Thursday, 28 June 2012

Black Widow: Strength In Weakness

My excessive quoting and fangirling has probably given me away already, but to anyone who thought I had just been sniffing something strange lately, I will clarify. I went to see the much-hyped film The Avengers about a month ago now, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. For a girl who's never been terribly fond of superhero films, I thought this one was very well done - the plot may not have been terribly present, but there was lots of sharp dialogue, stunning action scenes and eye-popping CGI to keep me entertained. The presence of Tom Hiddleston as one of the most gorgeous villains (and my favourite pre-Christian deity) ever did help on that front.

As a fan, I roamed around the fandom, and I was surprised to find how many critical articles such a flash-and-bang entertainment movie had spawned. Though The Avengers superheroes have been running around in spandex for many years before my lifetime, I didn't expect them to have such an in-depth cult following. The reviews of the film were mostly positive, picking up mostly on the absence of plot or meddling that deviated from the original comics, but there were one or two that really surprised me.

Especially ones complaining about the portrayal of the Avengers' female team member, Natasha Romanov - the Black Widow.

Personally, I liked her character very much. She wasn't sidelined as the obligatory female, and she certainly wasn't left out of the action - in fact, she's rather pivotal when it comes to bringing Bruce Banner onto the team, as well as the eventual rescue of her co-worker, the brainwashed Clint Barton (Hawkeye).

Besides, her introduction scene is a single-handed UBERPWNAGE session of some overly-confident mafia idiots. How can one not like the girl who, literally, beats the daylights out of people with her hands tied behind her back.

However, she still draws criticism, mainly because of one particular scene. A scene involving a large plastic box, a woman on a mission, and a grumpy god of mischief.

Loki is pretty foul to the Avengers team on the whole - not in the least because he seems to have developed a taste for flinging them off high places - but even I winced at his reaction to Black Widow's attempts to interrogate him. It's probably the most venomous we've ever seen him; grisly death threats, very un-PC archaic insults ("mewling quim" translates politely as "overly-vocal, whiny, female canine") and a burningly chauvinistic viewpoint of a woman having the upper hand over him.

And Black Widow suffers for it. She turns away from Loki, fighting tears, struggling to control herself.

Until he unintentionally lets his plan slip, and she turns around, thanks him for the conversation, and struts off. Plot twist everyone, it was all a facade.

Or was it?

The majority of the articles I read complained about how rude Loki was to Black Widow in comparison to the other Avengers. Guys, he's an evil, twisted, vengeful git, and she is a confident female on a mission to make him give up what he would cling to with his cold, dead fingers if need be. While this would not only fail to match up with Loki's origins in a mostly male-dominated society (assuming the Asgard portrayed in Thor was accurate to Viking society), I would also like to point out that Black Widow has come with the attempt of interrogating him. None of the other characters who encountered Loki at any stage have attempted this. None of them have dared

But that's not what I came to talk about. Other articles criticised the fact that the filmmakers decided to turn Black Widow's emotional outburst into a facade because, supposedly, they were trying to smooth over the fact that she was a weaker character than the others. Because she's a woman. And she lets Loki's words get to her when all the male characters brush it off. Because she's weak.

Wrong. With the view I took of the scene, I don't see Black Widow's portrayal of emotion as weak at all. If the emotion she shows is fake, it's a testament to how well she controls herself - Loki is threatening her, her enslaved friend and co-worker, and her entire world, and she has such concentration that she can contain all her emotion, and still put up such a fantastic facade, that he walks right into her interrogative trap. 

But I don't believe that either. It seems too contrived, and taking into account the ferocity and brutality of Loki's words, and Black Widow's own personal stakes, I reckon the emotion she showed there was perfectly genuine, and it was only Loki's revelation that made her snap back into Agent Mode. 

And that just shows how strong she is.

Thor is Loki's adoptive brother, a demi-god, with the power to control thunder. He still believes in Loki's redemption, and he gets defensive when anyone dares to attack him over his feelings. Black Widow, however, as well as being distinctly lacking in the ability to wield giant hammers and fling giant green rage monsters through walls, knows she can't afford to let her emotions cloud her actions. She doesn't try to hide her emotions - she's clever enough to know that that never works, she makes it her business to break people who try to do that to her. 

So she lets Loki hurt her. She walks up to him, knowing full well what he is capable of, and she gives him the provocation he has been waiting for. She doesn't try and put a lid on her emotions, because she knows it won't help.

She knows what she has to do. And she'll do anything neccessary to get it. It hurts her - we see it in her face, and I'm posessed that what she shows looks far too realistic to be an act - and she takes it. She stands there, and she takes it.

She lets Loki think he's won, then she takes that hurt and slaps him across the face with it. 

And this is why I think that that scene, more than any other, is proof of why Black Widow is more than worthy of the term "superhero". More than the fact she's an awesome martial artist, incredible acrobat, and brave enough to take on an alien army armed with nothing but a pair of pistols.

It takes a lot of courage to face up to one's emotions. 

It takes even more to let other people see them.

But there are fewer acts that are braver than sacrificing those emotions for the sake of your duty.

Let's see an indestrucible shield beat that.

~ Charley R


  1. THANK YOU. Finally. Someone who sees sense.
    (I recommend you post this on Tumblr as a text post, too, as many many people will reblog it.)

    She beats them by making them think they've won.

    She's tied to a chair, she seems to be giving in, and then THWACK. She's fighting.

    She seems to be in tears, she's begging Loki, and then WHAM. She knows his plan and they're one up on him.

    She uses her weakness as her strength, and uses their stereotypes against them.

    1. End result: Black Widow is awesome.

      This IS going on Tumblr!

  2. I can only Echo Miriam.

    And add:

    This is why Women can control the world, if we ever decided to take it upon us to do so. But let's face it. It's more fun to let the guys have at it. *giggles*

    :} Cathryn

    1. Then we can fix it when they're done bashing their brains out on the PULL door that they're trying to PUSH xD

    2. Exactly *giggles*

      Saturday when I took the kids kids to lunch, they started to go outside, but then I see them pulling on the door that says push. I ask my daughter what she's doing and she tells me - Oh we're just pretending it says Pull - so I ask what it does say her response - Push - and since Nana had caught up, out she and her brother go out...

      So apparently she's already on that mindset. :}

    3. She will go far if she knows how to exploit the mindset of the dim-witted ... perhaps I'd best recruit her for my World Domination program before she sets up competition! ;)

  3. Very poignant, tower-mistress! :) And I would heartily agree! Well thought and written, Charley!

  4. That sounds so cool. I really need to see the Avengers.

    1. You should - not much plot, but lots and lots of fun.

    2. I don't know, there's enough plot for me.

    3. For a superhero movie, I guess so. I just tend to like a little more event and development with my 'splosions xD

  5. Hooray, you saw it!

    I loved Black Widow. I could have done without the mewling quim comment, partly because I'm uncertain as to how foul an insult it really is (being American and all, *grin*) and while I know Loki is mean and evil and whatnot, there's a line for me somewhere in there and I'm not sure if that phrase crosses it. Does that make sense?

    Other than that, she was awesome. Brave and strong and IMPORTANT TO THE PLOT. She didn't need to be saved any more than anyone else, she contributed and helped save the day and she managed to look fairly comfortable while doing it. I want a movie about her and Hawkeye, yes indeed I do. :)

    1. Yeah, I see where you're coming from - I think the archaic phrasing smoothed it over for some, but the sentiment is definitely nastier than perhaps neccessary. Still, only one little blip ... and he does get smashed into a concrete floor later. Take that a recompense ;)

      YES! Hawkeye is my favourite Avenger, I think, but he and Black Widow TOTALLY need their own movie (or movies?). Seeing Hawk cameo on Thor is fun, but they need to keep up appearances with the rest of the team ... and I really want to know what happened in Budapest xD

  6. Charley, you are my new best friend! Hawkeye is my fave too! They DO need their own movies—why won't anyone listen to me?! And Budapest has been driving me nuts for 4 months now.


    1. ABSOLUTELY! SO sorry it's taken so long to reply to this - but I will happily accept your new-best-friend-ship, as well as taking up residence beside you in the WHAT HAPPENED IN BUDAPEST!? corner :D

  7. I LOVE The Avengers! And like you, I'm not much of a superhero fan, either.
    Hawkeye is awesome! But I like Thor and Ironman, too.
    Not that Superman is an Avenger, but will someone explain how someone can put on tights and a cape and take off their glasses and suddenly no one recognizes them?
    ~Robyn Hoode

  8. Great article. Love your insights. I don't agree that her emotion was genuine; she played Loki, plain and simple, because the character of Natasha Romanov (Romanova in earlier comics) has been doing this since she was a girl. She cares as much about what Loki thinks of her as she does about the numerous Chitauri minions she dispatches in the Battle of Manhattan.

    The other Avengers didn't balk when it was their turn to face him down either, however. Captain America does not connive as Black Widow does. That is not his skill set. He faced him in Stuttgart head on, blow for blow. When Loki told him to "kneel", he said simply, "Not today."

    Iron Man lied to the Prince of liars. He bluffed him openly while Loki had all of his senses trained intently ON Tony Stark and was EXPECTING a bluff. Stark outsmarted Loki, which is no easy feat.

    Hawkeye very nearly put that arrow through his eye socket.

    Hulk rag-dolled him.

    So they each dealt with Loki according to their abilities, Black Widow, quite brilliantly.

    At the end, just as Thor prepares to take the defeated Loki back to Asgard, Widow whispers something into Barton's ear, and he smirks at Loki. Wouldn't you just LOVE to know what she said?