***Some character development spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron***
You have a critical take on Avengers: Age of Ultron. Because you have already seen it. Everybody has. I’m sure to no one’s surprise, my personal take on the movie is articulated right here on the site. It was enjoyable, but not great. It was fun, but not quite as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy or as well put together in its narrative as Captain America: Winter Soldier. Still, Marvel has cranked out enough good movies (and two Thor movies, rim-shot) that it’s not really battling itself for best of studio anymore as much as just executing this ridiculously ambitious plan of telling one story across about 20 movies over the next five years or so.
There’s plenty to like about A:AOU and plenty of things to shake your head about, but the biggest fault of the movie that stood out to me was the Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner romance. And yes, I am the dude that groans every time a movie is based around blowing shit up and two impossibly attractive people dodge bullets on their way to making out in the middle of a warzone. Still, I know for most action films this is the status quo. It’s the easiest way to up the personal stakes of your protagonist or just a way to offer something to people that need more than quiet conversations or plot movement in between the action. Still, to say that the Black Widow / Hulk romance is forced is to say that in an Avengers movie, a city might suffer a little property damage. It kind of comes out of nowhere, it’s heavy handed to the point of taking over the plot at times, and sadly it’s pretty inconsequential as it really alters one thing in the narrative, well after the action is done (Bruce leaving, which arguably would’ve made sense without Natasha being left behind after his fight with Tony in the city, except we wouldn’t have gotten Scarlett Johannson staring at a wall for multiple shots). My point isn’t about them creating this romance out of nowhere, my point is that Whedon and company painted themselves into this corner a while ago and didn’t know another way out.
Consider this: Remember the scene at the party in A:AOU, when Thor and Tony Stark are having a pissing contest about whose girlfriend is better (so ironic on multiple levels, by the way)? Well, the reason a scene like that works and is necessary, is because 1) they have established those relationships already in their own movies and 2) because those love interests aren’t actually there. The whole point of that scene is to inform the audience that they WON’T be there. In the first Avengers, Pepper literally goes away when the Avengers initiative begins and reappears at the very end for a missed phone call when Tony thinks he won’t survive. [quote_left]”Still, to say that the Black Widow / Hulk romance is forced is to say that in an Avengers movie, a city might suffer a little property damage.”[/quote_left]But there is no creation of a love affair in the middle of a movie with so many different moving parts. Thor had two movies with Jane as his love interest. We know what’s at stake for him on Earth without seeing her. Same thing for Cap; Peggy Carter is featured prominently in Captain America: First Avenger, shown on basically her death bed for fifteen minutes in Winter Soldier (and walks into a ballroom for 2 minutes during Steve’s mental trip for Scarlet Witch). Even half of Marvel’s Agent Carter is about Peggy Carter securing something for Captain America, which references her love for him. For these characters, the emotional weight and physical space in a film that is necessary for developing a love affair is done well ahead of a film where six different stars are supposed to share the billing. As Hawkeye’s emotional weight was addressed during the film (which I don’t mind nearly as much as the Black Widow / Hulk storyline as it is a way to address how inconsequential Hawkeye was in the first Avengers film…though probably a slight overreaction, but still ok), that leaves Black Widow and Hulk. It’s not a coincidence that the three characters without their own solo movies are the ones that had their “emotional weight” addressed.
We can also say the Black Widow / Hulk storyline, but this is really about Black Widow. For a plethora of reasons, she’s the most important part of this dynamic. I’m not sure we’ll ever find out why Black Widow didn’t get her own movie and its possible that Scarlett Johannson doesn’t want one (I would love to hear her say that, if that’s the case), but many of the problems or uncomfortable situations that the studio finds itself in concerning her character would be alleviated by her having a stand-alone film. Love interest, origin stories, personal motivations, these are the things handled in a solo film, not in a 2 1/2-hour film where you have to give screen time to so many other characters. Well, so many other guys. And that’s the other problem here.
[quote_right]”Love interest, origin stories, personal motivations, these are the things handled in a solo film, not in a 2 1/2-hour film where you have to give screen time to so many other characters. Well, so many other guys.”[/quote_right]Black Widow, at present, has been the only Woman Avenger, or rather only heroine, since her appearance in Iron Man 2. Avengers, at this point, has been extremely binary. All the characters (on-screen at least) are cis-gender, heterosexual individuals. Which means, every time some flirtation or hinted love story is to happen between the most important characters, it HAS to be Black Widow. She’s the only one that fits this archetype. Now, let me give credit where it’s due: Through the first Avengers film and Winter Soldier, the platonic relationship between Black Widow and Hawkeye and Black Widow and Captain America is really well done. Normally, when you get two attractive people of the opposite sex on screen in constant proximity, then you already know what’s coming. But it never feels that way in those interactions (including Auntie Nat in A: AOU). So kudos for that. But I will ask this, if anyone was going to do the lullaby with the Hulk in A: AOU and it wasn’t going to be Natasha, then who was it going to be? The answer is nobody. Whedon wasn’t going to write Thor softly turning the Hulk’s hand over in his while whispering a goodnight song to him. So it had to be Natasha. They tried to thread the needle and cover up the shortcomings of the character depth (the ones that didn’t have their own movies) in one fell swoop and it just didn’t work very well. The Black Widow character has basically become the utility player that is there when a male lead needs to play off a female one. You know, the only one. Which is ironic for a couple of reasons especially considering there are a number of Women Avengers that would work well in a film, such as Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) or She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters).
Outside of Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johannson is the biggest movie star in the Marvel pool. There are some surging stars, like Chris Pratt, but if you subtract those same Marvel films from every one’s resume, Johannson is actually the biggest box office pull. And yet, her character is just tossed around from film to film or just stepped on repeatedly by her co-stars. All in all, the Avengers films are an easy target, but still a worthy one. When you’ve got Joss “a friend of the woman-folk” Whedon and what will probably be the biggest movie of the year, then you will be under a microscope when it comes to matters like this. [quote_left]”Outside of Robert Downey, Jr, Scarlett Johannson is the biggest movie star of everyone else in the Marvel pool.”[/quote_left]Even though she actually will be getting her own movie (though there is some skepticism about it crossing the finish), Wonder Woman will be in a similar position as THE woman on an all dudebro team when that Justice League movie rolls around.
I don’t think any silly shit like “Joss Whedon is secretly a misogynist” or that the folks at Marvel “just hate Black Widow,” but I do think that they brought this Black Widow problem on themselves, simply because they thought one woman out of six people was enough and that they could handle all of her character development on the fly. Maybe that will change. By films end, Cap’s new Avengers team now has 100% more women than it did before (as in it has 2 now). Then again, if it follows the comics, we know Scarlet Witch gets involved with The Vision, which means we might be doing this romance in the middle of chaos all over again.