The XX Factor

Will Marvel’s Next Heroines Be More Than the Sum of Their Jumpsuits?

Scarlett Johansson as a leather-clad sexpot in The Avengers

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Yesterday brought two good pieces of news for fans of The Avengers, particularly those of us who would like to see Marvel, which has become a reliable purveyor of reasonably intelligent action movies, step up its game when it comes to female characters. The company has finally cast the female lead who will play opposite Steve Rogers in Captain America. And Iron Man 3 director Shane Black is starting to talk about parts of the movie that don’t involve Tony Stark, with possibly promising results for its female characters.


Revenges Emily VanCamp will play Sharon Carter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and it’s a terrific role. Carter’s an agent with her own agenda and her own adventures, some of which bring her into direct conflict with the man she comes to love. In comics, when Cap and Sharon get together, he wants her to stop working as an agent, fearing the danger she’s exposed to, but she says no. When she’s missing and presumed killed on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission, Cap grieves her, but she becomes an independent operator, with storylines strong enough to support a movie of their own—or an arc on the upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D. television show under development for ABC. Cap and Sharon even end up on opposite sides of a political fight over whether superheroes should have to register with the government.

Elsewhere in the franchise, Black is saying all the right things about the scientist Rebecca Hall will play, comparing her to Robert Downey Jr. himself. “We needed a snappy and exciting actor to play the part, and not make it this ‘female scientist who takes off her glasses and suddenly she’s beautiful!’ ” he said. That’s especially nice, given that the last time Tony Stark got a new woman in his life, it was Scarlett Johansson playing a classic honey trap, a lethal sexpot with a leather-clad ass.

Is Marvel finally getting the message that its female characters should be more than glorified secretaries or damsels in distress? Iron Man 3 comes out in May and Captain America not until 2014, so for now we can only hope, wait, and see.