The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, has attracted a lot of attention due to the release of “Avengers: Infinity War.” With so many characters scheduled to meet on the big screen for the first time, this is a great opportunity to review all the fantastic women that steal the spotlight in the male-dominated world of comic book superheroes.
Starting from the beginning, Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) was introduced in “Iron Man,” the first movie in the MCU. Potts perhaps perfectly embodies the quote “Behind every successful man is a woman.” She mostly served as a love interest to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), but was clearly a capable businesswoman who could hold her own in opposition to the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.
Her role in later movies further proved her importance in Stark’s life as she balanced out her boss-turned-boyfriend’s eccentric habits. Even after she and Stark started dating, Potts made sure that she stayed as an equal in their relationship – and when she accepted that the relationship was not fair on her, she ended it.
Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) was introduced in the MCU’s next installment, “Thor.” Like Potts, she does not start off as the most active character, instead mainly serving as a love interest to Thor. However, she is still plenty intelligent; her work in astrophysics makes her the perfect complement to Thor when he is lost on the wrong world.
Deserving of an honorable mention is Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), Jane Foster’s constant companion. While she mostly serves as comic relief, she can clearly hold her own, as shown when she tasered the god of thunder in self-defense.
While discussing important women in Marvel, it is impossible to forget Margaret “Peggy” Carter (Haley Atwell) who was as beautiful as she was fierce in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” This woman can do it all: she was a British liaison to the American military, a founder and active member of SHIELD, a love interest to Steve Rogers, and she did it all without ever smearing her lipstick.
Carter was nothing if not driven. She faced sexism in the military and rose above it, and her determination to the cause allowed her to serve as an inspiration to Captain America.
Even after Rogers “died,” she continued her work against the Nazi organization HYDRA to protect the world. The TV series “Agent Carter” further explores her life as a member of SHIELD after the events of “The First Avenger.”
Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) aka Black Widow was introduced in “Iron Man 2” as an agent of SHIELD and superspy besides. In later movies – notably, “Avengers” – she proved herself to be as capable as the rest of the men on her team.
In fact, she holds her own against alien invaders, despite not being a superpowered individual, unlike the majority of her teammates. In other movies, such as “Captain America: The Winter Solider” and “Captain America: Civil War,” she proves that she is a complex character who is willing to challenge herself and her moral code to fight for a cause.
By becoming the first woman on the Avengers, Romanoff became a symbol to many of individual strength and feminism.
Freshman Kaelyn Chang says, “I love how Black Widow represents so much to people. She’s amazing on her own, and her uncompromising strength is really inspiring.”
Halfway across the galaxy, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) shows she is not one to be messed with as soon as she is introduced in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Known as the most dangerous woman in the galaxy, she quickly proves herself to be a no-nonsense fighter bent on revenge against her adoptive father, Thanos. More importantly, she shows regret for the assassinations she carried out under Thanos’s orders and a desire to repent for them.
Gamora’s independence is highlighted by how she has no desire to be a love interest. She makes this very clear in the first movie where she violently rejects Quill’s advances. However, her romance with Peter blossoms organically over the course of the first movie and “Volume 2” without detracting from her character, and it always takes a backseat to the action and humor in the movies.
Gamora also plays a significant role in “Avengers: Infinity Wars.” More of her backstory comes to light, and her relationship with Peter is further explored while keeping her a complex and three-dimensional character.
Someone else whose role was expanded on in “Infinity Wars” was Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who was also introduced in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. She mainly served as a villain and foil to Gamora. However, her motives are explained in a way that gives her depth without automatically granting her redemption.
Still, Nebula manages to redeem herself in “Volume 2” and reconcile with her sister. Her improved relationship with Gamora also proves important in “Infinity War.”
Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) aka Scarlet Witch made her debut in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” A conflicted teen who joined HYDRA to gain revenge for her family’s deaths, Wanda originally started as a villain. However, she realized the error of her ways and has since worked with the Avengers or “Team Cap” to fight for what she believes is right.
Her emotional strength is matched only by her powers of telekinesis and hypnosis. In terms of raw strength, Wanda is virtually unmatched. Her effective use of these abilities in attempts to help others proves that everyone is capable of redeeming themselves.
Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is a great representation of what a well-written woman in the Marvel universe can do. Constantly overshadowed by her estranged father’s achievements in the scientific community, she managed to make a name for herself on her own. However, she was willing to overcome the rift between her and her father to work for the greater good.
Hope is set to star in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” alongside Scott Lang, where she will prove her worth as “the Wasp” while working side-by-side with the more well-known Ant-Man.
Christine Palmer (Rachel Adams) from “Doctor Strange” is, unfortunately, another example of a more passive character. Though she is strong in her own right, the surgeon felt like more of a placeholder of a character who was only meant to show Stephen Strange’s growth through his treatment of her.
In contrast, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is every bit the warrior her name suggests. Introduced in “Thor: Ragnarok” as an Asgardian warrior who quit for unknown reasons and moved on to bounty hunting, Valkyrie is no typical side character.
For one, she works against Thor for much of the beginning of the film. She shows no significant interest in helping him get back to Asgard to save his people and planet. Instead, she chooses to be apathetic to his plight. Her apparent alcoholism is clearly depicted as well. However, when push came to shove, Valkyrie overcame her demons and played a pivotal role in the movie.
Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) may have only been introduced in “Black Panther” this year, but she has already stolen the hearts of Marvel fans across the world. She is a literal princess, not to mention the fact that she was confirmed to be the smartest character in the MCU.
Shuri shows no interest in either ruling or being a superhero, but she continually helps her brother T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) by doing everything from building his Black Panther suit to assisting in a car chase from halfway across the world. Her intelligence is never portrayed as a cheap joke, and her abilities are consistently portrayed as equally important to those of Black Panther’s.
Possibly Shuri’s most important contribution, however, is what she represents. She is a black girl who is openly shown to be smarter than the adults around her, and her sharp wit and good humor show someone who is always unrepentantly herself. Everyone, especially girls of color, stands to draw inspiration from her, too.
Similar characters from “Black Panther” include Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira). If you are looking for examples of pillars of physical and emotional strength, look no further.
Nakia is the former girlfriend of T’Challa, who was the heir to the throne when they were dating. They broke up, but Nakia continued serving her country by working for humanitarian causes like breaking up human trafficking rings.
Okoye is a true Wakandan. As the general of the king’s bodyguards, the Dora Milaje, and head of Wakandan forces, she values duty above all else. Loyalty also is one of her defining traits, and she worked hard to protect her king, her country, and its citizens when she felt it was threatened.
Freshman Harshini Ganesh says, “The women in ‘Black Panther’ were beyond inspiring. Every one of them was an independent and layered characters, and none of them took a backseat to their king, despite their loyalty to him.”
Set to enter the MCU in 2019 is Captain Marvel, alias Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). While not much is known about the character’s role in the movies, her entrance is being highly anticipated as a character who could provide a turning point after the events of “Infinity War.”
With such a wide cast of characters, it is inevitable that some felt weaker than others in comparison. However, the majority of the women in Marvel are independent, beautiful, and strong in every way they can be.
Who is your favorite female Marvel character, and why?
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