When I was little, I was everything that constitutes the stereotype of a “girly-girl.” I loved Barbies, Disney princesses, Britney Spears, pink, ponies, and sparkles. But, like with most girly-girls, there was a side of me that didn’t always align perfectly with this. I also loved the Power Rangers, watching my brother play video games, and watching anime with him. I loved anything with heroes, and when there was a female character, I latched onto her (Kimberly the pink Power Ranger was my idol). Then, I was given Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy was the first time that I remember seeing a female hero who was the main character and center of the story. She was literally the chosen one, the strongest in the group, and the leader of her team. While there were probably others like Buffy I could have followed, she was the only one I was ever exposed to, so I clinged onto her fiercely.
With superhero films becoming so popular in the last 10 years, more female heroes have been given a stage. I am particularly fond of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and have fallen in lady love with all the women heroes this universe has provided us within its 18 films. With Avengers: Infinity War premiering this week, I thought it would be only fitting to spend some time reflecting on some of the female heroes that have been key in so many of Marvel’s films. With male characters like Iron Man and Captain America often taking center stage in advertising and media, I hope this also provides you with a new perspective on some of the lady heroes in each of these movies.
Warning: There are definitely some spoilers if you haven’t see some of these movies. All images are screenshots from the films found on IMDB unless otherwise noted.
BLACK WIDOW / SCARLET WITCH
Natalia “Natasha” Romanoff, or Black Widow, has been a core member of the Avengers since its inception. Natasha is one of the most powerful and talented spies and assassins in the world. She was originally an agent of the Soviet agency for foreign intelligence, the KGB, and later a member of S.H.I.E.L.D., quickly becoming one of their most efficient and lethal agents. Black Widow is skilled in martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, and interrogation. She also has skills in computer hacking and piloting almost any aircraft. Natasha is incredibly smart and is able to respond quickly to any situation. She is one of the founding members of the Avengers and for a while was the only woman.
Black Widow is arguably the most level-headed member of the Avengers. Iron Man and Captain America have been the de facto leaders but continually make decisions based on their own concepts of right and wrong before considering others, regularly acting on their feelings before thinking things through. Black Widow has served as a middle ground and level playing field to their hyper-emotion. Captain America: Civil War especially stands out and illustrates this point. Iron Man and Captain America are in a feud over the Sokovia Accords, a legal document that would require the Avengers to report to a government body. Motivated by their own egos and sense of right and wrong, the two end up in very heated battles. Natasha attempts to help each of them, trying to talk them through the conflict. Although it doesn’t work, we see Natasha’s ability to be diplomatic and try to reach the best possible outcome for everyone.
She also cares deeply for her friends, which we see demonstrated through multiple films with Hawkeye, one of her best friends. In the first Avengers, when Natasha learns that Hawkeye has been taken captive by Loki, she immediately springs into action to help retrieve him. Even when they are on opposite sides, fighting each other in Civil War, she makes sure to clarify with him, “We’re still friends, right?” We see these two have each other’s back in the films they are together, and we witness the deep love and care Natasha has for those closest to her.
In addition, she is one of the few people who can calm Hulk down and get him to turn back into Bruce Banner with her soothing and steady presence (and a lullaby!). While she has an ongoing ― and complicated ― romance with Banner, it never interferes with her mission or work. In Age of Ultron, Natasha and Bruce discuss the possibility of running away together and abandoning the fight altogether. Natasha kisses him and then pushes him off a cliff so that he will turn back into the Hulk, telling him to be a hero ― she knows that’s who they really need to defeat Ultron. While she could have dropped everything and run away with Banner, she knew what was most important for the greater good and didn’t let her own feelings dictate her actions. Even at the end of the film, when Hulk leaves her, she is sad but moves on and begins training new Avengers recruits: Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Falcon, and Vision.
She is also so incredibly skilled in combat. Even without any supernatural powers, she has no problem keeping up with the others. In every movie, we see her engaged in epic battle scenes, taking down enemies with her martial-arts skills and impressive ability to use guns and a variety of tech.
Wanda Maximoff, also known as Scarlet Witch, has a variety of special skills and abilities resulting from experimental testing performed on her. She has the ability to project energy blasts, move objects with her mind, read minds, manipulate minds, and create energy shields. Wanda lost her parents, home as a child, and even her brother during the battle against Ultron. She experienced incredible heartbreak and even tried to kill Iron Man to avenge the death of her parents (Avengers: Age of Ultron). When she realizes Ultron is actually evil and plans to essentially destroy humanity, she quickly joins the side of the Avengers and uses her incredible power to help defeat Ultron.
In Civil War, she grapples with the unintended destruction she has caused in her efforts to save people (causing entire buildings to crumble), and media sources start depicting her as a threat. She struggles with her own power, fear, and how the world perceives her. In order to protect her, Iron Man confines her to the Avengers’ headquarters against her will. Hawkeye arrives to break her out, but in order to leave, she must overpower Vision, whom she has begun to develop a subtle romance with. Tired of hiding from the world and letting fear rule her, she chooses to leave with Hawkeye.
She is incredibly powerful and strives to use her powers for good and not be overcome by her sadness or let the loss of her family consume her. She has obviously experienced immense trauma but still acts with humility and is incredibly self-aware with just how powerful she is. She knows the destruction she could cause if she doesn’t remain in control of it. We see her continue to grapple with this, but, ultimately, she always try to use her gifts to save others and help her friends.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos. As a child, Thanos killed her entire race, the Zehoberi, and murdered her parents in front of her. He spared her and decided to raise her as a lethal weapon to serve him. She was raised with her adopted sister, Nebula, who was also adopted by Thanos after he eviscerated her species. Gamora and Nebula were forced to battle each other in their youth, with Gamora winning each time. Thanos would replace one of Nebula’s body parts every time she lost with a bionically enhanced one in order to make her stronger. Gamora was also bionically enhanced by Thanos to make her an even more deadly assassin. Gamora’s race and enhancements give her super strength, the ability to jump tremendous heights, and the ability to heal quickly. She is also skilled in hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship, and marksmanship.
While serving Thanos in her youth, as she gets older, his abuse and evil plans eventually lead her to betray him. If you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy (you really should!), in the film she is tasked by Thanos to retrieve an orb that contains an Infinity Stone, one of six powerful stones that Thanos is trying to collect to rule over humanity. Instead, she retrieves the orb and attempts to sell it, with plans to start a new life on her own. When she and the rest of the Guardians realize its power, she is quick to realize that it's imperative that the Infinity Stone doesn’t get in the wrong hands. While both Star-Lord and Rocket suggest selling it or giving it to their enemy as a peace offering, Gamora is immediately convicted to do the right thing and ensure that the Infinity Stone doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
Gamora is tough and functions with a righteous anger. A will-they-won’t-they romance develops with Star-Lord (Peter Quill) as he frequently flirts and tries to impress her. She regularly shuts him down, but we see a vulnerability develop within her as she begins to not only care for Peter but the rest of her Guardians team, as well. In Guardians Vol. 2, there is a tender scene between Peter and Gamora after Peter meets his father for the first time. She helps him walk through his feelings, encourages him, and even lets him know that if his father ends up being evil, they will just kill him, together. While a romance still hasn’t developed, it’s been an avenue to witness Gamora’s softer side, demonstrating that she can be both a fierce warrior and a caring, supportive, loving friend and teammate.
OKOYE / NAKIA / SHURI
Where do I even start with the three shining ladies of Marvel’s Black Panther? We are graced in this movie with three incredible female characters: Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri.
Okoye is the general of the Dora Milaje, an elite group of female bodyguards and the king’s royal guard, and head of Wakanda’s armed forces and intel. Okoye is a master in martial arts, is fiercely loyal to Wakanda and her king, and uses her abilities to defend both Wakanda and King T’Challa, aka Black Panther. She is also wise, often offering the king counsel. When Erik Killmonger (an American-Wakandan wishing to rule Wakanda to use its resources to equip the poor with weapons) overthrows T’Challa , Okoye is torn between her duty to serve the new king and her loyalty to T’Challa. She makes the difficult decision to serve the new king. However, as she witnesses the harmful and disastrous decisions Killmonger is making in his rule, and when she is reunited with T’Challa, she quickly breaks her allegiance and joins T’Challa to bring down Killmonger.
The feud between T’Challa and Killmonger almost leads Wakanda into a civil war, but Okoye is key in stopping it, causing the opposing side to stand down. Her love interest, W’Kabi, is leading Killmonger’s army, ready to charge those defending T’Challa. Okoye literally stands in front of a rhino charging at her, standing firm in her position. W’Kabi stops the rhino and yields. Her heart and bravery absolutely shine in these moments as we see her go into battle, defending her country and remaining true to her beliefs without hesitation.
Nakia is a spy and a member of the War Dogs, a central intelligence service of Wakanda that collects information across the globe to assist in keeping Wakanda protected. Nakia is a talented spy, a martial artist, and fluent in multiple languages. She spends the majority of her time outside of Wakanda for her duties as a War Dog as well as for personal missions. Nakia disagrees with Wakanda’s isolationist practices, believing that the country should use its resources to help others in need. She spends most of her time in other countries, working to serve and help others.
She and T’Challa have a close relationship, as well, having previously dated. In the Black Panther film, it can still be seen that the two are close and share romantic feelings for each other. However, she and T’Challa disagree politically, as T’Challa is committed to continue protecting Wakanda and its secret while Nakia wants Wakanda to provide aid and resources to the world’s disadvantaged. Even with their political disagreements, they maintain an admiration and fondness for each other.
Despite Nakia’s romantic love for T’Challa, she is committed to her work of helping other countries and realizes she can use her talents and abilities for good. However, when Wakanda needs her help after Killmonger takes rule, she is quick to step in and provide assistance, fighting in battle with Okoye.
Shuri is T’Challa’s sister, the princess of Wakanda. She is an inventor and creates most of Wakanda’s technology, including Black Panther’s impenetrable suit. Shuri is an absolute genius and very innovative with a desire to constantly improve her creations, seeing endless possibilities. She is also fun, silly, and a quintessential little sister, mercilessly teasing T’Challa. With Wakandan royalty so formal and traditional, Shuri provides a light-hearted contrast that makes her character really lovable. Despite her fun demeanor, she is also quick to jump into battle when she is needed to help defeat Killmonger and works closely with Okoye and Nakia.
While there are still others in the MCU I could share (The Wasp, Nebula, Mantis, Maria Hill, Pepper Pots ― so many!), I think this is a great start and demonstrates the remarkable women this universe is giving us. One thing that strikes me about all of these women and their stories is the unimaginable circumstances they experienced and the bravery and strength they have have shown through them. Despite the trauma and injustices they have each faced, they are all seeking to use their skills and abilities to help others and protect the world.
While these are fictional stories and the characters don’t actually exist in the real world, I still think there is something profound we can take away from their stories. We all have gone through difficult and truly hard experiences, and some have experienced true, devastating traumas. I think our lady heroes can help us think about how we respond to the challenges in our life. We can be inspired by their heroism by channeling our own strength and bravery through the challenges of everyday life.
These women are also gifted with special skills and abilities and use them to help and protect others. They could use them for their own selfish plans or for evil, but instead they use this incredible privilege to save and protect others. When I think about this in terms of the real world, I realize that we also are equipped with our own privilege, talents, skills, and gifts, and how we use them is probably one of the most important considerations in each person’s life. Are we using them to make the world just a little better? To do well at our jobs? To be good friends, partners, and parents? To be good to others? To DO good for others?
I am also beyond thrilled that young girls now have so many female heroes to admire and see themselves as. It’s just going to get better as the universe expands, especially with films like Captain Marvel in the works.
I want these stories to inspire me to be brave in hard times and use any talents I have in productive and meaningful ways. I am hoping they inspire you to do the same.
To kicking butt,