Warning: The following is a super-annoyed rant about Avengers: Age of Ultron and how Joss Whedon seriously screwed over Black Widow. You should definitely read this, but there are spoilers ahead.
Let’s begin with the fact that my brand of feminism is not, “A female character can have a love interest or she can be a strong female character.” Leslie Knope has proved this, Tami Taylor has proved this — we are past the either/or years.
I love Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson). I love Natasha Romanoff like I have not loved another female movie character in years, and I want her to have a love interest. I want her to be tough, unflinching, uncompromising and unbroken. I want her to strangle lesser mortals to death with her thighs and toss off quips and spill her worst secrets onto the internet without blinking an eye. And I want her to be able to have a safe place to rest her head at the end of that, where someone puts an arm around her and says, “Ugh, superheroing is sometimes a nightmare, am I right?” and they order Chinese and watch an Orange Is the New Black marathon on Netflix. (Natasha loves Burset the way that I love Natasha.)
There is no reason she cannot have all of those things.
And that is exactly the problem with Age of Ultron. It was like Whedon sat down and decided that she could be either a person or a love interest. As if there was no way to make her both.
Look, pop culture is not created in a vacuum. We live in a sexist and racist and imperfect society, and I expect people to get it wrong occasionally. I really do; art is not created in a bubble, and I am always so very willing to give credit to the people who I can see are actively trying. But this movie? This movie made me say, “I cannot believe this man calls himself a feminist.”
In general, this was the first MCU movie where I feel like the cracks of having so many different directors and writers is finally starting to show. It has gotten so big that it’s starting to have difficulty supporting its own weight. Age of Ultron is the first movie since The Incredible Hulk to do absolutely nothing to further the franchise — it entirely ignored the events of Iron Man 3. It brushed the magnitude and significance of Natasha and Steve dismantling S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America 2 completely under the rug. Joss Whedon wanted to make a Joss Whedon movie, not an MCU movie, and one of the things he wanted was the stupid beauty and the beast trope that he’s gone back to multiple times over the course of his career. But he ignored everything about who Natasha Romanoff is to do it.
In Avengers, we saw that the most important person in the world to Natasha is Clint Barton. Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner had the easy, natural chemistry of two people that do not need to kiss for us to know that they’re in love.
In Cap 2, we watched Steve and Natasha go from being coworkers who are pretty fond of each other to two people who trust each other more than they trust anyone else on the entire planet.
Then Age of Ultron decided to completely disregard both of those things — perfectly natural and satisfying character developments — to throw Nat and Bruce together in a clumsy attempt to shoehorn in a love story. We had a love story in Avengers, and in it, Natasha was the perfect balance of badass and girlfriend. There was no need to choose. We saw her being both.
In this one, we got her acting like a sad little waif, making cow eyes at the good doctor and pleading with him to love her. We’re told that they’ve grown close over the last year, but we haven’t seen it. We don’t feel it. We’re bombarded with a parade of other characters — Steve, Tony, Clint’s dishrag wife of whom I will not speak — constantly verbally yammering about how good they are together, as though the audience will go, “Oh, well, if the characters tell me they’re good together, I guess maybe I’m watching wrong.”
I don’t believe that Bruce means more to Natasha than Clint. I don’t believe that Bruce is someone Natasha trusts more than Steve. I have been told these things, but seen no evidence of either of those things.
And I absolutely do not believe in a Natasha Romanoff that tells any man, ever, in any world, that she will walk away from a giant fight to start a new life with him. At the end of Cap 2, she tells Steve that she needs to figure out a new cover for herself, and sure, maybe she wants an exit strategy; maybe she’s ready to be done with superheroing and hang up the guns and the gauntlets. But I don’t believe she would ever hang it up right in the middle of a fight. I don’t believe she would ever plead with a man to choose her over cleaning up a mess, because that is what Natasha has always done: cleaned up messes efficiently and beautifully.
There’s red in her ledger and she wants it wiped out. This Bruce/Natasha thing wasn’t the answer.
I will never, ever forgive the fact that there is one woman on the team and I had to watch a scene where she got kidnapped and thrown into a cage that she then just kind of chilled out in until a boy came around and unlocked it for her. That’s sacrificing who she is to get another forced love moment that makes no sense if you have seen three minutes of Natasha in any other MCU installment.