You didn’t see that coming?
***Warning: Avengers: Age of Ultron Spoilers ahead.
When back in April, Marvel announced Linda Cardellini and Julie Delpy as part of the Age of Ultron cast, the first thoughts in our heads were that Delpy would portray Black Widow’s trainer, and Cardellini, perhaps Captain Marvel — perhaps some other superheroine. We were half right.
There was much to love about Whedon’s second Avengers outing, and plenty of female action going on. There were funny quips and running jokes (“Language!”), outrageous destruction sequences, and great interaction between the Avengers. Though I’m with Scarlett — I didn’t really get where the sudden Natasha’s-lovestruck-over-Hulk thing came from — that’s not my biggest gripe. (I’ll say this for Johannson; whether she believed in it or not, Scarjo one hundred percent sold it). Black Widow’s exhilarating motorcycle ride and subsequent action sequence were for me, one of Ultron’s high points, marred only by the fact that it was offset by Natasha lamenting her forced sterilization. It’s not that I object so much to the idea that such a procedure could have been done (why do we never hear of the male superheroes being castrated so they won’t put a desire for children above the mission? Oh right, dudes don’t want kids as much as chicks), as I do to the moment when Black Widow tears up over the revelation. Whedon could have shaken things up and revealed a side-effect of Cap’s Super-Soldiering serum is that he’s left impotent, and have him teary over not being able to father a Li’l Cap. Of course, I’m being facetious here. You’d never see something so intimate and depressing; who wants to hear about that nonsense during the course of a Marvel movie?
Still, at least we’ve got ourselves a female Avenger (two, now that Wanda’s on the team). And listen, it’s not that I watched this movie through some sort of what-can-I-find-to-be-offended-over lens. We go to Marvel films to be entertained; to escape our own routine and for a couple of hours, to laugh, and be awed by action sequences — to live vicariously through the superheroes we might like to be. We love the camaraderie and the antagonism, the relationships between the characters, and floating with the magic of where this particular fantasy story will take us. And it was all going pretty well until *insert scratching record sound here*.
Was it that big of a shock that Hawkeye had a secret family hidden away on a secret ranch? No. Hawk’s telephone conversation to his “girlfriend” after earlier saying he didn’t have one clearly telegraphed something was coming. What left me puzzled for a variety of reasons; what nagged at me, and with all the CGI effects, what I just couldn’t get past was the simplest depiction of a pregnant (was she barefoot?) mother, sitting at home with the kids, waiting for her man. This is what you brought in Linda Cardellini to do? (Did Whedon not see her in Bloodline, Mad Men or Freaks and Geeks?) It’s not that we don’t know, love and respect women who are stay-at-home mothers; that’s a superhero job if you’ve ever seen or done it. The problem here is why, against this modern backdrop, would Whedon even bother to put in such an utterly banal depiction of a stereotypical “yes-honey-whatever-you-decide” non-entity of a woman in at all, and to add insult, ask an actress of Cardellini’s caliber to stand on a set and play her? As I sat in the theater grinding popcorn between my teeth, all I could think was “Why would Cardellini even take this role, agree to stand there and play that pointless, bland character — what could they possibly have paid her to do this part?” Putting myself in her place, I’d pull a Kramer and say, “Look away, I’m hideous!”
How is this kind of female character (and she’s so thinly written, I hesitate to even call her that) written by the same guy whose claim to fame is filled with the leading women of Dollhouse, Firefly, Buffy… who’s known as The Guy Who Writes Strong Women? Did Disney get inside his head? After all, it’s their marketing people who seem to think princesses are enough to keep the girls happy (why bother with female Marvel figures); did Whedon just figure he’d go with the flow? Oh, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch got a couple of good sequences; why bother even writing anything for Hawk’s wife? I’m more inclined to believe he simply handed Laura Barton’s scenes off to a subordinate and wasn’t even on-set the day they were shot or edited, because who in their right mind thought they belonged in Age of Ultron?
Whedon is said to have “liked the idea of bringing the world’s mightiest superheroes to a humble home on a Midwestern farm. ‘The middle of the last movie, they were on the helicarrier and everything went very sci-fi…This movie is all about bringing them back down to earth.’” (BF) It could just as easily have been an old Barton family ranch Hawkeye discovered was his, or Fury could have set up the gang out there with no need or mention of a wife at all. And a humble home doesn’t have to be run by a one-dimensional, doe-eyed woman. Written as she was, Laura stood out as an anachronistic eyesore, unnecessary and offensive; better left unseen. I’d much rather have watched another few moments of Black Widow kicking ass.