By: Daniel Brown
Anyone can look at the current line up of superhero films, both within the MCU and outside of it, and see that it is pretty well dominated by male protagonists. Past attempts at a female led superhero film have been very poorly received (looking at you, Elektra), and thus for a long time producers have avoided making any more attempts. But alas, the night is darkest just before the dawn, as we have a fresh slate of feminism fueled flicks just on the horizon. Marvel will be releasing Captain Marvel in 2019, who is an amazing character in the comics. And if you don’t feel like waiting, than have I got good news for you: there are already some great female led TV shows just itching to be a part of your life. There are two seasons of Agent Carter available, and one for Netflix’s Jessica Jones, the latter of which is simply fantastic (For fluidities sake, I don’t want to discuss DC Comics content too much, but it’s worth noting that next year’s Wonder Woman is looking great).
This being said, we do of course have some female superheroes on the MCU movie sidelines, most notably Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. The Russian super spy was first introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2, and has since appeared in The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Her portrayal as a typical femme fatale has been pretty opaque in all of those appearances, but her latest outing became the topic of unfortunate controversy, that may lead to something as drastic as a civil war (see what I did there?).
AoU was heavily criticized for not being as good as it’s predecessor. I beg to differ, as I thought it was superior for many reasons, which you can ask me about sometime in the event you actually care. In the film, Black Widow had some major character development (spoilers); she revealed that her past training required her to be sterilized, which made her feel like “…a monster.” Let’s touch on this point first. Essentially, people were angry that Black Widow seemed to be upset about not being able to settle down. Black Widow is an excellent stealth tactician who, while unfortunately being over sexualised in pretty well all of her appearances, is a strong female character. So the controversy is that this reveal made her character appear weaker, and it was not helped by that fact that she confided this information in her love interest; Bruce Banner aka The Hulk, a guy who transforms into an actual monster.
However, this reveal of Black Widows inner vulnerability reinforces the strong female character role. Black Widow was, in her goal to live her own life, stripped of her choice to have children; an inherently female thing. It wasn’t that she always dreamed of having a family, but rather it exposed the contradiction that lies within her; who she is and who she could have been, something she now can never change and has to live with. It’s pretty awesome that a gender specific issue was squeezed into a film that also features diabolical AI and an interplanetary hammer god.
Moreover, there was a scene near the end of the film (spoilers) that had Black Widow trapped in Ultrons secret lair. She was able to get her location to The Avengers, and it was The Hulk who came to break her out. This scene had some pretty angry fans on director Joss Whedon’s hands, as it further implied Black Widows apparent need for a man. An individual who is quite liberal about how feminist he is, the nerd king received so much backlash on social media that he deleted his twitter account (yeah, that comment earlier wasn’t just an expression).
There have been many “damsel in distress” movies before, so it’s easy to see why people were annoyed. What is important to remember, though, is that it was still fair storytelling, and it shouldn’t be looked at through these negative lens. Black Widow and The Hulk don’t have their own movies (2008’s The Incredible Hulk is canon, but due to ownership rights he won’t be getting another anytime soon). So with the many other characters stealing the spotlight, we still got to peek into the lives of two of the most complex. Both these characters have been through a lot and have some deep eternal conflict. Like it’s predecessor, AoU is a character driven film, and it did a much better job at maturing it’s characters making the story decisions that it did.