Black Widow Wants To Bone Hulk (And That’s Okay) [SPOILERS]

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Avengers: Age of Ultron may have set up the Infinity War, but it has also ignited a war of words amongst fandom: the shipping wars, an endless debate surrounding the love lives of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Since there is such little screen time dedicated to romantic relationships in films featuring the Avengers (both solo and as a group), fans must make do with brief character interactions, ample insinuation, and our imaginations to fill in the gaps. Until now! There was nothing ambiguous about what Natasha Romanoff wanted in Age of Ultron: no bones about it, she wanted Bruce Banner.

(There be spoilers below — continue at your own risk!)

Romance! Apparently that is enough for some fans to claim Black Widow has been “ruined” for them. Black Widow long ago checked off the boxes of “strong female character,” but relationships are dicey territory for maintaining that badass female cred — maybe sexual encounters, but feelings? Gross.

For anyone claiming that Black Widow has been relegated to “romantic lead” in Age of Ultron, we may not have watched the same movie. Hulk was clearly the object of affection, Natasha aggressively pursuing him as her romantic interest. As Cap says, he’s seen her flirting up close, and this is different. Female characters being the default romantic interest, serving as the inspiration and / or reward for their male partners, that is formulaic and has indeed been done before in the MCU (sorry, Jane Foster). But what Natasha does in Age of Ultron is the exact opposite: it’s character development. Four films of flirting, being the “cool girl” of the Avengers, Natasha finally does something motivated by her own desires; not those of S.H.I.E.L.D., her guilt, or wanting to save the lives of others. In a very simple, direct way, Natasha gives Bruce the business, while also laying bare her own troubled past. Feelings AND vulnerability? I think Natasha’s strong female character status has officially been revoked. What we are left with is a far more nuanced character, whose portrayal has dominated conversations about the film.

In defense of their disdain for this turn of events, many fans have claimed it felt as if this relationship “came out of nowhere.” Sort of like Clint’s wife, children, and secret farm. By “coming out of nowhere” what critics really mean is “not from my head canon.” Natasha pursuing the Hulk is unexpected in the sense that it is not inspired by the source material, but there are more than enough interactions between them to imply that these two adult characters have had enough time to get to know each other between surviving an alien invasion and taking down Hydra. Countless viewers are betting on a future Vision / Scarlet Witch relationship based on a handful of glances, because decades of their canonical relationship tell us that their on-screen interactions means something. But it’s no more or less than what we’ve seen between Bruce and Natasha in the films, and breadcrumbs need not be laid out for audiences to get up to speed.

Our fond feelings for these characters, inspired by their rich and long histories within the comics, can work for and against us; expectations are hard to leave out of the viewing. For fans of Clintasha asking, “Why, Joss?” the answer simply came down to chemistry. No, Bruce and Natasha were not planned from the beginning. Whedon and company took notice of Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo’s on-screen chemistry in The Avengers and decided to run with it. And thank goodness; Wanda and her twin brother Pietro have more chemistry than Natasha and any of the other Avengers (note: Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson played spouses in Godzilla, making the twincest hard to ignore).

Fans of all ships would be much happier if less was left to the imagination in the MCU. Unambiguous on-screen portrayals of healthy, sexual relationships between heroes would go a long way toward balancing the oft-criticized “destruction porn” of the superhero genre. Of the few women that are romantically involved with Marvel heroes, their portrayals have been so chaste as to make the lengths of their commitment laughable. “Nameless sexual partner discarded by hero in first act,” a trope utilized in both Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, are about as close to super-boning as we’ve seen in the MCU, and that’s pretty sad. Natasha threatening to join Bruce Banner in the shower might seem inconsequential, but it is a giant, subversive leap in the right direction. In other words, get it girl.

What is more problematic than fans squabbling about their favorite ship pairing? There are so few options from which to choose. Black Widow cannot be all things to all fans. If you want to see a wide variety of male superheroes, look no further than the entirety of the MCU. Even amongst the homogeneous, white group of The Avengers, there are different types of heroes: soldiers, monsters, and gods alike. You want to see what a super-woman looks like? Black Widow will have to do. When Natasha slyly asks Captain America in The Winter Soldier, “Who do you want me to be?” she might as well be asking the audience. The less duplicitous Black Widow seen in Age of Ultron can’t fulfill everyone’s desires, but about five more female Avengers would help.

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About Author

Megan is a Chicago based professional photographer by day and a comic book blogger by nights and weekends at comicbookcandy.com. As a former comic book retail employee, Megan writes about the industry with an insider perspective. Megan still moderates a monthly Ladies’ Night event at Graham Crackers Comics in downtown Chicago, and is editor-in-chief of Ladies’ Night Anthology.

15 Comments

  1. My problem isn’t that they were paired together. I wasn’t on any ship trains. My problem is that the films have developed some strong friendships for her that she’s grown into, having worked around her trust issues with the particular men (Steve and Clint, specifically). I can extrapolate that, especially because of the relationship she’s built with Hulk, that she’s found that trust and friendship with Bruce as well, and that she may even have fallen for him. And I love that it was all on her terms.

    My issue is that it was very clumsily executied. It felt very, very shoe horned into the story, culminating in a very poorly delivered comparison regarding her sterilization. All the elements of a great bond between them are there, but it was delivered so awkwardly that I was left feeling like I missed a huge chunk of movie. Their opening flirting was odd and Steve having to confirm it felt like it was as much for the audience as it was for Bruce. The bedroom scene? Whut?

    And the part that really bit me was her asking Fury in the end if this had been his plan all along. What? That she become Hulk’s babysitter and possibly fall in love with him? Nick “Cupid” Fury. That line took away a lot of her agency in this situation with the implication that it was an orchestrated matchmaking, making it feel all the more forced into the movie, rather than feeling like an organic development as it should have been.

    • Megan Byrd on

      I agree, their relationship could have been better executed, but I think this particular on screen pairing is under a lot more scrutiny than it deserves because a.) it involves the lone woman on the team and b.) the other Avengers’ relationships portrayed on screen were done within movies with much smaller casts, with the exception of Clint. I think the lack of scrutiny there is telling as well.

      I don’t think any of the Avengers have had very well-executed romantic arcs. Most have had relationships established in their first film appearances, yet no one has claimed that diminished their role as heroes (as some have implied with Black Widow). When we are given scraps, it is hard to resist the urge to fight over them; I’d rather have more to choose from instead.

      (I also intentionally strayed from discussing the sterilization scene because I think that deserves its own conversation entirely and wanted to focus specifically on the negative reaction to the romantic relationship)

      • Clint’s family life was surprising, but it didn’t grate on me simply because it made sense as written. Super hero with a secret family in a safe house. It’s an easy trope that serve the plot, but all the scenes detailing that made sense and weren’t clumsily executed (though I will say they were heavy-handed like many other themes in the book. LOOK GUYS. CLINT IS STARING AT A PI OF HIS FAMILY. THIS MEANS HE’S GONNA DIIIIIIE. Oh wait. SURPRISE!)

        I’ve been chatting with my friend about the Nat/Bruce thing and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply need a lot of headcanon to make this work. Or rather, I am fine with the relationship, as I said, but I have a lot of blanks to fill in. That first flirt scene, for example. I think that would have worked better if it didn’t feel like her first flirtation with him. That she’s been doing this for a while but is now upping her game. Bruce is still oblivious and needs Steve to point it out, though.

        Alternatively… if Nat had just jumped in the shower, then the whole problem would have been solved completely ;-P

        • their flirt scene didn’t come across as their first time to me. They were roleplaying, and it seemed like it wasn’t their first time doing it. (the background music, the initial dialogue told me it was a playful 40s inspired roleplay). Bruce was more in denial than oblivious when nat started getting serious, because ‘how could she really like him?’ and the usual low self esteemed banner thing.

          They continue this roleplay (to ease things between them after wanda) after bruce took that shower. And again it falls away for realer stuff

    • Laura Harcourt on

      Cosigned, Wendy. I actually like the idea of BW and Bruce, and bless ScarJo and Mark for playing the hell out of it, but it was so awkwardly mismanaged that I spent most of my time cringing in second-hand embarrassment rather than sighing.

      And that bit about Fury — oof.

      I’m all about Natasha being sexually aggressive and getting what she wants, but she also came off as almost TOO aggressive, with Bruce seeming more than a little not into it. Sure, they explained his hesitation in an expository dump (along with that questionable “monster” dialogue), but at the outset he seemed suuuuuuper uncomfortable and Natasha not backing off (that shower line, yikes) made me uncomfortable right along with him.

      Natasha got a lot of really great moments in this flick, and she definitely wasn’t relegated to “Love Interest A”, and I also have zero problem with her wanting/pursuing a romance. Bruce is smart, cute, adorable, and she’s clearly grown to trust him. Go be happy, you crazy kids! — but at the same time, there were some strange moments that felt like missteps for her. Running away without finishing the job — this from Natasha, who wanted to wipe out the red in her ledger?

      To sum up: like the idea, like the ship, liked how they played it (for the most part), poor execution, didn’t stick the landing (for me).

      • It felt somewhere just below Anakin an Amidala cringe status.

        The shower scene came off creepy as part of the clumsy execution (if the roles had been reversed? uh oh), but it could have been very cute if written differently, even with her still being the aggressor. Perhaps, once she realized he really was uncomfortable, she would back off and they’d have a really nice moment. And even a proper kiss that doesn’t end up in them re-enacting a Buffy scene.

        Yes, I’m busy headcanoning this scene now to my heart’s content…

  2. Jamie Kingston on

    Sorry — I know it’s a punchy, get-the-attention word choice…but Natasha does not want to bone the Hulk. Rationally no one wants to get jiggy with an out of control giant green rage monster. She wants to bone Bruce Banner.

    That said, I agree that it was clumsily executed. I’d go so far as to say badly.

    For the “Lullaby” protocol to have fallen into place, we must believe that between the first movie and this one, there had to have been some kind of Avengers round table discussion about “how do we get Bruce back after the fight’s over and the Hulk is no longer needed?” Rather than Tony saying something like “I could broadcast Delta Waves to him to relax him” or Thor suggesting he could do a gentle rain followed by rainbows, or Hawkeye firing an arrow that plays a favourite comforting tune from Bruce’s childhood, the answer the group agreed on was Natasha should coyly sidle up to him and condition him with sweet words and gentle caresses to calm down. Nobody thought anything was wrong with that.

    It looks like that’s where their feelings for each other came from, or at the very least, how Joss justified them growing closer.

    Look who you’ve got making the decisions: A guy from 1940s who was admittedly progressive for his time but probably still has a lot to learn; Tony Stark, philandering playboy who’d still be womanizing if not for Pepper (see gross Prima Noctem joke during the cute Hammer scene); Thor whose society is pretty much medieval; Bruce, who doesn’t really wanna be there in the first place, and Clint…I got nothing.

    It looks to me like Natasha didn’t make a choice so much as shrug at her lack of options (since all the other boys on the team are taken) and Bruce gave into Florence Nightengale syndrome since Betty seems to have been disappeared.

    She made a choice, but it wasn’t a healthy choice. She intentionally chose someone who is about as unattainable as it is possible to get. Bruce’s impassioned speech about not being able to give Natasha what Clint has — the lovely farmhouse full of kids — wasn’t about infertility so much as it was about the fact that Bruce HULKS OUT when he gets intimate beyond a certain point. This speaks to me of a woman who is either desperately lonely or very self destructive, because far as I know, there’s no current way to let Bruce get sexually excited without the other guy showing up — and Natasha knows full well that even if she could convince Bruce to go along with it, it only has to happen once for Natasha to end up as a smear on the floor and Bruce to end up with a new tickybox in his MANPAIN column.

    Psychologically speaking, Natasha seems to have picked Bruce, who she knows is unattainable, to punish herself.

    • Claire Napier on

      Is this Hulk the same as any of the Hulks from any of the movies called Hulk? I’ve seen all of those and I can’t figure out if any of them are relevant to this.

      (Great comment, generally!)

        • Jamie Kingston on

          That’s correct. Marvel pretends the Eric Bana one never happened, and the Ed Norton one is MCU Canon. It was even mentioned in the previous Avengers that Hulk busted up Harlem (which is what happened in the Norton movie).

    • A possible alternative to the Avengers designating Black Widow as the Hulk’s handler is because it plays to her strengths. Natasha is routinely underestimated by her enemies, a fact she has exploited to her advantage time and again. Presenting the Hulk with the least visually threatening (yet deadly) member of the team, that can hold their own without a weapon, seems like a smart move up against the Hulk. Creating environmental conditions to control the Hulk may have worked, too, but that would not have offered any emotional payoff for the audience.

      The writers most likely made this choice as a way to establish their growing intimacy, but also to show Bruce’s progress in containing the Hulk. I’m not so quick to dismiss this scene as a poor choice since it successfully establishes their changing relationship dynamics, all in the first five minutes of the film. Quick and dirty way to show their developing feelings? Yes. Unintended reads possible? Sure. But there is limited real estate in a film with a huge cast and a lot of action set pieces. Combining character moments within the action is a must.

      The idea that Black Widow is somehow punishing herself by pursuing Bruce is more than a little unfair, unless you apply that same logic to literally every other character that has made the unfortunate decision to date an Avenger (or any superhero for that matter). If Natasha is punishing herself by pursuing Bruce, I can’t imagine how Pepper must be seen by comparison, or Jane Foster, both of whom were literally infected by their partner’s volatile attempts to save the world. I think the idea that “Natasha is making a bad choices” isn’t misplaced, but is amplified by her being the only female Avenger. Since the male Avengers are usually risking the safety and emotional stability of the women in their lives, Natasha is seen as weaker by comparison because she is going after a dangerous man. She is putting herself at risk, but in the hopes of gaining something meaningful, even against her better judgement. Women are more likely to be seen as irrational when following their heart (or their hormones), while the men still get to be the hero and the romantic lead without the same level scrutiny applied to their decisions. Hawkeye brought the Avengers to his secret family farm, despite the fact that they were trying to outrun a rather resourceful, psychotic robot. Hell, he brought the Hulk to stay in his house. He’s risking a lot more than Natasha in that instance, but since it’s not an emotional risk it’s not seen as self-harm.

      An interesting comparison to be made is between Captain America and Natasha, and I’m glad that they wrote that into the film. Steve is the epitome of “waiting too long”. In Winter Soldier, Natasha constantly quips about getting him dates, encouraging him to “go for it”. She may have been projecting her own desires in that instance as someone who herself has failed to take emotional risks. Character growth doesn’t require smart / logical choices. I’d like to see what she learns from it and how it changes her.

      • Jamie Kingston on

        Maybe if the handler protocol had been called something other than Lullaby, I might’ve seen the decision in a less frustrating light. I guess it’s fair to say Joss also justified Natasha as handler because Tony admires the ragemonster, and can’t keep his foot out of his mouth even when he’s trying to help his friend (“Right. Don’t mention puny Banner”). But I can’t draw the same “self destructive” comparison with the other Avengers’ love interests.

        Pepper’s decision to be with Tony was made before he ever went to Iraq and got his heart damaged. She held her own against Iron Monger because she had to. Tony also tried to protect her in his fumbling refusing-to-think-things-through way. But when Tony’s superheroic tomfoolery started getting dangerous to her, she left him. He backed up off the Iron Man stuff as a result.

        Peggy would’ve been offended if Steve tried to be chivalrous and protect her.

        Betty has a father who interferes in her life. But the Hulk has always recognized Betty and never harmed her. One constant.

        Jane got literally infected by the obelisk as much out of scientific curiosity as out of looking for Thor. He wasn’t there when it was drawn to her. She touched it of her own volition, him having nothing to say about her choice. And the minute he realized she was in danger, he immediately took her to Asgard to heal her, rather than trusting earth science to do anything.

        So it’s not the same thing to my mind as Natasha picking a man who could literally kill her by accident in a moment meant to be intimate between them.

        I disagree that bringing Bruce is necessarily the same thing as bringing the Hulk. Potentially, sure.

        The Hulk shows up under fairly specific circumstances, and I am quite certain that if Bruce felt himself in danger of going green, he’d run from Barton’s farmhouse at top speed before The Other Guy showed up to start smashing. For that matter, the Hulk tends to just leap off to solitude when there isn’t something actively pissing him off to make him fight back.

        I don’t see Natasha as weak for going after a dangerous man. I never said that. I don’t know what to call her apparent belief that they could make it work when there is no containing the Hulk once the change starts. Let alone her continuing to press when Bruce was obviously not comfortable with it, despite his being attracted to her — other than self-destructive. Or maybe she’s doing that “confront what scares you” thing after “sorry, that was mean” from the first movie. In which case, go Tasha I guess.

        Maybe she will grow from it, but the relationship seemed like bad juju to me, and not just because Bruce has a love interest in his own movie that Whedon conveniently forgot about.

  3. I have no reason to suspect that this was really intentional, but the fact that the spouses of “Godzilla” are the twins in this gives off a nice little feeling of resonance with the Maximoff siblings’ incestuous status in “The Ultimates”. Their presence also makes Renner’s Ultimate kind of Hawkeye feel more natural here for some reason.