There’s been a lot (and I mean a LOT) of criticism hurled at Avengers: Age of Ultron for its treatment of Black Widow/ Natasha Romanoff. Honestly, a lot of it isn’t fair. The rumor (refuted here) is that Joss Whedon was even driven off Twitter by all the rabid feminists calling for his head.
His crime? He wrote Natasha into a romantic relationship with Bruce Banner. Some fans were infuriated to see the brilliant assassin be placed into a romance. However, literally every other Avenger had, at some point, a romance. Thor/Jane, Tony/Pepper, Steve/Peggy, Bruce/Betty, Clint/Laura (never stops being weird typing out my own first name.) Even Phil Coulson had Audrey, the cellist, and Wanda Maximoff had a bit of ship tease with the Vision. I think it’s eerier if we don’t see any of the female characters not tied to an Avenger with a love interest. Helen Cho? Maria Hill? Are we expected to believe that women who are good at their jobs stay single? (Obviously, Jane and Pepper are great at their jobs, but both were introduced as love interests.) I would find it stranger if Widow was the only Avenger never to enter a relationship at all.
In his Reddit AMA, Mark Ruffalo summed up the issue perfectly: “If anything, Black Widow is much stronger than Banner. She protects him. She does her job, and basically they begin to have a relationship as friends, and I think [the outcry against the relationship is] misplaced anger. I think that what people might really be upset about is the fact that we need more superhuman women. The guys can do anything, they can have love affairs, they can be weak or strong and nobody raises an eyebrow. But when we do that with a woman, because there are so few storylines for women, we become hyper-critical of every single move that we make because there’s not much else to compare it to.”
The other criticism is in the scene where Natasha and Bruce discuss being monsters, with Natasha believing herself to be as much of one as Bruce after she reveals that her training ended in sterilization. A lot of people are getting “sterilized=monster” when I’m pretty sure it meant “trained to straight-up murder people and losing the ability to make these choices, and not being sure if you’re fit for anything besides killing people= monster.” Especially because in the flashbacks, Madame B admonishes her for failing on purpose at some point, and we see in the trailer Natasha be slammed back onto a gurney. The scene could probably have been tweaked a little to make this clearer. I understand the concern people have, but I’m fairly sure the intended message was assassin is monster, not sterile woman. A lot of critics are conveniently forgetting the other part of her graduation ceremony: shooting a helpless person in cold blood.
Finally, people are mad that Ultron at one point captures Widow, causing critics to accuse Whedon of writing a damsel in distress. However, with the way the scene is written, the only alternative would have been to have her be driving the plane. Tony MUST go to Oslo (no one else can hack like he can) and Thor has to go to the Plot Point Waterpark (because Norse mythology.) Steve is a better choice to fend off the robots, because the tech is new and it’s better for Natasha or Clint to work with the tech. There’s no good drama if Bruce is captured, because he just Hulks out and then he’s free. Natasha immediately devises a way to contact Clint, which is hardly a damsel move. This also sets up Bruce’s rescue of Natasha and his reiteration of the offer to run away. In quite possibly the least damsel-in-distress thing ever, Natasha chooses the mission, betraying Banner in the process.
Honestly, I think Whedon did right by Widow. Were there lines that could have been tweaked? Yes. Letting a cold assassin grow closer to her peers and open up to them? Not anti-feminist. She still chose the safety of the world over her relationship with Banner. Yes, she mourns, but at the end of the film, she heads out to her next adventure: joining Cap to lead the New Avengers.