For anyone hoping that the end of phase 3 of the MCU would bring some respite from the relentless schedule of Marvel superhero movies – and the concomitant military propaganda – the new Black Widow trailer will come as a disappointment. The film was produced with the help of the British Ministry of Defence, and the trailer suggests the Pentagon were also involved.
The trailer includes a couple of shots of a military convoy including humvees travelling through a desert landscape, in keeping with the film’s setting in the early days of the War on Terror. It is not certain that these vehicles were provided by the Pentagon, but so far no private military vehicle hire company is credited on Black Widow so until contrary evidence emerges I’m guessing they came from the DOD.
What is certain is that Black Widow was partially filmed on Hankley Common, which was also used for The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Doctor Who, Skyfall and Sam Mendes’ new WW1 war movie 1917. Hankley Common is owned by the British Ministry of Defence, and is part of the defence training estate. When it isn’t being used for James Bond movies it hosts numerous training exercises for the British military.
Indeed, there was a scuffle with the local council this summer after Black Widow started filming on the Common before receiving planning permission to construct sets and erect props such as a crashed helicopter. This was smoothed over and filming was completed, but it does highlight one of the problems of the MOD (and their estate manager, Landmarc) allowing American film companies to shoot on land they own. Americans aren’t familiar with the local regulatory bodies and probably assumed that having got permission from the MOD that they didn’t need further clearances and go-aheads.
In any case, Black Widow filming on the MOD training estate echoes previous collaborations between the military and female-led superhero action movies. This year’s Captain Marvel was nothing short of military recruitment propaganda with a ‘feminist’ twist, itself a retread of Wonder Woman in 2017, which also filmed on MOD property.
Files released by the MOD under FOIA show that Wonder Woman filmed at RAF Halton, and at the former RAF base at Upper Heyford, which was used for the final battle sequence. The producers had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the MOD because Halton is an active military base, which also conveniently means they can’t talk about what it’s like to work with the MOD.
I will be covering the question of how the MOD liaises with the entertainment industry in detail in the future, but for now here’s the application from the Wonder Woman producers to film at RAF Halton, which should give you a flavour of how their system works.
As you can see, you have to outline the content of the scenes being shot on MOD facilities including any ‘military content regardless of era’. While I’m not sure if the MOD insists on script changes before allowing access to their assets, they do assess scripts for their PR value before deciding whether to go ahead. Clearly Wonder Woman and Black Widow were assessed as being positive PR, likely because they put a quasi-feminist spin on violence and military conflict.