The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Avengers: Age of Ultron

When I went to go watch Avengers: Age of Ultron, I didn’t expect much so I was pleasantly surprised when I found that I enjoyed it.

The premise of Avengers: Age of Ultron is that the Avengers have finally found and attained Loki’s specter. In the few days that Tony Stark has the scepter, he experiments with it and manages to use the specter to create artificial intelligence (AI), but instead of making a peacemaking AI (as he had hoped) he winds up creating an AI called Ultron who is bent on world destruction. So basically, the plot of film is that Tony tries to help the world but ends up really fucking up instead, and like I said, the film is really enjoyable to watch. Both new and old characters are in the movie, and they’re all very compelling except for one, Natasha Romanoff.

It has been argued by many whether or not Natasha is a feminist character or just a boy’s fantasy, but regardless of which side you are on, Natasha has had some awesome moments (e.g., when she tricked Loki in The Avengers [2012]) so I had high hopes for her in this newest Marvel installment. Unfortunately, all of my hopes went down the drain once I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Natasha’s part was just plain ridiculous and stupid when she was easily capable of so much more. And, yes, Natasha did have one cool moment where she was riding around on her motorcycle and there was a really interesting flashback scene where we saw part of her past in the Red Room (why isn’t there a movie about this?), but for the most part, Natasha really didn’t do much. In fact, Natasha’s sole contribution to the film was her “romance” with Bruce Banner, and the film pushed for these two’s love connection so hard and so fast that it was very hard to believe not to mention that their romance was incredibly insipid, and at times, insulting. For example, there was one scene where Bruce was talking to Natasha and telling her how he couldn’t give her a life of normalcy nor would he ever be able to give her children. This statement alone has so many problems.

First of all, Natasha herself isn’t exactly normal. She was trained as a child to be an assassin, and she is part of the Avengers initiative. Nothing about her spells normal, and when has she ever expressed an interest in having a long-term relationship or children with Bruce? Never. And not all women want children, not to mention that up to this point, Natasha and Bruce weren’t even dating. Talk about jumping the gun, and oh, don’t worry, this scene does get worse.

After Bruce has his little tirade, Natasha becomes all teary-eyed and she reveals that it is physically impossible for her to have children and that because of this she is a monster. Yes, you heard that right. Apparently, women who can’t have children are monsters, and this statement is not only offensive to women everywhere, but it is also wildly out of character for Natasha.

Natasha isn’t the type of woman who would call herself a monster because a choice (and control over her own body) had been taken away from her. She’s the sort of woman who would know that she isn’t the monster but that the people who took away her choices are, and not only would she be able to recognize this, but she would exact revenge on those very people who had taken away her choices. Consequently, that whole “I’m a monster” scene was just weird and didn’t make any sense. Another bizarre Natasha moment was Natasha’s kidnapping.

As soon as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch joined the Avengers, Natasha was suddenly kidnapped by Ultron for, literally, no apparent reason because Ultron didn’t use her as a bargaining chip nor did he use mind control on her. All he did was scare her a bit, put her in a dungeon, and then ten minutes later, she was rescued by Bruce. Natasha’s kidnapping served no purpose and added nothing to the plot so it can only be assumed that the reasoning behind this decision was, “Oh, look, we’ve added a new woman to the team so now we have two women. This simply won’t do. Let’s get rid of the other one for a little while.” Oh, and it must also not be forgotten that at the end of the film Natasha was acting all love sick and forlorn and staring at a wall because she had been separated from Bruce. Yes, this actually happened. And, yes, this was as stupid as it sounds.

So what is the takeaway of all of this? Well, while Joss Whedon did add some complexity to the character of Natasha (e.g., he gave her a wider emotional range and he added to her backstory), his overall portrayal of her in this installment was just atrocious, and he single-handedly stripped away her action hero status to that of a simple love interest. The only gold-lining of this film (when it comes to the portrayal of women) is that Wanda was a compelling new character and was a woman who wasn’t a damsel in distress and/or some dude’s love interest (Dr. Helen Cho was also pretty well written and interesting but it would have been nice if she had had a slightly larger part in the film). One can only hope that in future installments Natasha, as a character, will be able to rebound from this film’s blunder (i.e., her transformation into a love interest and the erasure of her identity as a spy and an assassin) and she’ll have actually have some sort of authority and autonomy  in the next film she appears in.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Avengers: Age of Ultron did not pass the Bechdel, Russo, or race test.

Avengers: Age of Ultron had several named women in the film, but named women only talked to each other twice (e.g., Natasha talked to Helen about tissue regeneration, and Natasha talked to Laura Barton about her [Laura’s] baby ), and men were always mentioned in their conversations so the film did not pass the Bechdel test.

As to the other diversity tests, there were no LGBTI characters in the film so Avengers: Age of Ultron automatically failed to pass the Russo test, and while there were some non-White characters in Avengers: Age of Ultron (e.g., War Machine, Falcon and Helen), they never talked to each other so the film did not pass the race test.

*The Bechdel test entails three requirements:
1. It has to have at least two (named) women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

*The Vito Russo test entails three requirements:
1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and/or transgender
2. The character must not be solely or predominately defined by her sexual orientation, gender identity and/or as being intersex
3.The character must be tied into the plot in such a way that her removal would have a significant effect

***The race or people of color (POC) test has three requirements:
1. It has two people of color in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something other than a White person

****Just because a film passes the Bechdel, Russo and race test does not mean that it is not sexist, heterosexist, racist and/or cissexist, etc. The Bechdel, Russo and race test is only a bare minimum qualifier for the representation of LGBTI individuals, women and people of color in film. The failure to pass these tests also does not identify whether the central character was a woman, a person of color or a LGBTQI individual and it does not dictate the quality of the film.