I know I’m not the first person to mention this or make any of these points. Thankfully, comic book journalism is now full of progressive writers ready to throw down for gender equality. That’s rad. But should I let everyone else do the talking for me? No, no I don’t think so. When it comes to something as absolutely vital as gender representation, I will add my voice to the voices of my peers.
Marvel Comics has three as-yet-unannounced films scheduled for release in 2016 and 2017, following “Ant-Man” in 2015. One of these movies has to be female-led.
The time is absolutely right for a female hero to lead her own Marvel movie. The women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been strong from the get-go; “Iron Man” took Pepper Potts and turned her from Stark’s default love interest and assistant and into the modern definition of a career-driven and independent woman who just so happens to slowly fall in love with the lead dude — in a way that makes sense and does not sacrifice her own personality. Pepper doesn’t give up any of her sense of self over the course of her four MCU appearances — she merely adds the role of girlfriend to her already incredible resume. By the end of “Iron Man 3,” she can even add super powered ass-kicker to the list.
But Pepper’s brief flirtation with super-punching at the end of “Iron Man 3” highlights something that the MCU films have neglected despite getting so much right; despite putting Black Widow, Jane Foster, Sif, Peggy Carter and Maria Hill on the big screen, none of them pack the same amount of power as their male colleagues. Sif is the only one of the bunch who has enhanced abilities, but even she’s no match for Thor — a man who adds a whole bunch of weather-manipulation crap on top of his super Asgardian strength.
That’s not to diminish how important a role the MCU women have played up until now. Black Widow more than held her own with the Avengers, proving that you don’t have to eat radiation for breakfast to go toe-to-toe with an alien invasion. Peggy Carter and Maria Hill showed that human women can hold their own — and take leadership positions — in large organizations. Even Jane Foster, the one character with no combat skills to speak of, has more going on in her life besides being in love with Thor. Her primary goal throughout “Thor” is protecting and furthering her research; she starts out a scientist and ends as a scientist.
These great female characters are getting company in Phase 2 — Sharon Carter, Gamora and Scarlet Witch are all showing up in Marvel films. But these three characters don’t rock the status quo that’s been firmly set by the first two phase of the MCU. These new women, and the women before them, only get screen time because a male hero is anchoring the film.
But things have changed. The time has never been more right — and fans have never been more ready — for a powerful, superheroic woman to take the lead. Last month, Brian Wood, Olivier Coipel, and Laura Martin’s “X-Men” #1 sold over 177,000 copies, making it the biggest selling comic of the month. It cut through the misogynist controversy and proved that people just want good superhero stories with characters they care about. There’s no reason those characters have to be male, and there’s no reason why they can’t all be female. With the series’ second issue, the creative team firmly proved that an all-female team doesn’t have to pull any punches. “X-Men” is first and foremost a superhero action book, and it has hopefully and finally changed people’s preconceived notions.
Even more importantly, and even more recently, women proved that they can lead an action movie to great success. “The Heat,” the buddy cop comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, opened this past weekend with a staggering $40 million haul, blowing away its testosterone-powered challenger, “White House Down.” The Channing Tatum/Jamie Foxx film limped into fourth place with $29 million. Did anyone think that would happen? Did Hollywood? Well, it did happen, and Marvel should take notice.
I know “The Heat” is primarily a comedy — and a hilarious one too, FYI — but it’s a comedy in the way that “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Lethal Weapon” and “Bad Boys” were comedies. They were all comedies with plenty of over-the-top action sequences. I can’t help but watch “The Heat” with my fingers crossed that we’ll get to see Marvel’s women get a similar chance to shine. The audience is there.
Some naysayers will point to previous female hero films as evidence that women just can’t head up a comic book film. Naysayers will point to the failure of “Elektra” and “Catwoman” and claim that female heroes make for horrible movies; those naysayers then look at “Daredevil,” “Ghost Rider,” “Green Lantern,” “Steel,” “Punisher,” “The Spirit” and “Spawn” and keep asking for more. Naysayers, you’re being sexist. Male hero films can fail countless times and no one will ever question the existence of more male hero films. Women got two — two -chances and people think Hollywood should call it quits. Will anyone call for the death of the male action film after “White House Down’s” less-than-stellar opening? No, they won’t.
With “The Heat” a success in theaters and “X-Men” a success in comics, it’s time for Marvel to capitalize on this. It’s time for them to be the change that Joss Whedon wants to see in the filmmaking world. Whedon’s gone on record a number of times saying that getting more female heroes on the big screen is absolutely a priority of his. It has to be a priority of Marvel’s, too, because representation is vital. It’s time for the “minority” that makes up half the population to see themselves punch planes like the Hulk, fly like Iron Man, inspire like Captain America, and brawl like Thor.
Like a few others before me have pointed out, it’s time for Carol Danvers to get a movie. Marvel has been prepping Carol for the big leagues for the last year, promoting her from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel and giving her an ongoing series that’s changed the way fans interact with comics. More so than any other female hero at Marvel, Carol Danvers has become Marvel’s leading lady. She needs a film. She’s a fascinating and rich character, easily as captivating as Tony Stark. Her powers are big and impressive. Between flight, her super strength and her energy blasts, she visually packs the same punch as all the heavy-hitting Avengers combined. She even carries the company’s name! Any argument about no one knowing who Captain Marvel is has to be rendered moot because everyone knows what Marvel is. Their first question will be, “Wait, you mean ‘Marvel’ as in ‘Marvel Comics’?” And then the answer is simple: “Yes.” Done! Sold!
“Captain Marvel” has to be one of the three unannounced movies on Marvel’s slate. If it’s not, and if no other female-lead film has taken its place, then this can be considered nothing more than a colossal disappointment. It’s always disappointing when people with the power to change the world postpone the inevitable. Because a female superhero film is going to happen again, and Marvel has the opportunity to make it happen now.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).