I know what you’re thinking: “How dare you say anything bad about Natasha Romanoff! She’s a feminist icon and all female superhero fans love her because she’s amazing!” While I won’t deny that, somehow, this character is very well-liked in the nerd girl community, I find that Natasha is, indeed, far from amazing and I wouldn’t dare refer to her as an icon. Let’s look at the facts, shall we?
Natalia Alianovna Romanova, commonly referred to as “Natasha Romanoff” or “The Black Widow,” is a former Russian assassin trained in the infamous Red Room. Overall, she’s a badass with a seductive smile and a few charming one-liners. She’s beautiful, clever, and extremely skilled in both armed and unarmed combat.
She can kill a dude with her thighs. Wonderful. You know who else can do that? Pretty much any other female character with any form of training in a superhero movie: Mystique, Mockingbird, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, the list goes on and on. So what makes The Black Widow so special?
Well, most people like to immediately point out her dark past. (Now, for the record, I know it’s much more complex in the comic book world, but since most Natasha fans don’t actually have any knowledge of her comic book life outside of what some idiot said on tumblr, I’m focusing primarily on her current MCU story.) Natasha was trained from childhood to murder, obey orders, and show no mercy.
You wanna know a secret? She’s not the only one. The Red Room trained dozens of assassins just like Natasha. Sure, we don’t see any of them on screen as of now, but why is it that she is, for some reason, a cut above the rest? On top of that, she’s not even that great of an assassin, if Captain America: The Winter Soldier was any indication.
People like to argue that part of what makes Black Widow so interesting is the fact that she overcame her dark past to become a hero.
So did everyone else.
If anyone tries to make an argument that Natasha is so special because she came out of a dark, villainous place and made herself a hero, I’ll point them to Mystique, Harley Quinn, The Winter Soldier, The Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man, Black Panther (if you count Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War as villains like I do), the entirety of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and countless other characters throughout both cinematic and comic book history. In fact, many of these characters changed their ways for legitimate reasons. You know, not just because Clint Barton was going to kill them otherwise. An argument could be made that Natasha eventually came around to heroic ideals, which is accurate. Her friendship with Steve Rogers and attachment to Nick Fury makes that obvious. But why? What caused her to change?
We don’t know. Because it doesn’t make any real sense.
Maybe it’s because she’s so suddenly in love with Bruce Banner that her entire world turned upside down, because that isn’t horribly stereotypical and misogynistic in any way. (Thanks, Joss Whedon) Maybe it’s because being exposed to heroes for so long made her miraculous see the error of her ways like it has for so many others. But we have no way of knowing, do we? Because she’s never explored as a character and shows no signs of development. Why is that, you may ask?
Because she’s so flat and two-dimensional, that she cannot exist outside of the “I’m-a-girl-and-I-can-kick-ass-and-am-funny-so-that-makes-me-great” stereotype. Sure, she is smart. She’s done many clever things and knows how to use her femininity to her advantage. I wouldn’t dare say that she is a character without purpose.
She’s just a character without substance or personality. I personally feel this way about her in comic book world as well, but that’s an argument for another day. The fact of the matter is, outside of the stereotypical “dark-and-brooding” past combined with the “I-can-fight,” stereotype, Natasha isn’t a character that I would consider real. If anything, she’s dull and a poor excuse for a female character in the genre.
“But Mary, what about her infertility? That’s gotta count for something, right?” Wrong. Why is it that the ability to have children has to play a role in every woman’s storyline anyway? That’s beside the point. The fact is, of all the things Natasha could have seen as her worst nightmare — being separated from her family, losing people she loved, killing dozens of innocent people, near-death experiences, etc. — she focuses on the most stereotypical female thing in the world: the fact that she can’t have kids. It’s tragic, truly. As someone who has also lost fertility, I understand. However, it doesn’t even compare to everything else that this character has been through, you know, the stuff that could have actually developed her somewhat as a genuine character.
Also, the fact that she had the nerve to compare that to turning into a giant green monster that kills innocent people without Bruce Banner’s consent is highly offensive and should have signaled from Bruce to run away instead of kissing her.
So, all in all, Natasha Romanoff is a sad character in the MCU that doesn’t deserve half of the love she gets. She doesn’t deserve the title of “icon” and certainly does not deserve the product placement she gets in place of Scarlet Witch.
You want a good female character in the MCU? Look at Wanda Maximoff, Peggy Carter, Bobbi Morse, Jessica Jones, and so on. Natasha Romanoff is not the end-all-be-all of feminist characters.
You want a good character with a redemption story arc? I have two words for you: Bucky Barnes. Of course, I’m biased since he’s my favorite comic book character, but that’s real redemption. That’s a real character with feelings that make sense.
And one thing is for sure: As a massive Winter Soldier fan, if the MCU so much as attempts to add WinterWidow — without massive changes to Tasha’s character, at least — into the movies, I’m going to be highly offended.