Earlier this year we learned Marvel (finally) greenlit a Black Widow movie, and now that movie has a director: Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland. Scarlett Johansson apparently backed Shortland because she liked Shortland’s 2012 movie, Lore. Marvel movies tend to benefit when actors are engaged and advocating for their characters—see also: Chris Hemsworth and Thor: Ragnarok—so these are good early signs for the Black Widow movie. Not good signs? Scarlett Johansson’s ever-eroding public opinion thanks to constantly appropriating roles. So now Marvel not only has to find a way to bounce back from the box office hit she took with Ghost in the Shell, but a way to restore her public goodwill.
There is as yet no information as to what the movie will be about, or whether or not it will be a pre-Avengers prequel. I am not terribly interested in a near-past story in the MCU, which feels like, in the last year, has moved in its most interesting and wide-open direction yet. A prequel is just ignoring the potential of now. Also, Hoai-Tran Bui at Slashfilm recently wrote an excellent article pondering if all the superheroines being set in the past is a problem because it allows the movies to avoid dealing with the world of women today. This is definitely the case with Wonder Woman, which willfully refuses to engage Diana with feminism beyond the most surface appearances. Hopefully this won’t be the case in Wonder Woman 1984, because, let’s face it, the world of 1984 and today, for women, isn’t THAT different.
But a retro setting isn’t the only way to dodge the lady business bullet. Ant-Man and the Wasp is contemporary and while Hope Van Dyne is GREAT, the movie is barely concerned with her interior life. And it is not at all concerned with any inherent biases that might have been in play when Scott Lang did not ask for her help when he got called up to the Avengers. They certainly bring it up, but the reason Scott didn’t think to call her is unaddressed. Ant-Man spends a lot of narrative real estate on why Hank Pym didn’t want to give Hope a Wasp suit, but the sequel does not interrogate Scott’s reasoning at all.
What I want from hopefully all of these superheroine films, but I will settle for even just one, is a movie that approaches the world of its heroine the same way Black Panther approaches Wakanda. Steep the movie in feminine culture and concerns, make it not just by women and about women but FOR women, too. Black Widow could do this, as Natasha Romanoff is a woman who has to reinvent herself after being made a pawn by cruel men. Her arc so far in the Marvel movies has been about trying on different identities and forms of femininity, trying to find the best fit and who she is when no one is giving her orders. I would like to see that arc carry forward, and how her constant chrysalis manifests in our post-MeToo era, not go back to before she even began down that path.
We’ll have to wait and see what approach they end up taking. We’ll also have to wait and see when they plan on this being in theaters, but if they’ve already got a director, I’m going out on a limb and guessing somewhere in 2020-21. And whether it’s a prequel or not, you have to appreciate the timing, making a standalone movie after having Black Widow in the MCU for almost a decade, just when everyone is mad at Scarlett Johansson.