Now Marvel have started to get into TV in a big way I wanted to do a little list of characters played by women that I think are the best. And by best I mean the ones I like… the coolest ones.
Let’s get into it. The below are in no particular order, but just as thoughts came to me. I don’t know where thoughts come from, they just appear. (Bonus points if you know which movie I’m referencing.)
Agent Peggy Carter
Played by Hayley Atwell
One of the OG women in the MCU. We first meet her in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), where she became Steve Rodgers’ (Captain America) first love. She then got her own TV show, Agent Carter (2015-2016), where we got to see how she co-founded S.H.I.E.L.D. and how she ran things as a spy in the 1940s – where it was very much a woman trying to make it in man’s job in a man’s world.
The show was cruelly cancelled after two seasons but I remain a huge Peggy fan to this day, as do many. I read that Disney might revive the show on Disney+, so fingers crossed. I hope we’ll see Peggy again.
Aka Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson
It was recently announced that the Black Widow (2020) movie will now be coming to premium rental on Disney+ in June, which is welcome news for those of us that’ve been waiting for a Natasha movie since she was first introduced in Iron Man 2 (2010). Granted, she’s come a long way since then, but she’s never had a solo movie. This one also comes with added Florence Pugh which, if you’ve seen her filmography (see Fighting With My Family (2019)), can only be a good thing.
As far as Scarlett is concerned, I imagine this’ll be the last time we’ll see her in this role. Although with Marvel now playing with fast and loose with multiverses, alternate dimensions and time travel, never say never.
Aka Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen
If you’ve not yet seen Wandavision (2020) where have you been? Being the first out the gate for Marvel in terms of TV shows on Disney+ it simultaneously had pressure to deliver and no pressure at all. Initially, for the first few episodes, a lot of people didn’t get it. They thought it too slow, too out there, that it had strayed too far Marvel model of storytelling. Yet it was daring to be different. As this limited series built to its climax it won more people over – not least because of the fantastic performances from its two leads: Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany.
Played by Letitia Wright
We first see Letitia Wright as Shuri in Black Panther (2018) – the sister of T’Challa, played by the late and great Chadwick Boseman. In a movie that could have slipped into serious and po-faced in certain scenes, it really helped having a character like Shuri. She has genius-level intellect and incredible engineering skills, yet so often in movies those kind of characters are, let’s face it, middle-aged stuffy white men. Shuri was a breath of fresh air, in so many ways, and Wright played her in such a relaxed, confident and naturalistic way – showing young women around the world that you can be who you want to be and work in technology or science, or any other industry that men have closely guarded as a place that only they understand.
Also, for context, Shuri ran rings around the apparent smarter minds of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, she completely cured a CIA agent from a life-threatening spinal injury, she fixed Bucky Barnes’ mental conditioning, she invented all of Wakanda’s technology, weapons and gadgets – oh, and she also has cool arm cannons.
Marvel would be wise to make her front and centre of Black Panther 2 (2022).
Agent Melinda May
Played by Ming-Na Wen
Another unsung hero of the Marvel TV world. Agent May was the backbone of the team in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-2020). One of the original kick-ass agents, she got Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) out of a jam more times than I can count. Indeed, May’s relationship with Coulson was fascinating – and Ming-Na Wen played May in such an understated way. A lot less flashy than some of the characters in the show (Daisy, I’m looking at you). Plus May was human – no tricks, gadgets (other than guns) or powers. And still one of the most bad ass women in the MCU.
Played by Tessa Thompson
We first meet Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). She’s drunk mercenary who’s left her home of Asgard behind, and now makes a living on a trash dumpster of a planet ruled by a narcisstic overlord (played by Jeff Goldblum). She forms a partnership, of sorts, with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, in order to escape the planet and return to Asgard.
With Bruce Banner (aka Hulk), Loki (Thor’s brother) and a few others in tow, they return to Asgard to face Thor’s evil sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett). Ragnarok is the funniest in the MCU to date, and is arguably one of the top three MCU movies. A lot of that was down to how well Thompson bounced off Hemsworth in scenes.
I’m keen to see her return in Thor: Love and Thunder (2022).
Played by Pom Klementieff
Mantis is a strange one. Not an obvious hero like some of the others on this list, but has some key moments after her introduction in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2. (2017). In particular in Avengers Infinity War (2018), where she plays a key role in almost beating Thanos – if it weren’t for that selfish idiot Peter Quill (worst Avenger). I’m glad there are characters like this in the MCU. The more sensitive, measured and cerebral heroes. It can’t all be about muscles and how hard you can punch.
There’s also rumours of a Drax and Mantis spin-off movie. That might be fun, if it happens.
Played by Karen Gillan
Karen Gillan had a tough job with Nebula. In general, Nebula is a little like Loki, dancing between chaotic good, bad and neutral. Unlike Loki, she doesn’t get to make many witty quips or banter with her brother. Instead she tends to direct mostly self-loathing in the direction of her sister, Gamora. Often with minimal dialogue, which feels like a much tougher job for an actor to do. Nebula could have been one-note, but Gillan made her so much more.
Played by Simone Missick
TV show Luke Cage (2016-2018) was an underrated gem in my book. I don’t think enough people saw it. Misty was a Harlem detective who, at first is out to get Cage, or at least suspects he’s up to bad things. She then becomes his ally and they work together to clean up Harlem, in a manner of speaking.
During events of the show she loses one of her arms and it gets replaced with a bionic arm, essentially upgrading her fighting capabilities. Other than that, she’s still human and she still kicks ass and takes names.
Played by Kristen Ritter
Like Luke Cage, the TV show Jessica Jones (2015-2019) was a Marvel production, so it makes the list. And Jones is an interesting hero – probably the least natural one on this list. As a character she’s tough, sarcastic, and mean at times. She runs a detective agency and suffers from PTSD (something they touched on in Iron Man 3). So she’s not what you’d immediately think of in terms of heroism – yet she’s one of the most complex characters on this list.
The show ran for three seasons, with the first being the strongest. That season’s big bad was David Tennant’s Kilgrave, a man who could control minds. So the show, at least to begin with, was about control, power and trauma, in particular how men use it towards women. And if that sounds like a tough watch, well, in a way, it was. Yet it was still enjoyable, and bravely explored topics and themes you don’t often see in this genre.
Extra shout outs…
I wanted to just put a few shout outs to some others that didn’t quite make my main list, but I still like.
Aka Photon, played by Teyonah Parris
We first meet her in Wandavision and get to see how she acquires her powers. She gets a little overshadowed in the final third, but this show was more her intro and not her story. Expect her to shine in Captain Marvel 2 (2022).
Played by Kathryn Hahn
Another from Wandavision. Agatha is a witch who faces off against Wanda. In the final few episodes of the show her character really came to the fore and elavated the final third of the story in a deliciously pleasing way. She’s left on ice, so to speak, at the end, so I expect that won’t be the last we see of her in the MCU.
Played by Natalie Portman
Portman had a limited amount to do in the Thor movies. I read that Natalie Portman wouldn’t have returned for the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) if she didn’t have a better role and more to do. Luckily, the powers that be listened, and she’ll be very much top billing with Hemsworth for this movie – both of them facing off against Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher.
Played by Zoe Saldana
Gamora, adopted daughter of Thanos, first turns up in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), initially at odds with our hero, Peter Quill, but after a time they form an alliance which slowly becomes romantic, albeit in a vaguely combative way. Her ending is a tragic one in Avengers Infinity War (2018), but thanks to the twisty trousers of time a version of her exists, and is the one we’ll next see in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 (2023).
Aka, Captain Mavel, played by Brie Larson
I thought Captain Marvel (2019) was a solid movie, decent and passable. I know this sounds like damning with faint praise but I did enjoy it. And middling Marvel is still better than most. It just wasn’t that memorable or emotionally engaging… it felt it sat in Ant-Man and the Wasp territory.
So Larson played Danvers well enough, but the story didn’t catch fire. My hope is Captain Marvel 2 (2022) will level her up as a character. It’s possible. Take Thor, his first and second films were OK, then Ragnarok knocked it out the park. Ditto Captain America. The first was solid, then Winter Soldier was one of the best we’ve seen.