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May 17, 2012


Regarding SJ's role in the movie, Gilbert Cruz at the Vulture clocked Natasha as the character with the third most screen time, and the most unbroken dialogue scenes of any of the six: her introductory interrogation scene (3:14); recruiting Banner in the slums (2:49); a face-off on the Helicarrier with Loki (3:30); and a conversation with Hawkeye following their fight (2:40).* So yeah, even more so you've got a case where you really have to wonder what the heck the critics are watching.

*(The next sentence is borderline fail, but what can you do?)

Bah. Stupid typepad. <q> is perfectly good markup.

"the most unbroken...fight (2:40)." Op. Cit.

Why didn't they see her? Clearly, though you seem not to have noticed, she must have been wearing a gorilla suit.

What The Avengers tells you about proper ensemble stories: Give the biggest plot to the smallest[1] characters.

Gender issues aside[2], Black Widow and Hawkeye have the most important roles in the story, and perhaps the only growth. Additionally, BW got to be the 'normal', viewpoint character. Giving perspective and letting us connect with all these larger than life folks.

I think the writers did this on purpose, because these two are the least known, least popular Avengers - without even their own movies. Flashier and better known characters will hold their own, and get drawn into anything going on.

[1] Please don't read me as dissing on Scarlett as 'smallest' here, nor women generally. Happy to discuss why if anyone wants.

[2] Although they are important. Frex I think it's no accident which of Hawkeye and Black Widow got to be the mind-controlled villain.

I read a similar piece earlier this week at IndieWire which makes a very convincing case that Black Widow is the actual hero of the movie. Which she is, when you think about it. Aside from Iron man spoiling the spoiler into the spoiler at the end, her actions are the only ones that actually affect the resolution of the threat in any significant way whatsoever. The superpowered characters could have fought invading aliens all day and all night, and it wouldn't have mattered a bit unless she did what she did.

Still, Ruffalo gets the best line in the movie.

Doctor Science, this is a great post. Thank you for doing it.

"... Black Widow repels invading aliens through the sheer force of her corsetry"

Haven't seen the movie yet, but I've gotta say that even if it that observation isn't remotely true, that's pretty good sentencery.

If they have a go at the film version of "Madame Bovary Vrs Alien" someday, I hope Lane trots that image out again.

I always want what I can't get with a minimum of effort, or rather with a maximum of inner turmoil and despair while appearing to do nothing, and a good friend the other week told me about some such that "I might as well expect Scarlett Johanssen to call me on the phone because I happen to walk around Beverly Hills".

Don't think that hasn't become the new expectation.

This ties in with this recent Harvard Business School article comparing Amazon reviewers with professional ones.

I haven't seen the movie (but I don't mind spoilers, if I did, I'd probably fail to understand most of the Japanese movies I watch), so I can't comment on the stuff related to the movie, but from the trailers, the BW fight tied to a chair seems to function as a 'prowess presenter' (I just made that phrase up, so if anyone makes any money off of it, you can send my cut here).

In most action movies, there is a preliminary fight to show just how tough and serious a character is. As such, it is not a 'real' fight, because it doesn't really draw on that character's inner strength, as it were. These kinds of fights are quite different from the more climatic fights where the hero or heroine has to make some dramatic insight to win the fight, identifying the opponent's weak point and taking advantage of it. I'm assuming that those later fights are more climatic fights.

I'm also reminded of the great scene in Iron Man 2, where Natasha and Happy Hogan, Stark's bodyguard go into capture Ivan Danko and she tells Hogan to stay in the car and he plays the gallant protector who won't let her face it alone and upon breaking in the building, have to run the gauntlet of security guys. While Happy Hogan is conducting a long drawn out fist fight with the first guard, BW basically runs the table, so at the end, when Happy says 'I got him' and looks down the hall and sees all the out of action guards that BW has left, the crestfallen expression on his face is great.

Another way to view this, she has to have multiple fight scenes because the audience is not inclined to accept her as the equal of the rest of the Avengers (and in that trailer scene where they form a circle and she puts a new clip in her pistol, I have to admit to thinking 'you brought a gun to a superhero fight?')

This isn't to totally excuse the reviewers' cluelessness you present here, but just to point out some other aspects of BW's character as it seems to have been developed.

Fantastic post -- I look forward to sending this to my 13/10 year old nephews and seeing what they think about Black Widow and the movie in general (if they saw it/see it that is).

This is awesome: Bonus Fail Points for not knowing the difference between a "Madonna bustier" and a Little Black Dress.

I was quite a fan of Black Widow in the movie. My secret hope is for a movie featuring Black Widow with the Hulk. The dynamic between the two characters was very interesting, and fill a whole movie.

Even if she were wearing some kind of corsetry, it takes a special kind of stupid to imagine that ordinary humans can actually fight while bound up like that.

So: if Black Widow can fight like that laced up, imagine how quickly she could dispose of all those movie reviewers at once were she to unlace a bit.

I can't imagine not being very much aware of Scarlett Johnsson, even if her role was limited to watching someone change a tire. Maybe that's just me.

There's something about this that bugs me: it's like a reverse of that phenomenon where a population which is 30% female is perceived as "female-dominated", and yet I think it comes from the same place.

Anyway, I loved Black Widow, and I hope they get to make a Black Widow movie.

Porlock Junior:

The "gorilla suit theory" is actually one I'm seriously considering.

That is, maybe people were paying attention to other things while watching, and then "pasted in" Black Widow's appearence & actions from the comics to cover up the gap in their memories.

It's plain to me that some kind of widespread cognitive illusion is taking place.

They be confabulating like mad hamsters in those reviews.

Phil's link to the IndieWire piece above suggests a reason why that I like. It is that when confronted with change that is happening too fast, folks tend to fall back on old understandings.

I figured out long ago that there was only one worthwhile kind of movie reviewer. Find one who always dislikes the movies you like and pans the ones you do like. (For me, it was Pauline Kael.) Then studiously avoid anything that they like, and consider only the ones that they dislike.

Which is, I suppose, another way of saying that whatever the official qualifications for a job a movie reviewer, I don't find their tastes to be particularly helpful.

At least he didn't cast Ellen Page.

A reviewer might be cautious about drawing attention to Whedon's fetish. The fact that this time he has diminished a few of the more obvious aspects (SJ is not River-size, but neither is she Jolie) might actually have served to re-eroticize something that has been de-eroticized by over-familiarity and outright parody in Sucker Punch

Incidentally, I have been interested (dispassionately, not my fetish)in this particular fantasy since John Brunner's underrated and prescient Quicksand 1966. Brunner seemed to posit the eroticization of the pubescent Urchin as ultra-violent sexual aggressor as a feature of decadently peaceful and feminist softly authoritarian societies. See:a whole lot of manga/anime.

Anyway, I considered it polite and healthful not to focus on Black Widow.

Hmmm...just realized.

Little white girl stalked and attacked by huge colored guy.

Has anybody examined Hulk as 60s racist metaphor?

Another example of women needing to do twice the work to get half the credit.

I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with your assessment. I believe the dismassal of Black Widow is not due to her being female but a function of her role and acting in the film. Black Widow plays an important part, but she is also not necessary to the film. Her role is necessary (and world saving ultimately), but nothing she does requires her specifically. Any other loyal, kickass SHIELD agent (heck even Coulson) could have done her job. Even the only "Black Widow" spy moment, the "interrogation" of Loki isn't really necessary, since it's fairly obvious the danger that Hulk poses to the helicarrier. This combined with the actress' lack of presence on screen (debatable, but I don't find her acting particularly riveting) may have lead to her dismissal in reviews. Yes, the wording is exaggerated but the sentiment behind it is understandable.

I went into the movie realizing that the writers had to justify BW and Hawkeye as Avengers material, so they were probably going to stick in some scenes to showcase each of them. Hawkeye's big scene seems to have been cut, but I expect the DVD will have a scene about his trick arrows or something.

Also, whenever there's a job that could be done by anyone, it's always BW or Hawkeye. It's never a random agent, because that wastes the opportunity. It also won't be Thor, Iron Man, or Banner, because each of them already has a justification for being an Avenger.

I had a big long comment here, but it all comes down to "I want to go see this movie again just so I can enjoy more of Black Widow kicking ass."

Black Widow plays an important part, but she is also not necessary to the film.

Strikes me as a slightly weird assessment, I thought this more about Thor/Captain America.

When it comes to smashing enemies all you need is the Hulk. It looked like nothing could hurt him in the film and he could hurt any enemy. The key is to point him in the right direction.

So an Avengers operation looks like it contains two jobs:

1.Working out what they need to do to beat the bad guys(and here BW, Banner and Stark provide the brains and intel).

2. Smash. Here all you really need is the Hulk.

Hawkeye was important only for his dynamic with BW. Thor and Cap weren't really important at all.

I didn't see the film, but the "it didn't have to be BW" seems to me that, even if correct, it doesn't require any sort of disagreement with Doc Sci's post. The main problem being pointed out is that reviewers didn't seem to notice what happened in the film. Whether or not what happened required BW, specifically, to do what she did, she still did those things, and people somehow failed to notice (going by what Doc Sci wrote about the film).

Another potential problem with the "it didn't have to be BW" formulation is that it might hold true for any given single action she took, but that only someone as extraordinary as she could have done all of them. It may not simply be about unique or overpowering physical ability. It may also be about courage and foresight.

You could argue that none of the characters were needed. They could have simply written a movie about a single superhero, sort of like Superman, only without any weaknesses whatsoever, perhaps with even greater powers than Superman, who could have just done everything necessary, without being subject to any limits of time and space. So what?

To my point on the totality of BW's actions, I'd add that Joe Montana was one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, but he never did anything physically extraordiary on any given play. He wasn't fast. He wasn't strong. He didn't have a great arm. He just did what he had to to win over and over again without succumbing to the pressure of the situations he was in. He was smart, confident, a good leader, and he didn't screw up. By NFL standards, his physical abilities were more or less average. He was great none the less.

But, again, I didn't see the film, so I may be talking from that which rests on my chair.

That specific sub-discussion reminds me of the old joke about an economist trying to make a symphony orchestra more cost-efficient. All redundancies are removed, e.g. only two violins remain. Also some instruments rarely or never play at the same time, so a single player could do them. And for recordings a single generalist can record all voices separately and mix them together afterwards.
Not a joke: Hollywood operated that way occasionally. Max Steiner's famous score for King Kong was recorded with some musicians having to play four different instruments (and the score got orchestrated with that necessity in mind).
In 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' (Ealing not Hollywood) Alec Guinness played 8 roles (male and female) and on one occasion all of them in the same scene.
So, even if for unknown reason one superhero is not enough, there is no need to hire a whole bunch of actors. And with modern technology it should pose no problem to even have them fighting themselves, so the villain cast could also be done without more guys/gals.
It's all blue/greenscreen anyway, so record the performences of one female and one male actor, each playing all roles, then put them in the otherwise recorded/composed background and leave the viewers the choice. Or even better, project the one version for the right, the other for the left eye, so viewers can switch between them anytime by closing one or the other. Reviews can be sorted into left eye and right eye too.

I noticed the same thing about the reviews; that though SJ carries the movie emotionally in several scenes (allowing us to better understand both the Hulk and Hawkeye's identity struggles, for just one thing), many of the reviewers seemed to dismiss her altogether.

I'd point out, though, that your comic book illustration of BW used above is actually one based on her appearance in Iron Man 2, so circling back to movies again. Her more typical look in comics involves straight hair and even a little hair-bump, sixties-style. But it begs the question: would she made more of an impact on male reviewers had she kept her long sexy perm rather than the more efficient and no-nonsense flip?

I went to see this film with a huge (male) comicbook geek. He also suffers from strong-female-lead blindness, but when we came out the first thing he said was "Did you see BW?" I was expecting him to talk about her costume, but instead he told me about that scene in Charlie's Angels when Drew Barrymore is tied to a chair and tells the bad guys that she's gonna beat them up "and then moonwalk out of here".
BW's first scene in the warehouse reminded him of that, the first action movie he ever saw where girls got to be badass and that conection kept him focused on her in every fight.
So there was purpose to that first scene, because I made that connection too. And whenever I mention it to people they know exactly what I mean. We needed BW to be reminded that we aren't just the sidestory in big movies. And it's a shame that it still shocks us to see characters like her on our screens.

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