Avengers 2: Why the Love Story Matters


If you haven’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, you should probably stop reading.

Okay, now those two people are gone, I’m going to discuss the Black Widow controversy from a storyline perspective.

Background:  I was discussing the flick with Crystal Liechty at StoryMakers 2015.  She purported to love the movie (by the way), but the budding romance between Black Widow and The Hulk bothered her.  It felt forced, she said.  Also, I think we discussed Mr. Ruffalo’s attractiveness relative to Thor (at which several men and women in the room began to drool).

I won’t debate how attractive Mr. Ruffalo is (or isn’t).  Nor will I comment on the fact that every woman in the first Thor movie was covered in flannel, head to toe, while the eponymous hero was shirtless.

But I can’t let escape the singular fact:  the love story began in the first movie, the payoff was TOTALLY earned, and it is absolutely critical to Widow’s character arc.

Exhibit A:  Black Widow’s Character Arc (from the first movie)

  • She has a perfect understanding of her limits.
  • She can unerringly estimate the abilities and psychology of others.
  • Due to these two factors, she has more control of situations (combat / interrogation / sabotage) than nearly anyone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • Except Hulk.

Exhibit B:  Hulk the Hunk

  • As a prospective partner, there’s a lot to admire.
  • He’s on par with Tony Stark as one of the smartest dudes around.
  • And he comes off as a genuinely nice guy, wanting to pitch in where he can for the greater good.
  • But he knows he’s dangerous.  He’s scary and scared and a total flight risk.
  • He turns into an angry green rage-monster.

At the end of the first movie, we see that Bruce has some level of control over his power; he’s not a complete force of nature.  We also see that he’s about the only thing that throws Widow out of her element, introduces uncertainty into her life, and makes her feel real emotion.

For the second movie, Joss has to do one of two things:  he can spend a bunch of time re-hashing the first movie, or he can assume that viewers have seen it — and move on.

Storytellers are constantly faced with this conundrum.  Do I wrap everything up in a pretty box, explain every last detail, run every loose-end to ground?  Or, like life, do I allow it to be messy.  Do I allow characters room to breathe and grow, to leave some questions unanswered, to focus on the core story and let other things merely be (to be resolved later or never).

Star Wars has been elevated by fans, in part because minor story elements SEEMED to have a real history, loose strings were left to make fans dream and talk and speculate.  This influenced other creators.  Years afterward, JJ Abrams and Damon Lindeloff expanded on this type of storytelling in Lost — and fans were polarized because many didn’t understand what was happending.  JJ went on to be a very safe storyteller, backing away from the ledge.  Lindeloff continued with this technique in Prometheus, to the aggravation of nearly everyone.

As far as Marvel goes, Joss Whedon doesn’t rehash character.  Most of his fans deem it a strength.  And it’s made Marvel what it is.

So … Black Widow.  Capable enough that even the god of mischief doesn’t pose a threat.  She can predict every eventuality beforehand.  Love is safe and unexciting.

And then there’s Bruce.  He’s a flight risk.  Unpredictable.  Intelligent, deep.  He represents danger — but it’s danger that can be overcome.  He’s … exciting.

Is it any wonder she can let her guard down?  She thinks circles around every other man.  They’re too easy, too boring, too lame.  Bruce is her antithesis.

So the question is, how much do we rehash in the second movie?  Joss chose to continue the movie in a living universe.  Time has passed.  Things have happened.  We’re dropped right back into the action.

Now, one of the criticisms is that Black Widow has been sterilized, to which I say … so what?  Joss has already done the heavy lifting, setting up the character arcs from the beginning.  And it might make sense that it occurred, considering her backstory.

And then there’s the possibility that she lied.  It’s what she does.  And Bruce was ready to run.  How do we know that she CAN’T have kids?  Joss has been known to use misdirection before.  And this arc is only beginning, it certainly must continue in the next film.

If there was a problem with Avengers, it was in the editing room.  Marvel wanted so much crap shoehorned in, Joss had to make a few concessions.  He didn’t have time to force-feed some people.  He didn’t have time to connect all of the dots.  He had to be happy with a somewhat messy movie that was utterly entertaining and a delight to watch.

Was it perfect?  No.  Was it true to the characters?  In my opinion, yes.  Was it a beautiful, glorious, truthful mess that only Joss could deliver?  Without a doubt!

But Joss is leaving Marvel.  And the silly backlash isn’t likely to lure him back.  So we’re left with a near-perfect mess of a series and no hope of a satisfying conclusion.

Sound familiar?  😉


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