Pop Rocks: Will Chicks Dig The Avengers?

Categories: Pop Rocks

Stupid sexy Banner!
Anybody remember the kerfuffle around the original version of the Avengers movie poster? Or how incensed everyone was that Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow was the only character whose rear end was pointed at us? Kevin Bolk's response, shown above, parodied it nicely.

I don't remember if anybody asked Johansson herself what she thought of the whole thing, or if she minded, because her derriere actually figures very prominently in the final version of The Avengers (just as it did in Lost in Translation, and probably every movie of hers since 2003). Is this a bad thing? I don't know. Few movies outside of late-1980s era Stallone are as dripping with testosterone as The Avengers, from Thor and the Hulk beating the shit out of each other to Agent Coulson's bro-love for Captain America, so repeatedly focusing on Black Widow's caboose or tying her to a chair in a minidress and stockings (but she naturally has the bad guys where she wants them the whole time) feminizes the proceedings somewhat.

I guess.

I won't be violating any review embargos when I say I enjoyed the shit out of The Avengers. It's funny and lots of asses get kicked and that Thor sure is a dreamboat, but that'll all be in my review tomorrow (well, maybe not the dreamboat part). Comic book fans and those eager for the summer popcorn movie season to kick off should have a very good time.

Yet for all that, there's a lurking...I don't know that I'd call it "sexism," but certainly an element of objectification to The Avengers that didn't really register with me as I was watching it ("Did we need to put Johansson's buns front and center when she was questioning Lok....holy shit, the Hulk!"), but has kind of nagged at me since.

I understand there are certain immutable truths to comic book movies, and the first of these is: They're always going to be geared primarily to (usually) young men, because minor demographic shifts aside, those are who still mostly reads comic books. A second one is: The most popular titles are about male characters (Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man), so naturally the movies will be as well.

Obviously the X-Men movies employed a number of female characters, but among mainstream comic movies they're the exception. And while a Wonder Woman movie has been kicking around Hollywood for over ten years (Sandra Bullock? Beyoncé? Catherine Zeta-Jones?), the failures of Catwoman and Elektra have tempered enthusiasm somewhat. Hell, Avengers director Joss Whedon was attached at one point. Given the eleventy bazillion dollars that movie stands to earn over the next few months, don't expect DC to lure him away any time soon.

And maybe Whedon's not the guy to direct a Wonder Woman movie anyway. He gets a lot of credit for creating "strong female characters," though their less savory underpinnings are often glossed over (Buffy's punitive forays into non-monogamous relationship sex, Firefly's postulation that being a prostitute in the future is one of the highest honors imaginable). And that's not even bringing up the exercise in televised sadism that was Dollhouse.

Black Widow is given the most back story in the Avengers movie, it's true, but that's because she's the only one of the team aside from Hawkeye who didn't get their own movie (or two, as is the case with Iron Man and Hulk). Tantalizing hints are dropped as to her evil past, but that doesn't get around the fact that she's the weakest team member (aside from Hawkeye, who at least gets an arsenal of gadget arrows).

Lest we forget, there was actually a female founding member of the Avengers (the Wasp). I guess Janet Van Dyne's bob haircut didn't translate well to the 21st century.

The other big-name actress in the movie, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, is relegated to flouncing around in blue jean cutoffs and whispering sexual innuendoes to Tony Stark. But she helped design Stark's new skyscraper, so that makes everything all right.

That just leaves S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hills (Cobie Smulders), who is an able adjunct to Nick Fury, and honestly demonstrates about as much bad-assitude as Black Widow, which sort of underscores the latter's irrelevance.

How big a problem is it? If you're an adult, probably not much. If you don't dig the beefcake or the macho bullshit gets to be too much, there are other options. I guess I'm looking at this from a parent's perspective, and I'm pleased there are at least a few options for my girls that aren't relegated to tight pants or the rich genius's girlfriend (they're a little young to be introduced to Ellen Ripley, but I have Aliens in the bullpen).

When all is said and done, The Avengers is still a terrifically entertaining movie. I just wanted to throw some of this out there, and didn't want my review to be 3,000 words long.

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Personally, as a female viewer, my response was mostly positive.  I would have liked more female characters, especially since the ones we got were mostly isolated from each other among the larger male cast.  However, the ladies themselves were all powerful and capable, sexy but not humiliatingly sexualized, and Black Widow was played as being at least as tough and useful to the team as the other "normal", Hawkeye. (Her harrowing experience with the Hulk seemed to be more about her squishy mortality than her femininity.)

I also found it really refreshing that, with the exception of Black Widow's dress in her first scene, the women's costume designs were as practical and battle-ready as the men's, with plenty of coverage for protection, and they didn't shred provocatively at the first volley of rubble.  For that matter, I'll admit to cheerfully ogling the Cap for most of the movie.  Whoever designed that suit deserves a high-five for the way it emphasized that neatly-turned waist and shoulders.  (Agent Coulson, I sympathize with your "bro-love" wholeheartedly.)  Same goes for Tony's suit-shedding strut across the Stark Building catwalk.  A little camera-time on Scarlett Johanssen's fully-clad backside is a fair trade (for once), I'd say.

Scott Mendelson
Scott Mendelson

I mentioned this in my review, but I was relatively pleased by how Whedon handled gender issues this time around.  To wit, neither Johansson or Smulders are sexualized during the proceedings and their ability to kick butt is taken completely for granted.  Whedon also pulls a neat trick in terms of the SHIELD organization itself.  Point being, when we enter the SHIELD aircraft, pretty much half of the onscreen agents manning the various stations are female.  Again, no undue attention is called to this, but it's simply treated as absolutely normal, which is of course the definition of social progress.  

Of course, one could argue that his 'no big deal' approach is part of the reason that some are carping about Paltrow's cameo, which doesn't feel the need to shout "PEPPER POTTS IS AN EQUAL TO TONY STARK AND ACTUALLY RUNS HIS COMPANY!".  Point being, both of them are dressed casually in that scene and it's clear that Potts and Stark treat each other completely as equals with no power imbalance in their personal or professional relationship. 

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