Writer and director Joss Whedon has a reputation for creating movies and TV shows that have female characters that, if they're not at the absolute forefront of the story, are at least in a prominent place in the supporting cast. Since the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator first joined the Marvel Studios family with 2012's The Avengers, many fans of Marvel comics' female superheroes have been hoping that his influence will help diversify the movies a little.
Avengers saw Scarlett Johansson reprise her role as Black Widow and introduced Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, but it otherwise had a noticeably dude-heavy cast. In fact, none of the ten movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far has been centered around a female superhero, and the most prominent female characters are mostly love interests for the male heroes. It's starting to look like Warner Bros. might make a standalone Wonder Woman movie before Carol Danvers or Natasha Romanoff ever get to stand front and center on a poster for their own movie.
Whedon, who tried to get a Wonder Woman movie made several years ago, has expressed frustration at major studios' resistance to making big-budget action movies with female leads, and said that he's hoping for a "paradigm shift" in the wake of the success of The Hunger Games. Speaking to HeyUGuys at the Guardians of the Galaxy premiere in London, Whedon said that The Avengers: Age of Ultron will be a little more balanced than its predecessor.
"There are four prominent female roles in the center of the movie, and a more balanced presence throughout the movie. But, you know, the guys are all there. There are more of them too. Hopefully it was satisfy everybody. I'm not trying to fulfil an agenda, but I'm interested in men and women. I'm interested in grown-ups who act like children and dress like clowns and punch each other."
Whedon was also asked about the possibility of a Captain Marvel movie with Carol Danvers, but didn't give away anything other than saying that he likes the character.
Of the four female characters that Whedon mentioned, the three that seem most likely to be central to the story are Maria Hill, Scarlet Witch and Black Widow. Hayley Atwell, who was first introduced as Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger, recently revealed that she will have a role in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since this will most likely be part of a dream, hallucination or flashback, however, Peggy Carter doesn't seem like a likely fit for a "prominent" role. A better bet is Korean actress Kim Soo-hyun, who has been cast in a "substantial supporting role," though a statement from Marvel also suggested that she will only appear in one scene.
With those five names we've exhausted the list of female actors who are known to be playing named characters in the movie. Between the two possibilities, Kim Soo-hyun's character sounds like she's a better fit than Peggy Carter, though if she really just is in one scene it sounds like Whedon might be stretching the definition of the word "prominent" a little.
Meanwhile, The Avengers: Age of Ultron's cast of male characters has also grown, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson playing Quicksilver, Paul Bettany graduating from J.A.R.V.I.S. to Vision, James Spader as Ultron, Thomas Kretschmann as Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, and Andy Serkis playing an undisclosed role. With that in mind, the balance hasn't actually shifted all that much between The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Barring a female-led Marvel movie being announced at San Diego Comic-Con 2014, it looks the studio isn't ready for a paradigm shift just yet.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron arrives in theaters on May 1st, 2015.