What Should the “Big Idea” of the Black Widow Movie Be?
Marvel has finally commissioned a script for a solo Black Widow movie. And while it’s not yet in production, and we can’t be sure if it ever will be, it’s exciting to think about how the movie might turn out.
It’s tempting to imagine this film as a slick spy thriller. Natasha’s character history invites that sort of movie, and her masterful disguise as World Security Councilwoman Hawley was one of the “wow” moments of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Watching her infiltrate secret societies, masterfully evade detection, and shoot up criminal masterminds would certainly be a hell of a lot of fun. Hell, maybe it could even be the first Marvel Studios movie to go full R-rating, like a redhead Atomic Blonde. I’d watch the hell out of that.
However, the tail-end of Phase 3 has started to grapple with some really big ideas. Both Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther were very much about wider issues than their hero’s individual stories. They looked at the legacies of imperialism and asked questions about colonialism, interventionism, and global citizenry. After all this wait, and after Marvel has upped its game so thoroughly, it’d be disappointing if the Black Widow movie didn’t similarly tackle a larger idea.
But what should that larger idea be?
Natasha frequently references the “red in my ledger,” so atonement and complicity are a built-in part of her character arc. As she says in The Avengers, “I have a very specific skill set. I didn’t care who I used it for, or on.” Just as we see Asgard grapple with its history of conquest and plunder, we could see Natasha deal with her history of unsavory coups, assassinations, and illegal interventions. We could see her confront the fact that, even if she tries to atone now, even if she proactively does good in the future, she cannot undo the chaos of her past. Her actions on behalf of the Soviet Union, the United States, or other world powers had far-reaching consequences that she can’t make go away. This would be a great metaphor for the U.S-Soviet proxy wars of the ’70s and ’80s, and their devastating consequences for the world today. How do you move forward when you can’t fix what you broke?
We could also just keep up the theme of imperialist reckonings, because Natasha’s background certainly maps onto that. As a woman who left the Soviet Union and its mercenaries to fight alongside literal Captain America, Natasha believes she’s moved onto the side of good. She believes that she’s rooted out Hydra, that she’s fighting the battles other people can’t. For her to discover that even the good people she works with, even the figures she trusts, have done some awful things and made her complicit in them, would also be a great conflict to explore. What if it’s not just Hydra who used SHIELD for nefarious ends? Natasha wants to help make powerful changes in the world, but making powerful changes requires working with the powerful. And working for the powerful always involves compromises and collateral damage.
The other big idea could, of course, be capitalism and military-industrial complex. Natasha once used her skills for anyone who would pay or commission them. She’s seen what Tony Stark’s weapons did. It would be fascinating for her to confront a villain who isn’t doing anything illegal, but whose weapons-dealing or mercenary-farming is repulsive. Taking someone like that down would not only require her unique, covert skill set—corporate espionage!—but it would also force her to ask hard questions about what problems she can best devote her time to solving.
One of the more problematic avenues that Marvel could explore would be to build on the widely criticized “monster” moment from Avengers: Age of Ultron. While some have defended this scene as an honest account of Natasha’s reckoning with her humanity, many pointed out that it suggested some really uncomfortable things about infertility and female monstrousness.
Now, there’s definitely something interesting in the question of what it means to nurture, and how one might rediscover the ability to be kind and vulnerable in a vicious world which, even when you escape from your mercenary background, demands that you fight and fight and fight. The contrast between the world that Natasha fights for —a safe and good one—and the world that she is best built to survive and thrive in—a frightening one, where looking over your shoulder is second nature—is definitely intriguing, and it opens up questions about what we allow ourselves to imagine while we’re fighting for a better future.
This could also be a movie about women in the public eye, and how strong and imperfect women grapple with our culture’s misogyny. We know that, in the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, all of Natasha’s secrets were revealed to the world. And although, when Pierce asked her, “Are you sure you’re ready for the world to see you as you really are?” she oh-so-coolly answered, “Are you?” it’s undeniably going to have an effect on her. This could be a movie that’s in part about the backlash she faces from those revelations—and about the ways that men like Tony Stark, who used to be arms dealers and created Ultron, can walk away unscathed from their sins, while women are forever held responsible and never forgiven. It would also prove an interesting challenge for Natasha, who operates in the shadows, to deal with the very different demands of public relations and public opinion.
Or Marvel could just go for it and make a straight “capitalism is evil” movie. They’ve already taken on colonialism, and millennials are the Occupy Wall St. generation, so just hit me with it already. The psychic disconnect alone of a Disney Corporation film about the evils of capital would be worth my price of admission.
But what “big idea” do you think Black Widow could best explore or address?
(Featured image: Marvel Entertainment and Walt Disney Studios)
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