I’ve tried, in vain apparently, to ignore the uproar that is accompanying the release of The Avengers sequel. It’s seems jumbled and misdirected and convoluted (a lot like the second half of the movie, if I’m being completely honest) but I can’t ignore it. It’s on every site I choose to visit on a daily basis. Yes, a simple solution to this part of the problem would be for me to ONLY visit the Apartment Therapy or Anthropologie websites for the next two weeks. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the issue exists, nor does it change the fact that I’d probably be (roughly) 500 bucks poorer at the end of those two weeks. Seriously, have you seen these bird pillows?! They’re practically a steal at 78 bucks!
But let’s attempt to deal with the myriad of issues at hand in order, of course to avoid dealing with actual world events that none of us single-handedly can fix. Let’s try to break down exactly how those sticks got up everyone’s butts about the Black Widow story arc, and see if we can’t decipher whether or not that stick deserves to be up there in the first place, or if you might want to think about morally un-constipating yourself over a comic book movie. The first step to doing this is untangling this massive web of issues that somehow everyone has managed to jumble into ONE giant issue that illicits horrifying responses from both sides of this, more often than not, imagined argument. Oh, and SPOILERS WILL ABOUND, so buckle in or get off the ride now.
Issue #1: Joss Whedon as Antifeminist:
If this is your issue with the film, I’m going to tell you, right now, to get out that Sam’s Club –sized bottle of Ex-Lax, because this has never, ever been the case with any of Whedon’s female characters. As a girl who got to look up to Buffy instead of Marsha Brady, I’m infinitely grateful to Mr. Whedon for giving me a female character that made me think “I’d like to learn how to throw a punch., but I should probably wait until after dance class”. Because that was the way Buffy was too. She was a three-dimensional girl with inter-dimensional problems. When she was angry about the fact that the man that she loved lost his soul, she cried AND kicked ass.
But apparently, this is a combination that people can’t understand. “Black Widow becomes trapped in a romantic story-line” the Issue 1 folks claim. Well, what movie did you watch? Because from what I could tell, it’s the fact that Natasha is willing to put the world’s concerns over the concerns of her own heart that save the day at the end of the movie. She’s the only one working to get things done while the sad sack dudes figure out who can lift Thor’s hammer. While the guys are busy having a pissing contest about who’s the most super-heroic of all of them, Natasha is jumping out of a plane to make sure that Vision can be, well…birthed. Which leads me to
Issue #2: Black Widow and the scary, sad, uncomfortable word:
Sterility is one of those things we just don’t talk about as a society. It’s something that’s used as punishment, or as an indication that you’re reading a post-apocalyptic horror story, or as I like to call it now, YA. It’s a word that invokes sadness, awkwardness, and all of those other feelings that seem to stem from dealing with female sex organs in general. It’s like the word “miscarriage”. It indicates that a woman can’t fulfill her feminine duty to the world, which is, of course, “procreation”. It's a word that invariably makes people look at said woman and think “poor girl”. A woman who can’t have children is automatically, even if subconsciously, put on the second-tier of the female status ladder. She’s the girl you don’t talk to about your children, and if you can’t talk to her about your children, then what’s the point of talking to her at all, right?
The central theme of the movie, to me, was that every single one of the Avengers team believes themselves to be a monster. And I don’t believe that Natasha’s line to Banner is “I’m sterile so I’m a monster”. In fact I’m almost CERTAIN that is the exact opposite of what she says to him. And because I saw the film a week ago, I can’t remember verbatim, but let me share how my brain interpreted her scene with Banner:
“Hey, remember when I was like catatonic a little while ago. Oh well that was because I was reliving the horrible nightmare that was my childhood and assassin training. I started young (remember, I told you that in the first movie that everyone loved?) because every good villainous organization knows that if you get them young, you can basically condition them to do anything. I wasn’t allowed to be a ballerina. I was conditioned to shoot my targets and hit them. Before I was allowed to go on missions, I was sterilized because the organization that grew me like a Human Chia Pet didn’t want my loyalty being compromised. I’ve done a lot of bad things because I’ve never allowed myself to care about anyone. And then, well, shit, you came along. Now all I can think of ‘will you think of me as a monster if you know what I’ve done?’ or will you realize that we’re both messed up, but kind of perfect for each other?”
Would everyone have bitched so much if that had been her actual speech? Or would you still be pissy about the fact that she’s attracted to Banner in the first place? If you’re still pissy, then I hope you don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy or Scandal or The Good Wife, or any other prime time show based around a profession where co-workers fall in love with each other (which is pretty much all of them). I also hope you’re not busy bitching about comic “continuity” or “mythology”. You know why? Because Marvel doesn’t give a crap about YOUR idea of continuity or mythology. Every comic has been written and re-written and re-booted dozens of times by dozens of authors with different takes. Only the base details stay the same. Superman is always an alien, Bruce Wayne is always an orphan, and Black Widow is a spy. Beyond that, you can take your precious notions of what YOU WANTED TO HAPPEN, and flush it down the toilet with the remnants of your Dorito and Mountain Dew dinner.
If you wouldn’t have been mad if that had been the above had been her actual speech, then you might fall into the Issue #3 camp.
Issue #3: Your real issue is with Marvel, but you’re too afraid to say it out loud because they’ve been like a member of your family since you could ogle the bright colors of a comic book panel
If this is the camp you fall into, I’d say you have good reason to have a stick up your butt. Firstly, Marvel has handled the promotion of this film poorly, in terms of acknowledging Black Widow as a full-fledged character. You can’t have a Target ad with Hulk, Thor, Captain America and even friggin’ Ultron and NOT HAVE BLACK WIDOW. Just make the toys Marvel. If you make them, girls will buy them or have them bought for them, by parents who are just really psyched that they have an alternative to Hawaiian Luau Barbie. I guess Marvel should just expect us to be thankful that Scarlett Johansson was allowed to tag along with all the boys on what seems to have been an exhaustive press/hype tour.
Additionally, there’s been some clarification on Whedon’s part of what he was “allowed” to keep in his story and what the higher-ups at Marvel fought him on. It seems that all of those annoying, niggling character development moments (like seeing what terrifies our superheroes and gallivanting off to Hawkeye’s farm ) were Whedon’s idea. So if you have a problem with those, then yeah, I guess you could be mad at Whedon, as long as you realize that having heroes go to farm and split wood the old-fashioned way and attempt to hash our their (working) relationship doesn’t make him anti-feminist, it just means he’s a writer who wanted to do more with the story than collateral damage. If all you want to see are buildings being destroyed, I’m sure DC will come out with a movie to satisfy your most basic needs soon. Have no fear, Zack Snyder has never been too worried about character development. I’m sure Marvel has also already made sure that the Russo Brothers don’t have any grand ideas of making the story their own. We do have a universe to build, after all! I mean what will we do if we don’t get to Thanos?! By the way, my concerns over the direction Marvel was deciding to go in sprang forth as soon as Edgar Wright departed Ant-Man. If that chink in the armor turns into Marvel’s first movie to not do so hot at the box office, it’ll be interesting to watch them scramble.
But then again, despite some of the strides made in the industry, there’s still that annoying feeling that comics aren’t really made for girls. Oh wait, I get that feeling because some authors have actually said those exact words…in the last five years! And while the indicated author(s) may have just been having a bad day or had words taken out of context in some way (the way they always claim they are), it’s clear that the mentality of the entire industry has a way to go before that glass ceiling is shattered, probably by She-Hulk, let’s be honest.
Issue #4: You don’t like the movie but you can’t pinpoint why and you feel like you should, so you jump on the Black Widow band wagon.
In this day and age, we all have to have our reasons right? We can’t just NOT like something because it doesn’t connect with us. There has to be a reason, dang it! And if you went in wanting to LOVE or be blown away by Avengers 2 and thought it was just ok, I’m here to tell you, that’s fine. It’s a movie. It’s a bit of a jumble towards the end and you could tell that the studio notes started to overwhelm Whedon and that the focus gets a bit lost, but that’s ok. If someone says “what didn’t you like about it?” don’t feel lik you owe them an Ebert-esque answer, “You can just say, it didn’t do it for me the way the first one did”. You don’t have to just use “ugh, the Black Widow storyline” as your excuse. Because if you don’t really believe it, then you just sound like one of those dummies who uses the “Ewoks are annoying muppets” argument when trying to convince me that Return of the Jedi isn’t the best Star Wars movie. It’s annoying and overdone and loses its punch due to groupthink.
I guess what I’m saying is, I liked the movie and I just liked the storyline between Natasha and Banner. It made sense to me. It made sense that if Hawkeye was married (and clearly had been for a while with 2 kids that seemed to be like 5 and 7) that she wouldn’t be with him. That they could be the best of friends. It made sense that then, out of all of the people that she’s in life and death situations with every single day, maybe she’d fall for another one of them. Maybe she doesn’t want to be alone but also doesn’t necessarily want to join HeroMatch.com because maybe all of those guys are Tony Stark Lite. Maybe she’d fall for the quiet and geekily handsome Bruce Banner for exactly the reasons she says in the movie. Maybe just because your business card reads “assassin turned spy” it doesn’t mean you have to be alone kicking-ass your whole life but it also doesn’t mean you should have to apologize for ANY decision you make. I guess the bottom line is this: you’re Black Widow, you do what you want to do dammit. You like who you like and you stick electric volts in the ones you don’t. Sometimes you get to use Captain America’s shield, or save the world, or sometimes you just go soak in the bath and cry. Whatever, you’re an Avenger. And the world needs you. It’s the same advice I’d give to my daughter and every other young girl, and I think it’s what the movie is trying to say, if the outcries could be a little less shouty and a little more thought through. Seriously, the anger over this is louder than a Hans Zimmer score.