So The Avengers came out a while ago. We’ve all had time to watch it, be blown away by it, and claim it was the best superhero movie ever. Then we had some time to reflect, watch it again, and realize that, well, maybe YES IT’S STILL THE BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER DID YOU SEE THAT PART WHERE IRON MAN SHOT CAP’S SHIELD AND IT BOUNCED AND HIT THE CHITAURI JUST LIKE IN THE VIDEO GAME?!
Right. Maybe I’m exaggerating its brilliance. Whatever. The point is, it’s undeniably a massive accomplishment, tying four previous movie franchises together for one collaborative super-extravaganza. Never been done before, and it was done well, so that’s pretty cool.
But there’s another undeniable fact: These movies are about MEN.
White men, besides Jackson, to be specific, but that’s another subject entirely. Yeah, Widow’s there, and I think I saw a Maria Hill on the helicarrier, but really, it’s about men. Certainly much more so than Whedon’s previous works (and apparently we have him to thank for Widow even being included!).
But in all the previous films, there were women present. And 90% of the time, these women served as romantic interests for the manly protagonists. None of them got shoved into refrigerators, luckily, but they did spend a decent amount of time being rescued. And they are certainly varied in quality of writing.
I’m always a little nervous writing on such a subject. I try to do it from a position of self-awareness of my own privilege. As much as I love the whole Avengers movie franchise, it’s still about white male power fantasies.
I worry putting these ladies into a list and ranking them. It definitely smacks of chauvinism. But I’m try to make a list here of how successfully these characters were written, acted, and delivered. It’s more of a judgment on the white men who made these films. And it’s an exercise in awareness of the way these characters were, for the most part, trivialized and pushed aside.
Anyway, off to the list.
9. Black Widow, Iron Man II
What the hell happened? Iron Man was arguably the best movie in the entire original franchise, and most of that was because of the amazing character writing/acting. And then Iron Man II comes along, and we’re all excited, and then WHAM, we get hit by Black Widow. This character made absolutely no sense. She had no motivation, no personality, and no continuity. Does she just hate Tony Stark? In one scene she convinces him to do “whatever he wants to do”, then later chastises him for being irresponsible. Then she’s a spy, which we all knew, but… why the hell did she switch from “responsible caretaker” to “sexy ingenue” to “irritated secret spy”? And if she was working to keep tabs on Tony, why, then, did she start working for Pepper Potts? Speaking of, it’s especially painful to see her next to the best female character in the series (more on that later!).
But I’m biased, because she’s responsible for the STUPIDEST scene in Marvel movie history, with the possible exception of Emo Peter Parker. It’s a scene most people have probably forgotten about. It’s prior to Tony’s Birthday Party. She walks into his office to find him pouting or something, and picks up a cocktail shaker. She gives it the world’s most half-assed shake, then pours it into a glass, and offers it to him, seductively asking him if it’s “dirty enough”. NICE DOUBLE ENTENDRE SCARJO!
Seriously, FUCK this scene. What, Tony just made a martini but gave up halfway through? Someone just poured some vodka, olive juice and ice into a shaker then just left the room? Who does that? It makes NO SENSE. Then her shitty half-assed shake. And that LINE. First off, painfully overused cocktail joke. Secondly, dirty martinis are gross. Thirdly, back to before: This makes no sense for her character. Why is she being all sexy flirty? To goad him into being irresponsible so that Nick Fury wouldn’t want him on the Avengers? Isn’t that completely inappropriate?
She’s seriously the worst one. BUT: Her fight scene at the end is hands down the best part of the movie. It’s the first time that we saw what a Marvel Super-Spy could do, and why we would need one on a team with people like Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man.
Alright. I’m laying off the caps now. Sorry about all that.
8. Natalie Portman, Thor
She had a character name, apparently. She’s like a nurse or something in the comics, but in Thor she’s a genius astrophysicist, because it ties in with him being from a different realm and coming to earth. Whatever. I have two major problems with her. No, let’s make it three:
A: She has no personality. Seriously. What her is personality in this film? Smart? That’s not a personality.
B: Her intelligence: It’s said repeatedly throughout the film that she is intelligent, that she rewrote a bunch of theory about Worm Holes or whatever. And she keeps whining about S.H.I.E.L.D. taking her research. Except that we never actually see any of it. It literally doesn’t matter. They keep telling us she’s brilliant, and that her research matters, but it never does. She never uses her knowledge to help Thor get back to Asgard, Heimdal does (Hey! Another not white person. We’re at two!). In fact, she never uses her intelligence for anything in the entire film. We’re told she’s smart, and her research is constantly mentioned, but it never comes to anything, ever, in the whole movie. What if, instead of Heimdal unfreezing himself and rescuing Thor, Jane had found something to do with her research and opened the gateway for him? Eh? Nope. Heimdal.
C: The Romance. Let’s compare this to Tony and Pepper. No wait, let’s not. That’s a horrible thing to do. This couple has no chemistry. Or like…interests. They have one conversation in front of a fire where Natalie Portman uses her “love eyes”. I’m trying to find a gif of it online. It’s that thing where she looks down, then looks up again. It’s the exact same thing she batted at JD in Garden State. It’s the only moment of connection the two ever have, and it’s incredibly insincere. I don’t blame Natalie, I dont think she had anything to work with.
Admittedly, a couple that looks like that doesn’t really need connection or anything. I mean, damn.
So she’s benign, and not infuriating. Just terribly misused by the film.
7. Maria Hill, The Avengers
I was pretty excited to hear that Whedon had Maria Hill in the film, and I was excited to see what Cobie Smulders could do besides Robyn. Hill in the comics (and animated show) is an interesting character: intelligent, strong, and incredibly bullheaded at times, she often disagrees with Fury, and has some seriously legitimate reasons to do so. Furthermore, she’s often an antagonist to The Avengers, thinking that SHIELD should be the group to deal with the issues. It would have been interesting to see her disagreeing with Fury in the film about the creation of this group, arguing with Tony, etc. But instead, she was just kind of a plot device for Fury to talk with.
I guess it makes sense. The movie was packed as it was. Adding another dynamic may have cluttered things up too much. And maybe we’ll see more of that in a sequel. But as it is, Hill wasn’t really a character. I was disappointed.
6. Betty Ross, The Incredible Hulk
I like Betty. She doesn’t really have a lot to do except take care of Banner a bit. But she’s tough, and funny. The part where she yells at the cabbie in New York is the funniest moment in the whole movie, and one of the most genuine. But she also feels kind of generic. She stands up to her daddy, so she’s tough. She’s sensitive and cries a bit when Banner falls out of the helicopter to fight Abomination. But everyone in The Incredible Hulk is kind of generic, so that’s okay, I guess.
5. Black Widow, The Avengers
She’s on the list twice because she has two completely different characters. Whedon’s Widow is tormented, guilty, and pragmatic. She doesn’t see herself as a hero, and she’s mostly just doing this to clear the “red in her ledger”. Her moments with Banner, where she is both sympathetic and absolutely terrified, remind us why having the Hulk on the team is incredibly risky. And her relationship with Hawkeye, what little we see of it, is an interesting mix of professionalism, gratitude, and romance. Which is cool. Plus, her action scenes are fantastic, and the fact that she is actually useful among all these incredibly powered men is very well done.
But for all this, she’s still kind of a cardboard cutout of a character. I think it might be her delivery. Every line comes out the same. Maybe it’s supposed to be her stoic super-spy attitude, but it just seems…flat.
4. Sif, Thor
I actually like Sif, what little we see of her. She’s confident, a little cocky (like Thor), and brave. She’s arguably a better warrior than the Warriors Three. Her armor is reasonable (at least for the weird armor in this movie). And she’s the one who convinces them to go save Thor’s dumb ass. But she’s kind of forgotten about.
It would have been cool to have seen some chemistry with her and Thor, some hint at the romance they have in the comic. And it would have said a lot more about Thor. Think about it: Thor and Sif are long time friends and allies. Sif obviously has feelings for him (really, they do kind of hint at that), and she knows him: She accepts him for all his weaknesses as well as his godly strengths. And Thor clearly respects her. And yet the minute he meets some mortal woman he’s snogging her, right in front of Sif, all because this mortal chick sees him as a God with chiseled abs and a magic cape and shit.
I just think there should have been a moment where’s Sif is like, “You’re an asshole” and Thor would be all, “what did I do?” And then Fandral would say something like, “Brother, you are the bravest and most honorable of us all, but you truly do not understand woman.”
3. Darcy, Thor
Let’s continue with Thor, which with three women in it, has the most in the franchise.
Darcy serves no purpose. There is absolutely no reason for her to be in this movie. She offers nothing but quips. Yet she’s by far the most entertaining person in the film. Her bizarre, quirky comments kind of echoes the audience’s incomprehension of what is happening in this movie. She really just wants to get some school credits, and maybe her iPod back. Which is more motivation than Jane Foster has.
2. Peggy Carter, Captain America
Actual chemistry with the lead, even before he’s a super-manly pectoidal super-soldier? Check. A well executed mix of grace and strength? Check. An English woman living in an incredibly masculine America at the time of war, Peggy holds her own as much as the next soldier; more even, because she has to demand the respect that others receive automatically. Cap never has to save her, or avenge her. She speaks up for him and helps him when he needs it. Hayley Atwell does a killer job, and the ending scene between her and Steve is one of the most touching in whole series.
1. Pepper Potts, Iron Man I, II, The Avengers.
Holy crap, she’s really the only woman in more than two of the films. And she’s by far the best. Her chemistry with Tony is realistic, and actually takes time to develop. But unlike most of the others, she’s not just there to be a love interest; she’s fully her own character. In fact, when we first meet her, she reminds Tony that he has forgotten her birthday, reminding us, the audience, that she is a character with her own life, not just an extension of the male hero’s.
Unique, charming, intelligent, and funny, she calls Tony out on his shit, and is his constant voice of reason and stability. She’s incredibly capable, and actually saves the day at the end of Iron Man. She’s also the most logical, calling the police to arrest Justin Hammer, or calling in Shield to help fight Staine. Basically, she’s just the most well-developed female character the series has to offer. I really hope she gets in a suit in the third movie. Really.