To turn a phrase from my favorite family of Northerners, “Summer is Coming.” And by coming, I mean today. After waiting what felt like an eternal Westeros winter, Marvel Studios will finally reward us with the release of Joss Whedon’s take on The Avengers. If you haven’t already, take a moment to read our review of the film, re-watch the trailers, and then meet me back here for some fireworks and sno-cones.
People have been saying for weeks now that the film is pretty great, and thankfully that is true. Whedon built a rich world for these Marvel characters; putting so much detail into their stories and their lives that it’s virtually impossible not to get wrapped up in the battle trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wages with his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the rest of the Avengers gang.
But there is one surprising element lacking from The Avengers—pivotal women sharing scenes. Shocking considering Whedon has always been an advocate for female role models and has fought TV and film studios for years over the way he prefers to portray women in his cannon. Yes, he had huge pressure on his shoulders to craft a stellar superhero film, but of all the things Whedon could have done wrong why did he have to separate his two major women characters from each other? It’s a bit troubling to say the least.
Let’s start with Cobie Smulders, who pushes aside her background in comedy to suit up for S.H.I.E.L.D. as Agent Maria Hill, a security expert working closely with both Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and head honcho Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). She is incredibly strong, fearless, and sexy—just the kind of heroine both Whedon and audiences like to see. Agent Hill has just enough spunk to keep her alive and just enough womanly warmth to charm all the brutish members of the Avengers team. Her tenacity has gotten her far, but how she got there is a complete mystery.
Next we have Black Widow played by the wooden yet stunning Scarlett Johansson. She is a former assassin making amends for the lives she took by using her talents for seduction and male manipulation for “the good guys.” Black Widow is deadly, sexy, and emotionally vulnerable; a woman constantly on the edge of breaking and betraying those who believe in her. Like Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow appears to be just one bad thought away from cracking the tough skin she’s worked years on building.
However, Black Widow’s emotional instability is one of her greatest strengths. It makes her aware of her own flaws and allows her the self reverence to manipulate those of weaker minds. Our introduction to her involves a drastic switch from a supposedly meek victim of a gangster prisoner situation to a lethal women who crushes goons with her hands literally tied behind her back, all while talking on the phone. She could almost be considered Whedon’s masterpiece, knocking Buffy right off her pedestal.
About a quarter of the way through the film we have the first nearly-complete meeting of the minds between the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Hill stays back in the command space, peeking through the glass window to spy whatever little bits she can as her bosses talk about goals, expectations, feelings, etc. It’s strange that up until that moment Hill had been attached at the hip of both Coulson and Fury, but once Black Widow arrives Agent Hill is no longer a necessary part of their mission.
Both Agent Hill and Black Widow broke through the comic book movie glass ceiling. Proving they are equal to the men in their field is not an important detail to Whedon, and rightfully so. But what he does forget to do is allow these two women a moment together where they can interact. I’m not overly concerned with them “smash[ing] the Bechdel Test,” but I did find it quite odd that two people who are on the same team never utter an onscreen word to each other. It’s as if these ladies signed a court mandated custody agreement only allowing them to speak with their male teammates and coworkers. Just in case too much kickass lady time might put a kink in the space-time continuum.
Maybe it seems a bit petty to question Whedon’s logic to abscond shared scenes between the two women, but it also seems imprudent not to look at it as a bit of a slight against not only the two incredibly engaging characters, but also the audiences who are craving more than the same Good Ol’ Boy’s Club we’ve seen in the previous five films featuring the Avengers.
Until next time, Whedon, I’ll go watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns if I want to see two women kicking ass together on screen.