Marvel’s women are so much more than just eye candy

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Marvel’s female characters are a refreshing step forward in the macho world of superheroes.

There’s a running joke between me and a few of my friends: they like superhero movies because they like the superheroes, whereas I like superhero movies because I like muscular, shirtless men at peak levels of physical fitness. Admittedly, there is a slight element of truth to this. Take Thor, for example; Thor was a superhero movie that managed to capture the humour of comics alongside the action, one which succeeded in offering us the macho but loveable hero, the complicated villain, and enough intertextual references, cameos, and hidden Easter eggs to make the biggest comic fan’s heart giddy with recognition.

Marvel’s women don’t have to have superpowers to be super

Thor also offered us some beautifully framed, lingering shots of Chris Hemsworth, alternately shirtless or wet and covered in mud. Thor may not yet have the global superstar franchise his fellow Avenger Iron Man has, but the film had something to appeal to everyone. And yes, some of that appeal was a Norse god’s golden, gleaming bare chest. What’s even better about Thor and the rest of the Marvel films, though – more than the super muscles, more than the requisite, over-the-top action – is the women they showcase.

Whilst it remains a source of personal heartbreak that the powers that be don’t think it’s the right time for a Black Widow movie (Ant-Man, a ‘hero’ as well known for his domestic abuse as his powers of shrinking to the size of an ant, is instead apparently the logical choice there), the women we’ve already seen are all noteworthy. It would be fantastic to see a woman at the helm, but we should always remember that she doesn’t need to have superpowers to be super.

maria hill avengers

I’m a girl who has always enjoyed a good action and adventure movie. What I don’t always enjoy are the roles women are forced into over and over again. The love interest. The dead mother. The hostage screaming in terror. The scorned woman turned villain’s sidekick. The tired, boring cliché. Where, I always wanted to know, were my heroines? And where were their loyal best girl friends?

Why, I still ask every single time the movie is on TV, is it Kick-Ass and not Hit Girl?

Where were my women who were forced to learn that with great power comes great responsibility? Where were my awkward school girls who were just trying to graduate high school when they found they didn’t need their glasses anymore, but could lift a school bus one-handed? Where were the funny best buddies? It’s not as though we can all be Lara Croft. Yet for a long time, she was all we had: if you were a woman, you had your place, on one end of the spectrum or the other. Why, I still ask every single time the movie is on TV, is it Kick-Ass and not Hit Girl?

Then the recent Marvel films arrived. Pepper Potts came along in her business-wear and skyscraper Louboutins and was unstoppable in her rise to CEO of Stark Industries. Black Widow slunk onto the scene and showed us that we don’t need to choose between sexy and dangerous. Jane Foster, the astrophysicist genius, still blushed when confronted with Thor’s overwhelming good looks, just the way the rest of us would, while Darcy Lewis was as concerned about her iPod as she was about the faceless government organisation behind its theft.

peggy carter captain america

Maria Hill reached the very top of the male-dominated SHIELD organisation, Sif is a fully-fledged goddess of war, and Peggy Carter was a sharp-shooting, red lipstick-wearing female officer at the frontline of WW2. These aren’t the cardboard cut-out women of action movies gone by. They’re more than the girlfriends or relatives or unobtainable dream girls, more than pawns for a hero’s man-pain. They’re definitely more than a gorgeous yet robot-like tomb raider with a penchant for dressing in clothes that are so often inappropriate for the weather.

Sif’s a goddess of war; Peggy Carter was a sharp-shooting WW2 officer. These aren’t the cardboard cut-out women of action movies gone by

They’re you, me. The boss you want to be someday, the academic your friend aspires to. The student who just wants to listen to music and have fun. The women who can do battle, run Fortune 500 companies, wield tasers and drive questionably. Girls who can show fear but fight against the bad guys anyway, who flirt just for fun. The brainwashed Russian superspy assassin. (OK, so maybe not that last one. Then again, we do all have that one friend we wonder about.)

Marvel’s women are marvellous themselves. They’re brilliant, they’re complicated and varied, and finally, they’re some characters us everyday girls can relate to. And listen up – we are more than ready for that Black Widow movie any time now.


All images: Marvel

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