Due to the excitement of San Diego Comic-Con and the confirmation of the Black Widow solo film, now felt like the perfect time to celebrate Natasha Romanoff. In doing so, this article will both critique the depictions we have gotten of her thus far in the MCU, and look forward to a better future for this character:
We at Fangirlish disagree with Scarlett Johansson’s most recent comments from an interview with AS IF magazine, regarding which roles she should be able to portray. That being said, we will try our best in this piece to appreciate Natasha Romanoff without bringing Johansson’s opinions into the fold.
Here are 5 reasons why I love Natasha Romanoff:
1. The First of Many
Natasha was the only girl in a boy’s club for quite some time. She was the only female Avenger until Wanda Maximoff’s introduction in Avengers: Age of Ultron. (Yes, characters like Pepper Potts, Peggy Carter, and Maria Hill worked alongside the team, but they weren’t considered official Avengers in the movies.) Natasha stood out to fans that saw themselves in her, and also stood out among five enormously popular male superheroes. Being a core member of the Avengers, a part of the OG6, set her apart from other members that joined the team. Natasha opened the door to make the Avengers a more inclusive place for other female superheroes.
Unfortunately, Natasha’s appearances throughout the MCU are in films written and directed by men that don’t seem to understand how to depict the character, especially early on in the franchise. I would argue that the Russo brothers’ depiction of Nat in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the better depictions of Natasha Romanoff, but that’s an article for another day. Especially since she was the only woman on the team for a while, the movies tended to subject her to the role of the caretaker or the sex symbol and/or love interest. Obviously, Natasha is so much more than those stereotypes and has proved herself so in some of the reasons I will discuss later in the article, however, it is important to note of the boxes she tried to fight her way out of throughout the franchise.
Two specific examples that stick with me are from Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. One of which includes a fight that results in Bruce flopping onto Natasha’s front and burrowing his face in her breasts, and the other moment is one in which Natasha mentions always having to pick up after the boys. One of those examples is more absurd and explicit than the other but both are relevant in examining the depiction of Natasha. To stick with that specific movie, Natasha is shown in battle on screen; she isn’t excluded from the fight. However, her portion is usually cut short to bring Bruce back from being Hulked out or to get Bruce to Hulk out. Being the only female Avenger in the OG6, Natasha deserved so much better than what she was given for the most part. Luckily, we got to see a new and more complex side of her in other films, where those stereotypes filmmakers forced her into aren’t as prominent.
2. More Than an Asset
Natasha Romanoff has always pushed back against and defied the past that has tried to define her. Even though Joss Whedon tried to paint Natasha as a monster due to her inability to conceive children as a result of sterilization by the KGB, she has proven to be anything but, over the course of Infinity Saga. A monster doesn’t continually risk her life for the greater good. A monster doesn’t love and respect people as fiercely as Natasha loved her found family of the Avengers. Since this article has focused on loving Natasha despite the many awful cards she’s been dealt at the hands of screenwriters and directors, it is notable that Joss Whedon’s idea of what makes a woman a “monster” is being sterile. Natasha spoke about her guilty conscience when it comes to her red ledger, yet it is her status of being sterile that pulls the most focus in marking her a monster. Looking forward to the upcoming Black Widow solo film with the same title, here’s to hoping that Natasha’s internal battle is less about her inability to have children, as if that’s the only factor that makes or breaks a woman. Her backstory is rich enough for that not to be the a focus.
Though Natasha’s past is filled with abusive and traumatizing experiences thanks to institutions like the KGB and Hydra, she uses her pain and trauma from those days as fuel to take down the big bads and stand up for what’s right. She uses the skill set that those harmful agencies taught her as a weapon to take them – and others like them – down, to protect her loved ones, and save the world. Natasha’s deep love for and dedication to the Avengers has always been one of her greatest strengths, rather than a weakness.
3. The Real Natasha
More often than not, the films spent too much time trying to develop a baseless relationship between her and Bruce Banner, the Hulk. Her scenes in Avengers: Endgame, some leading up to and most after her death felt more focused on Bruce, their failed relationship, and his reaction to her death than truly serving Natasha’s story. Most of her scenes, even her death, usually served the larger story of her male counterparts, which seems to be one of the leading reasons why people are craving a solo movie so much. Nothing ever felt like it was truly hers in the films, outside of some truly heartfelt moments between her and Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) or when she shared her past with Bruce. Those felt the most honest for her character.
Because of cut or shortened scenes (like the one from the Avengers: Endgame trailer where Natasha is at a shooting range) and her unfortunately shortened lifespan, we weren’t truly able to see how big and wonderful Natasha’s heart is outside of the team. What we did see was riddled with poor writing on her behalf. If only she had a team like that behind Captain Marvel on her side. Lucky for us and for Natasha, we have a solo film to impatiently wait for, in the hopes that it will finally let us see Natasha in a new, more complex way, like she deserves.
4. The Soul of the Avengers
Upon my first viewing of Avengers: Endgame, I was fully convinced this scene was some sort of fake out and that there was no possible way that the MCU had killed off the first female Avenger. It was impossible for me to wrap my head around. Yes, Natasha’s decision was brave and heroic. It was a true example of her putting her family before everyone else and she should be applauded for that unconditional love. However, this decision cheated her of a life she deserved to better serve the emotional development of her male counterparts. Clint killed hundreds of people for years, was redeemed in the context of the film, and got to live his life with his family. Natasha seemingly never forgave herself for her wrongdoings and thought she’d be the right one to sacrifice herself and save the day. It should have been Clint if it had to be one of them. To not hold the massacres he caused against him is absurd when Natasha was considered a monster earlier in the Infinity Saga for being sterile. It’s messy and sexist, to say the very least.
To make matters worse, Jason Guerraisa at Business Insider got the inside scoop about Avengers: Endgame from editors Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt. It is in this piece that Schmidt reveals there was an alternate take on that Vormir scene that ends in Natasha’s untimely death: “Thanos and his soldiers show up on Vormir and a small battle ensues between them and Natasha and Clint. Natasha decides to run off the cliff. Clint tries to stop her while also fending off the attack.” This version of the scene holds a different weight for me than the one we see in the film. The one in the film feels like one that serves the arc of Clint more than it does Natasha. If she had fought Thanos and his army, knowing that either her team was going to get the stone or Thanos’ team would, and then jumped from the cliff, that feels like it serves Natasha more. She would have went down with a fight and then sacrificed her soul to save the world, since Natasha is the soul of the Avengers after all.
5. Let’s Hear It for Our Girl
All of the above reasons are perfect reasons to celebrate the confirmation of the film Black Widow. Thanks to Kevin Feige’s announcement at San Diego Comic-Con, we don’t have to believe those grainy set pictures are some fluke. We are actually getting a solo film based on the first female Avenger. It feels like a long time coming for fans of the franchise and of Black Widow, but also for Natasha as a character. We can only hope that this film will see Natasha Romanoff as a fully realized character as she will be standing on her own for the first time. My expectations are already higher since the film will be directed by Cate Shortland. If only we could borrow the Time Stone to get to May 1, 2020 faster.
Natasha Romanoff was one of the first female superheroes I ever saw on the big screen, and I never would have known that her presence would mean as much to me as it does. I know I’m not alone in that feeling either. The love for Natasha is fierce and persistent. Her fans are who have been campaigning and rooting for this solo film from the very beginning. Because of them and the patience of those who care about her story behind the scenes (and all of the other incredibly intricate pieces that had to fall perfectly in place), Natasha’s story is finally being told.
Go see Avengers: Endgame if it’s still showing in theaters near you and go see Black Widow on May 1, 2020.