Pop Rocks

Pop Rocks: Will Chicks Dig The Avengers?

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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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar