Avengers: Age of Ultron

Marvel/Disney Enterprises

Way back in June 2013, superhero writer/director/producer extraordinaire Joss Whedon announced his frustration with the Marvel powers that be for their supposed aversion to backing a female-fronted superhero movie—and he's confirmed these sentiments in several interviews since.

He called the lack of gender diversity stupid, among other things, and went on to say "It's frustrating to me that I don't see anybody developing one of these movies. It actually pisses me off. My daughter watched The Avengers and was like, 'My favorite characters were the Black Widow and Maria Hill,' and I thought, Yeah, of course they were."

At the time, Whedon's statements garnered a great deal of support and pressed many media outlets to call for a change. With this week's release of the hotly-anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron, it's high time to revisit the issue and see if anything really has improved.

In short? It hasn't really. 

Here's a quick rundown of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's upcoming slate: This summer we'll see the Paul Rudd-fronted Ant-Man, followed up by Captain America: Civil War in a year. That's followed by Doctor Strange (starring Benedict Cumberbatch) in November 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in May 2017, the Spider-Man reboot in July 2017, Thor: Ragnarok in November 2017, Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 in May 2018, Black Panther in July 2018 and Captain Marvel in November 2018. 

In case you lost track that's a whopping three-and-a-half years until Captain Marvel, the origin story of one Carol Danvers (who becomes the cosmically-powered superhero), lands as the first female-centered flick. And that's not for want of great comic ladies, of course. Characters like the Scarlet Witch, Black Widow and Mystique have been played by much-loved celebs (that's Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence, as a reminder).

For a fleeting instance there was excitement around the prospect of a dedicated Black Widow movie, after Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige told Variety a year ago that he was in the early stages of development for the project. But then by October it didn't even appear on the studio's five-year plan. According to the trade, ScarJo lost out to the addition of the Captain Marvel franchise, but it was never addressed why there wasn't room for both. 

In that much-talked-about interview, Whedon attributed the lack of ladies to an archaic belief that they won't sell tickets. "Movie people will point to the two terrible superheroine movies that were made and say, You see? It can't be done," said Whedon. "It's stupid." But of course it's worth mentioning, just for argument's sake, that there are plenty of female-fronted action flicks that have done well at the box office—take Kill Bill, Tomb Raider, The Hunger Games, and even Game of Thrones (okay, so that's a bit of a stretch).

Regardless, the simple truth is that it's still going to be a long three years until lady superheroes finally get their due. In the meantime they'll be popping up in supporting roles in all of the upcoming flicks—including Age of Ultron, obviously. So just how do the ladies fare in the most recent installment? In a nutshell: Really well.

Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Witch, is her usual badass self, getting plenty of screen time and keeping up with the guys in all of the fight scenes—and saving their butts a good amount of the time. We also see more of her backstory, and without delving into spoilers we'll just say that what the audience learns makes her not only more sympathetic but more of a whole, complex character in general. 

The same goes for Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlett Witch. She has a complicated past that gives her a full narrative arc in the flick (she's not just a set piece, this one) and even her costume is more feminist-friendly than the original comic book version. Frankly, she's given a much better treatment than her movie counterpart Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays her twin-slash-Quicksilver.

This doesn't make up for the fact that Olsen and Johansson are just two women in a sea of nine-plus male superheroes, but it's certainly a start. Let the countdown to 2018 begin.

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