The Internet is currently buzzing with excitement over a Black Widow solo movie entering the early stages of development, with a script being written by Jac Schaeffer. But as some have already begun to speculate, could the film help pull Marvel Studios into R-rated territory?
The topic of R-rated Marvel Cinematic Universe films has been floated around quite a bit, especially considering Sony's Venom solo movie and the Marvel Cinematic Universe future of the Deadpool franchise. But if the MCU wants to venture into their own R-rated properties, a movie centered around Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) might be a good way to do it.
On the surface, some could see that as a risky idea, especially considering the number of family-friendly MCU tentpoles that Johansson has appeared in. But a version of that transition has already been seen within Marvel films, with Hugh Jackman bidding farewell to Wolverine in the criticially-acclaimed, R-rated Logan.
Even if it isn't Johansson's last time in the role, there's a bit of precedent - both on the page and on the screen - for the Black Widow movie to work well while rated R. In terms of comics, the Mark Waid and Chris Samnee Black Widow run has resonated with fans, as it perfectly balanced Natasha's intense spy missions with nuanced flashbacks about her past. Considering how the MCU has dealt with Natasha's "Red Room" history in the past, a new (and possibly retconned) approach to the storyline - without being confined by a PG-13 rating - might be the best way to go about that.
And in terms of high-octane spy stories on the big screen, there certainly have been a few recent examples over the past couple of years. (And no, not including the upcoming Black Widow-esque Red Sparrow.)
Of course, there's the John Wick franchise, which arguably changed the action movie landscape (and the career trajectory of Keanu Reeves). John Wick co-director David Leitch took that style to Atomic Blonde, the Charlize Theron-led adaptation of the graphic novel The Coldest City.
While the stories of Natasha Romanoff and Lorraine Broughton aren't exactly the same, there definitely is a similar sort of energy in terms of how they could be told onscreen. From the colorful and (generally) Male Gaze-avoiding cinematography, to the ambitious and creative action sequences, it isn't too hard to see general elements of Atomic Blonde make their way into a hypothetical Black Widow movie.
And the portrayal of Natasha as a complicated hero - again, something that the MCU has handled in varied ways in the past - would certainly resonate with fans. The switch towards that kind of storytelling can definitely been seen within Atomic Blonde, and is something that The Coldest City's creative team had hoped for.
"We're slowly getting to a place where not every female lead character onscreen has to be a saint, or has be driven by some terribly emotionally tragic backstory." The Coldest City writer Antony Johnston told ComicBook.com. "We can have a character like Lorraine who's just doing her job. She's not traumatized, she's not revenging her dead daughter or anything like that. She's just doing her job, and she's doing it as well or better than the guys, whilst not being an especially nice person about it. And that's okay. And I really like that we are slowly getting to a place where we can do that with impunity. And we don't have to hold up every female character as some kind of idealized role model onscreen."
As of now, fans will just have to wait and see how the Black Widow movie evolves, and if it ends up being rated R. But there's certainly good reason why it could happen, and would help take Marvel's Phase 4 into a new direction.