Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Introducing the Black Widow - Did She Sink or Swim?

Here's the thing about action heroines on film, they work or they don't. Audiences will buy them right away or dismiss them as silly and unbelievable. Same thing goes for their male counterparts.

It's a tough sell to begin with, the idea of a costumed super hero especially, and movies have about thirty seconds where an audience will make their decisions.

Yesterday, I saw Iron Man 2, and Scarlett Johannson is on screen for almost the entire film as her secret identity, a buttoned-up hyper intelligent assistant to Tony Stark and Pepper Pots. So when she finally shows up in her trademark black catsuit near the finale and starts doing her real job, it only took me a few seconds to love it...

I'd run into the Black Widow a few times over my years of comic book reading, but I never really was a great fan. I didn't dislike her, I just didn't see her often enough to form much of an opinion. This also worked in the film's favor. When your favorite makes the leap from comic book page to movie screen, the pressure is always on. But when a virtual unknown, in my case, the Black Widow, makes the jump, you can relax and enjoy the show. And that I did. Tremendously. I cheered for crying out loud.

It takes a special kind of sensibility to pull off an action role, and I think she fit in really well with the rest of the down-to-Earth, you could run into these people on the street cast and Favreau's fun and relaxed directing style.

When Black Widow finally has a job to do, her action scene is intense and exciting. Instead of just punching and kicking, she (thanks to an incredible stunt woman and some great work by Scarlett Johannson) has a fighting style all her own. It involves a lot of sliding around, a lot of graceful martial arts, some dirty tricks, and a good old fashioned can of mace.

In fact, there was something almost humorous about her attack style. At one point, she punches a man in his nether-regions...which usually annoys me because it's a cliche. But what do we always hear at self-defense class ladies? Eyes or groin. Also, the fact that the Black Widow carries a can of mace just tickled me. She's not above using the same tried and true self-defense tactics that we have to use. Because they work!

A trained super agent would use her natural advantages, such as her grace of movement, if she lacked super strength or any other super power. The same things that I love about Batman (I know, different universe) made me appreciate the Black Widow. She's just an ordinary woman with a lot of dedication and discipline. Now that's an action heroine I can get behind. Because I'm not familiar with her comic story lines, I don't know how true to her origins she is, but I like that she's not imbued with any super powers.

Before I saw the movie, I saw a quote from Johannson somewhere talking about how she hoped audiences liked her so she could get the Black Widow her own movie. To which I say, bring it on! If an over-critical nit-picky geek like me can get with the program in this case, then by all means, give that woman her own movie.

I'm starved for action heroines. The ratio of male to female action-centric movies is still grossly ill-proportioned in favor of male stars. With the geek community growing as it is, trust us movie studios, the female audiences want their own action stars, and not just in bit-parts and cameos and not just as tortured love interests!

What about you, what did you think of the Black Widow?

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