What makes a monster: Avengers 2 and the Black Widow


A whole lot of folks are unhappy with the portrayal of Black Widow (“The Black Widow”? Hm.) in the second Avengers movie, and there are a whole lot of others insisting they just let it go. So naturally, I have to weigh in.

As a sidenote, it’s interesting to see: ““I’ve said before, when you declare yourself politically, you destroy yourself artistically,” [Joss Whedon] said.

And he’s right, obviously. People might criticize the sexist parts of, say, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD but they don’t subject Edgar Wright to the same “What a wonderful feminist/He calls himself a feminist? Ha!” rhetoric that Whedon gets. It’s the first thing people want to talk about. And many of those same people are really hot about Black Widow’s infertility and her use of the term “monster”. (spoilers)

This is a movie deeply concerned with monsters. Who counts as a monster? What makes them a monster? What do we do with them?

And it’s not just The Hulk. Ultron is a monster, too. When Maria Hill expresses disbelief that the Maximoff twins let Baron Strucker experiment on them, Cap responds with something like “What kind of monster would let a German scientist experiment on them to protect their country?” Cap sees himself as a monster, too; he even says he misses the days when he was the weirdest thing in the world.

And Stark tells Banner that the two of them are mad scientists (and monsters, too, I swear I heard it), and that’s why they should keep on doing their thing: crazy, puts-the-world-at-risk experiments.

As for Thor, he has three roles in this movie: kick ass, play comic relief, and take a shirtless dip in the Secret Swimming Hole of Plot Resolution. Still, he’s a millenia-old alien space viking with magic hammer who delights in battle. No one has to flat out say that he’s a monster.

Hawkeye is the only one of them who’s a regular guy (well, in the social circles of the Avengers, where the guy who’s an expert marksman with grenade arrows and the guy with the rocket wings are just folk). He’s got the house, the kids, and the wife who’s worried as much about the people he’s teamed up with as the enemies he fights.

And at the end, right before the final confrontation, Cap talks about proving to Ultron–and the world–that the Avengers are not monsters. Did that seem weird to anyone else? I hadn’t really thought of them that way, but it’s clearly on their minds. And how are they going to prove it? Because they’re going to do everything they can to save innocent people.

Ultron (after spending, maybe, half a second on the internet) doesn’t care about innocent people. The Hulk makes a sad face at the fleeing crowds, but in the depths of his rage, he must have killed at least a few. Stark doesn’t even consider innocent people when he goes all mad scientist with the AI in the scepter.

And Black Widow has been trained not just to disregard the safety of innocent people, she’s someone who assassinates them. In fact, the people who trained her took away her ability to have kids so she would have nothing to distract her from her role as a government killer.

If only they hadn’t put the “monster” line right next to the line about her sterility. Was that an editing mistake? Will the 3.5 hour blu-ray edition have more lines of dialog in between that edit? I can’t help but wonder who made that decision or even if they recognized how it would be received.

Also, despite everything, I’m not going to lay all these decisions at Whedon’s feet. Yeah, auteur theory says that the director is the author of the movie (which is bullshit) and Whedon is also the sole (credited) writer, but the truth is that we don’t know which creative decisions were his and which were imposed. Maybe it was Marvel who wanted a love story for Black Widow, maybe it was Feige, we can’t really know. It’s a collaborative form.

Anyway, this is a good summary of the issues people have without getting too much clickbait bullshit (I’m looking at you, Daily Beast). It’s hard to argue with any of the points here, and I’m not sure why I’d want to. It sucks that the only female member of the team (over two movies) is joking with them about picking up after the dudes like she’s their mother, and that she’s the one who chills out The Hulk with a “lullaby.” And her subplot for this film? A love story.

Me, I thought the love story was pretty great, but I recognize why others would be disappointed. All the characters kick ass, but fans of Black Widow have to watch yet another iteration of Will She Get The Boy? It’s not that it’s handled badly, because it wasn’t. It’s just that it’s a missed opportunity. Her subplot could have revolved around the “red in her ledger” and it could have made her stand out from a billion other female characters. Those few good scenes could have been great.

However, I do think it’s clear from the film itself that she’s not calling herself a monster because she can’t have kids. She’s been made into a killer, one with nothing in her life that would distract her from “the mission.” That’s why she thinks of herself as a monster: the innocent lives lost.

But hey, now the team has TWO women on it. So, you know, whoo-hoo.