So about Black Widow in AoU...
It ocurred to me that maybe Whedon just didn’t know what to do with Widow. Not Natasha, I mean Widow- in the big battles, specifically. She can fire a gun and is pretty good in close combat, but that’s not really much beside the other Avengers. It doesn’t need to be- her other skills are useful if played right.
She was mocked after Avengers for her “pew pew” gun play, but her real worth in the final battle was in not getting caught up in just hitting things and using her head to ultimately close the portal. People talk about Tony saving the day, but it’s Nat’s hand that ends the actual cosmic threat.
In AoU, though, how to play Widow being Widow in a land battle and without duplicating her combat role in Avengers? Whedon appears to have resolved this by using her to wrangle the Hulk. That much actually makes a little sense- she certainly knows about manipulation and conditioning and is not too sensitive about it (unlike perhaps Hawkeye) to use her skills on Banner/Hulk. So she works with him as Bruce and as Hulk so they have a way of de-Hulking after a fight. Great, totally sensical. This combat pairing also resolves the question of how Widow gets around vertically in a fight- she hops onto or is carried by the Hulk.
After that, deciding to mix that combat pairing with a romantic thread narratively does the job of having the personal character arcs for both Bruce and Nat take up the same space since they happen together. And from there making them have basically the same personal arc dilemma (I am a monster, woe is me) is pretty natural. So it saves time, it is synergistic with the combat pairing stuff, and it finally answers the question of who Nat would be with if not Clint or Steve. The entire thing is a big convenient writer’s fixit.
Do I mind this? Well, yes. While I enjoy Nat’s close non-romantic friendships with Clint and Steve, I always imagined she’d have a friend-with-benefits relationship with someone- she doesn’t seem the type to open herself up for any visible romantic connection. If she were to fall for someone, her line about meeting a non-fighter who doesn’t want to fight because he’ll win is actually really apt, but besides that charming yin-yang notion (which personally feels better applied to her and Bucky) Bruce and Nat have no discernible character-based chemistry.
Is it a disservice to Nat? If it is, it is as much a disservice to Bruce- as I said before their personal character arcs happen at the same time. There is no scene I can remember where Bruce explores his personal shit where Nat doesn’t also. This actually reveals some missed opportunities with Bruce- anytime he’s not with Nat (so, with Tony) is about Tony’s angst and never acknowledges his own. It’s like Bruce’s personal arc is momentarily gone when, back in the lab before Vision is born, Tony is convincing Bruce to help him. And I don’t remember any one-on-one time between Bruce and anyone else. A least Nat and Steve’s friendship from CA:TWS is honored, that’s nice.
Back to Nat’s vs Bruce’s character arcs- If one was too short or underdeveloped the other was as well. Nat’s fears about being a monster don’t seem contrived, they’re pretty consistent with the “red in my ledger” and “dark past” stuff from Avengers and CA:TWS, so that’s okay.
What I don’t understand is why she actually likes Bruce. In the first lullaby scene, and the flirting at the party after, I honestly thought she was just charming Bruce to strengthen his fondness and deep ties with her so he’s more receptive (and protective?) of her when in Hulk mode. If only taken that far (as something she put on for Bruce instead of being sincere) it even nicely follows up the helplessness Nat felt when she was pursued by the Hulk in Avengers. Something deeply consistent with her comic character (as I’ve seen it) is she would never allow herself to be vulnerable to something twice if it were in her power- and it is, with Bruce highly available to her and as vulnerable to her charms as anyone. Pretty acceptable to imagine after that horror she would do what is easily within her abilities to make Hulk more predisposed to her next time he’s on a rampage.
But taking it farther, suggesting she actually has feelings for Bruce? Just doesn’t feel right to me. That’s highly subjective, I know. Maybe you saw it and it felt right- great, then it’s totally valid. But for me, I didn’t feel it.
End of the day, whatever. I want to like the movie, and I really do like a lot of it, so I’ll probably end up trying to reconcile all this or find some way to rationalize it into making great sense or something. Maybe just mentally gloss over the whole thing. Not like the poorer-quality parts of the movie are going to reshoot themselves. May as well delight as much as I can in the movie we have.
I should say I think this film is a tremendous masterpiece of an accomplishment. Whedon had about 11 main chatacters to serve, a prior film to outdo, and three preceding films-worth of characters and mythology to acknowledge. He had the limitations of not having Ant-Man to create Ultron, of having the SHIELD dissolution and Hydra resurgence to deal with, and of making the action, drama, and comedy all as fully done as possible. This movie should not have been possible, and if possible it should have been an absolute mess. It wasn’t, it was a rollicking ride from start to finish that really did serve (at least a little) an impressive number of the main characters. It also had totally kickass action and the standard (mostly fantastic) Marvel humor. I’ll probably end up seeing this film 3 times in theatres, maybe 4. While there are elements I could criticize, I really enjoy this movie.