that our favorite Jack Kirby boy scout isn’t – as evidenced in her dropping Agent Sitwell off a roof in CAP 2 and the many references to a past she isn’t very proud of in AVENGERS, mainly memorable for the hilarious “red on my ledger” meme. Well, there’s your answer – a Black Widow film would stand out simply by virtue of being darker and more edgy than a Cap movie. And yeah, you could totally make something dark and edgy within PG-13 confines – just look at the BOURNE movies, SKYFALL, THE DARK KNIGHT, etc.

Absolutely true, but Marvel is not interested in offending anyone. A movie carrying the Marvel brand has a certain set of values we’ve only been very briefly privy of in the MCU’s six year existence.

When Shane Black delivered the first draft of IRON MAN 3 – for my money still the best MCU movie by far – Tony Stark dropped five f-bombs. PG-13 allows you three. However, he was told that he could not have a single instance of it. Marvel simply telling him he’d have to cut it down to PG-13 levels would have been understandable, but none at all? These heroes need to be squeaky clean for maximum four quadrant coverage – basically pleasant network TV protagonists with an 8 figure budget. It makes sense there would be editorial policy on not having characters like goody two-shoes Captain America or Spider-Man swear, but rakish playboy Tony Stark? A man of seedy character whose whole arc is that he becomes more responsible? Taking all the f-bombs out of that guy’s mouth ain’t based in character anymore.

But hey, maybe that’s just because, when it comes to characters Marvel still has the movie license for, Iron Man is their flagship dude, the one that started it all. Makes sense that they’d want their superstar character have the edges sanded off a bit. Smaller characters could conceivably be a little more risqué. Why yes, they could be – were it not for the tiny (hehh) matter of ANT-MAN!

You’ve heard of the ANT-MAN debacle: In pre-production in some form of another with SHAUN OF THE DEAD director Edgar Wright since 2006, the film got a complete overhaul earlier this year with a change of director and script. One of the reasons Wright walked was Marvel’s issue with some of the characters’ “core morality”. After sending several drafts co-written with Joe Cornish and still not getting the okay, Wright received a Marvel-approved version of the script, rewritten by two other writers. This broke the yellowjacket’s back for Wright and he and the studio parted amicably. It seems that, even for completely unknown heroes with an almost non-existent fanbase, Marvel has a very specific idea of what is appropriate conduct for their heroes.

Do you still believe an actual Avenger like Black Widow – a character far more visible in the popular consciousness than Ant-Man right now – would get to do anything remotely controversial in her solo movie? Her dark deeds are left in the shadows as of now, and that’s probably where they’re going to stay.

3.) ScarJo Has Enough Money

I assume if you’re reading this that you’re a Marvel fan. Heck, so am I! I like all the movies and love quite a few! Excellent casting all around – boy, those actors really exude charisma and fun times. It must be such a blast to make them! Well… maybe. Thing is, we can never really know. We’re always on the outside looking in. What we see is really just proof of how good the principal Marvel actors are at manipulating the press and their social media presence. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that all these movies are funtimes for all involved. There’s still the very real possibility that they are still just paycheck gigs, and that the actors may want to do stuff that they’re actually intellectually/morally invested in. The more popcorn movies they make, the less time they have to put into these movies. ScarJo is – next to Robert Downey Jr – probably the biggest Legit Movie Star the studio has under contract right now, and she should be able to do whatever the hell she wants in her time between pleasant popcorn movies.***

You’ve seen X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and the pleading “kill me! killl meeee!” expressions of Oscar Nominee Michael Fassbender. Do you really want this to happen to ScarJo? How selfish can you be, fandom!

So what say you, loyal WotL readers? Should I be on Hydra’s to-laser list? Or are my opinions worthy of lifting Mjolnir? Are you simply confused that there was not a single mention of Gigan in this blog post? Let me know!

*Hehe yeah, I’ve seen WINTER SOLDIER, what’re you gonna do about it?

**Yes yes, a Terrigen BOMB technically.

***Being on the outside looking in works both ways, of course, and maybe ScarJo sees stuff like UNDER THE SKIN as her “time too relax” movies and Widow is where she can really bring out the big acting guns. We just don’t know!

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