Now, not everyone feels the same, and as with any blockbuster movie, there are people voicing their varying opinions, and that's cool. Tastes differ. It's impossible to make any book or movie that will please everybody, especially with a property like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But one thing caught my attention.
Superheroes and female representation are pretty much THE hot topic right now. Anyone with any love for the MCU is crying out for a Black Widow movie, and we're hyped up about Captain Marvel. So it's probably not suprising to see some backlash against Josh Whedon for some of the creative decisions on Age of Ultron,
There was some backlash, most notably on Twitter, about how Black Widow is represented, and this open letter also brings up Hawkeye's wife and the role played by former SHIELD agent Maria Hill.
To sum-up, the issues are as follows:
- Black Widow stands behind the bar making a drink (this has been read to mean she was tending bar while the boys partied)
- Black Widow wants a normal family life
- Black Widow feels that she is a monster because she can't have children
- Black Widow gets damselled
- Black Widow is only complete because she is becoming involved with Bruce Banner
- Black Widow does not want to be a superhero anymore
- Maria Hill wears tight black pants
- Maria Hill spends the movie doing administrative work for the Avengers
- Hawkeye's wife is pregnant
- Hawkeye's wife spends most of her time in the kitchen and managing his family while he's off saving the world
Okay, I'm going to address these, because I disagree with pretty much all of them. I also have a couple of thoughts to add that show Age of Ultron in a more positive light, as regards female representation and roles in movies.
- We see Black Widow make at most two drinks at the party (one for herself, and possibly one for Bruce, I can't exactly recall if he already had a drink in his hand when he approached her). They were flirting, essentially having a bit of fun as they teased around the idea that they might want to start a relationship. That's hardly a regression of gender roles, especially when it's Widow who takes the lead in all their romantic moments.
- This is never even alluded to. She likes seeing Hawkeye's kids (because she's a good friend of the family) and they were going to name their youngest after her before they found out it was a boy (because she's a good friend of the family). That someone is a close family friend (Auntie Nat) does not suggest in any way that she longs for the same.
- A misinterpretation of the scene. Widow tells Bruce that she, and all the agents she grew up with, were sterilised before going into active duty, as a precaution by their superiors. The rationale being that it removes the possibility of them caring about something more than the mission, and makes them better killers. As we know from Avengers, Widow is haunted by the lives she has taken and is on a mission of redemption. That's why she says to Bruce "You thought you were the only monster on the team?" because the people who trained her wanted her to be a perfect killing machine, and she served them obediently for years. Does she wish she could have children? Yes, possibly. But that's okay. Just as there's nothing wrong with a woman not wanting children, there's nothing at all anti-feminist about a woman who wishes she could have them. Even so, that wasn't the point of what she said. It's because she has genuine feelings for Bruce and wants to be with him, and she wants him to understand that she's on board for whatever that means, and whatever life they can have.
- This one I'll agree on. There isn't a massive amount of plot importance to Widow being captured by Ultron. The reveal of his new, vibranium-reinforced body, could have been done without an audience, and Vision, having part of Ultron's programming inside him, could have given the Avengers the location of Ultron's plan. It did give the opportunity for Bruce and Widow's "We could just disappear" scene, but while it's a nice scene, and gives a cool moment I'll talk about later, it's nothing we didn't already get from their scene at Hawkeye's home.
- Nope. Not even a little. She's still awesome. Still a badass, getting some of the best action scenes in the movie. She just finds herself attracted to a man. That is not a crime against feminism.
- I'm just going to come right out here. Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, and more bullshit. Ahem. Black Widow is one of only two original Avengers to stick around with the new team at the end of the movie. It's Bruce, not Widow, who wants to disappear and leave it all behind. Black Widow is the one who pulls him back in, to do the right thing.
- Have we still not moved past criticising women for their choice in office wear?
- Yes she does. Because that's where her experience lies. In Avengers, she got caught up in one action sequence, but that was an unexpected situation and she responded as any trained agent would. But Hill works in operations. She's not a field agent. Her best skills relate to coordinating troops and resources. It makes sense that the Avengers would employ her in that role. Feminism does not mean that all women have to have kickass fight scenes.
- See above. A woman wanting to have a family does not make her anti-feminist.
- This is not surprising. Hawkeye's background is military, special forces. Would we expect his family to all be superheroes? His wife has two children and a third on the way. Let me tell you from experience, when you've got a lot of children, you tend to stay where you can get to all the things you need with a minimum of effort. Being a busy mother is not anti-feminist.
And now my additional notes on why I think Age of Ultron has some really, really good wins for female representation.
- Hawkeye and his wife are solid. His family is never shown to be resentful at his absences. They miss him, of course, but they understand he does important work and they support that. How many superheroes can you think of who have happy home lives? Typically, we see the (usually male) hero have to live a solitary life because their (usually female) love interest just can't cope with the strain of what they do, and represents a choice between selfishness (having a happy relationship) and their Heroic Duty. This has been going on since Dido and Aeneas, guys. It is amazing to see a superhero story where a hero's romantic partner is there as a believable, grounded part of their life, not as yet another antagonistic force.
- Black Widow makes Bruce Banner cowboy up. He is the one who wants to leave thousands of innocent people to their fate, but Widow knows they need the Hulk on this, and as much as she loves Bruce, she knows he's wrong about the only choice being Lone Heroes or a Happy Couple. This is a corollary to the above point. Typically, it's the female love interest imploring the male hero to stay with them, give up the Epic Quest. It's refreshing to see that here, Black Widow is all on board with both staying to fight, and making things work with Bruce.
- The big one for me is that Age of Ultron establishes that there was never anything romantic going on between Hawkeye and Black Widow. All the time they were having their emotional scenes during Avengers, Hawkeye had his family at home. They are friends. She calls him her best friend, thanking Bruce for saving his life. We almost never see a relationship between a man and a woman that is purely platonic, from the get-go, without any sense of "it just wouldn't have worked" or "would they get together if not for X"? And we certainly never see it in action movies. The idea that heteronormative men and women can simply be friends, and not want anything more, and further, that this is a desirable and fulfilling relationship to have, is downright revolutionary in Hollywood, and Age of Ultron just snuck it right in. Brilliant.
So, anyone have any thoughts?