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Avengers Redux: The Women of “Avengers Assemble!”

I can’t promise this is going to be what we call a “critical review.” None of us are here for a critical review, anyway. You’re here because, whether or not you know it yet, Avengers Assemble! is SO FUCKING AWESOME and everyone should see it. I’ve seen it twice already and I’m going again next week.

So I won’t spend a lot of time on the plot or the main character conflicts or anything, because, seriously, I don’t want to spoil even a little bit of the film for anyone. (Note: If you find yourself getting confused about any of these characters, you might want to refer back to the first Avengers article.) I will say that Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk is really excellent, especially seeing as he is now the third man in three movies to play the character. Captain America (who, as you may recall, was frozen in 1943 and only recently thawed out) is written as hilariously retro, calling people “son” and getting confused when references to things like Stephen Hawking crop up.

I also do have to mention Tom Hiddleston here. He plays the main baddie: Loki, the Norse god of mischief and chaos, and brother to Thor. Hiddleston is given difficult dialogue – the language is archaic and often rather stilted – and a thoroughly unsympathetic character to work with, and he goddamn nails it. I could watch him chew scenery for hours. Even his smile is unsettling, like an angry shark.

I kept wondering if his first name is actually Bruce.

At one point he spits an insult at Black Widow that is so Shakespeareanly filthy, my pals and I still can’t figure out how it got past the censors. Performance-wise, Hiddleston is the best thing about this film – he trained at RADA and is next appearing in the film of Henry IV as Prince Hal, and that extensive theatre experience really shows. He’s just so good at what he does, it’s a wonderful thing to watch.

ANYWAY. On to the feminism!

Before we look at the characters, let’s give a little shout-out to the director and writer, Joss Whedon. This is the dude who gave us characters like Buffy, Zoe and Inara, and who unleashed this piece of awesome on the world:

Ok, so maybe he always murders everyone you love in any given TV show, but at least he does it fairly equally. Under Whedon’s direction, the women in Avengers Assemble!, even though there aren’t that many of them, have their own agency. Time and again we see them working next to men, doing all the things the guys are doing: searching for the bad guys, flying fighter jets, shooting guns. Out of four “members of the board” that Nick Fury reports to, one is female (and British! I thought for a second that they’d brought Peggy Carter back from the dead, but it was only Jenny Agutter).

Unfortunately, the fact remains that there just aren’t that many named women in this film, period. Bruce Banner’s girl Betty is never mentioned, I assume in a bid to erase the previous film from everyone’s memory. Jane Foster is seen only in a grainy .jpg file that Agent Coulson shows to Thor to prove that she’s safe. (Thor doesn’t understand how computers work, so he’s easily satisfied.) Pepper appears briefly at the beginning and end of the film; her character hasn’t really changed at all, although she does seem a lot more relaxed. Maybe Tony drugged her or something.

So the two women left to talk about are Black Widow and Maria Hill.

Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill

Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders)

S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Hill is commander Nick Fury’s right hand. Actually, she’s more like his conjoined twin – because rarely, if ever, does she leave his side. Together they run the big fancy hovercraft that S.H.I.E.L.D. operates from  – and since Fury is so often tasked with yelling at his mismatched crew of heroes or firing rockets at planes, Hill appears to be running the show from her second-in-command perch quite competently.

There are little quirks about her presentation that are irksome, however. In the first ten minutes of the film, for example, she single-handedly attempts to corral the bad guys in a high-speed jeep chase, and comes pretty close. That on its own is pretty badass; I doubt I could drive and fire a gun at the same time. If you get a look at her shoes later, though, they’re these idiotic black wedges that, as every woman knows, you CANNOT DRIVE IN. Similarly, while all the other S.H.I.E.L.D. women wear knee-length skirts, Maria gets a jumpsuit. This does allow her to vault feet first through the window of a car, but I get the sneaking suspicion that it’s more because Cobie Smulders has nice legs.

Lastly, there’s the acting. It is… not so good. Apparently Cobie over there is a comedienne from How I Met Your Mother; in this, her first action role, she makes the mistake of confusing “serious” with “humourless.” The face in the image to the left is really the only face she makes. She never smiles, she never gets flustered. She might as well be a robot. Maria Hill may be just a damn good agent, but I sort of wish they’d gotten someone a little older, a little less standard-issue movie gorgeous, a little more characterful to play her.

And then there was…

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.

Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)

Warning: these next few paragraphs are very spoilery.

The first scene with Black Widow in it comes directly after the opening credits. She’s tied to a chair in a warehouse in Moscow, being menaced by three goons. Finally, just as they’re about to pull out her teeth with pliers – one of the heavies’ phones rings. It’s Agent Coulson, and he wants Agent Romanoff to come in. It’s her rescue – they’ve got guns trained on the building, she can walk out unharmed!

“Are you kidding?” she hisses into the phone. “I’m working.”

I won’t tell you what happens next, but three out of the four people in that warehouse get their noses broken. At least.

Okay, you can all come back now.

Right from the start of the film, it’s established that Romanoff is not the T&A type of superlady we may be used to watching or reading about. So okay, yes, she wears a catsuit. But so does Captain America, and frankly his is a lot tighter. Romanoff is going to do things her way, and her way is the tough way. She doesn’t want your help – she doesn’t need your help. And if you expect her to roll over and get all emotional once you pull out all your big guns – think again. There’s a scene in which she out-lies Loki, and that is his actual superpower: lying.

Here’s my actual favourite thing about Avengers Assemble!: Black Widow and another one of the Avengers, Hawkeye, are best friends. That’s it. They’re buddies. Nobody kisses anybody. No one talks about feelings. There are no long deep glances. They’ve got each other’s backs, and that’s as far as it goes. When was the last time you saw a film with a real honest-to-god inter-sex friendship, when neither party was secretly trying to bang the other? And yet, here in the middle of this incredible testosterone party of a film, here is a man and a woman who genuinely care about each other in a completely non-sexual way. KUDOS, WHEDON. KUDOS, I SAY.

I’ll leave you with two amazing pieces of fan art for the film. One is a righteous take on the marketing of the film, which sadly is just as sexist as ever:

Artist: kevinbolk.deviantart.com

The other is maybe the best thing the Internet has shared with me all week, a lovely tribute to the recently dead Maurice Sendak (click to see the whole thing):

Artist: agarthanguide.deviantart.com

SO. Go see this film! And then come back here and tell me what you think. At this point I have a terminal addiction to the Avengers, and I doubt that will change any time soon. Especially if they keep casting Tom Hiddleston.

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Dr. Song

Dr Song is an archaeologist, in exile from the great state of Maine. Her life motto is "Hold fast." Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dr__song

36 thoughts on “Avengers Redux: The Women of “Avengers Assemble!””

  1. What I adore about the way Whedon portrayed Black Widow is that he had her play with others’ preconceived notions of her gender and exploit that for her own ends.  The first scene, where she’s tied to a chair, she’s all quivering “you think I’m pretty?” while the three goons are lording it over her, not realizing they already told her most of what she needed to find out.

    And then that scene with Loki, where he thinks he’s gotten into her head and shown her what a weak, puny mortal she is etc, and ends up telling her what his game plan was coming onto the helicarrier. “thanks for your cooperation”.

    And there’s a moment where she barely survives a confrontation with a superpowered being (trying not to spoil!) that I think was important for showing the power differential between Black Widow and Hawkeye and other non-powered beings compared to say Thor, Hulk, or even Captain America. What Black Widow and Hawkeye do as a part of the Avengers, they must do through their own cleverness, training, and merit.

    OH and Tom Hiddleston? I want to make fondue with that guy! I’ve found three audio clips of him reading a Shakespeare sonnet, an Andrew Marvell poem, and one of Lord Byron’s poems…his voice and diction leaves me as a puddle on the floor.  Bb has talent.

  2. So, I saw the Avengers having only seen Iron Man previously. And my comic interests are planted firmly in Hellboy and X-Men. I rarely diverge. I just had a vague understanding of all the Avenger backstories. With that, I was basically a Newbie.

    HOT SHIT. This movie is perfect. PERFECT. Friend and I saw it and we are HUGE Whedon fans. There were points when the dialogue has us going, “Oh, Whedon, you sly bastard.”

    And we discussed the ladies and their noncomicbooklike costumes. The only time Black Widow had cleavage was when it was part of her costume while seducing the bad guys at the very beginning (and even then, the seducing part was over and we had moved onto the ass kicking). …Though Friend noted a heavy amount of film time was devoted to her ass. Cobie also looked totally bitchen and ready to kick ass in an outfit without the painted on quality that many artists are fond of.

    We also concluded that Chris Evans needs to wear more sweatpants all the time. (And I secretly decided that I 1. want Chris Evans’ ass and 2. want to have an ass like Chris Evans)

    Those are just some highlights of my love for the movie. I tried to think of parts I didn’t like, things that could have been changed to make the movie better, and I didn’t really have any ideas.

    To conclude, I want the kind of love Black Widow and Hawkeye have. They are a team, they are friends, they beat each other up when necessary, and can eat quietly together with comfortable silence. (you will want to stay for the end of the credits, ps, don’t expect an ending like Napoleon Dynamite but still, stay.)

      1. The only problem with the ass closeups was that I noticed in the Black Widow/Loki scene that hers was lit from below and then I started picturing the random crew member sitting behind her with a reflector. Being on the lighting crew in college ruins things sometimes; I couldn’t stop laughing.

  3. That scene with Loki and Black Widow was utterly brilliant. And I’m glad people here appreciates how great Loki/Tom Hiddleston was- most of my RL friends are like ‘what, Loki, eew,” when I mention that he was one of the highlights of the movie for me.

    I didn’t know anything about the actress or the character of Maria Hill, but I appreciate that they had a woman playing a solid, unflappable soldier. It was one-dimensional, but at least the one dimension was a decent one. And Black Widow was so cool- I saw a lot of doubting online before the movie came out that she’d be able to hold up against her super-powered teammates. That ended up not being the case at all- yeah, she only has little guns instead of big powers, but she was really smart and skillful and made a huge difference.

     

    ETA: This makes me happy: http://insidemovies.ew.com/2012/05/10/the-avengers-sequel-should-another-female-join-the-superhero-squad/.

    1. The fact that she could get shit done with a little gun made her seem so much more BAD ASS than the other guys. She has a 9mm? Oh, it’s cool, she’s still gonna get shit done.

      (she also seemed to have some of the best lines, delivery of the whole lot.)

      She was my favorite part of the whole damn thing.

    1. No one in my theater got it. Maybe it’s all the time I spent in college being beaten over the head with Chaucer and his contemporaries, but I had a little moment like, “Oh my god, did he really just say that?”

  4. 1) Is it actually called “Avengers Assemble” in other parts of the world? I am curious because it’s just “The Avengers” in the US, and I hadn’t heard that!

    2) I was very disappointed with Maria Hill in the movie, for a lot of different reasons. I like the character and thought she wasn’t really given that much to do. I think Cobie Smulders is one of the highlights of HIMYM, and she did not do the greatest job in this role. But mostly I was pretty upset because even though I knew Smulders was in the movie, I didn’t realize that she was supposed to be playing Hill until I actually went to see it.  Maria Hill is a woman of color in the animated series, and that’s some pretty serious whitewashing going on.

    3) The movie poster may have not been about BUTTS BUTTS BUTTS but the film itself was! No complaints from me.

    1. This was a wrinkle I was not previously aware of – that Hill was a WOC. Then again, Nick Fury has always been white in the Marvel universe before, at one point being played by the trainwreck of kitsch that is David Hasselhoff.

      1. To be entirely fair, Maria Hill was an ambiguously (seriously, it’s never specified and the artwork is not stereotypical at all) white woman in the comics (or at least in the Civil War cross-over series). So I don’t think you can play the white washing card here. I do not deny Hollywood loves to white wash, but this doesn’t strike me as a case of it.

        And Ultimate Universe Nick Fury is Samuel L. Jackson. Like literally, his character design was based off the actor.

         

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