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The Importance of the Female Superhero

Graphic by Aminah Jenkins

Superhero film powerhouse, Marvel, is set to release their next film, Thor: Love and Thunder to theaters on July 8. This film follows everyone's favorite now-retired asgardian superhero as he travels to find inner peace. Along his journey, he is forced out of retirement by Gorr the God Butcher. Thor rallies a team of old faces to help him as he sets out on his journey to identify the source of the god-killer’s revenge.

The trailers reveal that Natalie Portman will be reprising her role as Jane Foster, Thor's astrophysicist ex-girlfriend turned newest wielder of Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer). From the trailer we can see that Foster will be an extensive and dynamic character needed to carry the plot of the movie alongside her co-star Chris Hemsworth (Thor). We last saw Foster briefly in Marvel’s Endgame (2019), but her last full-scale appearance was in Thor: The Dark World (2013).

As a frequent viewer of Marvel movies, I feel now is an appropriate time to discuss the importance of the female superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). When the MCU launched with Ironman in 2008, it was clear that a lot of the sexist and troublesome ideas from their comics were carried into their films. A Screen Rant article from 2016 declares that a character originally cast as female was changed to a male because Marvel executives didn’t think a female villain toy would sell. However, that’s not where the problems started for Marvel. Marvel introduced Black Widow into the MCU in 2010 with the release of Iron Man 2. Natasha Romanov was powerful and alluring,but her oversexualized nature and costuming made it apparent to viewers that she was designed for the male gaze.

Over the past decade women have watched as Marvel slowly began to build more dynamic and interesting female superheroes. My favorite example of this development is Wanda Maximoff. When viewers first saw Wanda in the end credit scenes of Winter Soldier (2014), she was trapped in captivity with her brother Pietro, not yet fully aware of the powers she possessed.

In January 2021, while the world was still feeling the impacts of COVID-19, Marvel released its limited series WandaVision onto Disney+. This was one of the first prolonged screen times dedicated to a female superhero’s character development. For those unaware, the series ran a total of nine episodes, each meant to reminisce on mid- to late-20th century sitcoms. The show follows the everyday antics of Wanda Maximoff and her android husband, Vision, as they navigate life in the small town of Westview, New Jersey. It doesn’t take long, however, for the couple to find out about all the strange quirks of their new town.

This story is set just three weeks after the events of Avengers: Endgame which left many viewers on the edge of their seats. In this series we were able to see our heroine (or maybe villain) Wanda use her powers to create the domestic life of her and her husband's dreams. However, while doing so she also trapped and mind tortured thousands of others. This show dealt with the complex emotions associated with grief and gave audiences a real glimpse into a round and dynamic female superhero.

When Wanda returned in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as the newly-recognized Scarlet Witch, viewers were exposed to a darker side of Wanda, one that intentionally hurts others in order to regain what she had lost in Westview: her children. While some could be quick to point out that Wanda was a villain in this movie, viewers must realize the immense loss that Wanda felt. Was what she did right? That’s for the viewer to decide. However, she did redeem herself by destroying the Darkhold in not only this universe but every universe. What remains of Wanda’s fate? No one is quite sure. But my guess is she certainly isn’t dead as there is a lot of story building left for her.

As Marvel‘s timeline continues without Wanda for now, I can only hope that every female superhero following her gets the same time and attention that Wanda did.

As the release of the new film approaches I’m hopeful that viewers will get to see Jane Foster's breast cancer play a role in the upcoming movie. For those confused, In the comics Foster gained the powers of Thor after discovering the broken pieces of Mjölnir. However, her new powers did not come without strife. Once becoming the Mighty Thor her powers eradicated the chemotherapy from her body thus starting her back at square one with her treatments each time she used them. While not entirely realistic or accurate, a female superhero battling villains while also battling cancer is a new level of representation we have not yet seen in the MCU.

Jane Foster has an engaging past and promising future in the MCU that truly deserves time and attention.

By Rachel Van Horne, Associate Editor


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