By McKenna Seegmiller
*This article will include spoilers from Phase 4 of the MCU as of October 2021*
In need of saving or a prize for a man, female roles in the MCU were initially created to support the male characters; it came as no surprise that the first female Avenger was a victim of classic Hollywood sexualization. However, I have to give the MCU credit, they have definitely improved on their portrayal of female characters, crafting complex and strong personalities of women whose wits are as sharp as their weapons.
After the bittersweet end to Phase 3 of the MCU with Avengers: Endgame and Spider-man: Far From Home, Marvel fans have held their breath waiting to see how the MCU would continue. I think it’s safe to say with its theatrical releases and miniseries streaming on Disney+, Marvel did not disappoint.
However, there is an interesting trend within Marvel’s Phase 4 releases: Marvel has been setting up its strong female characters as future MCU antagonists.
Wanda Maximoff – WandaVision (January 2021)
WandaVision centers around Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and the new reality she has created, one in which Vision is alive and they are living a dream life. Slowly throughout the show, her reality starts to unravel and she must learn to cope with the many losses in her life. At the end of WandaVision, Wanda has lost Vision and her twin sons, and she begins exploring her true potential as the Scarlet Witch using the Darkhold.
The post-credits scene in the final episode shows Wanda in her Scarlet Witch form hearing her sons call for help, indicating that Wanda will use her newfound power to find and rescue them. Olsen is slated to return for Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness and, after the effect she has had on reality, it will not be surprising if she goes toe to toe with Doctor Strange to save her loved ones. It is also important to mention that the show includes various House of M easter eggs, which is a comic book storyline published by Marvel. Within those comics, Wanda loses control of her ability to manipulate realities and accidentally kills several Avengers. Only time will tell if the MCU will steer toward that direction in its upcoming projects.
Sharon Carter – The Falcon & Winter Soldier (March 2021)
Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) is given her chance to shine as she supports Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) against the Flag Smashers in The Falcon & Winter Soldier.
Audiences first see Carter again in Madripoor, a lawless island, after being named an enemy of the state. The big plot twist at the end of the series is that Carter herself is the Power Broker, the ruler of Madripoor’s criminal underworld. The final shot of Carter that we see is after she is pardoned by the US; she makes a phone call to an unknown contact as she intends to use her newly redeemed government position to sell secrets and new weaponry.
Her development and prominence throughout the show felt like a build-up to the big reveal in order to heighten the shock factor. In her previous MCU appearances, Carter was a support in the journey of Steve Rogers, teetering between a small supporting character and potential love interest. Her importance in this show is directly tied to her criminal underworld connections, and every interaction felt like a foreshadowing of her true character.
Sylvie Laufeydottir – Loki (June 2021)
Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) spends the entirety of her screen time in Loki mistrusting those around her and being quick to violence. As a Loki variant, it is to be expected.
In the final episode, He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors), more widely known as Kang the Conqueror, offers Sylvie and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) the chance to control and maintain the Sacred Timeline, or to kill him. Ignoring and betraying Loki, Sylvie kills He Who Remains, causing the timeline to splinter and alternate timelines to branch out. Immediately after, Sylvie realizes the irreversible damage she has done.
As a Loki, it is very likely that she will be too proud to admit her mistakes and continue to oppose Loki in the next season and future appearances. But it is also very likely that she can become another anti-hero within the MCU.
Yelena Belova – Black Widow (July 2021)
Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) is seen in Black Widow developing her identity after reuniting with her family and being freed by a scientist from the chemical mind-control she had been under for years as a female assassin.
By the end of the movie, Yelena has made peace with her sister Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and they go their separate ways, with Natasha returning to the Avengers and Yelena on her way to free more women from mind-control. The end credits, however, takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame, and Yelena visits Natasha’s grave.
Madame Hydra (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) approaches Yelena, offering her the chance to go after the one responsible for her sister’s death: none other than Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) a.k.a Hawkeye. Pugh has been confirmed to appear in all eight episodes of the upcoming Marvel show, Hawkeye. It is safe to assume that she will be the antagonist of the series, going after Barton to avenge her sister.
Xu Xialing – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (September 2021)
Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) is established as an incredibly strong and independent character right off the bat, beating her brother in a fight in the fight club she owns. Throughout the movie, the audience sees her step out of the shadows and also begin to trust those around her.
She has spent most of her childhood neglected by her father, and she had to teach herself to fight and survive, especially after her brother left her alone. By the end of the film, Xialing inherits the Ten Rings campus and is seen taking over the gang, reshaping it to train men and women.
Marvel has confirmed that the Ten Rings will return, but do they mean the rings themselves or the gang under a new leader?
I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy and root for female villains, like Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, but for almost every complex and rounded female character to be the root of significant future problems in the MCU is suspicious. Marvel presents the idea that strength and independence in women inherently creates an antagonist.
However, the history and backstories are meant to solidify the motivations of these characters as they develop into antagonist roles, and Marvel succeeds in this because it works. Their actions are justified and make sense given the background of these characters, and I must admit that I will be rooting for many of them in their future appearances.
I am absolutely excited to see more female MCU villains and for more women to play bigger, complex roles within this universe.
FEATURED IMAGE (at the top of this post): The picture features Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh, in the 2021 Marvel Studios film, Black Widow. (Photo credit: Marvel Studios)