There’ve been a few articles floating around examining Black Widow’s character, emotions, and reactions. This post will take a closer look at that topic, plus why Hawkeye gets enslaved, thoughts on Agent Coulson, and more.
NOTE: SPOILERS FOLLOW
If you haven’t seen the Avengers yet, well… What are you waiting on? Also note that my opinions below are from the movie only, not based on the comics at all.
Black Widow vs. Loki and the Hulk
Jim Hines wonders if maybe the Black Widow’s portrayal in the movie isn’t a little sexist, though he seems to come to the conclusion that it’s not. The Atlantic thinks that Black Widow’s reaction to the Hulk chasing her is symbolic of “unchecked male rage that so often victimizes women,” which is blown way out of proportion.
After reading a lot of the comments on both, it seems to me that the Black Widow’s portrayal is remarkably even-keeled considering this is a comic book movie, where female characters are often little more than damsels in distress (see Superman, Spider-Man, and so on). In fact, I think the best write-up I’ve seen on Black Widow’s character is over at IndieWire: Black Widow Spins Webs Around THE AVENGERS.
Loki’s vehement verbal attack on Black Widow ending in “you mewling quim” contained some strong language that one might call… female-specific. Upon first watching the movie, I didn’t realize what modern-day four-letter word “quim” is most similar to in meaning, but now that I do, what surprises me most is that it made it into a PG-13 movie!
Does his name-calling make this a sexist movie? C’mon. Loki is trying to make his attack as personal and as hurtful to her as he can. His plan is to get Dr. Banner to Hulk out, but if he can emotionally cripple one of the other heroes, so much the better.
As Captain America and Iron Man later discuss, Loki wants this personal. Which is completely in keeping with the Loki-BW scene along with many others.”Will you ever not fall for that?” Loki asks after tricking Thor into the cage… and he later tricks Thor again with “sentiment” atop Stark Tower. Putting the device on Stark’s tower of triumph is meant to be a personal attack on Iron Man, a blow to his massive ego. He calls the Hulk a beast, which doesn’t turn out so well, but the point is, all his attacks are personal, striking at whatever point he thinks is most vulnerable.
On to another point of contention… The Black Widow is shell-shocked for a couple minutes after being chased around by the Hulk. No way! Pretty sure that any human would gratefully pause to count his or her fingers and toes after an encounter with the Hulk.Clearly it’s not because she’s female that she fears the giant monster. Unlike Iron Man and Thor, there’s no way she could stand up to the Hulk’s might. If Hawkeye were in her position, I imagine he would have been in much the same shocked mindset when Thor finally pulled the Hulk’s aggro.
So, all in all, I think the Black Widow’s reactions were entirely in keeping with her character and the events in the movie. Plus — bonus! — she’s not standing in the ridiculous and all-too-common sexist T&A pose on the movie poster! And if there were a damsel in distress in The Avengers… well, it’s clearly Hawkeye.
Hawkeye as Damsel in Distress
Which brings me to my next topic. As a writer, I’m intrigued by that entire plotline. Why did the Joss Whedon (and Zak Penn) send Hawkeye over to the dark side? As Indiewire mentions, this relegates Hawkeye to the sidelines compared to all the other Avengers. We don’t really get a chance to get to know him.
What was gained by having Loki mind-control him instead of any of the other characters (for instance, Fury himself)? Or, why mind-control anyone besides the scientist? Was it just because they wanted to better set up the scene where Black Widow figures out that Loki’s plan involves Dr. Banner?
The only other explanation I can think of (without knowing much about Hawkeye) is that it was another example of Loki attacking someone at their weakest point. “You have heart,” he says before he takes over Hawkeye. Though I think mind-controlling Fury would have been just as personally devastating to that character, it would have lacked the emotional connection to any of the other Avengers.I can’t wait for a behind-the-scenes commentary from Joss Whedon, further explaining all this.
The only other thing that bothered me, as a writer, was not getting to see the Hulk’s full transition from werewolf-style out-of-control violence that even he himself dreads, to raging-yet-in-control Hulk. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t a good point for a scene showing him learning to gain control.
The Real Heroes
I was somehow not surprised at Agent Coulson’s sacrifice. Maybe it’s the little writer demon sitting on my shoulder, muttering in my ear while I’m watching or reading anything these days. Maybe it’s familiarity with Whedon’s style, but somebody had to die. However, the usual reason minor characters die is so that the main characters seem to be in greater jeopardy.
Unfortunately, most of that was negated by the incredibly obvious nuclear missile scene. Perhaps if Iron Man would have gotten through to Potts, I would have believed he might be facing his death. But the comic cut-away where we see Potts missing his call makes it hard to believe he’ll actually die. (That and, we know there’s an Iron Man 3…)
(Which leads to one of the only other holes that can be poked in this magnificent film: Where was Iron Man’s sidekick and pal from Iron Man 2?)
The real purpose of Agent Coulson‘s death seems to be that he knew the Avengers needed a martyr to pull themselves together. I didn’t understand what he was telling Fury as he lay there bleeding, but when Fury breaks out the deck of cards (the melodrama made me cringe a little), it’s clearer. That’s what elevates Agent Coulson’s sacrifice and makes him one of the true heroes of the movie — he knew he was the catalyst.
And that’s also what’s endearing about Hawkeye and the Black Widow — they too are human. We don’t get to see as much of it from him compared to her, but one example is when Hawkeye rappels down the building and lands inside, he doesn’t tuck and gracefully roll to his feet. He lands in a heap, just as you would if you had to make a hurried retreat off a roof with nothing but one little rappel line.
They’re also the only ones besides Captain America we see stopping to help civilians. And when you think about it, Hawkeye and Black Widow are the bravest of the heroes, since they have little to no protection or special abilities. (Surely they could have boosted their survivability a little?)
Thor and Iron Man can blast things and fly away if need be, and all four of them — Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk — have shields, armor, or can take a beating.
Despite their lack of superpowers, Hawkeye and Black Widow fight anyway. Along with Agent Coulson, whose sacrifice hardened everyone’s resolve and strengthened their ability to work as a team, these two human members of the team are the real heroes in a movie full of superhumans.
(And as noted in the comments below… The police officers are also the real heroes in NYC in this movie!)
Other Points of Interest
Everyone involved in this movie must be very excited both at how well it turned out and how much recognition it’s getting. I definitely agree with this fan’s assessment on Twitter:
I am back…and I haven’t been this excited after a movie since…well I don’t remember…Avengers was flawlessly good.
— Nick R. Kupila (@Metaldragon27) May 5, 2012
- Check out which Avengers get the most screentime in the movie.
- At the time of this post, The Avengers had broken 25 box office records.
- Joss Whedon fans at Whedonesque take issue with the Atlantic article as well.
- Also see my follow-up post, Agent Coulson Lives!