Film Corner: The Inevitable Avengers Thread
Posted by Ana Mardoll at Thursday, June 07, 2012 Edit
It was better than I expected, in that I ended up enjoying myself whereas I'd expected the movie to suck. I don't mean that in a "I don't like your toys" kind of way; I actually really like superheroes and superhero movies for the most part. I just don't really like superhero team-ups because I think balance is always going to be such an issue. I mean, who would win in a fight between a human-who-wields-a-bow-and-arrow and a freaking ancient Norse deity? I'm just saying.
But the movie makers did a good job balancing everything and it all felt fairly natural. Thought I do think that "being able to take on a god and not lose horribly" should go on Stark/Iron Man's and Roger/Captain America's resumes because that's the sort of thing you want to highlight in the yearly performance reviews.
But. Why do I still feel ambivalent about the whole thing, despite liking it alright in theaters?
Maybe it's because Samuel L. Jackson was the only person of color I could find in the film, and he only because someone made the extremely good executive call to take a traditionally white character and cast it with a POC actor who could really make the character work in a way that I didn't expect and really enjoyed. (I know Nick Fury only from the video games and the very little Avengers material I've read and have never really liked him, but THIS Nick Fury, I liked. Or at least deeply respected.)
And while I'm glad -- thrilled -- that someone decided that POCs deserve a place in comic book movies, and not as the First Guy To Die, the epicness of this movie just left me aching for more. There's about a gazillion extras running the airship that encompasses 50% of the movie set, and yet I never noticed much racial diversity. Maybe I missed it from focusing on the action, but I don't think I did. So it comes off like Samuel L. Jackson is the only POC in the whole Avengers universe. And I find that so terribly sad and frustrating.
Maybe it's because there weren't a whole heck of a lot of women, either. Barely enough to pass the first condition in the Bechdel test; nowhere near enough to get to the second and third. So that leaves a whole lot of white men in the background for a movie that is something like two-and-a-half hours long and has dozens of set-pieces with SHIELD minions scurrying in the background.
And then there's the issue of the women themselves. Almost all the love interests for the superheroes have been jettisoned, with the exception of Pepper Potts who makes an appearance here purely so she can fret when Tony Stark (the stealth protagonist) heads selflessly to his doom. See? He's important! A WOMAN CARES ABOUT HIM. That's pretty much Pepper's role: to motivate and characterize Tony Stark. That leaves us with Woman #2, Agent Hill, who's second in command to Nick Fury and belatedly gets a name late in the film. And then we have Black Widow, who I want SO VERY MUCH TO LIKE because she's smart and manipulative and incredible at close combat and her whole shtick is that she manipulates patriarchal attitudes as part of her interrogation technique...
...and yet she's still ultimately the physically weakest member of the main team (lacking super powers and/or super machines) and it doesn't escape me that while her job is a bit of a subversion of the patriarchy, it's still kind of a catering to the patriarchy. She gathers information by being sexy and vulnerable. How... innovative. And then I feel like I'm totally unpleasable because HONESTLY ANA, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT, SHE-HULK? and the answer to that is sort of a meek, er, yeah? Or Storm! Or Spider-Woman! None of whom have had solo movies, but hey, neither has Black Widow and isn't that an opportunity knocking, eh? Or, hey, what if we had more than one woman on the team? Wouldn't that be cool? *sigh*
Leave aside the women for a moment, maybe the rumbly little dissatisfaction in my tummy was the movie's desire to conflate the Avergers with AMERICA! even going so far as to have a modern American intelligence agent tell Captain America that he totally needed to wear the stars'n'stripes because people need that message with the world the way it is today! They need truth and honor and goodness and decency, a global message for a global time! So here's a uniform based around a single country's national symbol. Right before dropping him in the middle of Germany so he can make a Hitler reference. Oh my god. I can't tell if no one told Captain America that there's more to Germany than that whole WWII thing, or if no one told the screenwriters, but it is clunky like the clunkiest clunker that ever clunked.
But moving past the fact that Ana is now going to be accused of hating her beloved country just because she thinks an international consortium of heroes should maybe have more foreigners than just the one Russian gal and maybe not conflate all the awesome things with a national symbol that has had both awesome and non-awesome things done in its name and which may not conjure up happy bunny feelings in every corner of the globe and that's the sort of thing that international consortiums of heroes really should think about...
...I did decide that I liked the relationship between Hawkeye and Black Widow.
I mean, here you have this couple. Party A is a badass spy; Party B is a goodie who was sent to kill Party A, took pity and/or sexy love crush on hir, and used persuasion and romance to turn hir to the good side. Whereupon Party A continued to travel widely on hir own, taking dangerous jobs, being sexy, and generally being an independent badass like before, just for the good guys this time. And Party B gets hirself kidnapped and has to be rescued by Party A, after which Party B belatedly joins the team as a sniper support character who rains down support arrows from the sky while Party A takes the hits.
It feels kind of like a gender swap. I like it. Having a man seduce a woman to the side of good is as old as James Bond, but having that woman NOT become downgradded to a love interest is rare indeed. For Black Widow to still be working solo, and working it well, seems kind of unusual. For Hawkeye to be the one kidnapped and brainwashed seems sort of refreshing (at least after G.I. Joe which was the last time I saw the trope, iirc). For Black Widow to be the close combat specialist and Hawkeye the support bow character seems almost revolutionary. They're both powerful, strong, and amazing, and they're both in love with each other and confident that the other can handle hirself.
It doesn't make up for all the little things that are like a tidal wave of fail-straws at this point, but I liked it and I noticed it and I was impressed. Maybe filmmakers are really starting to get this, slowly but surely, that women can be in relationships without automatically being downgraded into the kitchen. It'd be nice, and...
...wait, what did those end credits just say? "Joss Whedon"? Oh.
Well, that explains it, at least.
Here's hoping that the next time I notice a subtle gender swap, it's not Joss Whedon. Not because I don't like his work, but because it'd be nice to finally have two Hollywoodians who get this.