Natasha Romanoff, Monsters and Agency – Part One

[SPOILERS for Avengers: Age of Ultron below]

So, I went to see the new Avengers movie. I overall liked it. Some things I loved; some things I wish had been different. What I want to address now is how Natasha Romanoff was portrayed in Age of Ultron. Do I wish she had had more screen time? Yes. Am I still waiting for a Black Widow movie? You bet.

I have seen several people comment on how she was reduced to a damsel in distress pining over Bruce Banner. I see where these analyses come from and I don’t disagree with how some of Natasha’s role in the movie can be problematic (1), especially in how they might have been written in the first place.

Yet, I found there was much more to Natasha in this than a damsel in distress pining over Bruce Banner.

I first scratched my head when I found about the Natasha/Bruce angle. It felt weird, though reflecting on the first Avengers, I could see the reasoning behind this development, especially with how Age of Ultron hints at the time that has passed since the other movie. The way Natasha and Hulk work together for him to return to his human shape is a big testimony to it early in the movie, regardless of a romantic angle. It was clear that they must have spent a lot of time working on this. It didn’t happen overnight. So it wasn’t that different – for example – to how things had developed between Han Solo and Leia Organa at the beginning of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

To me, the most annoying thing about this romantic angle was how everyone seemed to see it and had to comment on it. This wasn’t a good idea and diminishes the subplot more than anything else. Such jokes and remarks should have been kept for a subsequent movie. (2)

Source: MCU Wiki.
Source: MCU Wiki.

Natasha’s role remained important in important sections of the movie, including all battles. And when she had been kidnapped, the rest of the group didn’t really are well in her absence, showing how division within the group, regardless of causes, provokes issues. They also didn’t seem to doubt her capabilities in standing her ground, despite heading not only to free her but also to take Ultron down. As Clint Barton expected, she also finds a way to contact them with what she can find. Of course, the fact that she was brought back basically where everything started is a bit obvious, but this doesn’t take anything away from how Natasha found a way to contact the other.

Speaking of Clint Barton, he had the damsel in distress and what can be conceived as a feminine arc in the movie. He was the one who almost died in the first fight and had to be evacuated. He is teased about his invisible girlfriend and is eventually revealed to be married with kids (which I really liked). I love his sibling relationship with Natasha and was glad that they didn’t go the romantic route for these two. Clint is invested in his family life even when he has to juggle with his Avenger’s duties. He almost gets killed a second time when reaching out to save a young boy, reacting in a very parental (or some may argue maternal) way. This behavior is also exhibited with Scarlet Witch towards the end of the movie, but not with her brother. In the end, Barton has to be rescued twice: once by his team and Doctor Helen Cho, and later by Quicksilver, who dies in the process.

So, it may be argued that if Natasha receives a damsel in distress’s treatment at times, she isn’t the only one. And even the whole damsel in distress aspect doesn’t summarize her involvement in the narrative. She remains involved, even when she might have considered fading away, along with Bruce, who is the one doing it at the end of the movie. Every time the possibility of going away is brought up, Natasha ends sticking around and continuing to serve among the Avengers, no matter what might happen. Even when the fate of the trapped city inhabitants seems sealed, she is the one saying that she doesn’t consider trying to escape. She is ready to die for what she believes in, for the life she has chosen as an Avenger, thus retaining agency. The same way, she takes lead with Steve Rogers at the end, to train the new group of Avengers, confirming that no matter what she may deal with, this is her choice to serve for the greater good.

***

(1) Don’t get me started on my reaction when I found out that one of Tony Stark’s lines had been replaced to include a rape joke with “prima noctae”. Tony Stark can be immature and a jerk, but he has nevertheless come a very long way since he was introduced in this era of Marvel movies, which is also shown by how proudly he speaks of Pepper during the party. Including this joke was not only gratuitous and hurtful towards the audience; but it was also a disservice to the character’s development.

(2) There were several other occurrences of sexist and gratuitous moments meant to be fun when they weren’t, like Bruce/Hulk face planting into Natasha’s chest. This brings nothing to the story and adds unneeded sexism, when there are other ways to have funny moments, as the movie is able to show at other moments.

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23 Comments

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  1. Okay–I’m going to be the first guy to comment here? I’m asking for it, right? I didn’t get the “prima noctae” line because I didn’t understand it during the rush of the movie, and even now as I read this article I had to do a wiki–I’m not a medievalist. I had to decide if I was offended, out of the heat of the moment, and I decided that I wasn’t–as it occurs to me, being very familiar with Whedon’s work–that putting those words in Stark’s mouth is more a matter of Stark skewering Thor’s culture as primitive and authoritarian than any sort of advocacy. In the age of trigger warnings and safe zones, the line was an unfortunate choice–but it doesn’t make me think that the guy who gave us Buffy, Faith, Zoe et. al is a sexist, not by a longshot.

    Natasha is my favorite Avenger, hands down, because she’s got everything: brains, bravery, badassery, beauty, supreme cool and fierce loyalty–and she’s mortal. In the middle of all that supernatural violence she’s one lucky bullet or knife-swipe from the abyss, yet never flinches. I read elsewhere that it was sexist to have her lament her sterilization–and that just seems stupid. Progeny is a big theme here–the creation of Ultron, and Ultron’s symbolic recreations of himself, Hawkeye’s child, the creation of the Vision–Ultron’s telling quip early on about “little people–yes, children, I get so confused”. It’s not feminine to lament the inability to express our core natural imperative, and yet she shrugs it off with little melodrama.

    As for the romance with Banner. I found it a little gratuitous, but it sort of makes sense–she’d never fall for an egotist like Stark, she’s too close to Cap and Hawkeye, and this Ruffalo-played version of Banner is utterly charming, right? Plus, they’re both sort of “damaged” in their own minds, and this: her bravery makes her the one woman who wouldn’t be afraid of The Other Guy.

    I look forward to part 2….

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    1. Thanks for your comment!

      I never bookmarked the several post I read about Whedon’s problematic and outright sexist ideas. I should hunt these down at some point. I have been disappointed though I still enjoy a lot what he created, especially since these are team creations.

      I don’t know how common or uncommon “prima noctae” is in the US/English speaking countries, since it is a Latin line but it still wasn’t needed. I wonder how it translates in other languages but the way it doesn’t in French was even more outright problematic because the expression is common enough that it is used for any man sexually harassing women in a professional environment and thinking he has the right to.

      I get into more detail about the revelations about Natasha’s past and her sterilization in the second part (which was posted today). I think that it was a poignant and interesting aspect of her overall story and it didn’t diminish her in any way.

      Agreed on how Natasha’s bravery makes her the woman not afraid of the Other Guy, in regard to her romance with Banner. The movie did a good job at showing this.

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  2. I don’t really care about the romance. Just have no particular thoughts about it despite trying to come up with some all day. I don’t think it was all that sudden/unexpected, but I didn’t ship it ahead of time either. Beyond that, I don’t think she was ever “pining.” She doesn’t waste time on that, and she doesn’t treat him different because she “adores” him (if that was even true). That’s why the relationship ends the way it does! That much was very in character.

    I really, really mind the thing about kids, and I mind more and more, but maybe that’s for part two. 😉

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    1. I focus on the romance between Bruce and Natasha, as well as the revelations about her past, in the second part indeed. 😉 She wasn’t pining at all! When I read comments like this, I blinked! I didn’t expect the romance, though realized it wasn’t that sudden and I’m glad that they didn’t go the Clint/Natasha way because I always pictured them as “brother/sister”.

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        1. Their friendship also makes what is revealed about Natasha’s past even more horrible in my view. Clint’s subplot was one of the “personal” aspects of the movie I liked best.

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  3. Great post. You make some excellent points. I enjoyed your views on Clint. I’ve always seen him as a skilled agent, but one who has no fear and jumps into the line of fire. This usually gets him into trouble! As far as Nat goes, I think at her core (as you pointed out), her loyalty is to the team and she’s an integral part of it. She’s one of my favourites. I love her strength of character. I enjoyed the romance element because it felt real – the connection. But I never thought about the others commenting on it – you’re right – it would have been better served later. I think they only added the Cap scene with Bruce because of the chemistry between Cap and Nat in the Winter Soldier. That said, a connection doesn’t have to be romantic, so I’m not sure if that scene was necessary.

    I also agree there were times when the writers went for the obvious. Like the example you used (Bruce landing on top of her). That scene would have been better served if they’d landed side by side, because the audience would have been reminded of the first movie in which Bruce totally lost it. That he didn’t ‘hulk out’ would have shown the strength of their connection, and a joke about that would have been well placed.

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    1. Thank you! I am happy to see the reception of this post! I love Natasha too and I think Scarlett is wonderful in the part. I have a difficult time picturing Cap with someone in contemporary time (though I love his chemistry with Sam Wilson and Bucky!) since I’m such a Steve/Peggy shipper! Seeing her again in the distorted vision killed me in Age of Ultron.

      Now I wish the scene between Bruce and Nat would have gone the way you describe it! It would have been perfect!

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      1. I’m totally with you on the Steve/Peggy thing! Those scenes between them in Winter Soldier made me cry, because it’s clear she’s his heart. And his relationship with Bucky is awesome. How cool is it that their friendship is so strong it broke through Bucky’s conditioning?

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        1. Oh the scenes in Winter Soldier… Excuse me while I sob for a moment. They killed me! Certain scenes in Agent Carter (yay it got renewed for season 2) were so emotional too. I can’t wait for Cap 3rd movie, but I’m already dreading the whole Civil War stuff. I prefer seeing my good guys work together to kick the bad ones, instead of having intestine conflicts.

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  4. The romance angel between Bruce and Natasha bugged my hubby, but I didn’t mind. I could have done without it, but it didn’t ruin anything for me. I’m also glad they didn’t have a romance between Natasha and Clint. I’m tired of that. Let a guy and woman be friends. They can still love each other.

    I wonder if people are too eager to reduce a woman to damsel in distress. If you’ve watched all the Marvel movies with Natasha, you know she is not one. Like you said, Ulton caught her and she basically pointed the Avengers to where she was. Clint said he was going to find her and he went to a radio because he knew she was capable of reaching him and telling him. She wasn’t sitting around useless. That’s what a damsel in distress does: be useless. (In my humble opinion.)

    Out of all the Avengers, she and Clint are the bravest. They are the most human and vulnerable with no super powers (Clint’s badass arrow skills aside) and no armor.

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    1. I was a bit surprised too but I think it makes sense and out of all the Avengers, I think that the Bruce and Natasha angle is the best that could happen. I agree that keeping Natasha and Clint as friends is great! I love seeing a beautiful friendship between a man and a woman. As you said, they can still love each other.

      Agreed on how she isn’t a damsel in distress either! She would have just done nothing and the others wouldn’t have thought she had it in her, if she had been an actual damsel in distress.

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      1. I’m kind of confused about why she was captured at all. It didn’t seem to have any relevance to (or impact on) the plot at all. What did I miss?

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        1. The only reason I could see why was that I don’t see her having accepted Vision coming to life (though they didn’t expect the person to be Vision). If it’s not for that, I don’t get why she was captured, especially since she was taken where the team already went during the movie opening. I’ve been scratching my head over this too.

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        2. Maybe it’ll be explained in the deleted scenes. I can’t get over the sheer amount of time that was cut from this movie and how short it ended up. (Especially since coworkers were talking about how it was way too long! It was barely over two hours, how in the world is that LONG?)

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  5. I love that Natasha is such a bad-ass and if there is a Black Widow movie, I would love to see Joss Whedon write it, because I really enjoy the way he writes for women. Saying that, I didn’t love the romantic angle in Ultron but if there had to be one, I’m glad it was between Banner and Natasha. Clint would have been the obvious choice but it worked how so much better with him having a hidden wife! I agree with you that he was the more maternal/damsel in distress role. But as for Natasha’s more of a secondary role in the movie this time out, I wonder if a lot of it had to do with the fact Scarlett Johansson was pregnant when they were filming, and they needed to hide that fact. Black Widow’s outfit can’t hide much!!

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    1. I didn’t remember that Johansson was pregnant during the filming! But yeah, it probably impacted how things went. I’ll delve in further detail about the romantic angle between Bruce and Natasha, as well as the revelations regarding Natasha’s past in the second part of this post. I loved Clint having a hidden family, with Fury and Natasha knowing about it. It was a cool surprise. I like a lot of things Joss Whedon did, but I have been extremely disappointed in his views on women on several occasions. I thought better of him for a long time. Yet, I’ll still continue to enjoy his TV shows and movies!

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        1. I used to think he had good intentions. By now, I am certain he has numerous extremely problematic intentions. I will continue to enjoy his work, but the more I delve into things, the more problematic things I find. I will not turn my back on enjoying TV shows and movies Whedon participated in because I remember that all of these are team works.

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