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Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow finally gets to shine.

Summary: Long-delayed plans for a female-led Marvel superhero movie following 'Wonder Woman's triumph should deliver a big hit for the studio

Ben Child, Guardian News & Media Ltd

It's not difficult to follow Hollywood's logic in avoiding female-led superhero movies for most of the past 20 years. Whenever studios have taken risks on characters such as Catwoman (in 2004, with Halle Berry in the leathers) and Elektra (2005, with Jennifer Garner as the famed assassin), the box-office results have been paltry and the critical brickbats relentless.

Of course, when we say it is possible to follow the logic, this is not the same thing as saying such blinkered thinking is logical, which led us to a point where there were no major female-led comic-book flicks released in cinemas between 2005 and the debut of Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman last year.

For, by the same rationale, Hollywood ought to have banned all male-led sci-fi romps following the failure of Cowboys and Aliens to light up multiplexes in 2011. It did not, of course. When a female-led movie fails, the gender of the lead protagonist is immediately flagged up. When a male-led film heads straight for the DVD bargain bin, other aspects are highlighted.

It should not have taken the success of Jenkins' warm-hearted DCEU origins tale for rival Marvel to finally take a chance on a solo outing for Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow (to be fair, the studio did already have the Brie Larsson-led Captain Marvel on its slate for 2019), but we can only assume there is a link. Johansson is a huge star in her own right, arguably better known than any of her fellow Avengers bar Robert Downey Jr, and yet she has only ever appeared in ensemble efforts within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So confident were Paramount of her pulling power that they cast her as the lead in the ill-conceived anime remake Ghost in the Shell last year, yet Marvel continued to procrastinate over delivering a film that would have seen the star of Under the Skin and Lucy take centre stage in her best-known role.

SOLO OUTING

No longer. Variety reported this month that Marvel is finally moving (tentatively) ahead with a solo Black Widow film the best part of a decade after studio chief Kevin Feige first indicated an interest, with TiMER's Jac Schaeffer writing the script. Not much is known about the project, but it's encouraging to see that the studio is finally moving in the right direction.

With Johansson in the role, Black Widow surely now has the potential to become one of Marvel's big hitters. The more fascinating corners of Romanoff's twisted psyche (as seen in the comics) have barely been explored in the Avengers movies, beyond a brief mention of her chequered past as an assassin and spy in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a somewhat controversial reference to her darkling origin as a creation of the sinister Soviet agent production line known as the Red Room in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The obvious direction for Black Widow's debut solo outing would be a straight-up origins tale detailing how the one-time KGB spy and assassin Natasha Romanoff came to join Shield. The only problem here is that Johansson is not old enough to have been born in the USSR, as her character was in the comic books. The print version is said to boast anti-ageing powers, but it has never been clear that the MCU iteration shares these, so to suddenly discover them would be an unexpected development to say the least.

A more suitable adventure for the superhero might be to imagine her caught up in a conspiracy involving people from her past, perhaps referencing the 1967 comic book run The Valiant Also Die . The early effort saw Romanoff brought face to face with her one-time husband, a man she thought long dead, who has become an evil communist version of Captain America known as the Red Guardian. There is space in that narrative for Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, an obvious candidate to appear alongside Romanoff, especially given his criminal underuse in most other MCU entries. Again, the cold war-era storyline might need updating.

A more recent entry that could provide for easy pickings is the 2010 Name of the Rose storyline, which saw Natasha targeted by a mysterious assailant. While trying to discover exactly who is trying to kill her, the Shield agent must examine her loyalties to fellow Avengers as well as questioning her own mental reliability after years of being brainwashed and conditioned by the Soviets.

Whatever line Marvel goes for, there should be no doubt that the star of a future Black Widow movie deserves this moment in the spotlight. There are few more charismatic screen presences in Hollywood than Johansson at full pelt, barrelling through cityscapes and taking down bad guys with immaculately choreographed martial arts moves. That Marvel gets to branch out into a hard-boiled noir twist on the superhero genre, potentially a radical new direction for the MCU, only adds to the win factor.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jan 20, 2018
Words:857
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