A day after Hillary Clinton made her long-rumored 2016 presidential bid official, Disney shut down Hollywood for the star-studded world premiere of Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron, the mega-budgeted May 1 blockbuster in which the Avengers get way existential when Tony Stark plays Dr. Frankenstein to an A.I. hell-bent on bettering humanity by wiping it out.
Written and directed by Joss Whedon, Avengers 2 is at once funnier and more cartoonish than its predecessor. It also ups the ante on the political and personal conflicts that haunt its heroes, who are hurtling toward the epic Phase 3-ending Infinity Wars that will be waged by Marvel’s stable of disparate superheroes over the most powerful thingamabobs in the galaxy.
Despite the fact that Scarlett Johansson scored a hit last summer in Lucy and plays the most prominent token female in the all-male Avengers (Cobie Smulders’ ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill manages to get a job working for Stark in Avengers 2), Marvel opted not to give Black Widow her own movie to carry. After Ant-Man completes the studio’s Phase 2 of superhero movies, another ten are in place for Phase 3—and only one of them, 2018’s Captain Marvel, will be fronted by a woman.
As they walked the red carpet and waved to the throngs of ravenous Marvel fans that clogged Hollywood Blvd., I asked some of Marvel’s key players just how progressive this uber-franchise is in light of Hillary ’16: Will we see a female standalone superhero movie before we see a female president in the White House?
“I don’t know—I’m hoping that’s not the case!” said Whedon. “I’d like to see both. Captain Marvel isn’t slated for a couple of years yet. But hopefully all of it [will happen]. We haven’t seen enough.”
Johansson gets a major bump in screen time in Avengers 2 with a romance subplot that explores Black Widow's assassin origins. Whedon even writes in what might be a first for a Marvel movie: Gender-specific lady issues concerning women’s rights and motherhood.
“I love the character. It was more about, ‘Who doesn’t have their own movie franchise?’ She fascinates me because she’s different from anybody else,” he said. “She is in a little bit of a boys’ club and she’s very comfortable there, but she has a different take on what it means to be a hero than everybody else, and she has a real darkness to her.”
Christopher Markus has written three Captain America movies and one Thor film with writing and producing partner Stephen McFeely. They also successfully spun-off ABC’s Agent Carter series, giving Cap’s WWII-era gal pal Peggy Carter her own due on the small screen.
“I think we might see the female President first, just because it takes time to make movies,” joked Markus, whose Captain America: Civil War starts shooting next week.
“I think America needs both,” he continued. “I’m always going to default to reality: We need a lady President more than we need a female superhero, but we need a female superhero very badly.”
James Gunn wrote and directed Marvel’s wackiest and most progressively diverse offering thus far, Guardians of the Galaxy, which at least surrounds its white male protagonist with EoC (that’s extraterrestrials of color) and a highly skilled female character (who still doubles as a love interest). It’s a blockbuster so broadminded, it proves that a tree can be a superhero if it really wants to be.
Gunn says the opportunity to write inclusively is on his mind as he scripts Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which will reportedly focus on Star Lord’s daddy issues and introduce new characters who’ll factor into the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like Whedon and Markus, he’s got the chance to shape the architecture and meaning of the franchise. “Marvel movies speak to people all over the world, and we want to speak to everyone,” he said.
They may be four-quadrant blockbusters, but not all superhero movies speak to everyone. Feminist bloggers cheered when Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad veteran Michelle McLaren landed WB’s Wonder Woman directing gig in November, which would’ve made her the first woman to helm a major superhero movie. (Monster’s Patty Jenkins was set to achieve that milestone before she and Marvel parted ways over 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, which was ultimately directed by Alan Taylor.) WB announced on Monday that McLaren had left Wonder Woman altogether over “creative differences,” leaving the studio’s first female-led superhero movie with a 2017 release date, but not a director.
So will America see a superheroine get her own movie, as Captain Marvel is expected to a few years from now, or see a female director at the helm of one of these spandex tentpoles before a woman takes the White House?
“When is Captain Marvel coming out, 2018?” Gunn pondered, mulling the lady superhero landscapes currently set up at Marvel and across town at Warner Bros. “It’s gonna be pretty close. We’ve also got Wonder Woman, but they just lost their director today, so whether or not they’re able to make that date, who knows?”
“It’s going to be a footrace,” he declared diplomatically, before disappearing into a maelstrom of well-heeled red carpet guests, stars, and flacks. “We need both equally.”