Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow has become something of a lighting rod in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the character has been a standout of the four Marvel films she's been in (Iron Man 2, Avengers, Captain America 2, Avengers 2), there are many who believe the heroine has yet to truly get her due in the MCU.
As such, there has been a renewed call for Marvel to do some course-correction where female superheroines are concerned. Fans are no longer content to see the ladies of the MCU playing sidekick or damsel to the boys; with so many rich female heroes (and villains) in the pages of Marvel Comics, the assumption is that a movie with a female lead should be no problem to develop and sell (if you can do it for Ant-Man...).
However, I don't necessarily believe that the comparison should be 1:1 - especially where Black Widow is concerned. While a movie is an excellent and high-profile showcase for a superhero, TV and digital streaming services like Netflix are becoming just as prominent, and we think Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff is a great candidate for a Black Widow Netflix series. Here are five Reasons Why.
5 It's a Better Fit for the Character
There's been this pervading idea that the only way for a Marvel superhero to get the top-shelf treatment is to be granted a solo movie - but it's an idea that has been decisively challenged in the last year. Daredevil is a character who has had a major film centered around him, as well as a Netflix series, and there's little doubt which one fans now prefer.
In the case of a character like Matt Murdock, seeing his progression from upstart vigilante to costumed hero who brought down a Kingpin was a lot more effective and exciting than having the character squeezed into an hour and forty-five minute summary of the same basic story. Daredevil is a character with a rich mythos and backstory (his father, powers, martial arts training and ninja affiliation, his almost contradictory legal profession, etc.), and getting to delve into that richness with the appropriately dark and violent tone of '90s/early '00s "Marvel Knights" comic book storytelling was better for the character, the fans, and ultimately Netflix and Marvel.
...Which brings us back to Black Widow.
The various Marvel movies and tie-ins like ABC's Agent Carter TV series have painted a pretty dark backstory for Natasha Romanoff and the Black Widow training program. Inculcating young girls in murder, espionage and deception through forced conditioning, brutal training, abuse and even sterilization? A shadowy world of killers and dirty politics, seduction and lies? Does that sound like material well-suited for a Disney-branded, merchandise-heavy Marvel tentpole film?
Given the nature of the character, Black Widow needs a very adult-themed sandbox to play in, and after seeing the adult-themed material and tone of the Daredevil Netflix series, the streaming service seems like a much better home for the Widow to be properly explored in full complexity, with an unflinching eye.
4 It Allows for More Development
Bouncing right off the end point above: Black Widow is a character we've gotten brushstrokes of in various Marvel movies and TV series (her "ledger," the horrible conditions she was trained in, her early S.H.I.E.L.D. days with Hawkeye, etc...), but she deserves a little more focus than that. Widow is a character who has been around since the early days of the Marvel Comic Book Universe and has enjoyed a rich mythos in her own right. That's all to say: there's already been a lot hinted at onscreen, and a lot more that's been written about on the comic book page, so there's plenty of material to fill out the longer form of storytelling that Netflix would offer.
Like Daredevil, a Black Widow series or miniseries ( 4 - 6 eps preferably) could actually take the opportunity to jump back and forth in time, turning what is maybe a larger, overarching mission into a reflection of so many key moments from Widow's suggested history in the MCU. Just running down the list of things fans probably want to actually have shown, rather than told:
- More of young Romanoff's early training and mentors.
- Dealing with the terrible trauma of sterilization.
- Her first mission.
- Her past run-in with Winter Soldier.
- A particularly bloody and morally wrong assignment ('red in the ledger').
- Her recruitment by Nick Fury.
- Missions with Hawkeye.
- Any other fun Easter Eggs.
That's just the flashback material that would be rich to explore, and those flashbacks could be full of great MCU cameos, to boot. Beyond the past, the thrill of seeing Black Widow have to step-by-step complete a complicated espionage mission with twists and surprises (like a shorter season of 24) would be enough sell for a good Marvel Netflix event.
3 It's a Better Fit for the Storyline
When choosing comic book storylines as source material for a Black Widow Netflix series (or miniseries/anthology series), the best one that comes to immediate mind is the "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" 1999 miniseries from the more adult-themed "Marvel Knights" imprint. In that story, Black Widow is sent on a mission to acquire intel on a new bio-weapon being developed by a scientist - only to find that her replacement, the newest Black Widow (Yelena Belova), is targeting her for assassination in order to usurp Romanoff's title.
Granted, it's a standard plot as far as spy-thrillers go, but in this modern era, that framework could definitely be updated into a compelling storyline for a series.
There's plenty of space in "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" to showcase a female character struggling with geo-political loyalties and identity; or two young women who went through similar traumas being compared and contrasted by their actions following that trauma; questions of whether the past defines us or inspires or growth and change - it's all thematic material that perfectly dovetails an espionage thriller with a "Spy vs. Spy" component, and it's a helluva lot more rich and complex than the paper-thin themes on the Agent Carter network TV show.
Bottom line: whatever Black Widow storylines serve as inspiration for an onscreen adaptation, they aren't likely to be squeaky-clean heroic adventures that fit a Disney movie marquee. Since Netflix seems to be the corner of the MCU where rougher tales get told, we'd say Widow's comic book exploits are a perfect fit.
2 It's a Better Fit for Johansson
Scarlett Johansson is a busy actress and is now a mom, as well, and anyone who has been watching the Marvel movie machine work (as we have for years now), knows how grueling it is to go on the press tour, marketing and promoting a Marvel movie. That's to say nothing of the commitment and time of having to be on a movie set for a big-budget shoot (and reshoots), with so much big-budget money on the line.We said it before, we'll say it again: Marvel's superhero actors could understandably get burned out.
While filming a miniseries or cable-style TV season (13 episodes max) is definitely still a commitment for an actress, everything about it is arguably smaller in scale than trying to film and promote a big-budget movie. Netflix also has its own marketing strategies, and they are noticeably more restrained than the in-your-face, 24/7 push of tentpole movie marketing and promotion.
That's all to say: if a Marvel star like Johansson wants pursue a something a little more low-key in the MCU, a 4 - 6 episode miniseries would be a great way to do it. Allow for an anthology-style format (like American Horror Story) and the commitment wouldn't even need to be constant (every year). Black Widow miniseries events could be released whenever Marvel and Johansson saw opportunity.
We have no idea what kind of changes that would mean, contractually, but as the MCU ages, this kind of compromise with its senior members (less commitment, more benefit/exposure) could become crucial.
1 It's a Better MCU Bridge
Jeremy Renner's controversial comments about Black Widow's status in the MCU (the character is lent out constantly to support other films) were definitely on the crass side (whoring never needed to be brought into it) - but that doesn't mean there isn't a kernel of insight in his statement. Black Widow has been used as a bridge tool in the MCU, but there's a much better way for her to accomplish that task while still being the center of her own story.
We've already skimmed the number of MCU events and characters that Natasha Romanoff and the Black Widow program have ties to (The Avengers, Agent Carter, S.H.I.E.L.D., Russia, Winter Solider, etc...). Through a smartly written series or miniseries, Black Widow's history and experience could touch many corners, and the cameo opportunities from established characters are almost as extensive as the opportunity to weave in new characters and/or organizations into the MCU.
As a spy who has worn many covers and been involved in top-level operations between the world's biggest clandestine organizations, exploring Black Widow's "ledger" could be a revelatory and interesting character study; but it could also be a dot-connecting road map to the shadowy side of the MCU in a way that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was never fully able to be. Many fans would probably like to take up that opportunity for discovery, and if Marvel was thinking of doing a Mockingbird/Hunter Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff to explore the MCU's special covert agents, Black Widow is a much better sell.
Those are the reasons we think Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff should get her own showcase on Netflix, rather than in a movie. For our part, a miniseries would be ideal, but after seeing the impressive work behind a show like Daredevil, there's no telling what kind of rich material could be mined from even a 13-episode run.
As Marvel attempts to expand its focus to a more diverse stable of characters, we'll have to wait and see if Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow ever gets any kind of spotlight, or if like Hulk and Hawkeye she just gets a few extended character moments the next time a bunch of Avengers get together.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now in theaters, followed by Ant-Man on July 17 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6 2016, Doctor Strange on November 4 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on May 5 2017, Spider-Man on July 28, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on November 3 2017, Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 on May 4 2018, Black Panther on July 6 2018, Captain Marvel on November 2 2018, Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 on May 3 2019 and Inhumans on July 12, 2019.
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