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Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow” Waiting Game

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow” Waiting Game

So, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was pretty much as delightful — if not more so — than we were all expecting it to be, right? I kinda think it’s a near-perfect movie. For me, it’s now in a three-way tie with “Avengers” and “Captain America: Winter Solider” for the best Marvel film of all time. I laughed, I cried — mostly because of a raccoon and a tree — and I was blown away by the film’s earnest, character-driven spectacle. I wouldn’t change a thing about the movie, and I wouldn’t change a thing about the soundtrack. This is the Marvel movie that gave me a bad ass slow-mo walk into battle set to the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb.” This is my Marvel movie.

The one thing I would change is an aspect of the press tour that comes up every single time a Marvel movie lands in theaters. Big Marvel Studios execs will do interviews, and at every junket and magazine interview, they find themselves asked the same question: When is Marvel going to make a movie with a female lead? Every single time. Every single outlet. Every single day, it feels like, there’s a new headline with a new quote — usually from Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige — with another excuse about why one hasn’t been made yet, and why there isn’t one on the schedule. Pick a reason and it’s been given. Marvel won’t succumb to the backlash, they already put women in fantastic supporting roles, it’s not the right time, they’re waiting for the right script, they have too many sequels they have to make, it goes on an on. If you ask me — which, let’s pretend you did by agreeing to read this piece — there’s no better time than right now. Well, right now or, like, literally any time in the past six years. But let’s focus on right now since we don’t have Fox’s Kitty Pryde’s time traveling capabilities.

While both Marvel and DC were busy not announcing any female-driven superhero films at Comic-Con International (and Sony and Fox, too, but they weren’t at the con), there was a little upset happening at the box office that weekend. A film called “Lucy,” marketed as an action-thriller starring Scarlett Johansson, debuted with an impressive opening weekend haul of $43.9 million. Its main competition was “Hercules,” a big, sweaty, muscle-bound action movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Despite playing in 400 fewer theaters than “Hercules,” “Lucy” made $14 million more than it’s competition and debuted at number one. What? How? Huh? Scarlett Johansson had a better debut than The Rock?

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, both movies looked terrible. I’m firmly on team ScarJo, if all my past Black Widow essays didn’t clue you in on that, but even I thought “Lucy” looked groan inducing. The trailer made the movie seem like future fodder for the How Did This Get Made? podcast. The only good thought I had while watching that trailer was, “Well, at least Black Widow fans have more footage to pull from when making their fake ‘Black Widow’ trailers.” And that movie still opened with nearly $44 million at the box office, and that movie beat a modern day action hero.

Let’s keep unpacking this. $44 million. “Elektra” opened to $12.8 million in 2005, and “Catwoman” pulled in $16 million in 2004. While I definitely didn’t think “Lucy” looked all that good, it at least looked better than both of those two female-driven films — which just so happen to be the two films that are still brought up all the time as proof that women can’t hold down a solo film. Maybe “Lucy” earned more because, as bad as it looked, it didn’t look nearly as bad as “Elektra” or “Catwoman.” Those films hold a 10% and a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively. “Lucy” has somehow accomplished the rare feat of going from rotten at around 50% on its opening up to a Certified Fresh 62% as of this writing. How that even happened, I have no idea. Were a lot of reviewers just late? But, however mediocre “Lucy” may be, it’s already made more money than “Catwoman” and “Elektra” combined as seems on its way to crossing $100 million before the end of its theatrical run.

A film sold to audiences as a brainy shoot ’em up starring Scarlett Johansson (I’m fully aware that that’s apparently not what the movie actually is; doesn’t change the fact that that’s the movie that was presented in the trailer) made on a $40 million budget will cross the $100 million mark. If Johansson can open a movie that looks objectively iffy to that much success, just imagine what would happen with a film starring a character that millions of people already know with the might of Marvel’s promotion machine behind it coupled with the company’s Pixar-level can-do-no-wrong-ness that they have in the wake of “Guardians of the Galaxy’s” crazy success.

“Guardians” and its completely unexpected universal success proves that Marvel Studios can take a property that’s a whole lot of nothing in the mainstream pre-awareness department and make it into 94 million dollars worth of something on an opening weekend. I love the Guardians, and I love the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning run a lot, but I’m not going to kid myself by saying that that run was a smash hit. “Guardians” only got made because Kevin Feige loved the comic and saw something in it; this movie was not a sure thing. But Marvel Studios’ trademark intelligence, care and respect for the source material turned this ragtag group of no-name heroes from underdogs into Avengers-level greats. Marvel Studios makes the best superhero movies, period.

I get so annoyed by the continued refusal to put a woman in the lead because it feels so incongruous with how Marvel Studios treats the women in their films. It’s really not an exaggeration to say that there are more prominent female characters in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” alone than there is in the entire Dark Knight trilogy. Marvel Studios has given us such an incredibly diverse assortment of women. A businesswoman, a cellular biologist, a spy, an astrophysicist, a snarky intern, a warrior, a queen, a military officer, a commanding officer, a botanist, a neighbor-turned-secret agent, an assassin, a space cop, and — finally — a villainess. Marvel Studios places women at every level throughout their films, and for every girlfriend there are at least one or two other women there for entirely plot-essential reasons. Even the love interests get to kick-ass; Potts, Carter, and Foster all got chances to fight their own battles. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a bit of a revelation in that it positioned Glenn Close as the Nick Fury of the entire universe and gave us Nebula, a thrilling, scenery-chewing bad guy with as much swagger and overt maliciousness as any of the bad boys we’ve seen so far. Marvel Studios has done a great job of showing audiences that women can be anything… except for the lead.

The studio’s even announced seven more release dates stretching through 2019. One of those is “Thor 3,” and another has to be “Doctor Strange.” But for the life of me, I find it hard to think of six more straight, white, male superheroes with enough cache to carry a feature film. Odds are one of those is “Avengers 3,” and I think we could assume that there’s another “Hulk” in there somewhere. And again, I still can’t even think of four more super dudes that deserve a film over Marvel’s leading ladies, or any of their non-white A-listers. Will we really get a fourth Punisher film, or a Moon Knight movie, or a Nova flick before “Captain Marvel” or “Black Widow”? It would be a real bummer if “Guardians'” success at transforming D-List Marvel heroes into box office gold emboldened Marvel to bypass their A and B-List female and POC characters and go straight to, well, more white guys. Get ready for 2017’s “Wonder Man,” I guess?

But “Guardians” and its success also disproves the two biggest arguments lobbed towards female heroes by the less equality-minded comic book fans out there. Peter Quill and company were not popular. Rocket and pals have no definitive stories. They still got a movie and it was one of the best comic book movies ever made. No, the general public might not know who Misty Knight and Colleen Wing are, but after seeing how thoroughly “Guardians” smashed through expectations, I would not be surprised if Marvel Studios could open a “Knightwing Restorations” at the top of the box office. A pair of female private investigators with ninja training and a robot arm makes more sense than a talking tree. Marvel knows how to make a film that people want to see.

Marvel is by far my favorite fictional universe. Marvel Studios has yet to make a film I dislike. I know they could make a movie with a female lead as big as the “Hunger Games” films or “Frozen.” I write essays that treat “Captain Marvel” or “Black Widow” as an inevitability when I’ve been given absolutely no sign that that’s the case. I’m starting to feel a little silly about that. Meanwhile, Sony’s maybe planning a solo female movie in the Spider-Verse, and Warner Bros. is on the road — albeit a twisty road wearing wedge-heels — to “Wonder Woman.” I desperately want Marvel to beat them to it, I want them to show everyone how it’s done, because I believe they would — but at this point I just want one to get made.

All Black Widow, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel and even Elektra need is for Kevin Feige to champion them. “Guardians of the Galaxy” proves that the man’s a king maker when it comes to picking projects to adapt. Now he needs to be a queen maker.

Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts Matt & Brett Love Comics, writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio, and makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).

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