Strange Marvels: ‘Phase Three’ and the (Rise?) of the Female Superhero
On October 28, Marvel Studios released their list of ‘Phase 3’ films in the Marvel Universe which will be released over the next six years. Marvel fans have no doubt already committed the list to heart, with titles including a second Guardians of the Galaxy film (2017), capitalising on the first film’s unlikely success, Deadpool (2016), given the green light after the release of an experimental trailer received overwhelming support from fans, Avengers: Infinity War (2018), which seems to be the point where the current Marvel storylines will collide, hopefully in spectacular fashion, and Black Panther (2017), based on the first popular comic to feature a black superhero as the main character.
The title which has arguably generated the most interest and debate, however, is Captain Marvel (2018), announced as the first Marvel film to feature a female superhero as the lead. This is not technically true, Elektra having been released in 2005, but fans and studio alike seem eager to sweep that particular film under the rug, where fellow female-led film, the lamentable Warner Bros. version of Catwoman (2004), was waiting.
The announcement of Captain Marvel is cause for excitement, not only because the character of Carol Danvers has a legion of fans, known as the Carol Corps, who have been waiting for the chance to see her outside of the comics, but because it means that Marvel Studios are willing to break away from the conventions of superhero cinema and show everyone what our generation of women already knows: that a female character can carry a film on her own, without being sidelined as the love interest, or in the case of Marvel films, as part of an ensemble cast.
I have an expectation that Captain Marvel will be a brilliant film, because Carol Danvers is a well-established character with an intriguing backstory, kick-ass powers, three-dimensional ongoing character development, and because she outranks Captain ‘Star Spangled Pants’ America himself. I also expect great things from this film because I can’t afford not to, because if it flops or is savaged by critics and fanboys we will be taking a huge step backwards in the representation of women in superhero cinema, and film in general. Marvel Studios will shrug their shoulders and go back to pumping out different versions of the same tired plotline, and female superheros will once again be reduced to the sidelines.
‘Phase 3’ is also significant for the films Marvel has chosen not to develop; for example, the gaping hole where a Black Widow film should be. Carol Danvers, although deserving of her own film, seems an odd choice, not heralded or hinted at in any of the current films, never mentioned until the release of this list. Why did Marvel Studios choose to give Captain Marvel a film when another equally deserving character has served her time in the ensemble cast of Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, with a tantalisingly larger role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, also hinted at for Avengers: Age of Ultron? Natalia Romanoff/Black Widow is easily one of the most popular members of the Avengers, and Scarlett Johansson one of the most popular actresses. We have been given intriguing glimpses into Black Widow’s past as an agent for both the KGB and for SHIELD, the ‘red’ in her ledger she wants to wipe out, and her history with Nick Fury and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (I’m still dying to know what the hell happened on that mission in Budapest). She seems the ideal and logical choice to be given her own film; hell I would watch an entire franchise of Black Widow movies. But for some reason she has been overlooked.
Female fans of Marvel movies tend to be misunderstood; either it is circulated that women only attend superhero films like Guardians for that approximately 3.5 second glimpse of Chris Pratt’s abs (untrue, by the way: we went for the raccoon with the machine gun and the damn talking tree like everyone else) or that they become overdramatic and overcritical of every female character Marvel uses or female-led film they announce.
But we have to be the ones that look at these films critically, agonise over the costume choices of the upcoming Wonder Woman film, or criticise the fact that Marvel refuses to make a Black Widow film, because no one else will. Captain Marvel is a great start, but why should it end there? Why should we have to settle for one female superhero film, especially when there is such great potential lying untapped, while male superhero films are released one after another in a relentless stream?
I want a Captain Marvel film with two sequels like Iron Man and Thor. I want at least six Black Widow films. I want Marvel to stop churning out Wolverine prequels (sorry Hugh Jackman) and make the Storm: X Men Origins film we were promised. Their stories deserve to be told.
But instead we get Ant-Man. I defy you to find one person on this entire planet who is excited about an Ant-Man film.
[This is a copy of an article written for Aphra Magazine and published on December 1, 2014. Aphra Magazine unfortunately closed at the end of 2016 and all links to existing articles were deleted, so I have decided to reproduce these articles word for word on my blog.]