thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Date, Marry, Dump: The Avengers Edition

In Film on May 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Sarah T.

In all the hubbub about The Avengers, I haven’t yet seen an article addressing one very important, age-old question. Who would you date, who would you marry, and who would you toss in the garbage can? Let us consider together.

Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, is a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. And he does stand out from the superhero crowd. He’s an alcoholic with shrapnel constantly trying to work its way into his heart, the perfect metaphor for just how close to the edge he lives. There’s good anti-hero potential there, but Stark’s always irked me with his self-congratulatory torturedness.

The problem for me isn’t that he’s flawed, it’s that he seems so proud of himself for being a callous, self-destructive narcissist who enjoys belittling the people around him. He uses his torment as a selling point, a tactic that reeks of manipulation and a deep-set need for ego-stroking. Basically, his entire persona is “Pay attention to me, I have issues!”

Who makes their facial hair go like that, even?

But Pepper Potts of the world, there’s hope! This rich, tragic rebel might just change for the right girl, if she happens to be perfect enough. Yikes: Don’t fall for this one, prospective Potts. Messed-up people change if and when they want to. Put down the motorcycle jacket and get out while you can.

Perhaps unfairly, as an actor Downey sets off the same warning signals as Stark on my personal jerk-o-meter. And through no fault of his own, that meter really gets into the red zone when I read critics fawning all over him and ignoring  Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. (More on her in a bit.)

Well. As you may have guessed by now, I’m dumping Stark! I’m going to tesseract him into some other dimension far, far away from me. And worst of all, in that dimension, there are no mirrors for him to preen in. WHAT NOW, IRON MAN?

Granted, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has his issues too. An angry green giant resides inside this melancholy doctor of science. But girls like giants, you know what I’m saying? And girls like smart, self-deprecating aw-shucks types with mussed hair and glasses even more.

Now that’s more like it.

Amidst the whizz-band splashiness of The Avengers, Ruffalo underplays his part so much that he sometimes seems mildly out of place. Perhaps he wandered in off the set of Eternal Sunshine, I mused, and he’s missing Kirsten Dunst. That’s why he’s so glum!

But that low-key attitude makes for a perfect Banner as he edges closer to transforming into the Hulk. Ruffalo’s playing a long game: he gives Banner a woebegone sense of humor that reveals the inner struggle brewing just beneath the rumpled surface. “That’s my secret,” he says late in the movie as he prepares to let the Hulk rip. His tone is mild as ever; his eyes crinkle down at the corners as he hunches toward the alien spaceship hurtling through midtown Manhattan. “I’m always angry.”

Once he says so, it’s clear how true the admission is. That buried anger is the reason why, when Banner’s button-down shirt can no longer contain the massive giant within, his transformation comes as catharsis. We all have monsters inside us. It’s a relief to see how powerful Banner’s is when he’s finally let loose, and to learn that the Hulk can save and SMASH at the same time.

As complex and smoking hot as Banner is, Johansson’s Black Widow gives him a run for his money on both counts. (I’ve already tossed Captain America and Thor out of the running; they’re both humina humina material but pretty bland once you get past the muscle-bound exteriors.)

The Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, powers through the film on her fly combat skills, no-nonsense bravado and highly analytical brains. As an interrogator, she’s basically unstoppable: men underestimate her, and when she plays into their arrogance and misogyny, the secrets start flowing.

We meet Romanoff in the midst of one such interrogation. At first she seems to be operating at a disadvantage: she’s tied to a chair and getting slapped around, and she seems dangerously close to either plummeting several stories down or getting a very unwelcome trip to the dentist. But she’s only playing along so that the shady types holding her hostage will feel in control enough to give her the information she needs. When she gets a phone call that she’s needed elsewhere, she springs into action, taking all the bad guys down with two hands behind her back (literally). She performs another version of the same trick later on with Loki, the film’s villain. Men with over-inflated egos don’t see Romanoff’s intelligence and cunning coming—it’s no wonder she and Stark don’t get along so well.

The Black Widow makes multitasking look so cool.

Just as Romanoff sometimes hides her real smarts and strength for strategic reasons, she also disguises her vulnerability—even when she’s in friendlier territory. Johansson’s subtle acting clues the audience in to the regret and fear Romanoff occasionally swallows in order to keep herself on mission. Although she’s haunted by her less-than-heroic past as a spy for hire, she tries to focus on making amends by doing good rather than just moping around. Much like Banner, Romanoff is almost always holding back.

Given director Joss Whedon’s feminist politics, it’s no surprise that Romanoff is such a terrific heroine. Her compassion for others doesn’t compromise her toughness, and while the character has elements of a classic femme fatale, she’s too nuanced to fit into any single category.

Now I’ve painted myself into a bit of a corner here, Date/Marry-wise. I’d be pretty lucky with either combination, right? Banner’s scruffy, book-smart and broody-yet-gentle, and he’d probably go see The Alabama Shakes with me. He’d be a pretty fun travel companion as long as he kept his cool. But Romanoff is resilient, remarkably shrewd, and probably more reliable. (And obviously she looks amazing all the time because she’s ScarJo in a catsuit.) Maybe I can’t picture her kicking back quite like Banner, but I think she’s the kind of person who opens up as you get to know her.

The more I think about it, the more I’d have to marry Romanoff. I love her character, and I also want to be more like her. Since they say married couples always pick up each other’s traits, maybe she’d rub off on me. Plus, we could do fun married things together like practice roundhouse kicks and roll our R’s.

In which case, I guess I’ll have to take one for the team and make out with Mark Ruffalo. I mean Bruce Banner. These are just the kinds of sacrifices I’m willing to make for GLG.

But enough of me hogging the date/marry/dump limelight. Which Avengers would you pick, good readers?

  1. What about Hawkeye? I agree with your assessments of the characters you’ve listed, especially Tony Stark, whose poor little rich boy/poor little white boy/nobody understands me because I’m too smart and rich act gets old real quick. But Hawkeye, though lamentably short on screen-time in this film, is definitely marry material. He’s loyal until he’s brainwashed by Loki’s phallus/staff/ohwhybotherit’sreallyapenis, a team player, kind, and very hot with his wicked archery and piloting skills. Hawkeye is also an avenger, and I’d put him solidly in the marry column–along with ScarJo’s Black Widow. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty interesting possibility…

    • Ooh that’s a good call, Larissa! I semi-forgot about him because I wasn’t sure if he was an Official Avenger or no. But I totally agree with all your pro-Hawkeye points 🙂

  2. A. This post makes me so happy! It’s the cherry on my Wednesday.

    B. I love it, in part, because if I’d gotten around to writing a post about The Avengers I was going to write about all the hotness in it (and gender politics therein but mostly the hotness).

    C. So in answer to your question: We are in complete agreement about Tony Stark/Iron Man—Dump; However, we must agree to disagree about Captain America as he is totally a handful of (hopefully shirtless) dates material; as to marry, I’m torn between Banner/Hulk and Hawkeye (no doubt having something to do with Jeremy Renner) but I’m going to go with Banner because he was such a subtle, tone shifting addition to the film and who can avoid loving a rumpled, brilliant, adorable doctor?

    For the record, are Nick Fury (Sam Jackson), the likable, dopey Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), and yawn-inducing Agent Hill (Colbie Smulders) eligible candidates?

    • Yay, thanks Sarah! I’m so glad we’re on the same Avenger-hotness page (even if we must agree to disagree on the good Cap’n). Also, sure, let’s include Nick & co! The more the merrier (marry-er?).

  3. Mark Ruffalo’s quiet-seething-intense-cop performance in “Zodiac” is seriously one of the sexiest male performances I’ve ever seen (which I think says more about me than the movie, since the character isn’t really even presented as a sex symbol)… it’s not really fair to apply that to Banner, but I sort of don’t care. I’d marry him after a brief stint dating Captain America.

  4. Captn America as nice old fashioned 40s manners which i like but id have to marry Bruce Banner. Hes not up there with Thor in hotness but he somehow stole the film for me! i dont think i could bear to dump any of them tbh!

  5. […] exposes the constructed nature of social orders. Like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in The Avengers, Kyle takes advantage of people’s prejudices—their pre-formed opinions about how a maid or a […]

  6. […] Previously: Date, Marry, Dump: The Avengers Edition […]

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