Avengers' Black Widow, Scarlet Witch to Black Panther's Shuri — a look at MCU's women
In 2018, the male to female ratio in the Avengers: Infinity War movie isn’t quite that bad, though there's room for improvement. So here's a look at some of the best written (and acted) female characters of the MCU:
In the run-up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War, you may have come across this priceless visualisation of Avengers were it made in the ’90s: it's unnerving how enthusiastic it made me for a potential Marvel movie with all of the biggest stars of that decade.
Keanu Reeves as Doctor Strange? Alicia Silverstone as Scarlet Witch? Winona Ryder as Mantis? No seriously, shut up and take my money! It’s a beautiful list, full of beautiful people. But there was something unpleasant glaring back at me when I looked at that picture: out of the 24 key characters (it’s not the best list because it doesn’t even include the Groot) on that chart, only five are female.
Now in 2018, the male to female ratio in the actual Avengers: Infinity War isn’t quite that bad (the posters seem to suggest that there are just under twice the number of men or male characters in the movie, as the female characters). Unsurprising, since Marvel hasn’t even released its first female superhero movie yet (Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson, is only releasing next year), but this is the kind of thing that gets you thinking about the women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), how many there are, and how incredibly cool and awesome and badass they all are — the superheroes and the agents or the non-powered ones. Let’s look at some of the best written (and acted) female characters of the MCU:
Debut - Iron Man 2 (2010)
Remember when Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was the only substantial Marvel female character on screen? Sure, there was Pepper Potts, but then Gwyneth Paltrow’s screen time in the movies started to get inversely proportional to the popularity of Goop, her ridiculously extra lifestyle brand that encourages people to reach their “leanest livable weight”, which was probably the least ludicrous thing they’ve suggested. But I digress.
When a red-haired Johansson first appeared as Natasha Romanoff in 2010’s Iron Man 2, fans were obviously skeptical about the casting choice (apparently, Emily Blunt was supposed to play the role, before Johansson stepped into it at the last minute. Would she have done a better job? Hard to say. Given both Blunt and Johansson’s portrayals of strong and skilled female characters in film adaptations of original Japanese source material, in The Edge of Tomorrow and Ghost in the Shell respectively, I think they’re both at par).
But through subsequent movies, Black Widow not only became an integral and efficient part of the Avengers, but also the female face of the MCU for a number of years. A super spy, assassin, and a former KGB agent, the MCU’s Black Widow is a flawed character with a morally questionable past, who’s always been loyal to her friends and the larger cause they support, and comes to the rescue of the her more famous male Avengers colleagues more than once.
One of the most empathetic characters in the MCU, why we haven’t gotten a solo Black Widow movie starring Johansson yet, is a well-worn question, but Marvel big boss Kevin Feige seems to want one nearly as much as fans do. So, fingers crossed?
Debut - Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The adopted daughter of Thanos (he adopted her after he killed her entire race!), Gamora’s reputation as the “deadliest woman in the galaxy” is hardly surprising given her background. She grew up serving the mad Titan Deviant, and did his bidding until she decided she didn’t want to anymore, and broke free.
As a former assassin, she’s the cool, aloof-yet-trusted member of the Guardians of the Galaxy; played by Zoe Saldana in the MCU, Gamora’s relationships with Star-Lord as well as her estranged fugitive sister Nebula, show her as someone capable of love, compassion and forgiveness, without putting any dent in her fighter/assassin status.
Debut - Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
If ever there was a female superhero with complicated powers that the MCU had only scratched the surface of, it’s Scarlet Witch. Born Wanda Maximoff in the East European country of Sokovia, she grew up with her twin brother Pietro (Quicksilver), and was experimented on under the supervision of Wolfgang von Strucker’s HYDRA. Both siblings got superpowers, with Wanda’s being telekinesis, hypnosis/telepathy, and energy manipulation.
The MCU’s Scarlet Witch is pretty much in keeping with the way the character is written in the comics, and Elizabeth Olsen’s portrayal of her certainly does the mad, slightly unstable brilliance of Scarlet Witch’s powers a lot of justice. Switching sides from supporting Ultron to being a member of the Avengers, her brother’s subsequent sacrifice in the battle of Sokovia, and her siding with Captain America in Civil War, have all made Scarlet Witch a complex and tortuous female superhero, but a really intriguing one nonetheless!
Debut - Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
One of my top-three most favourite female characters in the MCU, Valkyrie is an Asgardian warrior who belonged to the elite female group of warriors called the Valkyries. When we first met her in last year’s Thor: Ragnarok, it felt like she was the coolest female characters in the MCU: maybe it was Taika Waititi’s writing and direction, maybe it was Tessa Thompson’s laidback-but-badass portrayal of Valkyrie as the hard-drinking, exiled bounty hunter on Sakaar, or maybe it was all of it plus knowing that Valkyrie was bisexual.
Doesn’t matter, because it resulted in one of the badassest, wittiest, and fiercest female characters we’d yet seen in the MCU movies. She may have sold out Thor to the Grandmaster initially, but she more than made up for that by helping him defeat Hela, one kickass move and quip at a time!
Debut - Black Panther (2018)
As officially the smartest person in the world, Shuri is obviously giving Tony Stark and Bruce Banner a run for their Stark’s money. She’s not just the Black Panther T’Challa’s younger sister and a Wakandan princess, but at 16, she’s already the head of the Wakandan Design Group. Let’s be honest, without her, T’Challa would have been in a fair bit of trouble throughout Black Panther. In fact, why the movie wasn’t just called “The Amazing Genius Shuri and the Incredible Women of the Dora Milaje” is, frankly, beyond me.
Played by Letitia Wright with childlike glee, Shuri is absolutely the perfect role model for young women. As if designing the current Panther Habits and deleting Bucky Barnes’ HYDRA programming weren’t enough, Shuri actually fought against Erik Killmonger. Genius-level brains and brawn despite technically not having any “superpowers?” Give us a chance Shuri!
Jane Foster: the pretty scientist.
The Wasp: the training partner who’ll soon be half of the Antman and the Wasp.
Nebula: the feral sister, with a heart of gold.
Mantis: the martial arts expert with super-empathic abilities.
Michelle (MJ) Jones: the witty, snarky high-school student and observer.
Hela: the Asgardian Goddess of Death and all-round Evil Demoness.
The Dora Milaje: fierce, female, black, beautiful.
Agent Peggy Carter
Debut - Marvel’s Agent Carter (2015)
Ah, Peggy Carter! Margaret Elizabeth “Peggy” Carter was one of the most prominent and efficient agents of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) fighting against HYDRA during and after World War II. Her undercover missions in Germany enabled the SSR to start Project Rebirth, to develop the Super Soldier Serum to make an army of Super Soldiers. This was when she met the pre-Captain America Steve Rogers.
Hayley Atwell’s portrayal of Agent Carter was exactly what the character was — so much more than the Cap’s old flame. A codebreaker in the British Royal Military, Carter’s work with Rogers, Howard Stark, the SSR, and as the founding member of S.H.I.E.L.D. is sort of like the comic book equivalent of the female “computers” at NASA back in the 1950s and ’60s. Brilliant, confident, and witty, Peggy Carter deserved more than having her great niece be romantically involved with Steve Rogers. Too bad she’s not around anymore for a snappy British retort.
Debut - Marvel’s Jessica Jones (2015)
Private investigator. Troubled past being experimented on, now has super strength and other powers. Feels responsible for the car accident that killed her parents and brother. Held captive and was repeatedly raped by a mind-controlling freak. Issues with authority, commitment, being vulnerable. Raging alcoholic. The laundry list of Jessica Jones’ problems is endless, but Netflix’s take on this complex, nuanced MCU character is so genuinely empowering and Krysten Ritter’s portrayal of Jones so relatable, that to say Jessica Jones is one of the MCU’s best characters (male or female) would be an understatement. In a male-dominated MCU on television, Jones is the standout, in more ways than one!
Debut - Marvel’s Jessica Jones (2015)
Not only was Marvel’s Jessica Jones the MCU’s first solo female superhero effort, it did the nearly unthinkable in having not just one, but two strong female leads. When the series first aired, Jessica Jones’ adoptive sister and best friend Trish Walker may have seemed like the proverbial sidekick to some, but Trish has steadily grown into her character’s very interesting backstory and even more interesting future exploring her comic book identity of Hellcat.
She’s so clearly not just the pretty face, the radio talk show host who discusses shallow lifestyle tips with her audience, or even just the former child star Patsy! Season 2 saw Trish semi-launch into her own story, getting addicted to the IGH-manufactured superpower-inducing drug, and yet being there for troubled-soul Jessica throughout. Rachel Taylor does a fantastic job of playing Trish, and her earnestness at wanting to be a superhero who’ll do good for others, is charmingly disturbing.
Debut - Iron Fist (2017)
When you become the objectively unequivocal fan favourite on an otherwise panned superhero show, there must be something truly great about you. Colleen Wing is exactly that great character. A master and sensei of Bushido, Wing is a martial arts expert who used to be a loyal soldier of the Hand, before she helped Danny Rand and the Defenders ultimately take on the Hand (and by default, Bakuto, who returned from the dead to lead the Hand).
Her underground fight scenes when she’s looking to make quick cash, and the overall growth of her character from Iron Fist to The Defenders, have made Wing (portrayed by Game of Thrones’ alum Jessica Henwick) one of the most alluring characters of the MCU.
The women of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: superpowered or not, fighters, pilots, tacticians — these women are all round b*tchin’!
Elektra: a trained assassin, Daredevil’s lover and opponent, resurrected to be the Hand’s personal weapon, was able to eventually break free.
Claire Temple: a nurse, and the glue that holds Netflix’s MCU characters together.
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