Confession time: I have not been excited about “Captain America: Civil War.” Shock! Surprise! The Marvel movies are supposed to be my thing; lord knows I’m a fan of pretty much every single one of them. But I’ve been feeling a lot of fatigue with the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the past year, and the “Civil War” story wore out its welcome with me before the comic series finished back in 2007. Been there, done that, bought way too many of the tie-ins. I wanted to see more of the Avengers being the Avengers — not the Avengers fighting the Avengers.
I also thought my interest energy was just being diverted to “Star Wars” for the first time in over a decade. But “The Force Awakens” has come and gone — and my interest in it is still at a high. I just bought “Force Awakens” Han Solo and Finn figures (my second of each, to be honest). Relationships have peaks and valleys, you know, and I’ve been at a peak with Marvel since I saw “Iron Man” in 2008. I hit new peaks with every preview night screening for the following seven years. The post-“Age of Ultron” period feels like my break — not a break-up — with the franchise. In recent weeks I’ve started to come around on “Civil War,” though, and that’s because we’ve finally gotten to see more of my favorite movie superhero — Black Widow. Yeah, she’s my favorite and yes, I do have a whole shelf in my office dedicated to her.
First there was a featurette focusing on the women of “Civil War,” Black Widow, Agent 13 and Scarlet Witch. Then I broke my strict no clips rule, for maximum-spoiler-prevention, and watched a fight scene between a handful of heroes and Bucky. Both of those clips gave me what I’ve apparently been waiting for: more Black Widow. Also, good Black Widow. I’m talking fast-moving, unbelievably acrobatic, relentless and determined Black Widow. That Black Widow, and not the “I’m talking worriedly into a telephone and despairing over explosions” Black Widow that popped up in the first trailers.
I do think that a lot of my disinterest in “Civil War” has to do with Black Widow. She’s undoubtedly a player in the movie, but she’s not the lead. It’s been six years since she debuted in “Iron Man 2” and here we go again, with another ensemble film and potentially another round of press interviews where Scarlett Johansson (and all the other actors, really) campaign for a Widow movie and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige plays hard to get. I also — and this is pre-judging a movie I haven’t seen, so, beware — was disappointed to learn that she’s #TeamIronMan. Natasha ended up being pro-registration in the comics, yeah, but giving her the same allegiance in the film seemed forced. This is a character that’s been manipulated and controlled by governments here entire life, from the Red Room to the KGB to S.H.I.E.L.D. — oops, Hydra! Why would she be cool with enlisting with the government again? Directors Joe and Anthony Russo know what they’re doing, and the Natasha they put onscreen in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is probably my favorite one to date. I trust they know what they’re doing, but I can be a bit of a hyper-fan when it comes to Johansson’s Romanoff. So that was it, a combination of being overall exhausted and being worried that my favorite character would be lazily positioned as Captain America’s opposition.
And then I saw a GIF cut from that aforementioned throw down with Bucky.
And I watched it on a loop (because, well, it’s a GIF). And I started to feel something. That GIF was causing me to Grinch out, as my superhero-movie-loving heart grew three sizes. I didn’t expect seeing a GIF of that moment above to have a profound effect on me — but then again, I’ve been having emotional reactions to Black Widow fight scenes for six years now.
Obviously, yeah, it’s Natasha getting buck on Bucky. That’s always great. But I also look at how this moment is framed; Black Widow comes rushing up from behind Sharon Carter, who is momentarily over to the side. There’s a real sense of, “Oh it’s about to go down” to this moment, as Black Widow literally runs straight into the conflict. I also love that she’s both on the defensive and the offensive with this one move; she’s pushing Bucky away the fight by also pushing him. There’s something incredibly aggressive about it, which is counter to the efficient agility we normally see Natasha use. The leather jacket, the way that she puffs out her chest and arms upon impact — she’s a wrecking ball here. This one GIF of Natasha barreling towards Bucky and ramming her knee into his sternum just brought it all back to me, the reasons why I love this character.
I root for underdogs — and I get that that’s the point of underdogs. I’ve seen “Mighty Ducks,” okay? I root for them because I relate to them — which is, again, the whole point. But because they’re a popular archetype, everyone responds to one in particular. Black Widow is mine. Why she’s mine specifically is something that I’m trying to figure out now, but whatever the reason, she hits something in my heart. Her underdoggedness (hello, word invention!) operates on multiple levels with me, all of them complementary.
On a textual level, she’s the underdog because she’s the Avenger without any powers; she’s not Vision or Captain America or Scarlet Witch. Her gadgets are also limited to a few snazzy devices, like her Widow’s Bite bracelets, taser discs and garrote. None of them come close to touching the complexity of Rhodey’s War Machine suit or Falcon’s wings. This is why I find it so satisfying to watch her in these films, where she should be outmatched in nearly every head-to-head match-up but she charges full force at her adversaries anyway. She exudes a specific type of determination and confidence, one that causes me to actively cheer for her in every altercation. I don’t do that with anyone else.
Then there’s the meta level, where I watch these ensemble movies and these clips knowing that we still don’t have a Black Widow movie and that Natasha has historically been underrepresented in merchandise. She’s left off of backpacks and perpetually a supporting character, so I cheer at every one of her badass moments because it feels like people still need convincing of her awesomeness — even after four (soon to be five) films.
That’s what’s going through my head when I watch that GIF of a well-trained spy running full force at a cyborg super-soldier, shoving the entirety of her mass at him and making the unmovable stagger backwards. I see a character that has a lot to overcome (her in-universe history, her lack of godlike abilities, Hollywood sexism) and never gives up. She barely survives a rampaging Hulk, and shakes it off to save her brainwashed friend. She doesn’t back down against a literal god or an army of alien invaders. She gets shot through the shoulder, but still mounts a rocket launcher on her injury and uses it to keep her partner alive. She sees a mission going south in South Korea and single-handedly pulls out a victory. She wakes up a captive and uses scraps of an old radio to signal the entirety of the Avengers down on the villain. She comes face-to-face with the killer that scarred her — and she wails on him anyway.
I guess I like to believe that I too could command the strength to knee my problems in the chest like Natasha does to Bucky.
While Cap, Iron Man and Bucky are unquestionably at the heart of “Civil War,” that one GIF made me remember that this movie is also going to give me more of my favorite thing in the entire MCU: Black Widow flipping around and strangling the odds with her deadly appendages. “Civil War” is giving me more screentime with my favorite movie superhero, and I’m finally excited about it.
I don’t have an interest in #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan. #TeamBlackWidow is all I care about.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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