Marvel has made twenty movies in the last ten years and through this fascinating journey that Marvel has taken us on we have seen an evolution of the franchise right before our very eyes. Take The Avengers for example. In its heyday it was the talk of the town, the groundbreaking movie that broke creative barriers that people didn’t know could be achieved as it proved that a superhero film could be successful with multiple heroes. It broke records and set a precedent for the Marvel movies that would come afterward. Now it’s just an old example of the first steps Marvel was taking to create this fantastic journey that has led up to the events of today’s current Marvel films. But as great as The Avengers was it’s always a little jarring seeing how much it lacked diversity compared to how the franchise looks now.
The only major women in The Avengers was Black Widow and Agent Hill and the only person of color to participate in the film was Nick Fury. Marvel, at that time, was still heavily centered around white male characters and in the last few years that dynamic has changed a lot, making the franchise that much more enjoyable. So, through the course of the nest two days, I’m going to look at how the roles of women have evolved throughout the years to what the MCU is now. Enjoy!
In the MCU’s first installment, Iron Man, the one major female presence was Pepper Potts whose character was the typical hot assistant that the rich guy, in this case Tony Stark, couldn’t keep his eyes off of. She was merely a part of the movie’s story as Tony’s imminent love interest and soon to be damsel-in-distress.
In The Incredible Hulk Liv Tyler played Betty Ross, the love interest of Bruce Banner and daughter of General “Thunderbolt” Ross. Once again a woman in the MCU was utilized as merely a tool for romance rather than substance and that’s always a bummer.
In Iron Man 2 Pepper had changed quite a bit. She’s not as timid and unsure of herself as she appeared in Iron Man. She felt more involved in Tony’s life beyond just romance but as an actual friend and consultant of his with the company. Of course, she loved Tony and Tony loved her but there’s a husband-and-wife sort of bickering between them that shows that she’s not afraid to speak her mind to him and that’s always important in a relationship. Plus, by the end of the movie he makes her CEO of his company which greatly increases her role in the MCU moving forward. This change highlights her as a smart, capable woman who can run a business as complex as STARK enterprises rather than the feeble assistant she was once portrayed as.
Natasha Romanoff was at first portrayed in the same way that Pepper was utilized into the first Iron Man film; as the hot assistant that managed to catch Tony’s leering gaze. But that narrative was soon wiped away as she turned out to be an actual S.H.I.E.L.D agent who worked for a close friend of Tony’s, Nick Fury.
She was the first female Avenger in the MCU and I’m so glad she’s still around being as awesome as ever.
In Captain America: The First Avenger the portrayal of women had continued on an ascending trend as Peggy Carter wasn’t just some cute British dame that made Steve Rogers say, “WOW!” She was tough as nails despite her deceptively attractive looks and that’s totally awesome. And even though she did become Steve Roger’s eventual love interest it felt like a natural attraction whether than a cliché occurrence.
Then Thor took women right back into the expected narrative as Natalie Portman played the role of Jane Foster, a scientist who just so happened to catch the fancy of the God of Thunder, Thor. Her role didn’t help the movie in the slightest and unfortunately the writers never found a way to incorporate her into the MCU effectively beyond the classic love interest trope
Black Widow returned in The Avengers but this time around she was completely all business. She used her incredible mind-bending skills to extract information from Loki without having to inflict a single dose of pain upon the demigod, she fought aliens without a hint of fear, and she was never treated lesser than the male heroes around her. That’s cool.
Colbie Smulders played the role of Agent Hill and like Black Widow she was no joke. She led her fellow agents with tact and a sternness that comes from years of leadership skills and she was never portrayed in any form lesser than those around her.
Pepper Potts returned in Iron Man 3 as an even busier businesswoman. With her and Tony’s relationship set on a somewhat stable foundation we get to see her utilized into the movie as a character with her own personal wants rather than just eye candy for Tony. She is utilized into the movie in the classic damsel-in-distress role for a time but we get a quick glimpse of Pepper Potts as a superhero towards the end of the movie which is clearly the best part of the film. She’s always so nice and concerned and to see her turn into an angry fire dame is kind of remarkable. #awesome
Rebecca Hall played the role of Maya Hansen, an old flame of Tony’s gone bad. She was truly the first female villain to appear in the MCU but because her role was so limited she’s one of the most forgotten characters to appear in the franchise.
Jane’s role in Thor was annoying enough as it was but placing her in Asgard was about as bizarre as it gets. She felt so out of place amidst the grandeur of Asgard that there was no doubt she didn’t belong there. She was written into the movie as the woman Thor had to protect and save throughout nearly the entirety of the film and that got old fast. That’s why she didn’t return in Thor: Ragnarok. She’s just way too different from Thor to be a part of his story in any desirable way.
So this is how women were portrayed in the first five years of the MCU. Nearly every woman besides Black Widow and Agent Hill was utilized as a love interest/damsel-in-distress and these women, besides Pepper Potts, didn’t even provide any sort of substance to these movies whatsoever.
I’m excited to share with you tomorrow Part 2 of this analysis where we get to see how women’s roles have gradually changed over the course of the last five years. I thank you for reading and I hope you have a fabulous day.