Tag Archives: Joss Whedon

Why I like MCU’s Black Widow even more after Avengers: Age of Ultron

There are spoilers in this post pertaining to events depicted in The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, & The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Earlier this summer, I went to see the midnight premiere of The Avengers: Age of Ultron with high expectations & was not disappointed. I am an avid fan of Joss Whedon & was a bit taken aback by the criticism I was finding online regarding how Black Widow was portrayed in AoU. As opposed to the many persons who were stating that Black Widow was somehow diminished in AoU because she was shaken by the hexing powers of Scarlet Witch & had a love interest, I felt the opposite. I will tackle both criticisms separately.

Let me start with the effects of Scarlet Witch’s hexing powers.  All members of the Avenger’s, aside from Hawkeye who already underwent mind altering control in Avengers, are profoundly affected by her hex. Profoundly, because each is revealed something that has been suppressed for a long time or is the worse (feared) version of his/her self:

  • Tony Stark sees the entire Chitauri empire fulfilling its attack on Earth, in what he feels is his greatest failure: not protecting the Earth with preventative measures, as reactionary measures just barely worked.  While this leads him to bring about the creation of Ultron in MCU, he is not wrong in the need for preventative measures as is later seen with the need for “Veronica” in response to the Hulk’s bewitching.
  • Bruce Banner’s deep fear of losing all control & becoming an unadulterated Hulk that indiscriminately destroys an entire city is brought to fruition. If it hadn’t been for the preventative measures of developing the “Veronica” or Hulkbuster armor in conjunction with Tony, the rampage would have been much, much worse.  But the truth is that within the MCU, Hulk has never rampaged, unless tampered with somehow.
  • Steve Rogers is confronted with his inability to leave war for a normal life with his vision of the celebration after WWII is won, he is about to get his dance with Peggy & return home with her ends with him alone in an empty ballroom.
  • Thor’s vision brings to fruition his greatest fear: that he is unworthy of ruling Asgard & everything will go to hell in a hand basket if he is ruler. But this very vision of disaster has within it the very real warning that he is not seeing the greater threat of the Infinity Gems, which will lead to Thanos & the Infinity Gauntlet.
  • Black Widow is forced to relive the weeks leading up to her “graduation” from the Red Room, in which we not only see that she attempts to fail in order to avoid graduating, but also find out that her “graduation” entailed forced sterilization. She is then confronted with the reality that she was denied the choice of becoming a mother. This is highlighted with her calling Hawkeye’s unborn baby she hoped would be her name sake, but turned out to be a boy, a traitor & her confession to Bruce that she could never be a mother because of her “graduation” & that made it easier for her to become a monster (as she defined it herself) or as I interpreted it as a killer with no possible emotional out. This idea is not new, think of what the Kill Bill series was centered on: the most talented assassin became a threat as soon as she become a mother & she would do anything in order to protect her child.

How is Black Widow being equally affected by the hex as her male counterparts a sign of her weakness, but not their’s?  Is it because it centered around her loss of agency over her body at the hands of her handlers in the Red Room & weaponization into a killer? Also, this was an amazing way of showing how truly powerful & dangerous Scarlet Witch is.  I won’t get into the House of M story line in the comics in this post, but if you haven’t read them, you should!

There are many, or at least a vocal few, that have decried the vulnerability displayed by Black Widow in AoU by stating that the Russo brothers correctly depicted her as never-endingly malleable to the situation & never revealing her true self, while Whedon took her strength away. I disagree. The only time she is emotionally vulnerable in CA:WS is when Nick Fury dies. Why is it okay for her to be distraught by the murder of her friend & mentor, but not when forced to remember the trauma of her forced sterilization during AoU, which by all accounts marked the beginning of her ledger getting all of that red on it? Why is it acceptable for Tony Stark to still be dealing with his PTSD from seeing the Kree forces on the verge of overwhelming Earth, but not for Natasha? Tony Stark is not shown as weak, but suddenly Natasha is weakened?

Secondly, let’s talk about her having a love interest. Granted, the love story of Natasha/Bruce was a bit weird, mostly because I couldn’t quite tell if it was Natasha/Bruce or Natasha/Hulk or Natasha/all of him. I’m sure the extended version or director’s cut would include more dialogue between the two & that would clear things up, but we couldn’t very well have a 3+ hour movie. But, the fact that she was given a love interest that wasn’t Hawkeye nor Cap was fine by me. It was already established that Hawkeye & Black Widow had a deep, but platonic, relationship in Avengers & that there were no romantic inclinations between her & Captian America in Winter Soldier. Natasha’s talk with Bruce about giving each other the possibility to be “normal” monsters together was profound, especially in light of the “graduation” ceremony from the Red Room in which she underwent forced sterilization. She sees him & herself as monsters, because they are each splintered versions of who they could have been had each been given the choice. Each was irreparably altered in a way that each is still dealing with in the present.  While Steve was also altered irreparably, he was looking to do so. The same cannot be said of Bruce & Natasha.

In all other instances we have been shown in the MCU in which Natasha has used a male’s idea of female frailty to manipulate men, she became the image of what that particular man thought a woman should be & used it against them: Tony needed to still feel he was the playboy while facing death (Iron Man 2), the Russian mobsters needed a helpless girl to beat up & threaten (Avengers), & Loki needed a woman doing something for love (Avengers). She even was blatant about it in the car with Steve after the whole HYDRA reveal in CA:WS by asking Steve outright which version of her he wanted her to be (CA:WS). In this last instance, I don’t believe she was trying to manipulate him, as much as put him at ease.

Black Widow Captain America Winter Soldier movie

via giphy.com

In AoU, she was not pantomiming a woman who wanted to settle down with Bruce & be “normal” together for him, because that is not what he wanted.  It was too scary a possibility for him that he decided to run away than entertain it.  So, if she wasn’t playing the part for him, it is because that is what she wanted.

The image of the emotionally impenetrable Natasha that is “cold as ice” is not the type of super heroine that I want. I want a super heroine that is an actual whole person, not a super heroine that falls neatly into the lamentable one-dimensional trope: Strong Female Character. One of the reasons I love Buffy Summers, Joss Whedon’s seminal female character, & I suspect many would agree, is that she was simultaneously a bad ass & was affected by the events in her life. She was a completely fleshed out hero, not a trope. She was not the “strong female character” that was all business & no heart. Buffy was a hero because she had flaws & felt the fear, but still did what she had to do. She goes through the Hero’s Journey, as described by Joseph Campbell, & conquers her fear, not by no longer being afraid, but by not letting her fear prevent her from the necessary action & becoming the hero she was called to be.

And so, much like Whedon’s Buffy, we are able to finally see Natasha become a full hero by being vulnerable on-screen with Bruce Banner. She is actually physically vulnerable in front of the Hulk, as well, as she is tasked with convincing Hulk to relinquish control of Bruce Banner, but the emotional vulnerability is much rawer than the physical variety. Who else has she opened up to on that level in the MCU? I assume Nick Fury, but that is never shown onscreen. Sort of Steve in CA:WS, but not like this.  I wholeheartedly welcome a MCU Black Widow that is a fully fleshed out hero, just like Captian America & Iron Man, but that also happens to be a woman.

While the Black Widow movie is still a long way away, but is maybe tentatively coming as part of Phase 4, I am pleased with more layers of Black Widow being revealed in each movie. In the meantime, here is the fan-made trailer to the Black Widow movie we all want!

Correction: I originally incorrectly stated that the Kree were the ones who invaded Earth, but it  in fact was not the blue guys, but the creepy Chitauri.  Thanks David Barker for helping me notice my mistake!