A large part of the Marvel Universe’s charm is the pleasure of seeing individual members of The Avengers in their own films. They primarily function as tools to build the world, but they also establish character motivations and development. This is how we see Tony Stark’s transition from a warmonger into a philanthropist, Bruce Banner’s internal struggles of survival, Captain America’s morals tested, and so on. Logically, we would expect each member to receive an individual film, but so far two particular SHIELD agents have been left out: Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff. It would be tasking to justify films for both in a single article, so I will instead focus on the latter.
Before I get started, I want to state what should be obvious. Yes I know that there will be no Black Widow film in the near future. The Marvel Cinematic lineup is directly leading into the cosmic epic that will be Infinity War, so there will be little room for another character-focused film that doesn’t have galactic consequences. This is more of a hypothetical, a justification for this character often side-lined by the audience but not by the films in which she appears.
Now, when most fans bring up the topic of a Black Widow solo film, the idea is immediately rejected for a few reasons. One of the most common arguments is that she does not have much of a character… an argument that simply does not hold up when her character is closely examined. The unfortunate truth is that Black Widow has been looked over by audiences and critics alike, thus pigeon-holing her entire character into two phrases: kick-ass and leather-clad. Most articles that reviewed Iron Man 2, The Avengers, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier ignored her character completely and focused only on those two phrases. Because she’s seen as a very simple character, what makes her unique and exciting is often not fully understood. This is partially due to her introduction in Iron Man 2, where she spent half the film undercover acting like the exact kind of woman Tony Stark would like to have around. We saw glimpses of her character in the donut shop and the third act, but the film did little more than to reveal her depths of complexity.
We see much more of her character in The Avengers. From the first scene, we understand her craftiness as she interrogates a Russian gangster while making him think it’s the other way around. Throughout the film we see her dry wit and deadpan humor, particularly highlighted when she sarcastically mentioned how proud Coulson is of his collectable cards. But the biggest moment was when she literally deceived the god of deceit. I cannot emphasize enough how much this scene means to her character. We’re talking about Loki: a being whose entire plans and schemes have revolved around lies and tricking others. He tricked Thor into getting banished, he betrayed Asgard by allying with the frost giants, then betrayed the front giants to ascend to the throne. It’s his bread and butter. And I guarantee you that you can’t imagine any of the other Avengers in the same scene and situation with a successful outcome. Again, my point is to highlight how much of a difference she brings to the table as compared to the other members.
These traits are further highlighted in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. She mock’s Steve’s attempt at hiding the flash drive by nonchalantly chewing gum. She reveals that she doesn’t allow herself to trust too many people, hinting at her past. Hell, the entire crux of the first act of the film is about how Widow has no problem with morally grey areas while Steve cannot abide by that. Having a film focusing on the Black Widow would by default mean a morally ambiguous story, where the audience is challenged on their perceptions on right and wrong actions. You may argue that Captain America took on that theme, but come on – is anyone arguing that massive warships murdering millions with pinpoint accuracy based on the likelihood that they’ll be a threat is a morally justifiable action? It was interesting, yes, but the fact remains that nobody argued that Captain America wasn’t doing the right thing. Widow’s actions would create discussions, conversations, arguments. Because of her character, established throughout three films, she brings something to the table that the others cannot.
Another common argument made is that Black Widow is not very well established in her own comics. The argument goes that she doesn’t have a longstanding series like Iron Man, but rather she’s just been a character jumping between other character’s series with occasional stories of her own. Because of this, she hasn’t had as much of an opportunity to define herself to the general public. But if you recall, neither had Iron Man. Nowadays, anybody can describe Tony Stark. He’s arrogant, he’s egotistical, he’s proud, he’s troubled, he’s intelligent, and so on. The comics had very little of this. Before Iron Man in 2008, Iron Man wasn’t even known to the public very much. His only iconic stories were Demon in a Bottle and Extremis. But the idea that he was a billionaire playboy that always wanted to be the center of attention was either much more subtle or non-existent all together. If you want a quick example of this, check out the 1990s Iron Man cartoon or his cameo appearances in the 90s Spider-Man animated series. Ever since his film established Iron Man firmly within popular culture, his comic counterpart has started to strongly reflect his cinematic persona. So why wouldn’t this be an option for our favorite Russian assassin?
Ok, I’ve made a case for Natasha’s personality. Its not in the realm of Tony (loud and extravagant) but more like Steve (subtle and firm). But the other common argument is that she has no definable stories. But this hasn’t stopped Marvel from taking very creative liberties. Thor was not Dr. Donald Blake, Jane Foster was not a paramedic, Tony’s internal battle was with PTSD and not alcoholism, Bucky was not the plucky Robin-type sidekick, Heimdal was not black, The Mandarin… I could go on but I’ve made my point. Marvel uses the source material as jumping points, not as scripts. And there are plenty of Black Widow stories that would work well as starting points. Her role lately has been that of an atoner: Someone trying to make up for past sins. This is the perfect method of revealing bits and pieces of her backstory. A prequel removes all tension and mystery, but a modern story dealing with aspects of her past would satisfy audience members just enough to crave more. Its one of her most well liked aspects after all. I’ll keep this train of thought going and recommend Winter Soldier joins her, similar to how Widow played opposite of Captain America in his sequel. Both Widow and Soldier have dark pasts tied with Russia, and they’re both cold-blooded killers when it comes down to it. People keep asking why other Avengers don’t appear in these solo films… this one’s solved. They’d want to hide this mission from them because they’d disapprove. Widow doesn’t have that issue so we’d see her do things that couldn’t be done with other characters.
It wouldn’t be a film that changes the landscape of the world forever. It would be more like The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and presumably Ant-Man. They’re character stories focusing on people. There will be repercussions of course, but they don’t have to be major world-ending threats to get you invested in a story. An argument has been made for a mini-series, possibly on Netflix. While this is a nice sentiment, this would not be a good medium for her character. People naturally assume that movies is for bigger, TV is for smaller. This isn’t the case anymore. Television series are more about slow character progression and change. I’ll cite Agent Carter as a great example, but we’ve also seen it in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and will see it in Matt Murdock’s internal struggles in Daredevil. Black Widow is officially one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Downplaying her importance diminishes the team, plus a film is necessary to keep the backstory mystery.
And of course there’s the final argument that people have: She doesn’t have superpowers. Well that’s true. Nobody would watch a superhero movie about a character without powers.
The entire reason I’ve been thinking about this is because of women’s roles in comic book films, or summer blockbusters in general. The Hunger Games films, whether you liked it or not, has proven that there’s a strong market for female leads in action movies. I cannot emphasize enough how it will not ‘drive the boys away’. And now that we have a prominent woman in the middle of the battles of the MCU, half the fans brush her off as a side character. No this isn’t a sexist argument, nobody is making that claim. Most of these people are comic fans so they’re arguing for She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, and Captain Marvel over Widow. But the other half are not comic readers. They’re nerds, just like you and me, but haven’t had that exposure since getting into comics is fairly intimidating. They had no previous exposure to Marvel’s B-Listers, so they saw Black Widow on equal footing as Iron Man. So while comic fans just saw her as an ‘obligatory girl’ or ‘necessary side-character’, the unexposed had fresher views. Many are women who want to see more gender representation in their favorite film studio. Not as love interests, not as supporting cast, but titular protagonists who’s plot revolves around them. And rather than seeing the obstacles in her character, they see the opportunity.