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It’s Time to Break Up the Superhero Boy’s Club
It’s hard to deny that superhero films have reached something of a fever pitch in recent years. Since the humble beginnings of Marvel’s Phase One initiative in 2008, we’ve seen Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, followed up by the super-successful 2012 hit The Avengers. Now in the second phase of Marvel’s film plans, we’ve already seen Iron Man 3 gross over a billion dollars worldwide earlier this summer and will see the release of Thor: The Dark World next Friday in the US.
And that’s only on the Avengers end. Last year, we saw Spider-Man get yet another reboot starring Andrew Garfield, and we can’t forget about the X-Men, the other famous Marvel franchise that has seen its fair share of films since its beginnings back in 2000. In July of 2013, we saw Logan gear up and set out for Japan in The Wolverine, which had a nice stinger teasing of X-Men: Days of Future Past coming next year. Also to follow next year is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man.
Marvel isn’t the only one here that has seen their fair share of superhero films released in the theater either, as both Batman and Superman have enjoyed their fair share of screen time in recent years.
But re-read this intro, and you’ll see there’s a common theme running through all of these movies. Spotted it yet? Yes…they’re superheroes. Yes…they all have origin stories. And yes…they’re all men.
Now, before you roll your eyes at me, allow me to say this; I’m not necessarily crying foul and championing the cause of feminism here. Rather, all I’m asking for is a bit more by way of diversity. While these middle aged white dudes are all great characters in their own right, there’s a lot to be desired by way of diversity in the portrayal of both Marvel and DC’s vast universes.
Probably the most disappointing part about the fact that we haven’t seen any major female superheroes get their dues is that we’ve seen more than a few great female characters in each of the films. Pepper Potts, Rogue, Jane Foster, Yukio, Catwoman, and Black Widow are just a few of the female characters in these films that not only have important roles in the film, but ultimately have their powerful moments where they really shine. But that’s just it; they have moments, and they’re largely reduced to being supporting characters and in need of rescue from their male counterparts at some point during the movie.
Now, my only question here is…why? With all the great female superheroes you have at your fingertips in Marvel’s universe, why haven’t we seen one get the origin story treatment?
It seems to me that the most obvious place to start would be with Black Widow. She appears for the first time in Iron Man 2, shares a fair amount of screen time with the guys in The Avengers, and is in general a decent character in her own right. Yet, we still know so little about her. How did she become who she is? What led up to her ultimately assuming the identity as Black Widow? Seriously, there’s a lot of potential in making a film exclusively about how she came to be, yet we get nothing more than slivers of her story. She’s not likely to be going away any time soon, so why not tell everything from the beginning?
Sure, you could argue that a lot of this lore is stored away in both DC’s and Marvel’s extensive backlog of comics. But these films aren’t necessarily made for the hardcore comic reader. They’re made for the average moviegoer, and it’s strange to me that they shy away from anything that isn’t white, male, and sporting a six-pack of abs.
This isn’t only limited to women, either. In recent years, the Green Lantern has been portrayed as an African American man in the Justice League cartoon, and Don Cheadle’s character in the Iron Man series has always been one of the more stoic types to rival Stark’s cynicism. Yet the film adaptation of Lantern used a white male lead and different character, and Cheadle settles in a supporting role. Why the hesitation to portray someone different here as well?
This may seem like a petty problem to have, but like I said before, the Marvel and DC superhero phenomenon isn’t going away. If it is going to continue to persist, I’d love to see a bit more realism and diversity portrayed in each of the films to round things out and give some of the more interesting characters their just dues. There’s a lot of greatness locked away within the Marvel and DC universes that might make for really interesting films to add to the already standing collection. All I’m asking is that we start to explore it a bit more.