(I’m always behind the curve on whatever’s cool, which is why I’m posting about The Avengers: Age of Ultron while everyone else is discussing Jurassic World.)
It’s no secret that many fans, particularly feminists, had issues with Age of Ultron when it debuted a few weeks back. Their ire centers around writer-director Joss Whedon’s treatment of Black Widow, a.k.a. “the girl Avenger.” You know, the one left out of all the marketing.
When I first read those complaints, I recalled something I noticed in the first Avengers movie back in 2012. When I mentioned it online then, I got raked over by the Whedonites, who seemed to be the SF/F equivalent of Taylor Swift’s Swifties, One Direction’s Directioners or Justin Bieber’s Beliebers: their hero could do no wrong, and they would swarm, like yellow jackets, anyone who suggested otherwise. Now, perhaps, I can talk about it at somewhat less peril, because it’s the reason the current Black Widow outrage doesn’t surprise me at all.
When Loki’s army attacks the helicarrier, Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk. The Hulk blames Black Widow and pursues her through the vessel. She only escapes when Thor intervenes, drawing the Hulk’s ire away from her. She then slides to the floor and huddles against a wall, trembling in apparent fear.
Now, keep in mind, this is a crisis on multiple levels. Loki’s forces, led by the possessed Hawkeye, are attacking. They’ve released Loki, and are determined to bring down the ship. The Hulk is on the rampage. Every hero is needed.
And Black Widow sits against the wall for six minutes of screen time.
What else happens during those six minutes?
Iron Man and Captain America plan to turn the rotors to restart the damaged engine.
Thor fights the Hulk.
Loki’s forces attack the carrier bridge.
Agent Coulson goes to the weapons locker.
Thor fights the Hulk some more.
More fighting on the carrier bridge.
A jet is sent to distract the Hulk; unfortunately for the pilot, this is successful.
The Hulk attacks the jet.
Iron Man clears debris from jammed engine rotors.
Loki’s men attack Captain America.
The possessed Hawkeye shuts down the other engines.
And only now do we cut back to Black Widow, still huddled against the wall. She has to be summoned to rejoin the fight that all her male compatriots have never left.
Six minutes—that’s 4% of the film’s running time that our lone female Avenger is completely out of the action because she’s too scared to continue.
(One of the common responses the Whedonites gave me back then was, “well, what would you do if you’d barely escaped the Hulk, smart guy?” I would no doubt be sitting in a puddle of my own pee and cry-laughing like a maniac. But then, I’m not an Avenger. Black Widow has no superpowers, no mutant abilities, nothing but skill and will; and if her will isn’t up to the task, then it legitimately begs the question, Why is she an Avenger?)
Now imagine if this had been Thor, or Iron Man, or Captain America, or even Hawkeye so traumatized by some aspect of the battle that they simply lost the ability to function. While dramatically it certainly might be more interesting, the fans would have stormed the Marvel citadel (surely they have a citadel by now, don’t they?) and demanded Joss Whedon’s head.
Instead, because it’s Joss Whedon, it’s…okay?
Except that it’s not okay, not even if Joss “Mr. Feminism” does it, which is why the current outrage surprises me only in its intensity. If Black Widow is competent enough to be an Avenger, then she shouldn’t be shown essentially having the vapors during one of the big battle scenes (or, as in Age of Ultron, be the only Avenger captured by the villain). She should shake it off just as Thor, Iron Man, Captain America or (non-possessed) Hawkeye would’ve done, and gotten back to work. That’s both feminism, and good storytelling. We’re long past the point where only “the girl” can, or should, show fear. Or be the only one who can’t stand the heat in the kitchen.
So again, it’s no surprise to me that, when tasked with finding some secret for Black Widow to reveal in Age of Ultron, it has to do with her sadness at not being able to do something traditionally feminine. When it comes down to it, Whedon has always treated her as a traditional movie female; why should be surprised?