'Toy'ing with equality: Why Marvel didn't have female villain in 'Iron Man 3'

Rohini Nair

May,23 2016 14:57 59 IST

And they’ve done it again.

For anyone who had the least doubt about the superhero world being skewed against women, here’s more proof, courtesy Marvel.

Iron Man 3 director Shane Black recently said in an interview with Uproxx that the main antagonist (Aldrich Killian, the character finally played by Guy Pearce) in the film was originally meant to be a woman.

Apparently, the character was written as a woman in the script, but when bosses at Marvel Studios got their hands on it, the Iron Man 3 team received a memo which said, in no uncertain terms, that a female villain was not happening.

The villain in 'Iron Man 3' — played by Guy Pearce — was originally meant to be a woman

The villain in 'Iron Man 3' — played by Guy Pearce — was originally meant to be a woman

The reason? Because Marvel would lose out on toy sales if the villain was a woman.

Flummoxed?

So are we.

But Marvel has a precedent for decisions of this sort.

In his interview, Black asserted that it was not current Marvel head Kevin Feige (and then Iron Man 3 producer) who had taken the call; rather it was a decision taken at the corporate level. Black did not name the studio chief of the time, Ike Perlmutter, either.

However, Marvel fans were quick to note that Perlmutter was the author of the infamous email titled “Female Movies”, leaked in the Sony hack, that listed Elektra, Catwoman and Supergirl as examples of movies with female superheroes that bombed at the box office.

Coming back to Iron Man 3, it isn’t that Marvel has a shortfall of female supervillains to draw on — should it choose to feature them. In fact, for a while now, rumours have been doing the rounds that Thor: Ragnarok will have a woman as the antagonist — with most votes going for Amora the Enchantress (actress Cate Blanchett has now been confirmed for the film; but she will play Hela, the Asgardian goddess of death).

It isn't that Marvel does not have a bank of female supervillains of characters to draw from. If DC has Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, then Marvel has Mystique and several others

It isn't that Marvel does not have a bank of female supervillains of characters to draw from. If DC has Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, then Marvel has Mystique and several others

If DC has Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Harley Quinn, then Marvel has Mystique, Adrienne Frost, and of course Black Widow (Yelena Belova, not Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff) to name just a few. Scarlet Witch too, proved a tough foe, until she crossed over to the good side.

But DC has taken the lead not just in announcing a solo female superhero film (the Wonder Woman movie that will feature Gal Gadot) but also in a standalone film for a female supervillain (the Harley Quinn film seems very real after the response to her character in the Suicide Squad trailer). Meanwhile, Marvel continues to dally on a Black Widow solo film, and Captain Marvel has been pushed back to a November 2018 release. (To be fair to Marvel, the studio is introducing The Wasp in the next Ant-Man film.)

The toy controversy too isn’t the first row of its kind the studio has found itself in.

When Avengers: Age of Ultron released, fans were outraged when Black Widow was nowhere to be found in the toy line-up. To add insult to injury, Marvel’s parent company — Disney — repeated a similar trick with its new Star Wars merchandise: this time it was Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, who was missing.

Despite being a fan favourite, Black Widow was missing from the line up of toys issued for 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'

Despite being a fan favourite, Black Widow was missing from the line up of toys issued for 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'

Iron Man 3 was released in 2013, and it may be fair to say that in these three years, Marvel and DC have made some progress in terms of how they treat their female characters. But there’s still a long way to go yet.

In the meantime, fan conversations like the one around Iron Man 3, as well as female heroes sticking up for others of their ilk, is a step in the right direction.

As Marvel’s Jessica Jones star Krysten Ritter said, when asked to comment on the issue: “Girls can sell toys!”

Just as well as boys.

Here are our favourite Marvel female supervillains. Who would you pick as your top-five? Tell us in the comments section below.

They're so bad, they're good! Meet Marvel's top-five female supervillains