I saw Age of Ultron last Wednesday, and I loved it a lot. I’m a fan of Marvel movies in general—Joss Whedon is an incredible writer—but I think this one may have been my favourite thus far. I’m not going to talk too much about the movie, though. I’m just going to say that my feelings went on a serious rollercoaster while watching it and give you three gifs to explain my emotions:
And now that that’s over, it’s time to move on to the issue I’d like to talk about: the relationship between the Black Widow and the Hulk (aka Brutasha). I didn’t know this until after I saw the movie and went on the Brutasha tumblr tag, but apparently, some people are of the opinion that Black Widow’s relationship with the Hulk makes her weak. It’s Joss Whedon taking away from the only strong female lead in the Avengers. Falling in love with Bruce Banner makes Natasha less strong and less badass, they say. Apparently, Joss Whedon is even getting hate and death threats for this. (Seriously? Death threats? Do you guys really think that’s going to make things better?)
Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a great post about this for the Washington Post, and Mark Ruffalo (bless him) had an amazing response to someone’s question on how he felt about the criticism Joss Whedon was getting regarding Black Widow. And I’d like to further their points here, but be warned: there be spoilers below.
I’ve written about women not needing to be single to be strong before. Being in love does not mean that a female character is weak; if anything, it makes them stronger because it makes them more human. And that’s the thing about the Black Widow—I love her to pieces, but at least in the first part of the first Avengers movie (and admittedly, I haven’t seen Iron Man 2 or Captain America: The Winter Soldier), she seemed almost too flawless. Too perfect. Some of that went away, what with her desperation to save Hawkeye from Loki, but she still seemed a little too awesome to be real. Yes, she was/is awesome, and yes, she’s a strong female character, but she still seemed to be more of a god than a human being like the rest of us. And in Age of Ultron, she became a lot more human. Her character was explored more, and part of that was due to her relationship with Banner.
First, we see her worry when Hawkeye is shot. Then we see that she’s a little wary of the Hulk when she’s doing the lullaby. That’s something, because she’s not exactly afraid—she seems to know that Banner wouldn’t hurt her—just a little cautious. Then we see her decline to try and lift Mjølnir, Thor’s hammer, at the party at the Avengers tower.
“That’s not a question I need answered.”
Maybe I’m reaching a little, but that seems like both Natasha and Banner think that they’re not worthy enough to pick it up so they’re not even going to try. Natasha herself says in the first Avengers movie that she’s “got blood in her ledger”, and regardless of the fact that he couldn’t pick up Mjølnir in the first movie, Banner spends most of Age of Ultron hating himself for the incident in South Africa and thinking he’s a monster. Guilt and self-hatred is something him and Natasha share to some degree.
And then there’s that scene at the bar during the party, when Natasha and Banner are flirting. After the “a fella done me wrong” line, Natasha tells Banner,
“Well, he’s not so bad. He’s got a temper, but deep down he’s all fluff. Fact is, he’s not like anyone I’ve ever known. All my friends are fighters, but this guy spends his time avoiding fights because he knows he’ll win.”
Maybe I’m reaching again, but it seems like the Black Widow is getting a little tired of all the fighting. Remember that she’s a spy, not a soldier. Yes, she can fight, and yes, she’s very capable at defending herself, but that’s not what she was trained to do. And frankly, after the War for Earth and the war against Ultron and all those missions in between, I’d be a little sick of all the fighting too—and that’s not even considering the emotional aspect of it.
She and Banner are opposites in this respect. While Banner hates fighting because he “knows he’ll win”, I think Natasha is getting sick of fighting because she’s not sure she will—or her friends will. Natasha may seem cool and collected sometimes, but she has a big heart for the people she cares about, and you can see it a lot more in Age of Ultron—especially when we see her as “Auntie Nat” with Hawkeye’s children. And that part brings us to what seems to be the crux of the feminist arguments against Natasha and Banner: their discussion of sterility.
At Hawkeye’s farm, when Natasha and Banner are sharing a room, Banner blurts out that he “can’t have any of this” because the radiation made him sterile. Natasha, in turn, responds by saying that she can’t have kids either because her graduation ceremony in the Red Room included sterilization. Some feminists are saying that this conversation is misogynistic because Natasha shouldn’t automatically want to have kids just because she’s a woman.
Alyssa Rosenberg summed it up pretty well by saying that Banner only mentioned his being sterile because he saw how she was with Hawkeye’s children. Seeing her in her role of Auntie Nat, swinging one of Hawkeye’s children up on her hip and leaning down to whisper to Laura’s belly, shows a maternal side of Natasha that we—and Banner—haven’t seen before. And especially after we know that Natasha is incapable of having children of her own, it puts her in a much more vulnerable light—which, again, does not make her weak, just more human and real. So yes, Banner brings it up, but it’s not because Nat’s a woman—it’s because Banner saw the relationship she had with Hawkeye’s children and felt insecure because he can’t provide that for her. Once again, because Banner’s basically the Remus Lupin of the Marvel universe, he’s trying to convince Natasha that he’s no good for her. In his mind, he’s trying to put her first.
And I can’t make a post about Brutasha without mentioning the scene after Banner comes to get Natasha out of Ultron’s prison cell. She kisses him, says “I adore you,” and then pushes him off the ledge.
“But I need the Other Guy.”
I love this because it is Natasha putting her job before her love life. And Banner doesn’t hold that against her. He knows that’s what she had to do to help fight in the war. Natasha is not blinded by love; she loves Banner, but she knows what she needs to do and does it.
And after the fight is over, yes, Natasha is sad when Bruce takes the Quinjet and runs away to somewhere where he can’t hurt anyone. But that is normal. She cares about him, and clearly, she thought he might be able to get over his crippling self-hatred. She probably even thought they could maybe be together. But then Banner does the thing and leaves, and she knows that she might never even see him again. And that would kinda suck.
Here’s the other thing: even if you don’t like/ship Natasha and Banner, you don’t have to crap on Joss Whedon for it. He’s created some of the most famous strong female characters—he wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and turned Maria Hill and Melinda May and the Scarlett Witch and Agent Freaking Carter into Strong Women Role Models. And yes, maybe there’s still room for improvement in the ratio of male superheroes to female superheroes, but Joss Whedon has done a whole lot for female superheroes and the girls who watch them. As Mark Ruffalo points out in his response (linked above), male superheroes can have love lives and be weak or strong and no one says anything, but because there aren’t as many female superheroes, we’re more protective of them. And to some extent, that’s okay. But to the extent of actually sending Joss Whedon hate to the point where he deactivates his twitter to get to a “quieter place” is not okay. Remember that these characters come from comic books—not Joss Whedon’s imagination—and though he’s tinkering with them, he’s not creating too many new ones. He has to work with what he’s already got. You can have your opinions on Brutasha, regardless of whether they’re positive or negative, but for the love of God, don’t go after Joss Whedon for it.
(And also, for those of you who really want a Marvel movie with a female superhero as the main character, I suggest you read this article on new developments for the Captain Marvel movie. Thoroughly, because it mentions that writers have been hired for a Black Widow solo movie (!!!))