Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ Film -- The Critical Questions

Disney’s Marvel just confirmed that a solo Black Widow film is the early stages of development. Could the film be a start of an iconic new comic book film franchise for the company?

Feb 14, 2014 at 9:44AM

In Disney (NYSE:DIS)/Marvel's Cinematic Universe, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is frequently cited as a top candidate for her own solo film. Fans might be getting their wish -- Marvel's studio president Kevin Feige recently confirmed in a Total Film interview that a Black Widow film is in the early development stages.

Image

(Source: Comicvine.com)

While these plans might never reach fruition, there would be plenty of demand for Scarlett Johansson, one of Hollywood's most bankable actresses, to reprise her role. Moreover, based on the pent-up demand for "girl power" films like Lionsgate's (NYSE:LGF) The Hunger Games and Divergent, Black Widow could win over female fans as the first female Marvel character with her own solo film in Disney's Marvel universe.

Therefore, let's take a look at the top questions Marvel fans are likely asking about the Black Widow film.

Will it be a sequel or prequel?
There have actually been three Black Widows in Marvel history -- Claire Voyant (Golden Age), Natalia Romanova (Silver Age), and Yelena Belova (Modern Age). Of these three characters, Natalia Romanova, who first appeared as an antagonist in 1964, is the most widely recognized version of the character.

Scarlett Johansson plays Natalia Romanova, although she is referred to as "Natasha Romanoff" in the films. Her origin, which is alluded to in the films, is roughly the same as the comics -- she starts out as a villainous spy partnered with Hawkeye, whom she falls in love with, but eventually has a change of heart (after being gunned down by her employers) and starts working with the Avengers and SHIELD.

Ign

(Source: Marvel)

According to Feige, the new film would focus on "her past" and teach audiences "more about where she came from" -- clearly suggesting that a solo film would be a prequel, and not a sequel, to the events in The Avengers.

In my opinion, that would be a great move -- there are five decades of comics to draw inspiration from. Black Widow's relationship with Hawkeye, her battles against Iron Man, her attempted defection from Russia, and her romance with Daredevil (who was recently returned to Disney) would be enough to fill out an entire trilogy or more.

On the other hand, focusing on the events following The Avengers or her next two appearances -- Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers: Age of Ultron -- simply wouldn't be as interesting.

Will Scarlett Johannson return?
Getting Scarlett Johansson to play Black Widow again in an extra film or new franchise, however, could be tougher than it seems.

Scarlett Johansson is one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, reportedly earning $20 million to reprise her role as Black Widow in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. That big paycheck put her in the middle of a widely publicized pay dispute with Marvel, where several supporting actors in the first film threatened to quit over their "lower pay."

In response to those complaints, Johansson reportedly stated that she wouldn't "cut her quote" for the sequel. Johansson's pay, however, comes nowhere close to the $50 million that was paid to secure Robert Downey, Jr.'s role in The Avengers.

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Hawkeye and Black Widow. (Source: Marvel)

Johansson is also fairly selective with her roles -- since 2005, she hasn't starred in more than three films per year. Her Avengers co-star Samuel L. Jackson, by comparison, will appear in a whopping seven films in 2014.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Renner, who plays Hawkeye, should ideally be cast in a Black Widow prequel or sequel, since he plays a key part in her origin. Renner, along with Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, and Chris Hemsworth, were paid roughly $2 million to $3 million for the first Avengers film. However, Renner is now a rising star in Hollywood, and recruiting him for a new Black Widow film could cost Marvel a lot more than it did for the first film.

Yet in my opinion, Marvel doesn't actually need Johansson or Renner to return if the film is a prequel. While their presence would certainly boost box office sales, hiring those two A-list stars would raise costs substantially. If the story takes place over a decade ago, Marvel could hire a younger actress and actor to respectively portray Black Widow and Hawkeye.

Can Black Widow form the core of a new quadrant of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
In a previous article, I mentioned that Disney had reacquired the film rights to Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Blade, and the Punisher.

Although Daredevil is getting his own new TV show on Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), I believe that a Black Widow film could also serve as a core of new Marvel films that focus on the darker characters of the Marvel universe. Daredevil, as I mentioned earlier, is already part of Black Widow's comic book origin.

Meanwhile, the Punisher and Blade could be introduced into her corner of the universe, and eventually form a second team, more grounded in reality, to complement the super-powered members of the Avengers. Blade, of course, is half-vampire, but his powers come nowhere close to matching Thor, Hulk, Captain America, or Tony Stark in his suit.

Of course, that's a long-term shot that probably couldn't even start happening until after The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but it could provide Disney's film version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with some better fundamental scaffolding if key actors like Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Mark Ruffalo decide to leave.

How much bigger will Marvel's Cinematic Universe get?
Marvel's Cinematic Universe has grown substantially since the first Iron Man film in 2008. After Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, the film rights gradually reverted back to Disney.

So far, three films have been directly distributed by Disney: The Avengers, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World. All three films have been critical and commercial successes:

 

Production cost

Global box office

Rotten Tomatoes

The Avengers (2012)

$220 million

$1.52 billion

92%

Iron Man 3 (2013)

$200 million

$1.22 billion

78%

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

$170 million

$639 million

65%

Source: Boxofficemojo, Rotten Tomatoes.

"Phase 1" of Disney and Marvel's grand plan started with Iron Man and ended with The Avengers. We are currently in "Phase 2", which includes the upcoming films Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, and will conclude with The Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015.

"Phase 3" will kick off with Ant-Man, starring Paul Rudd in the titular role, in the summer of 2015. Looking past Ant-Man, only four films have been confirmed -- Captain America 3, Thor 3, The Avengers 3, and Doctor Strange, which could possibly star Johnny Depp.

Just how Black Widow will fit into the grand scheme of things is a mystery, but I honestly believe that a solo Black Widow film could be a better launching point for Phase 3 than Ant-Man, since it could bring back Daredevil, the Punisher, and Blade back into Disney's Marvel universe.

The bottom line
What do you think, fellow Marvel film fans? Do you think that a Black Widow film will be a box office bomb or a blockbuster? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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