I finally saw Ant-Man and The Wasp yesterday, and I realized something, Hope Van Dyne is my favorite female character in the MCU. Realizing that made me reflect on the role of women in the MCU.
It’s been pretty well discussed among critics and fans that for a while the MCU had a female problem. Despite Black Widow having been introduced in the third (of 20 so far) MCU films, she took a long time to gain prominence in screen time, or plot relevance (I’m not sure we’ve even seen her have more screen time or relevance to the story, than anyone but Hawkeye). Fans were asking for a Black Widow film, and Marvel Studios’ response was something along the lines of “when it’s right we’ll do it”. which at the time probably felt like a cop-out, but they were having the same complaints made about having a non-white main character and they were giving the same response. At the time, it really felt like the MCU had a diversity problem, but in fairness they tried to address the problem. They quickly began to introduce characters like Sam Wilson as the Falcon, Rhodey to be War Machine/Iron Patriot started to have a larger role and more screen time, they added Scarlett Witch to the team, for example. Many argued this was a half measure, they were all secondary characters and not a solution to the problem. They were definitely steps in the right direction and they filled in some gaps. It was very clear that women and non-white males needed to be the titles characters of their own movies.
The MCU started using crossovers and the team films to be able to add new characters, layer their universe, and make it more three dimensional. In Civil War, we were introduced to the MCU version of Spider-Man and finally Black Panther. Pretty quickly, it was clear that both would be getting their own films, but the MCU as a single cohesive piece was more important, so they tend not to rush into things and it payed off.
Spider-Man: Homecoming was a big success, but Black Panther was a cultural phenomenon. Black Panther showed us that the MCU could handle a film with a non-white main character, a majority non-white cast, and come out with a critical and box office smash. Black Panther not only stood on its own two feet, but it absolutely crushed the competition. The two most prominent white characters are played by Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. Both are well established actors, but they’re certainly not mega-stars like Tom Cruise or Matt Damon.
The second crucial thing Black Panther did, was almost double the MCU’s roster current of important, strong female characters. Prior to this what did we have? Scarlett Witch, is a decent character, but I personally don’t think she’s nearly as fleshed out as she could be. Black Widow, tends to be used more in her relationship with which ever male hero needs her (i.e. in Winter Soldier with Cap, or in Age of Ultron with Bruce/Hulk). Pepper? I think we’re all honestly surprised when Pepper pops up for a cameo anymore, but really she isn’t much more fleshed out than Friday. Jane Foster, might have been a good addition, except it seems that Natalie Portmant doesnt have much interest in playing Jane Foster anymore. So that’s not entirely the fault of the MCU. The only two pre-Black Panther characters that seemed to be totally realized and fleshed out female characters were Gamora and Hope Van Dyne. In Ant-Man, Hope is the most capable character, the main character arc belongs to Scott Lang.
In Black Panther, we got three really great female characters in; Shuri (who is strong willed, intelligent, competitive, funny); Nakia who almost forces T’Challa to play the ‘fawning love-interest’ character due to her commitment to bettering Africa and the world; and Okoye who is one of the fiercest normal humans in the MCU. Would you want to fight Okoye? Do you think you could outsmart Shuri on literally anything? Do you have more compassion for any group of people than Nakia does? They’re all incredible, and while they have their ‘defining’ attributes, they’re not only those things. Shuri is funny, and brave. Nakia is in love with T’Challa, but refuses to let that be her guiding principal. Okoye, despite being a total bad-ass is also a loving girlfriend/wife (they don’t really say) who also stands up to her love when he is on the wrong side.
Black Panther pushed us further toward the MCU ‘sweet spot. Now we have Ant-Man and The Wasp and it’s the first time in the MCU that a woman is one of the title characters. The Wasp does not disappoint. She’s the most bad-ass fighter in the film, she totally shows up Ant-Man and even the pseudo-villain Ghost. She’s a dedicated, intelligent woman trying to be reunited her mother.
Something Hope/Wasp and the women of Black Panther manage to do, is balance the characters between being what we want in super-heroes while not removing their femininity. They also don’t play on any female stereotypes or tropes. We don’t see any of the female characters being played as ’emotionally erratic,’ while also not playing them off as unfeeling. It’s a hard balance that Hollywood in general has difficulty was and the MCU has done pretty well avoiding those pitfalls. Which is really impressive considering that so far, all the directors in the MCU has been mad.
So what do I want to see when it comes to females in the MCU? That leads us to Captain Marvel. For Captain Marvel, we’re going to get our first female (solo) title character. We’re also going to get our first female director (co-director, but to be fair, Anna Boden has directed all of her films with her husband Ryan Fleck). I really want Captain Marvel to be great. I want it to be as great as Black Panther and a game changer in the same way Black Panther was. I want Captain Marvel to be an amazing character with depth, but also a total bad-ass. The DCEU had their only smash success to date with Wonder Woman because it’s a genuinely good film. I hope Captain Marvel is at least as good (perhaps with a better villain). Because Captain Marvel will not have the momentum of being the first like Wonder Woman was, but it does need to be successful. One of the major takeaways from Black Panther and Wonder Woman was that people respond to diversity in their entertainment. However, if a movie like Captain Marvel fails, Hollywood probably won’t learn the right lesson from it. They won’t say “oh Captain Marvel sucked, let’s try a Black Widow film instead!”, they’re more likely to say “oh maybe Wonder Woman was an anomaly and the audiences don’t really want female lead superhero movies.” It’s bullshit logic, but as I’ve written before Hollywood almost always learns the wrong lessons.
If Captain Marvel has some great action set pieces and the character is as well developed and well acted as Hope Van Dyne, Okoye, Nakia, Shuri, and Gamora, I think they’ll have a hit on their hands. If that happens Hollywood will do more to replicate it. The MCU has done a great job creating this universe and I’m confident that Captain Marvel will not be an exception to that rule. I know I’m really excited.
Because, honestly? I love watching great women characters, especially when they kick ass. That’s so much more interesting to me than the damsel in distress. I don’t know maybe I’m not ‘alpha’ enough, but something I find attractive (not just on a romantic/sexual level, but attractive in a friend, or in my wife, or when I’m proud of my sister ) is characters/people who have passion. It’s what we admire about male characters right? You love that Tony Stark is pursuing (albeit awfully) the betterment of human kind through science, or that Captain America is passionate about the ideals of freedom and what America is supposed to be. Why wouldn’t we look for the same in our female characters? I never understood that.
So, what I want to see, is an excellent Captain Marvel movie, and if there is a love interest, I hope it’s not shoe-horned in. After that, I hope that Captain Marvel opens us up to more female lead films in the MCU. I’m patient, I know it won’t be overnight, but with a few more hits in Phase Four, and then they’ll be on a roll.
Written by Michael Cole