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Black Widow

I saw The Avengers last Thursday, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since then.  Like, obsessively.  (I apologize to all my G+ minions for all the Loki spam.  Blog minions, your turn is coming soon!)  This has caused me to do a lot of individual character evaluation in order to figure out why I’m so fixated on this movie.


One character that hasn’t received too much attention in my little bubble of chatter is Black Widow.  Jim C. Hines did a post about her in which he ponders her actions and others’ actions toward her character, but that’s really all I’ve seen, so I’m not coming into this with a lot of bias.  Feel free to link me some other opinions as you find them.

Here’s my take on Black Widow: she’s  both vulnerable and strong.  I don’t consider those traits mutually exclusive.  There are four major scenes where Joss Whedon showcased her abilities, scenes where you may or may not agree with me on what exactly Black Widow is doing.

1) The Russian Interrogation Scene.  This was just badass.  She’s tied to a chair and about to be tortured for information, when ‘lo!, Agent Coulson calls.  We find out she fully intends to be in that chair looking vulnerable, and as soon as she’s told they need her help, BAM!  Interrogation over.  She’s out of that chair and beating the shit out everyone  before you can say “hold, please.”  This is excellent, because at this point in the movie we expect great things out of Black Widow later on.  We know she can hold her own in the Boy’s Club of Avengers, and she doesn’t need superpowers to do it.  Look out, Loki.  Black Widow is coming for you.

2) The Bruce Banner Recruitment.  This one is trickier.  She lures him in by dishonest means, and talks to him about joining the Avengers.  The guy is both a genius and a raging monster, and the team needs both aspects of him in order to win against Loki.  She’s cautious around him for good reason.  There is one point in the conversation where Bruce becomes angry and slams the table in a rage.  Black Widow has her gun out and aimed at him before he can blink, and the camera lingers on her very frightened expression before she finally drops the gun.

Let me be clear here.  I believe that Black Widow’s fear in that moment is very real, but I also believe that expression was given on purpose.  It might look like the Hulk showed everyone who was boss in that scene, that he was the one in control, but that’s not what I took away from it.  I believe she let him see her fear on purpose so that he would calm down.  Admitting fear is not weak, nor is showing it.  She has the ability to mask her emotion and get the job done.  She already proved that in her opening scene.  Any emotion this woman shows is done on purpose.  Whether the feelings are real or not is not relevant to the strength of her character.  This, kids, is known as manipulation.

3) The Conversation With Loki.  This is perhaps the most cruel bit of dialogue in the whole film, and Jim raises a valid point in his article.  Black Widow receives the absolute worst treatment (discounting bodily injury) out of any of the Avengers, both from her own team (see previously mentioned scene) and from Loki.   Loki shakes her so badly she has to turn away and collect herself… right before she turns back around, with a smirk, to thank him for his information.

Yes, she really was shaken.  Anyone not disturbed by that verbal assault would be rightly considered a sociopath.  I don’t know that she was quite prepared to handle Loki in all his manipulative glory, and in the end she wound up doing exactly what Loki wanted her to do:  she ran back and told everyone else his plan.   But I think the other characters’ treatment of her shines more light on their bad tendencies and prejudices rather than highlighting her supposed “weaknesses.”  She does let Loki emotionally beat the shit out of her so she can gain information.  But she is choosing to do that.  It’s a very conscious decision.  She isn’t naive, she doesn’t expect Loki to treat her civilly.  It’s not any different than going into physical combat.  There is an expectation of physical injury when a person runs into physical combat, but in this case there will be psychological injury rather than physical, and she is strong enough to both do that willingly and take the risk of permanent injury.  Heroes are applauded all the time for putting their lives on the line for the greater good.  It’s not much different to put your sanity on the line for the same reason.

Again, any emotion this woman shows to her enemies is done on purpose.  She knows what she’s doing.  There is no better display of this than the last scene I want to talk about.  Which is…

4) Hulk Goes On A Rampage.  That roar is enough to make most people pee their pants.  Black Widow is a badass, but she’s also human, and she knows she doesn’t have superpowers.  She’s no match for all that supernatural rage.  Guns aren’t going to help her in the least, so of course she runs from the Hulk.  That’s not weak, that’s smart.  And then, when he catches up to her enough to backhand her off camera, she’s completely stunned.  (I was super surprised she didn’t break a few ribs.  Or, you know, her head.)  Hulk is then successfully distracted from Black Widow and runs off scene before he can do something even worse like smash her into the floor.  We come back to Black Widow a few minutes later, still in the hallway, where she has her knees curled up to her chest and is staring into nothing.  She was almost killed by the hulk.  Of course she’s in shock.

But here, this scene, is where I feel we see her true strength.  She gets a call on the radio that Loki is loose, and could she please come help kick some ass?  Until that point she appears to be stuck in shock mode.  Weak female, right?  We can clearly hear gunfire and other battle shenanigans happening in the background, which she ignores until that radio call.  Then, in true Black Widow fashion, her expression changes and she stands up.  She appears calm and determined.  In the space of a heartbeat she takes control of herself and resumes planting boots in people’s faces.  She temporarily puts aside her own mental and physical hurts and returns to battle.

There is no other word for that than “strong.”  Yes, we frequently see the other Avengers fighting internally with self-acceptance (Hulk), externally with their own team members and superiors, and physically with the army of alien bad guys.  Their hurts are mostly physical, but they keep getting back up to fight.  They keep going.

Black Widow sustains heavy psychological damage (from others, which is different than Hulk’s self-loating) as well as physical damage, and she still keeps fighting.  There is no internal struggle for Black Widow to accept herself.  She’s already done that, and she’s strong enough to use her vulnerability in order to help her team and defeat the enemies.  She even embraces Loki’s description of her past transgressions as having “red on her ledger,” and uses it to motivate herself to keep helping everyone else.  She doesn’t like what she did in her past, but she isn’t going to dwell on it.

My biggest beef about Black Widow?  She doesn’t get any cool toys.  Two little pistols?  I mean, really?  Iron Man has a whole suit, Thor has a supernatural hammer, Hawkeye gets a cool bow/arrow/quiver combination (it has an automatic load!), Captain America has a metal shield that’s so strong it repels Thor’s hammer, and Hulk is… well he’s Hulk.

And Black Widow gets two measly pistols.  Come on, Joss Whedon.  At least give her a weapon we won’t laugh at.

Thoughts welcome.  What did you think of Black Widow?  Do you think she was a strong or weak character?


9 responses

  1. I loved her character. What people forget is she’s a spy. I actually didn’t see the reaction to Loki as authentic. And I think the fact she later repeats the comment “I’ve got red in my ledger” in a much calmer almost detached way supports that.
    Black Widow is not an easy character to write because of her history and I think Joss nailed it. At least she held her own again and again. And like you said, she demonstrated the fact repeatedly that the things typically assumed to be weaknesses worked in her favor. Her small frame made her nimble and light. She was the one who closed the portal after all.
    The fact is there WERE stereotypes perpetuated but they were on both sides. The men really acted out in stereotypical manly manners with the ridiculous posturing and taunting and in-fighting.
    All in all I thought she was amazing. Hawkeye and her were the only non-superheros on the team. Hawkeye got possessed right away and had to be rescued– by Black Widow no less. Like you said, there’s a big difference in the way you act when you’re the smallest and the most fragile part of a team. I think that was played up without turning into a weakness.

    June 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    • A good point made by Adella Thompson on G+ is that Black Widow was also the only one of the team to figure out how to use the alien technology (when she hijacked one of those flyers).

      I don’t necessarily know that the in-fighting was a male stereotypical thing. It was more of a personality clash thing, which of course is going to be exaggerated under stressful situations.

      June 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm

      • Yeah but they duked it out. That whole suit up and let’s see what you’re made of thing. That was something my sons or brothers do to each other. Yeah that’s a good point too. I loved that she did that.

        June 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    • I love her character…..

      June 11, 2012 at 1:26 pm

  2. Ok, you did a better job. Damn, should have referenced your post in mine. Cut, paste, edit….

    June 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    • Yeah but yours referenced more than just Black Widow. And you still did a good post, so no copy/paste for you 😛

      June 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm

  3. Pingback: Writing women right. | Damian Trasler's Secret Blog – Do Not Read!

  4. William Wells

    I think she does have a superpower. It’s psychology, one of the few real life superpowers that you can learn. Who needs measly little pistols when you have the ability to influence, manipulate, trick, overpower, intimidate, coax, and seduce your enemy?

    Guns are totally overrated. I’d take psychology over Thor’s hammer anyday. (although Id have a tough time deciding to take anything over Iron Man’s suit 🙂 )

    July 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    • That suit is pretty damn sexy… 🙂

      July 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm

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