The Superhero Spin-Off: will a Black Widow solo movie ever be made?

Pim Razenberg on whether a Black Widow movie will ever be made…

Back in October the announcement of Marvel Studios’ Phase Three movie slate surprised everyone with the absence of a movie centred on Scarlett Johansson’s superspy Natasha Romanov, a.k.a. Black Widow. Long rumoured since the introduction of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, many fans expected the movie to be announced as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s third slate of films. But was it really that big a surprise that it didn’t happen?

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Like Hawkeye, Black Widow was passed over for a spin-off movie in Phase Three, seemingly ruling out the possibility for a solo outing for the foreseeable future. Yet looking at Phase One and Phase Two, the movie’s exclusion was not all that strange. This year the Marvel Cinematic Universe will see the release of its eleventh instalment, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and while sporting a host of intriguing comic book characters, Marvel has yet to take the decision to make a spin-off movie based on one of them.

After Nick Fury’s cameo in Iron Man’s stinger in 2008, audiences speculated the possibility of a Nick Fury movie; a movie that was, at one point, thought to come out as part of Marvel’s Phase One line-up. As of yet, however, the status of the Nick Fury spin-off is still up in the air. Over the last six years many other spin-off movies based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe were proposed, but none of them saw the light of day: Black Widow, the Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hawkeye, Loki and even the Warrior’s Three were at one point considered for a solo outing; yet in Phase Three none of these characters received the greenlight for spinning off into their own adventures. In addition, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver are equally kept out of the spotlight in Phase Three.

Maybe the reason for Marvel Studios’ reluctance to forward a spin-off movie lies within the concept’s unstable track-record. After all, previous attempts made by other studios to produce spin-off movies from existing ensemble franchises weren’t all that successful. Reception to X-Men spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine was lukewarm at best and halted the production of the X-Men Origins film series, which among others would have included a movie based on the character of Magneto. Daredevil spin-off Elektra received generally negative reviews and barely broke even at the Box Office. The Fantastic Four spin-off Silver Surfer and the Spider-Man 3 spin-off Venom never even materialized.

It seems, however, that other studios hope to change this trend. Both Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Warner Bros.’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were in part set up to serve as a launching pad for the creation of new “cinematic universes”. Like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Batman v Superman will introduce a host of famous DC characters, cameo-status or otherwise, meant to be spun off into new franchises and spin-off movies set in the same universe.

Marvel Studios plays its cards closer to the chest: rather than shoehorning new characters in its movies and using The Avengers’ blockbuster status to launch new spin-off movies, the studio has been testing its success with spin-off material in the short movie series Marvel One Shots and the ABC television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. Meanwhile, characters such as the Hulk and Black Widow are glorified as “key characters” in their colleagues’ franchises. After the announcement of the Phase Three movie slate in October 2014, Kevin Feige defended the exclusion of a Black Widow solo movie by stating that her role “throughout the rest of the Avengers saga is very, very big, and lynchpin, in fact, to those films.” A bright light for those who are still hoping to one day see Black Widow take the spotlight is that Marvel Studios’ Agent Carter is now testing the waters for the production of more female-lead-superhero fare. The series is slowly paving the way for Marvel’s female heroes of the future.

Feige’s words are key to the discussion that surrounds the status of each of Marvel Studios’ proposed spin-offs: rather than stepping back to produce a prequel of sorts based on Black Widow’s past, the studio opted “continuing the forward momentum and the continuity of the Cinematic Universe”. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was set up as a line of interchanging stories that move each other forward towards a common goal, and a movie based on Black Widow’s past would halt the saga’s main storyline for quite some time.

For now, it looks like the inclusion of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War promises to be Marvel’s first real attempt at making (or rather: planning) a spin-off movie, given that Boseman’s character’s screen time in Civil War will be more than a glorified cameo.

Are you still optimistic about the possibility of a Black Widow movie?

This article was first published on FlickeringMyth.com.

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Introducing Marvel’s Age of Miracles

Pim Razenberg on Marvel’s Age of Miracles…

Last week’s Ant-Man teaser introduced worldwide audiences to the character of Scott Lang, a con-man who’s on his way to become part of something greater than himself. The character’s story arc greatly resembles that of Lang’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) colleague Tony Stark: both men are presented as unlikely anti-heroes overcoming their own imperfections to become something more.

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Ant-Man is Marvel Studios’ carefully planned next step towards the supernatural side of the MCU. The “serious” way in which Ant-Man was introduced in the movie’s teaser just goes to show how well thought through Marvel Studios’ long-term plan really is.

The greatest political game-changer in the world of comic book movies in recent years was the attack on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001. The emotional aftermath of the events that took place that day were strongly felt in the movie industry and arguably affected comic book movies the most. Director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and its sequel The Dark Knight were the first superhero movies that tackled the problems the United States faced head-on. Nolan presented audiences with a darker, more realistic take on the classic superhero, whose previous incarnation had been reduced to a campy colour fest. In Nolan’s Batman series supervillains were replaced by terrorists – Batman’s enemies became the product of a corrupt society rather than the outcome of a failed experiment, mutation or genetic manipulation. Nolan’s movies contained numerous references to September 11, the Patriot Act, Al-Qaeda, and its former leader Osama bin Laden.

After Nolan introduced the concept of the “grounded” superhero movie Marvel Studios’ MCU was created with a similar approach. In the studio’s first movie Iron Man, the extraordinary abilities of Tony Stark’s alter ego were the product of advanced technology; Stark didn’t undergo mutation, he wasn’t genetically manipulated and he required no gruelling combat training to turn him into a hero. Through Stark’s down-to-earth personality and the many references to terrorism and international politics within the first Iron Man film, Stark’s story became a plausible extension of our own world.

Subsequently skipping the clichéd “mutation through gamma radiation” storyline by introducing Bruce Banner as a scientist on the run from the U.S. Government in The Incredible Hulk, Marvel was able to extend the MCU’s sense of “realism” until the introduction of Thor. Before Thor’s release, fans complained that the movie wouldn’t fit within the “grounded” universe of Iron Man. The movie, however, adequately positioned the “magic” of the Asgardians as an extension of Earth’s science. Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger slowly eased audiences into the cosmic side of Marvel. Simple hints and quotes served as stepping stones to a possible meeting between Tony Stark and outer space hero Rocket Raccoon; as the Red Skull stated in The First Avenger: “what others see as superstition, you and I know to be of science.”

Announcing a meeting between Iron Man and Rocket Racoon in The Avengers, however, would have stretched the concept too far, too soon. Audiences clearly had their fill of campy CGI filled superhero fare such as Batman & Robin or Green Lantern and were looking for something more relatable. Hence, The Avengers focused on the team’s inner struggles. It was only after the dust had settled that Marvel’s heroes faced the Chitauri invasion, led by Thor’s brother Loki – an outer space villain the audience was already familiar with.

The Avengers pushed the envelope on the MCU’s cosmic side, but didn’t take it too far to disrupt the franchise’s “grounded reality”. In fact, like Marvel Studios’ audience, Tony Stark needed some time himself to adjust to the existence of the Marvel cosmic universe; the events of The Avengers left him suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Iron Man 3, while Thor casually went on to defend the Nine Realms. The disruption of Stark’s reality was conveyed through Stark’s own words, as early as in Iron Man 3’s first trailer: “You experience things and then they’re over, and you still can’t explain them? Gods, aliens, other dimensions? I’m just a man in a can.”

Of course, Stark was then faced with the franchise’s first “supernatural” enemies whose powers did not just stem from advanced technology, but sprung from a mutation caused by the Extremis virus. Iron Man 3 thus served as a reflection on the growing presence of the supernatural in Marvel Studios’ movies and in addition it opened the MCU up to the introduction of more obscure comic book properties.

Sequels Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier further hinted the co-existence of Iron Man’s “grounded” reality and the cosmic side of the MCU. Both movies came with a stinger that offered audiences stepping stones towards Marvel’s riskiest property to date: the Guardians of the Galaxy. Headlined by a man just as stubborn an anti-hero as Stark and Lang, protagonist Peter Quill – and to great extent his new-found partner Rocket Raccoon – was ready and able to comment on the insanity going on around him, mimicking the voice of the audience whilst at the same time confirming that no matter how strange things get, even in outer space we’re still walking the world of former weapons manufacturer Tony Stark.

Though serving as a step-up for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker’s words in The Winter Soldier’s mid-credit scene hold a far greater meaning for the franchise as a whole. “It’s not a world of spies anymore,” von Strucker stated after audiences had just witnessed the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the hands of Captain America in Marvel’s political action thriller, “not even a world of heroes. This is the Age of Miracles.”

Looking at the detailed process through which Marvel Studios built and established the characters and story lines within the MCU reveals just how carefully the franchise has been mapped out from the very beginning. In 2008 it seemed unimaginable that Tony Stark would ever share the big screen with a talking raccoon or a surgeon-turned-magician going by the name of Doctor Strange, but through careful planning, story building and universe expansion, it seems that Marvel is more than capable of making us believe in such miracles.

For a franchise which started down and dirty in the war-torn dust bowl of Afghanistan, the MCU has come a long way. Now, nearing the conclusion of its Phase Two movie slate, the MCU is ready to present us with a new generation of anti-heroes stemming from the (super) natural; from the Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver in Age of Ultron to Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and the Inhumans, Marvel Studios is taking its time to prepare audiences for 2018-2019’s ultimate Marvel movie event, Avengers: Infinity War.

Personally, I am very much looking forward to discovering the path Marvel Studios will pave towards the Avengers’ inevitable clash with the Mad Titan Thanos and I’m very curious how the studio’s new slate of characters will fit within the reality they have created, because as Jane Foster stated in Thor: “magic’s just science we don’t understand yet.”

Are you exited to join Marvel’s Age of Miracles?

This article was first published on FlickeringMyth.com.

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