Something’s Wrong with the Black Widow!

Those searching for the more traditional Marvel Black Widow in The Avengers will be disappointed. This film, with the help of Scarlett Johansson, beats the imperturbable superhero out of Natasha Romanoff. But something entirely new, possibly better takes its place.

The protagonist that appears in countless of Marvel pages, Natasha, traditionally throws away her sentiment and sticks to accomplishing her mission. A cold, hard killer, in a cruel world. Between the pages of The Black Widow: Deadly Origins Natasha promises to avenge the death of her keeper, Ivan who is murdered in a failed mission. As an orphan in Soviet Russia (trained to be a spy since age ten) she learned to mentally stick to every mission with grace, control and poise.In The Secret Avengers #20, Natasha gains valuable information and resources from her allies and enemies alike without giving away the purpose of her mission.

In the recent early-summer blockbuster The Avengers however, something has happened to our heroine. As Joss Whedon was recreating the Black Widow for the silver screen, he decided to capitalize on some of her potential weaknesses rather than her more obvious strengths.

Whedon’s choice of Scarlet Johansen, or ScarJo as we’ve affectionately come to know her, is the perfect fit for the Widow he envisions. ScarJo helps the Natasha Romanoff in the film possess that same poise and grace as the one in The Secret Avengers #20. Whedon also sees ScarJo as one of the only actresses who could naturally display a different Black Widow–one that fears losing control of her vulnerability.

To convey The Black Widow Marvel readers know and love, ScarJo displays this character’s ability to use female vulnerability as a manipulative tool–a method that helps her buy time. Prior to aborting the mission that initially introduces her in the movie, The Black Widow exaggerates the role of the scared victim as the Russian mobster threatens to kill her. She cries and flutters her tear-drenched eyelashes at the mobster and instantly fools him in believing she has given up.

Whedon shows audiences how Natasha masterfully uses feminine vulnerability to fish information from villains, especially male ones. In the scene where the Asgardian god, Loki has been captured and confined in a cell inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. hellicarrier, Natasha stops by his cell to learn more about his plans. Loki, the younger brother of thunder god, Thor, wants to rule the human race with a powerful element that can destroy planets, the tesseract.

The Black Widow gets Loki to talk by sharing her greatest wish, and sincerest failing–erasing the “red from her ledger”, her metaphor for making amends for the lives she’s taken. Loki cuts to the bone as he attempts to invalidate our heroine by criticizing this earnest desire in her. His searing psychological attack is something of the sort, “with all you have done, how easily do you think you can erase your record?” ScarJo brilliantly shows us how the Widow masterfully pretends to be affected by Loki’s remarks. Yet, she continues to listens to Loki’s words and soon discovers his plan, which he unintentionally lets slip: provoke the angry Hulk out of Dr. Banner in order to help him bring down the S.H.I.E.L.D. hellicarrier.

Our heroine may have manipulated the villain, but she definitely do so unscathed. Whedon shows audiences a Black Widow who is genuinely vulnerable. Viewers can perhaps recognize this vulnerability in an earlier scene, where the Black Widow travels to Calcutta, India to recruit The Hulk, Dr. Bruce Banner.

No viewer could mistake the fear ScarJo exhibited in her deer-in-the-headlight eyes and cold open lips as she talked with S.H.I.E.L.D. on the telephone about this mission. When the Widow does stand face-to-face with Dr. Banner as Natasha Romanoff inside an austere plywood house in the edge of an impoverished Indian town, she comes prepared. Just as she feels Dr. Banner is about to lose his temper and unleash the indestructible Hulk, she whips out a loaded pistol. Luckily, Dr. Banner keeps his cool. Aside from her loaded gun, Natasha also brings an entire S.W.A.T. team which stands ready outside this flimsy house.

The Black Widow played by ScarJo definitely fears losing control of a situation, especially one that involves a volatile character or situation. However, her shortcomings as an impenetrable superhero are paralleled by her fellow teammates who also eventually temporarily lose control of themselves.

Of all the characters, The Widow is perhaps the only hero in the bunch that recognizes how she let her vulnerability–revealing her deepest wish to Loki–distract her from the overall mission. Despite the tactical advantage in having done so, there’s still a price to pay.

ScarJo displays her deep thought and contemplativeness during her talk with Hawkeye, the Avenger she is perhaps closest with. Natasha tells her trusted friend about her wish to “wipe the red off her ledger.” Only then does she realize that she let Loki’s disparaging remarks affect her, even if she appeared indifferent at the time. This revelation helped her regain strength and return her focus to the task at hand–stopping Loki.

In the final scene, the fight between the Avengers and Loki’s Asgardian army, the Black Widow works with Captain America and The Hulk on the ground of New York City. Meanwhile, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Thor group with each other to seal the portal that Loki has opened to help his army descend to Earth.

ScarJo, uses the Widow’s intense focus and acrobatic fighting skills to destroy dozens of Chitauri soldiers at a time. She also manages to retrieve Loki’s scepter and help Iron Man close the portal to Asgard. Now, with the help of The Avengers, The Black Widow is suddenly a stronger superhero than the one in Marvel’s pages. In Whedon’s eyes, The Black Widow’s greatest strength comes from working together with the other superheroes to save Earth.

The Widow’s experiences in Deadly Origin or The Secret Avengers (particularly #20 which is a Black Widow solo mission) don’t even closely amount to the her deep character-driven The Avengers. Marvel created a Black Widow that can single-handedly defeat multiple enemies, strategically manipulate evildoers for valuable information, and display a great amount of loyalty to her keepers and teachers.

Whedon and ScarJo though, together create a Natasha Romanoff that not only alludes to her essence in the Marvel comics, but on the screen, humanizes herself with hesitation, doubt and vulnerability that she must overcome. Like all her fellow superheroes in The Avengers, The Black Widow learns that her greatest feat would not be possible if she had not worked side-by-side with her teammates.