Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out last weekend, and it was flipping awesome. Really. Plenty of people have gone on about it already, so we can cut the effusiveness short in favor of getting to the point already (you can read our critic Amy Nicholson's take on the film here). As a warning, this article will include spoilers from the movie.
Now, it's already been announced that a Black Widow movie is “in development,” but plenty of movies have been “in development” and never happened. The new Captain America makes it clear that the Black Widow movie should definitely come to fruition.
One of the best things about the movie – and this applies to more and more films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – is the (occasional) subtlety in storytelling and complexity of the characters. Even Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson, who are still mere sketches of characters compared to the heroes we're seeing in Marvel's current Phase II (particularly this Cap and the Iron Man of Iron Man 3), carry their backstory with them in a way that clearly affects their current actions. (Now if only the same could be said for S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill…)]
But even though Cap is at the forefront of the film – as one would expect, in his own franchise – and at first glance, the movie also seems to be about learning Nick Fury's backstory (and really, it's about time, considering that this is the eighth Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in which he's appeared), Black Widow proves to be the film's most compelling character.
Ever since her introduction in Iron Man 2, she's been an enigma. And given as much screen time as she's had, we expect to know much more about her. We know she's “got red in her ledger,” which propels her to do good now, and that she and the equally-mysterious-but-only-appearing-in-two-movies-so-far Hawkeye have worked together in the past, and she's fantastic at hand-to-hand combat. But who is Black Widow, deep down?
Well, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we finally start to find out. While Natasha Romanoff's characterization is fairly subtle throughout the film, it's definitely there, and rewards a careful viewer. Scarlett Johansson has crafted a compelling heroine out of her occasionally piecemeal character.
The film's climax arguably hinges more on Black Widow than it does on Captain America's success fighting off the Winter Soldier. The audience knows that Captain America is, well, Captain America, and he's strong enough to beat Bucky Barnes. And we learn that he's also emotionally strong enough to refuse to fight his best friend, an admirable decision, but one that isn't exactly unexpected coming from such a moral paragon.
What is really astounding and important, though, is a plot point that's almost entirely glossed over. Standing on the top floor of the Triskelion, Black Widow takes a huge leap of faith by revealing Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D.'s data mining, including all the grisly details of her own background. These are secrets she's been hiding for years out of fear that she'd no longer be accepted once her new superfriends – and the entire world, for that matter – found out what she'd done.
Of course, we don't get to find out what exactly she's done, and maybe we don't need to. But her courage in putting herself out on the line like that, in making herself truly vulnerable, is what makes Natasha Romanoff a complex, interesting character, and one who merits her own standalone movie. The reason we love Marvel superheroes so much is because they're not perfect, boring, people who also save the world. They're fighting their own demons, just like the rest of us. And while it's great to see kick-ass heroines on screen, it's even better to see well-developed heroines.
As Cate Blanchett said when she accepted her Academy Award, there are “those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them, and, in fact, they make money.” It should go without saying that half of the population is female, and that females see movies. And females spend money buying tickets to see movies with female leads, action movies, and – surprise! – action movies with female leads. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire outperformed Iron Man 3 at the domestic box office this year.
So it's time. We're ready. Black Widow is a complex enough character to carry her own movie. Audiences are ready and willing to see action movies with a female lead, and Marvel's leading the pack when it comes to doing edgy and innovative superhero movies. So give us a Black Widow movie already.
If you're looking for plot ideas, you could always start by explaining how Romanoff, who was born in 1984, worked for the KGB, which collapsed in 1991, when she was…. seven years old?
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