Avengers: Age of Ultron – Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff

Black Widow

Okay, I have to swallow a prognostication I repeated several times in my predictions’ posts, readers. Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner really do have a romance going on the side in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It was, honest to goodness, a surprise to me. I did not believe Whedon would do it. But I also did not think Hawkeye’s family would be in Age of Ultron, so I am batting a thousand on several fronts.

All in all, the Natasha/Bruce romance was not so bad, in my opinion. Whedon may have made it a little sugary in places, but Natasha telling Bruce exactly how messed up she was by her Red Room trainers was very eloquent.

That scene also reveals Natasha’s low opinion of herself. She explained there that she sees herself as a monster. Never mind the fact that she is practically Hawkeye’s adopted sister, that she’s been an Avenger for almost three years, and has helped to save countless lives since Clint redeemed her from the “Dark Side.” She still has not forgiven herself for what she was trained, forced, and chose to do in her past.

That weighs her down. She has been forgiven by her friends and her “battle brother” has children who adore her like she was their blood aunt. But because she has not forgiven herself, she is still securely chained to her past, as we saw when Wanda hypnotized her in the bone yard in Africa.

Readers, we unfortunately cannot discuss Natasha Romanoff’s role in Age of Ultron without mentioning that there was a lot of rage about her portrayal in the film going around after the movie premiered. Though this is not something I empathize with at all, I have strong beliefs about the “rage” that sent certain people into a flurry of Internet activity. Also, this post is discussing Natasha’s role in the film, as well as her character, both of which were savaged in the hours following Ultron’s theater release. So the “rage” that ran rampant on the Internet has to be addressed.

Apparently, there were several groups who had gripes about Widow’s part in the film. One offended group said that having Ultron lock her up in a cell was demeaning.

Excuse me?! He rips her off the Cradle, flies her back to his base, during which time she is completely stunned by the impact of his attack. When she comes to in the HYDRA base Ultron commandeered in Sokovia, she finds herself facing an eight foot tall robot who could snap her like a twig – especially with his new, vibranium-plated body!

No amount of kung fu in anything less than the Iron Man armor would have protected her from him if he had decided to stop playing games and kill her. When faced with a metal monstrosity one cannot physically beat, the only sensible way to stay alive is to get as far away from it as one can. Natasha very wisely backs away from Ultron and into a room, which turns out to be a prison cell, where he locks her up (as he intended). She cannot bust the lock with the little equipment she has on hand, and he physically outmatches her. The only possible way she can survive long enough to help stop Ultron is to sit tight and signal her team – or rather, Bruce Banner – to come and get her out.  (Not to mention tell the Avengers where Ultron is.)

I see no problem with this scene, in so far as Natasha wisely keeps herself alive to fight later on. Any other captured member of the Avengers would have done something similar, as the cell was the nearest accessible point of refuge. And Natasha’s rescue, as far as I am concerned, was perfectly normal. It was also a great way to show that Beauty does not always need to rescue the Beast (sorry, Bruce).

Another crowd was apparently angry about the scene at Hawkeye’s farm, where we learn that Natasha was sterilized by the Red Room operators and, as a result, is unable to have children.

*Sigh.*

Okay, either these people did not – and do not – want to do their research on Marvel’s characters, or they take everything in the films at face value. Both of these attitudes are preposterous, because the filmmakers cannot, after a point, make up the characters and the stories out of whole cloth. Marvel will not and cannot let them do that if they are to preserve the integrity of their characters and storylines for their fans. It will not work, because the movies will not sell if it is attempted.

So I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the fact is that in the “mainstream” comics, it was already a well established fact that Natasha Romanoff and the other Black Widows were all sterilized. The film version of the process is actually more thorough than the comic book depiction. In the comics, it was the Soviet version of Cap’s super soldier serum, which the Red Room handlers used to enhance their “charges,” that rendered the Black Widows sterile.

Was this a result of the Red Room serum’s inferiority to Dr. Erskine’s serum, or was it a planned “defect” the Soviets purposefully added to the mix? The point is debatable, but I lean toward the latter argument. If the Widows could not have children, it was “one less thing [for their handlers] to worry about.” And why should a Widow respect the lives of others when her own life had been so completely and carefully stolen from her?

The people who trained/raised Natasha wanted “a liar and a killer” who would do whatever they told her to do. They brainwashed her and the other girls, tore them down mentally and emotionally over and over again, until the girls could and would be whoever and whatever they needed them to be to get what they [the handlers] wanted. Natasha Romanoff was a tool, a slave, which they could remote control. They tried to erase everything – everything – in her that would possibly make her want to stop working for them. They did not manage to erase everything, which Clint figured out real quick, but the fact is that they wiped out a whole lot.

The most important thing they erased was Natasha’s ability to have children. All the brainwashing and training in the world cannot get rid of the potential that a female operative in Natasha’s line of work might have children. The one thing left that could probably unlock the chains the Red Room handlers had wrapped her in was that if, during a mission, a Black Widow had a child.

The child did not necessarily have to be born; it just had to be conceived. Once that happened, there would be no threat on earth, no chain under heaven, which could possibly convince Natasha or any other Black Widow to keep on playing the role of killing machine. Not when they had an innocent life they wanted – needed – to protect. The best way the Red Room could make certain that Natasha and the other Widows remained loyal slaves of the Soviet regime was to remove any chance that these women could have children.

The thing to remember, readers, is that Natasha can still lead a fairly normal life. This is something Bruce knows and she has not yet realized. Natasha cannot physically have children, but she could still get married and adopt a child or a number of children. She is fond of children. Bruce saw that at Hawkeye’s farm. In all truth, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother. Having been deprived of her innocence, she knows how precious it is and is therefore willing to protect innocents – children especially – with everything she has. That is basically all you need in a mother.

But because Natasha will not forgive herself for her past, she has not moved on to that chance at a mostly normal life. She stays where she is, still chained by her guilt, by the idea that she is a monster manufactured by even worse fiends. Frankly, I am glad Whedon put this note about what the Red Room did to her in the movie. It ties back to the original comics and it adds a dose of hard reality to the film and the franchise. I think it needed to be there.

Of course, some other offended viewers also say that Natasha’s part in these scenes is demeaning because it makes her “less of a role model” for young girls. Pardon me for being so “backward thinking,” but I dare say that if Natasha Romanoff herself heard the words “role model” applied to her, she would laugh in the face of whoever called her such a thing!

Natasha Romanoff’s code name is the Black Widow, people. It happens to be a name she shares with a poisonous North American spider that is supposed to kill and eat its male mate. In her role as a Soviet spy, Natasha killed hundreds of people. And not just men, though they were very likely her primary category of targets. The stories about real black widows say that they kill and eat their male mates, after all.

But a deleted scene from The Winter Soldier shows the main villain of the film, Alexander Pierce, mentioning that Natasha had a role in something called the “Children’s War.” So it would appear that the Soviets were indiscriminate when they told Natasha who to target. If her handlers told her to take someone down, she did it. No reservations, no mercy, no regrets; she killed whoever they marked for death. End of one hellaciously ugly story.

So if the Black Widow, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff, is a role model for young modern girls, does that mean we want our girls to grow up to be “liars and killers” like she was – and still is, occasionally? That is what Natasha would ask, and what she would see as the implication in people calling her a role model!

If Natasha wanted young girls to turn out like her, I do not think she would be letting Lila Barton draw pictures of butterflies or encouraging her in other traditionally “girly” pursuits. Considering Natasha supports the child in these activities, I think she wants Lila to turn out more like Laura than like her!

All of this is not to imply, readers, that I think young girls should not admire Natasha Romanoff. I admire and like her quite a lot, actually! However, I would be much happier if people allowed girls to admire and look up to Natasha for the right reason.

That reason is this: Natasha was raised to be a “liar and a killer.” But one day, she chose to be something else. She chose to do the right thing when she had been brainwashed and programmed into believing that making such a choice was to choose weakness. Despite years of training and programming, Natasha did something her handlers had believed was impossible for her to do: she made a choice of her own free will.

And that choice was to be someone good, someone who was not the “liar and killer” her handlers had spent so much time and energy molding her to be.

In making this choice, Natasha found herself. She left the Darkness behind and entered the Light. This is an extremely brave choice to make, something girls who admire Natasha should understand. Her choice had to have scared her to death on some level. Going from complete Darkness to bright sunlight for someone in her position is quite the change. But she did it anyway.

She was alone, seemingly, when she made this decision. But, as we know, she was not alone after she made her choice. No one who makes the choice to leave the Darkness for the Light ever walks alone; they are always provided with a guide of some sort. In Natasha’s case, her guide was Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. This is the reason that they are best friends in the films. Hawkeye was there for her when she needed someone to help her learn to see in the brightly lit world she had just entered. Let’s face it; you are going to stumble around when you blink a lot. And Natasha probably did a lot of “blinking” in order to get her feet under her after she chose her new path. (So she was very lucky she had a guide with the eyes of a Hawk!)

All this talk about Natasha “learning to make choices for herself,” is from people who are not looking at her properly. Natasha has already made a series of independent choices, starting with the one where she said to herself, “I will do what I know, in the law written on my heart, is right,” and followed through. She then made the choice to join up with Clint and follow him into SHIELD. In making that decision, she chose to protect people. Then she chose to become an Avenger when Loki tried to take over the world. In The Winter Soldier, she chose to help Cap stop HYDRA, even when it meant letting the world see her gruesome past sins. After this painful episode, she decided to be an Avenger full-time.

Hulk SMASH

These are all very big choices that Natasha has made in Marvel’s movies, perhaps without truly realizing the full implications of what she was choosing. And in Age of Ultron, Natasha made another big choice. She chose to fall in love with Bruce Banner.

Think about it. She was very likely trained to believe that love of any kind was weakness. But she fell in love with Hawkeye as a brother figure, she who had never known even the love of sisters, since the Red Room violently discouraged the sisterly instincts of the Widows it manufactured. (Check out the Agent Carter episodes on the Red Room to learn more about that.) Then Natasha found sisterly love with her battle brother’s wife Laura, and learned to love like an aunt by interacting with the Barton children.

But with her own ability to have children gone, how could she possibly find love with a man? If she fell in love with a man who wanted children, how would he react to the news that she simply could not have any? How would she take being married to the man of her dreams but being without the ability to make their marriage a family life?

So she shut herself off from romantic love. “Love is for children, I owe him [Clint] a debt,” she told Loki in The Avengers. It was not a lie; it was a way of protecting herself and others from disappointment. Loki thought he had found a woman like Sif: a warrior female who loved battle but who would also willingly surrender her warrior duties to have a family at the first opportunity of finding real love. He never realized that Natasha did not have any such designs for her future, for the simple reason that others had denied her that dream long ago. The only thing she felt she had left was her job at SHIELD, and later, her job as an Avenger.

But in Age of Ultron, Natasha did fall in love – with Bruce Banner. And he could not have children, either, so it was a total win-win scenario for the both of them, right?

Sadly no, it was not, and Bruce knew it. Even if he could not articulate it, he knew it. Natasha, once she lets go of her past and starts thinking the way she should, will realize that normalcy is not something unattainable for her. She could easily fall in love with a guy, marry him, and adopt a few children. There is nothing abnormal about that process and, as I said above, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother.

Yes, readers, Bruce also left Natasha because she threw him down a hole to awaken the Hulk so they could “finish the job.” Right when Bruce was perfectly prepared, for once in his life, to run off and leave the “job” unfinished. But I do not think Bruce hates her for it. The Hulk certainly did not look furious when he shut down the comm. on the Aveng-jet. But he did look very sad.

Why?

Because he and Bruce both know that they have no room in their life for anything or anyone normal. Bruce cannot be a father. It just will not work. Hulk cannot be a father either. There is nowhere in the world they can go without risking hurting someone. They can never give Natasha what they both know she deserves and is almost ready for: a husband and a family.

Even though the fact that Bruce and Natasha cannot have children is something they have in common, Bruce would not be the greatest adoptive dad in the world. The Hulk wants his say in everything in Bruce’s life. Bruce and the Hulk may be able to avoid being a threat to Natasha, but what about children? The Hulk has a soft spot for kids, sure, but not on a daily basis!

Natasha has not quite worked that out yet, from what we can tell. She fell in love with a man, for the first time in her life, and she knows that Bruce shut off the comm. to protect her. But – as of the end of Age of Ultron – Natasha may not yet truly realize just why and what he is protecting her from. Bruce can never lead a normal or semi-normal life. Never. Until the day he dies, he will always be contending for physical/mental space with “the big guy.” There is not room in his earthly life for anyone else.

But Natasha can have a mostly normal life, and Bruce knows it. He also knows that denying her that opportunity for such a life would make him just as bad as her old Red Room handlers. And he loves her too much to do that to her. The best thing Bruce can do for her – the only thing he can do for her – is to let Natasha go and find someone she can live a normal life with. He had to do the same thing for Betty Ross. If anything, Natasha needs the opportunity more than Thunderbolt Ross’ daughter ever did.

Before I sign off, readers, there is one more thing I should say about Natasha’s role in Age of Ultron. It was a good role, and viewed as she should be, Natasha Romanoff is a character any girl can admire and enjoy. She deserves that admiration, not for her skills or her knowledge, but for her decision to do the right thing, no matter how much it hurts her. Hopefully, she will keep up the good work. We will have to wait to see the end of Civil War to know just how well she gets off in Phase Three of Marvel’s film franchise.

As a fan of Natasha’s, I sure hope she makes the right choice again in Civil War. Otherwise, she will just be left with more guilt and sorrow. I do not wish that on her or anyone else, readers.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America The Winter Soldier

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