As we head into Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’re looking back on Marvel Studios’ choices for how it has represented motherhood throughout its run of heroes and villains. And if you thought Disney had a bad track record with dead mums — well, Marvel may be even worse. Are they justified, or is there an imbalance in the sort of roles women get to play?
Read on to find out! Note: spoilers ahead for recent films and TV, including Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Moon Knight, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Thor: Love and Thunder.
Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda in Black Panther is one of the strongest women of the MCU. Wakanda’s Queen Mother has led her people through challenging times and raised two powerful heroes in T’Challa and Shuri. The first trailer of Wakanda Forver centres her with solemn dignity in the face of great loss — and gives hope that not only will she spearhead the next era of Wakanda, but maybe take up the Black Panther mantle herself.
Muneeba is the quintessential doting immigrant mother who starts off as very overprotective of Kamala in Ms. Marvel but eventually goes on a whole journey with her daughter. It was touching to see the scenes in Pakistan where she, her own mother, and Kamala do some generational healing, which we don’t often get to see. And we loved her mum moment where everyone already knew Kamala was “Night Light” by the time they got back to the states. We love a supportive superhero mum. Protect her at all costs!
We only got to see Pepper Potts as Rescue for a moment in Avengers: Endgame, but it was worth the wait and long overdue. Yes, we do count her quick heroic moments in Iron-Man 3 too — but we really hope Endgame’s not the last time she dons the suit, and in the future is maybe joined by Morgan Stark.
Laura Barton, who was Clint’s level-headed rock and mostly on mum duty, was recently officially revealed as Agent 19 in Hawkeye. Hopefully this means she’ll show some of her badass skills in the future of Marvel.
Judy Greer should get more moments in the MCU. Her character’s been taking care of Cassie during her ex-husband Scott’s time in jail and when he was stuck during the blip. In any case we have our fingers crossed she gets more to do in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania.
In Black Widow we got to meet Natasha and Yelena’s spy mum Melina (Rachel Weisz) who maybe followed her orders too closely and participated in harming not only her own but countless women in the Black Widow program. However, there’s nothing more satisfying than a redemption arc, and in the last act of the film she helps get the big bad and essentially becomes the new de facto leader of the Widows.
America Chavez’s Mums
This one’s tricky. First off, they’re not dead! In the comics, their sacrifice and love helped America understand who she is and gave her the confidence to navigate the multiverse while firmly embracing her identity with pride. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, however, America’s traumatized by the shame of thinking she’s accidentally harmed her mums. There’s lot of room for improvement there as we hope America (Xochitl Gomez) comes more into her own and becomes the hero we know and love. We’d also like to see her mums having found a new place to call home (and thrive) by the time America finds them.
Janet Van Dyne
OK, so she was stuck in the quantum realm for a loooong time, but she’s out now! We got to see Michelle Pfeiffer be kick-arse for a few scenes but we need more. Hope and Janet team-up, please!
This one is also mixed. Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) was the MVP in Captain Marvel and a joy to see with Monica — but there wasn’t much joy in finding out she died in circumstances that caused a rift between Monica and Carol, which we don’t know more about yet. Also, we were definitely not a fan of her gratuitous death as the Captain Marvel of Earth-838 at the hands of Wanda in Multiverse of Madness. At least we got to see her hold her own as Captain Marvel for a cool minute.
All right, we’ll give them this one, only because we got to see Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) being the best mother figure to Peter in multiple movies, and watched her truly deliver on the iconic line that makes Peter the man he is. Still not over her demise, though.
The epitome of cold and calculating career woman can’t possibly be a good mum. Not the best archetype. If there’s a Hawkeye season two we would like to see a more substantial arc for Eleanor Bishop — something the excellent Vera Farmiga could certainly handle.
Rene Russo deserves her flowers. It was moving to see Frigga meet death in battle while protecting Jane in Thor:The Dark World — and later, to get to see her return when Thor time-travelled in Avengers: Endgame. But still… she’s deceased.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Ying Li and Wenwu have had one of the most powerful love stories in the MCU so far. That romantic fighting sequence is hands down one of Marvel’s best to date. The beauty and grace she carried with her fighting skills were immaculate, not to mention the heartbreak of seeing her sacrifice for her kids Shang and Xialing. We’re still not over this death, either.
This was sad in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, but then Marvel doubled down by revealing that Ego caused her cancer in the sequel. Nothing like a mother’s death to motivate our heroes, I guess.
Here’s the big one that drove that wedge between Steve and Tony when it was revealed that the Winter Soldier killed Maria Stark. We had a Civil War on our hands!
This one is tough to talk about. While we were glad to see a woman of colour cast as Marc’s mum, it was a bit uncomfortable to see her thrust into the problematic trope of abusive mother. It was, however, handled with nuance rather than overt stereotyping, at least.
Wanda going full witch Karen was not on our bingo card. So while yes, it was time to see the Scarlet Witch turn heel, it felt abruptly dark when she went after a young teen, intending to murder for her multiverse-hopping abilities — and then massacred the Illuminati just because a woman with power simply cannot handle it. (Not only that, but a woman who can’t have kids will be driven mad with grief and use her ultimate powers to be destructive. Great messaging there.) Instead of — I don’t know, taking young America Chavez under her wing so that they could team up to find America’s mums, and perhaps a universe where Billy and Tommy don’t already have a mum, Wanda’s undone because from Multiverse of Madness’ point of view, a woman can’t have both.