Since her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2010, Black Widow has gone through a pretty complicated journey. Portrayed by controversial actress Scarlett Johansson, she was the only female Avenger in the MCU’s first 11 films, and her motley appearances are best characterized as inconsistent.
Over the course of eight Marvel films, Black Widow has been written down as affectionate, morally ambiguous, and selfless. On other occasions, she has been taciturn but always sexualized. Other times, she’s sensitive and moron with a mean sense of humor. While the MCU is better able to characterize its heroes consistently than the DCEU, the various writers who have worked on Black Widow’s character have struggled to come to a satisfactory consensus on who she really is.
For example, it’s been hammered out that Natasha Romanoff, the woman behind the nickname, has a checkered past where she did horrible things, but for a while it’s unclear what makes her a bad person. We never saw any detail of his past and we were also told very little about it. According to “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” her biggest flaw isn’t hurting or killing innocent people, it’s not being able to have children. The movie explicitly uses this to call her a “monster” – and her alleged love interest agrees with her. It would be one thing for a character to believe negative and wrong things about themselves, but the narrative very clearly reinforces that opinion as being correct.
Speaking of romance, Black Widow and Hawkeye are hinted at in “The Avengers” (and it’s a relationship that happens in the comics), but in “Age of Ultron” it is revealed that he suddenly has a secret family. So, Black Widow naturally begins a relationship with the Hulk, the guy whose destructive alter-ego parallels Natasha’s infertility. After that Natasha uses it, then he leaves. This relationship is mentioned in a few films before being abandoned in “Infinity War”. Also in the comics, Black Widow had a relationship with the Winter Soldier, but this is only suggested in the movies. It’s a good adaptation choice, but it’s worth noting that Bucky and Natasha have parallel backgrounds – they were trained in the same location – but “Captain America: Civil War” makes it clear that the Winter Soldier is bad because of what he did while the Black Widow is bad because of who she is. The description of Black Widow’s romantic story onscreen ranges from mildly incompetent to downright offensive, and the lack of care given to this aspect of her character matches her inconsistent characterization.
Fans have been campaigning for a Black Widow movie since her debut in “Iron Man 2,” and yet when it finally happened, the lead actress was reportedly underpaid for it. Whatever your thoughts on Scarlett Johanssen, this lawsuit is important to actors around the world, because if Disney crushes the actress who was at the top of Forbes’ list of highest paid actresses in 2019, how will they deal with it? those cast and crew members who haven’t built names for themselves yet?
So after a long, long wait, the movie “Black Widow” is here. Director Cate Shortland and screenwriter Eric Pearson received a patchwork of bad character moments and created a unified, cohesive character – a treatment Black Widow has rarely seen. She was the only one to act as an adult in “Captain America: Civil War” and she was the only one on Earth to continue to lead the Avengers after the blip, a feat that “Black Widow” contextualizes with more insight. Plus, as an individual, she’s always enjoyed the Avengers as a family, even though they didn’t reciprocate; this movie tells us why she was built this way and why she supported Captain America in “Infinity War”. It gives Black Widow’s parents who loved her even though they couldn’t save her, and a sister she can be there for despite her past failures. A beautifully subtle scene shows how Natasha could have wanted a family of her own, and how she couldn’t have it – a pain her sister Yelena doesn’t share. This allowed him and Yelena to center their trauma around themselves and their growth. It makes those who taught little girls to be monster slayers, not women that these kids grew up. Repeat: The survivors are not the monsters, Joss Whedon.
The film does everything well with its character with minimal retconning. There is a clever sense of humor as well as some exciting action scenes. There is an allegory of human trafficking alongside fantastic staging and cinematography. There’s even a good script – although Eric Pearson’s audacity to think that a period joke would be okay is shocking, as is the fact that it was the actors who rewrote the joke – it presents a nice touch. story that focuses on yourself, the fellowship, and coming back for the people you left behind. It shows just how bad things desperate people can do (we finally see Black Widow doing a real bad thing!) And the value of real forgiveness over getting a free pass.
All this does not mean that this film is flawless. It’s not the best movie ever made. It’s not even the best Marvel movie ever made. But it was a great outing for the character who was the MCU’s ‘The Girl’ for a very long time. And he did his best to fix some of the “Endgame” misogyny.
In “Infinity War,” the only woman on a team of six (Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana) was thrown off a cliff and murdered by her attacker – and the tale validated that as love. In the sequel, “Endgame,” the only woman in a six-person team jumped off a cliff – when it was actually love, the account tells us that since Natasha had no children or family, his life did not matter so much. She “deserved to die”. The fact that these two important female characters were killed in exactly the same way, at the same story pace in every movie, with no fence or even really mourned, is deeply depressing.
“Endgame” doesn’t treat most of its female characters any better than that – a group of female characters standing side by side in the finale doesn’t place individual importance on or replace the character’s development or real worth.
“Black Widow” told us that was wrong – that you can’t Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V any random female character and call this development. And it said that not only did Natasha Romanoff intrinsically matter as a person, but that she had a family.
Black Widow Natasha Romanoff is definitely not the end of all female characters. But when the first female-led MCU movie was the 21st, and there were still only 2.5 (“Ant-Man and the Wasp” counting as co-leader) versus 17.5 directed by men (including 15.5 with white men by the way), Marvel is asking this movie to represent “Woman Superhero Movies” – maybe even “White Woman Superhero Movies”, because Marvel has yet to announce a project. film directed by a woman of color.
I’m not asking for a dozen more “Black Widow” movies – I want to see a lot of superhero movies about women of color, gay women, and women with different body types. I want to get to the point where a female-led superhero movie is just another entry into the superhero genre instead of the spark of a debate about the value of superhero movies. heroes led by women. I want there to be so many that they’re treated like every time DC releases another mediocre White Guy # 3 movie.
But when in the “Eternals” trailer, the characters wonder who is going to lead the Avengers “now that Captain Rogers and Iron Man are both gone”, as if Black Widow hadn’t done it herself for five years, it is clear that she is still underestimated even in the universe.
“Black Widow” was the send Black Widow deserved. Isn’t it a shame that it took them a decade to do it?
Millie Mae Healy can be contacted at [email protected]