I want to start off by acknowledging that I am most definitely in the minority with the upcoming opinions. Superhero movies are a huge deal and people love them, just look at Tumblr. But I’m bored with them. I tried to hold on to them for years. I’ve loved graphic novels and comic books for a long time, and was so happy that something that made me a nerd was finally a cultural phenomenon again. But that happiness has worn off. After watching movie after movie featuring Iron Man or Captain America, I found myself yawning my way through the most recent installment of the Marvel universe, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. I know there are lots of explosions and action, but the plot line bored me and I realized there was a huge issue with the film: its use of female characters.
Yes, James Spader was a great Ultron. Yes, there was some great banter between the Avengers that made me chuckle more than a few times. Yes, it was an OK superhero action movie. But I was bored and a little queasy throughout the entire thing. Why? The new romance between Black Widow, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and the Hulk, a.k.a. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). The badass Black Widow, who admittedly is clad in a tight leather body suit that does not seem conducive to fighting bad guys, is the last character I wanted to fall into a romantic subplot. She’s strong, independent, and has it together way more than her male counterpart. But, she’s the only female Avenger, so of course she’s thrown into a heteronormative relationship. Did I expect more? Yes. Should I have expected more? Probably not.
I thought that in this day and age, with increased demand for deviations in the usual role for women in film, we could have a female superhero who wasn’t a complete and total sex object. Then Bruce Banner throw his face right into Natasha’s cleavage. I moaned in disgust so loud that people looked at me.
To cite an even more specific example of my rage, there’s a moment where Bruce is telling Natasha that he’s a monster and can never be in a relationship. Well, Natasha compares herself to him, calling herself a monster because she was forcefully sterilized as a girl and can’t have children. Now, I may have misinterpreted this scene, but I felt like she was calling herself a monster not because of the trauma she suffered as a child, but because she can’t have children. Great, so now women are monsters for not being able to have kids? Thanks, Avengers 2. Thanks Joss Whedon.
Despite my complaints about female representation in the film, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is a badass and has some of the most terrifying powers I think I’ve seen in a superhero film. Mental manipulation is no joke. Being able to physically harm someone is scary, but being able to completely alter their mental state is even scarier. I’m interested to see how they develop her character in this universe, since she is one of the most powerful mutants in the X-Men comic book universe. However, Marvel doesn’t have the rights to X-Men, so it’ll be even more interesting to see how her character grows in the coming films. Maybe she’ll be the reason I actually continue to spend money to see them.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on movies meant to generate revenue and please the people. I keep hearing people say, “They’re just fictional characters.” But kids and adults alike look up to these characters and see them as a form of support. That is primary reason superhero movies need to diversify. Yeah, Tony Stark is funny and suave, but I’m sick of hearing about a rich white guy feel bad about himself.
The bottom line is I want more from superhero movies. I want more women, people of color, non-cis characters, characters with different sexual identities. I want a movie all about female superheroes. I want a movie about queer superheroes, disabled superheroes, superheroes who are muscular white guys. I know I’m not the only person who wants this. So why won’t anyone listen?