There’s been a lot of focus on the misogynistic monstrous infertility aspect of Whedon’s assault on Natasha’s characterization but what’s also seriously disturbing to me is the whole trust issue that’s there. CATWS is a film that’s all about trust and Natasha has a very important arc where she starts to question the kind of lying, spying, truth-is-a-matter-of-circumstance way of life that she’s led for so long, even when doing it for a good cause, under SHIELD, under Fury, lying and compartmentalizing for the sake of a mission, keeping things from Steve when they’re on an op together. She’s very shaken by all of this when Hydra gets exposed and it becomes very important to her to start to put that behind her and build trust with the people around her. It becomes very important to her that Steve trusts her, and later when she finds out that Fury is alive and never told her he was faking his own death, because, as he says, “I didn’t know who I could trust” - she is visibly hurt that he couldn’t trust her. She goes on to blast the SHIELD records detailing her sordid past to the world without hesitation - she’s done with the deception. She wants the trust.
In Age of Ultron, we see her coming onto Bruce. He’s not all that receptive. She asks him, “When are you going to trust me?” Trust is crucial in any relationship. If she truly cares about Bruce, if he’s going to open up to her, to be vulnerable to her, this is a big deal. This has to be a foundation between them. And from her CATWS characterization, we know that this is doubly important to her, because she has spent too much time being untrustworthy and deceptive.
And then when Bruce finally does reciprocate her advances, when he comes to break her out of Ultron’s prison, what does she go and do? Immediately she betrays his trust as she pushes him over the edge and tricks him into hulking out.
“You’re not going to turn green?“ she asks him. "I’ve got a compelling reason not to lose my cool,” he answers. He has explicitly told her that he doesn’t want to hulk out, he is coming off of a particularly traumatic hulk episode that has left him extremely distressed and resenting his hulk side more than ever, and he is trying to leave all this behind. She knows all this, and also knows that his hulk-outs are always a lot worse when he’s provoked to lose control rather than hulk out on his own terms. She witnessed this firsthand on the helicarrier in the first Avengers movie when he lost control, and she was directly endangered by it. And knowing all of this, she coldly makes the decision to distract him with a kiss and then push him over the edge to force him to hulk out. She is not at all visibly conflicted about doing so, exhibits no qualms or indecision, rather acting purely tactically - as she was when withholding information from Steve and going against his instructions on their ship op in CATWS - and delivering a one-liner as she does so.
“I adore you, but I need the other guy.” How much has this been quoted around as a favorite line from the movie? It’s funny, she kissed him and then tricked him into hulking out, right when he had just placed all his trust in her, just, hilarious really. It’s a classic Whedon “moment”, and he fills the movies with these for their impact factor regardless of how much they make sense. What was this supposed to be? Did he think this was romantic? Is this supposed to be a badass move on her part? What it is is nothing but a huge violation of trust.
She hasn’t even made an attempt at using their newfound understanding and mutual feelings to try to convince him that they need him to stay and fight. He opens up to her, and she takes advantage of his vulnerability, deceives him with a kiss and then shoves him off the ledge to induce the hulk-out. Her entire CATWS characterization is instantly trashed as she very calmly and calculatedly betrays the trust of this person who she is supposed to love. The entire thing is just inexplicable and incredibly disturbing, and rounds off Whedon’s gross mishandling of her character.
I want to mention this theory, first suggested by foxyfussings in this post:
Natasha’s little talk with Nick Fury at the end of the film leads me to believe it may have all been a rouse. She asks Nick if he knew what was going to happen form the beginning when he picked her to bring him into the Avengers. Call me crazy, but Nick Fury doesn’t seem like the guy who likes to play Matchmaker. It’s my theory that Natasha was actually just trying to isolate Bruce Banner. To be his long-term handler (and lover) to get him out of the public eye. She was the only one who was good at controlling when he Hulked out, or bringing him back when he was already green. So it makes sense to me that Fury wanted Banner out of the picture - but just in case they needed him again Natasha could bring him in.
Honestly, this would rectify a lot of things about her AoU characterization - she doesn’t actually consider her infertility to be monstrous but only said so to relate to Bruce; she would never actually ditch her teammates when they need her and just leave; all of this out of the blue flirting and coming onto Bruce is just an act; etc. I don’t know that I actually give Whedon enough credit for this theory to hold up, but at least it would make it less bizarre and OOC of her to enact such a violation of trust on someone she supposedly cares so deeply about. And yet, it would still be completely dismissive of her CATWS arc as she’d be back to compartmentalizing with Fury and carrying out secret sub-missions unbeknownst to her teammates, deceiving them all and grossly deceiving Bruce.