The Avengers: First Thoughts

I’m not calling this a full review of The Avengers, because I started celebrating its release early by getting sick so I’m kind of a mess. Also, I’m coming from a place of love for comics, and Marvel specifically, and I know previously my familiarity with source material has blinded me in some ways. (For example, not mentioning the sexy dancing girls in Iron Man 2 because I just expected it from Tony Stark.) But I did see it, and I’m curious to know what y’all think.

The things that struck me on first viewing, from a Heroine Content perspective:

Just because we’re used to Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, it shouldn’t be taken for granted that the folks planning out the Avengers films chose to use this African-American version of Fury instead of the white guy version.

That said, it would be nice if there were any other people of color with speaking roles. At the very least, if a major city is being attacked, what are the chances that War Machine would not show up to help? Even if the choice of all white folks for the core team was set in stone, which obviously it was not given that human beings were involved and making decisions, there were ways to incorporate some of the other heroes in the plot without overcrowding it, and those opportunities were not taken.

I did miss Maximiliano Hernández portraying Agent Sitwell who is white in the regular Marvel continuity, so I’m not sure if he just didn’t get a mention by name or it slipped by me – so if there’s something else here that escaping me, please let me know.

[To be clear, I am well aware that when working with a franchise like this, with popular established characters who have a long history and fan base, you do not just throw them all out the window for other characters or recast them all as people of color. That is not what I’m proposing.]

What I think I saw, but can only confirm by re-watching later, is that the “enemies of S.H.I.E.L.D” working with Loki had a lot more background people of color than did the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew on the helicarrier.

In between Iron Man 2 and now, someone sat Gwyneth Paltrow down and taught her how to be Pepper. Someone also sat Scarlett Johansson down and taught her how to be Natasha. Thank goodness. Maria Hill, portrayed by Cobie Smulders, doesn’t quite have enough presence for me. I was unconvinced that she could have been Madipoor’s top cop, and that’s the personality they needed to hit even if that’s not part of her backstory in this universe. And by “need” I mean “in order to make me happy.” But she was quite competent, as was Natasha, and I felt good about these being the first two ass-kicking women in the franchise. (Too bad that much of the merchandise, including a lot of the fan-made stuff, completely ignores Natasha’s existence.)

Would it have been so much to ask, though, if any two of these women could have talked to each other? If I missed it, let me know.

The real sore point, for me, was the horrible joke that Thor made about Loki being adopted. Really?! It’s 2012, and we’re still using children who are adopted as a punchline? Whoever wrote that joke should be ashamed of themselves.

From an entertainment perspective, aside from that one cringeworthy moment, I really enjoyed the movie. The pacing was great, and the ensemble cast was well balanced. (I missed Edward Norton as Bruce Banner terribly, though, and would have loved to see Liv Tyler‘s Betty Ross again.)

That’s what I have for now. It was whiter than I was hoping, and the women kicked more ass than I was expecting. I never know what to do with rating films like this. “Yay for white women” impressed me a lot more several years ago; my standards have risen. And since I’m pretty sure I missed some stuff, I’m not going to rate it now. Those who have seen it, let me know what you thought if you’re so inclined.

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

8 thoughts on “The Avengers: First Thoughts

  1. Patrick

    I enjoyed the film, but:

    – first moment we have of Black Widow, she’s bound to a chair in a sexy dress, being hit in the face. Her m.o. when interrogating is to let herself be overpowered or tricked – that would never fly with a guy.

    – Maybe there were some nonwhite people in NY street scenes, but SHIELD was filled with Jackson and no other nonwhite person.

    – At least we got two female characters with prominence. Pepper was a bit part. On the other hand, there were Loki, Thor, Hulk, Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Scientist Dude, Agent Coulson. 9-2 isn’t what I’d call representative.

  2. Skye

    Patrick, my husband said exactly the same thing about the first time we see Black Widow. He was expecting I’d be bothered by it. Instead it was the scene that convinced me ScarJo was getting it right this time, because I was like “OMG SHE HAS THEM RIGHT WHERE SHE WANTS THEM.” I instantly thought of Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuña’s The Name of the Rose, though I think there’s plenty of other precedent for Natasha using the femme fatale / sexy spy strategy. There was just something in her eyes, and her face, that was telegraphing for me that she was in control of the situation and wouldn’t be just the blank personality from Iron Man 2.

    What I wish, though, is that there were more female superheroes to balance that out. A powerhouse like Ms. Marvel, for example. If you have a range of female characters to pick from, and you only pick the sexy spy, that’s not working for me.

    Pepper was a bit part, but she had more presence in that bit than Paltrow managed in both Iron Man films put together. The screaming and panicking alternating with “look how competent she is!” in Iron Man 2, and the slut-shaming in Iron Man, had pretty much killed any positive expectations I had for her character ever.

    You’re totally right about the gender balance. I walked in knowing that early in the film’s development, there had been a risk of no women on the team, and I was expecting to hate Natasha again. I thought Maria Hill would get just a cameo. So I was expecting nothing, and got substantially more than that. I ended up far more disappointed by the race issues than by the female characters.

  3. Maggie

    I wanted to see Ms Marvel too. They had heaps of SHIELD pilots AND there were random aliens flying around, you could even have done a Carol Danvers Sans Mar Vell origin story in that.

    I notice that, as usual, explicitly queer characters aren’t event present enough to get a mention here. However, I am not sure we ever got a pronoun on Phil Coulson’s cellist… it would be very like Whedon to slip that by for a have-his-cake-and-eat-it sort of thing.

  4. Skye

    Maggie, great point about queer characters. I can’t remember any characters with stated or obvious disabilities, either, unless you count Bruce Banner. I’m not sure that I would give any credit for that one, though.

  5. d

    I may take heat for this one, but having suffered through the continuing horror that is the x-series, I will gladly wait forever to see Carol, unless she’s treated like the others: slowly hinted at in other films, then leading to her own movie, then finally an appearance in the Avengers. Especially for a female led film, we’ll only get one chance to do it right. And with her rich history, she has more than enough to sustain at least a couple of films on her own before being just an avenger, if they chose. I wouldn’t even want a cameo, unless it was going to be the actor who eventually plays her, and we don’t have a revolving door, like the 3 Kittys – although…I would gladly pluck down money to see Ellen Page in her own Shadowcat film! :D (of course, I shudder to think of the branding: “It’s Juno with super powers!”, lol).

    But I completely agree with you all that they could have included other females. Why not Wasp, or the Scarlett Witch? Wasp would have been a more straight forward choice, and since Julia Roberts looked pretty good in Hook for the time it was filmed, I can see production making believable graphics. Maybe I am biased, but I thought Wanda would have been a great choice. When I think of avengers, I think of her. And since fox still has the x-men rights (yes?), that would have been a way for marvel to address a mutant sub-text, without having to directly relate it to the x-film canon. Maybe tweak the outfit a bit. :p

    Much like you Skye, I was under the weather this weekend, but didn’t have the heart to push through it; I’ll have to see it this weekend. So thanks for the review! And thanks guys for the comments. :)

  6. Ursa

    “- first moment we have of Black Widow, she’s bound to a chair in a sexy dress, being hit in the face. Her m.o. when interrogating is to let herself be overpowered or tricked – that would never fly with a guy.”

    Is it her usual MO? I ask because I don’t really know. Both interrogations she does in the film require her to pretend to be vulnerable to extract information, I guess. Is that a comic thing too (I mean I can think of one instance, but I’m hardly a Natasha expert).

    You know something though, when I saw her tied to a chair with a bald guy? I honestly SQUEED. Like an excited small child.

    And then everyone looked at me, but that’s not the point.

    I can totally see where you’re coming from here, honestly. And possibly as a look-comic-fans thing it was ill-advised.

    But it’s…well, it’s this:

    Where we take a woman in an honest-to-goodness refrigerator and have her walk out of it. After kicking the ever-loving crud out of everyone else. Not because she’s providing motivation for a man to save her, or feel guilty about her death. Because she’s sneaky-like and saving the world via her amazing Slytherin cunning. (Because she doesn’t really have any superpowers either. She’s not invulnerable, she can’t fly…she heals a bit faster and lives a great deal longer than regular people, but the people she’s up against are often not regular people. Neither are her teammates for that matter.)

    And yeah, I know, naked bondage in a fridge isn’t exactly progressive either but it’s not drawn all sexy. She’s mostly blue, for one thing.

    It’d be nice to have another woman Avenger. Or even just more Maria Hill, who doesn’t use ‘vulnerability’ as a weapon. Just to balance it out a bit.

    But I still absolutely loved the film.

    (Also: OH, it was COULSON with the cellist of indeterminate sex. I really should have been paying closer attention at that bit.)

  7. SunlessNick

    Black Widow and Agent Hill are the only people in the film that manage to dodge shots from Hawkeye.

  8. takingitoutside

    I loved the scene with Black Widow tied to the chair. Scenes starting that way almost always end with guys trying to save the woman, but that was flipped, and flipped well. The fighting style that they gave Black Widow for this film emphasizes skills/characteristics that women usually possess more than men and which would be useful for a fighter (exs. flexibility, peripheral vision) instead of trying to make a well-trained woman beating a bigger, well-trained guy in a boxing match realistic. On top of that, she’s doing it to go save a guy! Total reversal.

    I can see being irritated by the way the scene starts, but people of both sexes get captured, held and tortured all the time. James Bond, for instance, started off “Die Another Day” in a North Korean prison, and was even rescued by M, herself, because he is believed to be leaking information. It’s where the film goes once the agent is captured that intrigues me, and this film went the right way.

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