Reviews of Age of Ultron have been going up and one consistent theme across many of them is the “problematic” nature of Black Widow’s character arc. The general consensus seems to be that Black Widow, the bad ass female hero on a team of men, was devalued by forcing her into a relationship and making her goals “let’s be a couple” and it’s all Joss Whedon’s fault.
As a feminist myself, I find a lot of this over simplification and anger at the movie to be kinda misguided. I haven’t been seeing my viewpoints talked about much at all, which is where this journal comes into play. So here’s why, in my opinion, the subplot for Black Widow isn’t as bad as you may think.
1. First off I want to address the growing complaints that Black Widow is somehow “weaker” for wanting to have a normal life. I think that’s a really problematic mindset to have in regards to feminism. You see, in our American society there are a lot of gender coded tropes and beliefs. Sometimes these gender codes are so ubiquitous we don’t even realize they’re there. Moviebob did a whole video called “Pink is not the problem” where he elaborates on this concept in greater detail, but the gist of it is “girly things aren’t evil.”
Often when we look at bad-ass female characters they are exhibiting positive gender coded male traits. Strength. Bravery. Stoicism. Emotionless. On the flip side, a lot of villains are gender coded female. They’re emotional. Flowery. Exhibit feminine leanings (even in men). And it’s EVERYWHERE. Katness vs the people of The Capitol. James Bond vs Raoul Silva. Leonidas vs Xerxes. Batman vs the Joker. Etc.
So I think it’s dangerous to have people complaining that wanting a normal life, or even motherhood, is “reductive” or “bad.” Motherhood is not evil. You can still be a bad ass woman AND be a mother. Emotions do not make you weak. Wanting normality in your life is not bad. So if you’re criticizing Black Widow for that reason, maybe rethink how you’re phrasing it because it’s coming across as yet another example of how gender coded male tropes are GOOD and gender coded female tropes are BAD. Not very feminist in my opinion...
2. The next bit I want to address is the awkward nature of Natasha and Bruce’s love. In fact, I think it’s SUPPOSE to be awkward. If you’ll notice, in nearly every single scene it’s Natasha who forces it on Bruce. I think at this point in the story Natasha is looking to right the wrongs of the past. She’s never let ANYONE get close to her her whole LIFE. She was designed, through the backstory we got, to be a trained killer and even not ALLOWED to have kids or settle down. I think anyone who’s trying to repair their life after so much trauma would, at some point, WANT to be close to someone and WANT to try and have a semblance of a normal life eventually.
The problem is that Natasha is committing the sin of not imagining others complexly. She sees Bruce struggling with his own fears and problems and she identifies with him. She thinks that because they’re both damaged that it’s ok and that maybe THAT is a foundation from which to start a relationship. (SPOILERS: it’s not!)
Throughout the whole film we see Natasha basically coming on to Bruce and even Bruce being taken aback and confused by this. He doesn’t look like he really wants it at all. Trust for BOTH OF THEM is difficult. And one of the things a relationship needs in a strong foundation in trust.
So I don’t see this whole Black Widow thing as being problematic in the ways a lot of other people are suggesting it is. I see it as another stepping stone in her continued character development.... which brings us to the last point...
3. One of the WEIRDEST things to me is how people seem to want Natasha to not grow... in a film franchise entirely ABOUT growing and evolving. Remember, this is not the first time we’ve met Black Widow. We’ve been following her character development through several films. And it seems to me a lot of people are ignoring this timeline of events when complaining about her in Age of Ultron.
Remember, the last time we saw her she just realized her entire life of trying to correct her mistakes as a Russian Assassin through joining SHIELD... was a lie. She was actually working for Hydra because “The Winter Soldier” happened. She spends the greater half of “Winter Soldier” going through a character arc of realizing the way she’s been living hasn’t been healthy. Extrapolate from that then: What’s the next logical path to her continued character growth? Most likely it would be trying to right her wrongs and find some semblance of normality to regain the things she’s lost as a person.
Sounds an awful lot like the Black Widow we got in Age of Ultron, if you ask me....
But people don’t seem to WANT her to grow. They’ve spent the past several movies DEMANDING she get more character and growth and to have her be less of a background character... to saying “no, we just want her to kick ass” in Age of Ultron. That’s... weird to me. I mean, she still DOES kick ass... but she’s just a more complex character now too. Is that wrong? Why is it ok for Iron Man to make mistakes based on his fear of failure and likely lingering PTSD, but wrong for Black Widow to also make mistakes based on her fears and failures? How does that make her LESS of a strong character?
4. I’m not gonna say that Black Widow’s character was handled perfectly in Age of Ultron. That’s up to you to decide. I would, however, like to have people take a step back and look at these movies on a wider scope and realize that the Black Widow in Age of Ultron ISN’T the same as the Black Widow in The Avengers because character development has happened to her through OTHER films (most notably Winter Solider). Pretty much EVERYTHING about Age of Ultron was setting up character development for stuff coming down the road and growing the universe and plots and developing naturally the way stories SHOULD develop naturally... and it just feels odd to me that people DON’T want Black Widow to do so too.
Just one feminist’s opinion.
Listening to: Stronger Than You (feat Estelle)
Watching: Steven Universe
Playing: Marvel Puzzle Quest
Eating: Some sort of food like substance.
Drinking: Decaf. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.