A suit of power

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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finally unmasked the Power Broker and – gasp! – that’s none other than Sharon Carter. Fans have suspected it for weeks, but it’s still pretty cool to see a woman revealed as the master villain, given Marvel’s bad history with both female characters and antagonists. Based on Phase 4 so far, the Marvel Cinematic Universe may finally be on track to resolve both issues.

At the dawn of the MCU, women were love interests, clear and straightforward. The depictions of women in films have most held its own – an impressive feat for the media dating back to 2008 – but the casts were still predominantly male. It was a deliberate decision by Marvel Brass: a way to point to Natasha or Peggy or Pepper and say “but look, we have great female characters” while ordering Shane Black to rewrite Iron man 3 without Maya as the main antagonist.

And over time, a villain issue emerged that is now pervasive in criticism of the MCU. A handful of villains in the MCU are truly awesome – the fact is no better demonstrated than by Loki’s repeated resurrections and rifts, go June 11 – but too many of a 20-plus-year-old movie franchise are good and forgettable if not just bad. In this case, one of the largest is Thor: RagnarokHela, which means the MCU was beating 1000 from the start with female villains.

Nothing but respect for my president!

Nothing but respect for my president!

If Phase 4 television is any indication, Marvel’s villains can still achieve gender equity. WandaVision showed us the possibilities for Wanda as one of the most powerful characters in the MCU, someone the movies never had time to focus on and whose pain, anger, and unimaginable power have made many (including herself) wonder if she really was a bad guy. Kathryn Hahn, already stealing scenes as a curious neighbor, turned out to be Agatha, a formidable foe with a killer theme song and one of the most charismatic performances – evil or not – in the MCU.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a show mostly about two boys beating other boys, ended up featuring not one but three compelling female antagonists. Karli, like many of the best villains before her, challenged a world that supports costumed heroes and leaves others to suffer unaided. His methods could have improved (as did his dialogue), but his philosophy was still compelling. Julia Louis-Dreyfus made all the entrance as Val, who may or may not return as Black Widow but will surely come back every time we take with John Walker, be it TFATWS Season 2 or this new Captain America movie. Hahn and Louis-Dreyfus are actors who could make almost anything work, and watching them elevate even the most basic Marvel story will be a treat.

In Sharon Carter’s case, Marvel may never have known what to do. She was shelved after Captain America: The Winter Soldier due to more pressing arcs like Civil war and the Infinity Saga unfolding, but we still hardly know anything about this character other than that she kicks the buttocks and once kissed her uncle. TFATWS didn’t have a clear purpose in bringing her back or necessarily using her well throughout her six episodes, but revealing her as the Power Broker and keeping her alive and generally repositioning Sharon completely going forward.

None of this is to say that Marvel has solved sexism. As villains, these characters aren’t just flawed but twisted. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier The finale also features the murder of Sharon Karli, a teenage black girl who stood in his way, while known murderer John Walker roams free. We’re going to have missteps and questionable arcs. But we might also have some of the best villains the MCU has ever seen.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now streaming on Disney +.

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