While Johansson’s first Marvel appearance in Iron Man 2 may have relied somewhat upon sex appeal, this was quickly nixed in favor of characterizing her as the most cerebral Avenger. Her most important scenes in The Avengers relied upon her intelligence and skills as a spy, to the extent that she even managed to outwit Loki, the God of Lies. At the end of the movie, she’s the one who closes the portal that let all the aliens into New York. Then in Winter Soldier she’s given second billing to Captain America, a meaty role that showcases a wide-ranging skillset that stretches far beyond just “kicking ass.” At no point during any of these movies does she seduce anyone, by the way.
Sadly, there’s very little sign of this character in the most easily accessible reviews of both The Avengers and Winter Soldier. Judging by the Guardian, WSJ, or New Yorker, Black Widow is more like a blow-up doll with a black belt. By their logic, if she’s wearing a tight outfit, then she must be a sexy ass-kicker, meaning that she must be the token female character, and therefore is little more than eye candy.
With that thought process in mind, it must make perfect sense to relegate Black Widow to a single sniggering comment about her catsuit, because obviously Scarlett Johansson is just there for decoration. And if you’ve read in the New York Times that Black Widow is a token female character, then chances are you’ll have internalized that opinion before you even buy a ticket. The feedback loop of misogynist preconceptions continues on, and in the end, we all lose out.
“Gary Oldman (Sirius Black) actually came around the next morning, because we lived near each other at the time, and he said, ‘Have you seen the new book? We’ve got a lot of work to do, mate.’ He was quite happy, and I didn’t know how to break it to him. So I said, ‘Have you actually read it yet, Gaz?’ ‘No, just clicked through it.’ A few days later I’m in makeup and he comes in, and sits down, and goes ‘Have you heard the news?’ ‘What’s that, Gaz?’ ‘It’s terrible fucking news.’ ‘What is it?’ ‘You know how everyone is talking about who dies in book five? It’s fucking me! This woman puts the poor bastard in prison for 12 years, brings him back for a few scenes, and then she kills him!’”—David Thewlis (Remus Lupin)