OK, ladies and gentlemen, I have my ranty pants on. This post WILL contain spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron, so if you don’t want to know, come back after you’ve seen it. You may want to rant too.
Opening weekend, I went and saw Avengers: Age of Ultron. I have been looking forward to watching this since it was announced. I LOVED the first Avengers movie. LOVED it.
What followed Avengers was the stand alone sequels, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I also loved all three of these films. The women portrayed in these three films are strong, intelligent women who aren’t just a love interest or arm candy, which I really respected.
Conversely, in Avengers: Age of Ultron Pepper and Jane are only mentioned briefly and it’s basically in a “my girlfriend is better than yours” discussion between Tony Stark and Thor. Even though both men were clearly proud of their partners, with Pepper as CEO of Stark Industries and Jane in line for a Nobel Peace Prize, Thor actually says “Jane is better.” Really, writers?
Then there is Black Widow. Keep in mind that Natasha Romanoff is actually one of the Avengers, meaning she’s one of the heroes of the film. Despite this fact and her role in every other film she’s been in, in Age of Ultron she’s been relegated to the position of the love interest.
This is both incredibly disappointing, and frustrating. When we first meet Natasha Romanoff in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), she was undercover as Pepper Potts’ assistant in Iron Man 2. As the movie progressed, we saw who she really was – a spy, and an Agent of SHIELD and a kick ass female. Then in Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she solidified her status as a woman who knew her game, as a woman who was human like the rest of us but with a very specific skill set.
Now, even though the opening sequence to the film shows Romanoff as we love her, the arse-kicking BAMF, who is a valuable part of the Avengers team, we next see her (in no particular order) fawning over Bruce Banner, getting kidnapped by Ultron, fawning over Banner some more, explaining how she’s a monster like Banner because she can’t have kids, and saying she’ll run away with Banner if that’s what he wants. SERIOUSLY? I mean COME ON!
This is not the Romanoff we know and love.
This is not the character we wanted to see when we watched this film. We wanted to see her as the fiesty redhead that’s able not only do her job, but also contribute to the team, as well as provide a little light humour. The Romanoff we love was barely visible for 20% of the film. What was left was a Natasha we’ve never seen before, in fact has never even been hinted at, and we’re supposed to buy it?
NOPE. Not this Marvel fan. The ball was well and truly dropped here. And it’s so disappointing.
On top of all that, a big issue has risen again with regards to the merchandise surrounding Age of Ultron and, with movies like this, it appears pretty quickly – t-shirts, cups, plates, figurines, colouring-in books, all of this merchandise can be found anywhere from supermarkets to toy stores.
What’s been brutally obvious in the merchandise I’ve seen is the lack of any female superhero merchandise. Our lovely Bek was at her local supermarket and took this pic:
I thought this may just be a one-off thing, so I googled “Age of Ultron merchandise” and went to the official Marvel online store. All they had was a t-shirt, mug and mouse pad featuring Black Widow. None of the tees of the group had her – just Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk.
I went to another website. This had one t-shirt with Black Widow along with the rest of the team. There was one tee of Black Widow by herself, and a Black Widow laptop case. That’s it.
Heads up Disney and Marvel, Black Widow is an Avenger too! She’s not a background character, she’s not a sidekick, SHE IS ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS.
On top of all that, maybe, just maybe, there are women who actually like superheroes and would like to spend their hard earned cash on Black Widow merchandise. I seriously can’t be the only woman who buys nerdy things. Romanoff is a likable character! She’s not chemically enhanced, she’s not a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, she’s a kickarse woman who is freaking awesome!
The Mary Sue actually shed some light on this issue.
Disney bought Marvel and Lucasfilm because they wanted to access the male market. To achieve this goal, they allocate less to Marvel’s female demo, and even less to a unisex one. They won’t be interested in changing how they work until consumers understand what’s going on.
TMS then goes onto explain licensing.
Movie style guides tend to have a higher rate due to actor likeness fees, and the standard royalty rate is about 12%. To pay Marvel $25K, a licensee has to make over $208K. Moreover, they need to pay their employees and manufacturers and make a profit. For Marvel movie properties, licensees need to make as much money as possible in a short amount of time. Movie characters are hot only for a few months, so both Disney and the licensees will resort to what they know best: the “separate, but equal” strategy.
What this is basically saying is that there is more money to be made with the male characters. Or so they think. Clearly no one has actually thought to either look online and see people’s reactions to the lack of female character’s merchandise, or ask the consumer. Have a focus group – ask women, ask young girls, what we want in our merchandise. We will tell you!
One of the other Avengers, Mark Ruffalo (who plays Bruce Banner/Hulk), agrees.
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) April 29, 2015
On top of the small amount of Black Widow merchandise, if you search for Scarlet Witch, who is also one of the main characters in Age of Ultron, there is ZERO movie merchandise on the Marvel website, and only two options from the comics. Ugh.
Last, but not least, and possibly the most disappointing to come out from all of this, was an interview with cast members Jeremy Renner, who plays Hawkeye, and Chris Evans who plays Captain America. They were asked what they thought about Romanoff ending up in a relationship with Bruce Banner, when a lot of fans like to ship (support a romantic pairing) between their characters. First words out of Renner’s mouth was “She’s a slut”.
Evans then said that he was going to say something along those lines as well. Needless to say, this has caused quite a bit of backlash, and personally I wasn’t impressed. Both actors later issued apologies, Evans saying that it was juvenile, he regrets saying it. Renner says,
I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone.
He’s somehow justifying his behaviour by both saying it was a joke, and that it’s a joke about a fictional character. People don’t seem to get how this is a bad thing, even if it’s in reference to a fictional character. Slut-shaming is slut-shaming, regardless of who the comments are directed at. And to further cement Jeremy Renner on my shit list, he then undoes his half-arsed apology by repeating his comments on Conan. Can you say “dumbass”, boys and girls?
All in all, this whole Age of Ultron thing has been a debacle, so much so that Joss Whedon, writer and director of the film, deleted his Twitter after the US release. He’s received much backlash over the portrayal of Romanoff in this film, which is understandable considering he is usually known for writing incredible female characters.
Marvel, consider the ball completely dropped.
Have you seen Avengers Age of Ultron? What are your thoughts?