What Could’ve Been: a Black Widow solo film
As a movie fan, one of my favorite hobbies is looking at where projects go left instead of right. For each movie that gets made, there are ten more that are stuck in development hell, often different versions of what finally reaches the screen. So it is with Black Widow, who came achingly close to getting her own movie a few years back before ending up as a side-character in Iron Man 2. If things had worked out, the movie would’ve been written and directed by David Hayter, a writer on the first two X-Men movies and, yes, the voice of Solid Snake. So what went happened? I’ll let Hayter himself explain.
What I tried to do was use the backdrop of the splintered Soviet Empire – a lawless insane asylum with four hundred some odd nuclear missile silos. It was all about loose nukes, and I felt it was very timely and very cool. Unfortunately, as I was coming up on the final draft, a number of female vigilante movies came out. We had Tomb Raider and Kill Bill, which were the ones that worked, but then we had BloodRayne and Ultraviolet and Aeon Flux. Aeon Flux didn’t open well, and three days after it opened, the studio said, “We don’t think it’s time to do this movie.” I accepted their logic in terms of the saturation of the marketplace, but it was pretty painful. I had not only invested a lot of time in that movie, but I had also named my daughter, who was born in that time period Natasha – after the lead character in Black Widow. I named my daughter after a movie that I wasn’t working on anymore.
But what could we have gotten? Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I found a draft of the Black Widow screenplay. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know a lot about her character–just some stories from the George Perez days, which I’ll throw in to break up all the text.
So I got someone in my corner who does. Ladies and gentlemen, my special guest for this edition of What Could’ve Been, the moderator of Fuck Yeah Black Widow, one of the finer tumblrs in existence.
Kick: So, first off, would you like to introduce yourself to our largely hypothetical audience?
Alex: Oh, I’m Alex. I am mostly just angry about superheroes on the internet.
Kick: In fandom, that makes you the 99%.
Alex: Yes. It’s not an unusual occupation.
Kick: Alright, so in 250 words or less, and without using the word ‘zucchini’, give us an intro to Black Widow.
Alex: Hmmm, well, Natasha Romanov has many different ways of spelling her name, but she is a Russian Cold War superspy who defected to become a superhero. Her central metaphor is about control and liberation. She was manipulated by her government into an awful life of violence and secrets, but eventually she freed herself. And so now she runs around and tries to stop that from happening to other people. It’s the Marvel Universe so there are still evil communists everywhere.
Kick: It’s the Marvel universe, so there are still Nazis everywhere. Hell, I think there are a few evil Pharoahs running around.
Alex: Yes. There are also evil cavemen. You really have your choice of anachronisms. She dated Hercules for a while in the 70s, so.
Kick: Right. Well, our script today is from David Hayter, who wrote the first two X-Men movies. It’s dated 2005, so before the big Marvel cinematic universe came about. And basically, it was supposed to be sort of Marvel’s answer to Kill Bill and the other action heroine movies, only most of them did so poorly that the whole thing was scrapped. I’m sure Catwoman in 2004 did not help.
Alex: Yeah, neither did Elektra. Which I saw twice in theaters actually, and no one knows why.
Kick: Hope for another glimpse at the steamy chemistry that was and is Bennifer 2.0?
Alex: I’d have to buy the director’s cut for that, I think. They edited his scenes out :(
Kick: The script opens with Natasha’s mother, Irina Romanov, dying in an apartment fire. But before she does, she manages to drop baby Natasha into the arms of Ivan Petrovsky, who becomes her adopted father. The Soviet Union: Where adoption works like catching a flyball at a Yankees game.
Alex: That is direct from the comics, yeah. Except her name isn’t Irina. She’s just a mysterious woman who tosses her baby out a window.
Kick: In America, you toss baby out with bathwater. In Soviet Russia, baby tossed out without bathwater.
Alex: In a short story that everyone but me has forgotten about, her brother from before the fire came back as an evil cyborg. So that’s something this script left out.
Kick: I think everyone in Natasha’s life has pulled that one. Ivan happens to work at a secret Russian “training facility,” the Red Room. It’s a mountain fortress in Kazakhstan, so as you can imagine, the training is more ‘how to shoot people in the face and not get shot in your face’ than ‘scuba diving’. He raises her in secret for six years – and I know he’s the good-hearted mentor, but it’s pretty damn weird to grab a baby and secretly raise her at your workplace, right? That’s not a Russian thing? Then Sergei Riskolje, his boss, finds out about her. Hinting ominously at a “morally questionable” procedure, he officially unofficially puts Natasha in the program—training separately from the other children. That’s right, it’s La Femme Nikita Babies.
Alex: That’s also something from the comics, although it’s been retconned. And I’m actually not sure if that story was written before or after 2005.
Kick: The trained from birth to be an assassin? I thought that was a movie thing. It seems a little cliched.
Alex: Yeah, I agree, I didn’t like how they changed it. It was something one writer did to kind of “Dark Knight Returns” her up, make things more grim, with nods to… Soviet collectivism, he said.
Kick: The Marvel universe: Where there’s always room for more grim.
Alex: But they mostly retconned it back in 2009ish. Now she grew up wandering the world with Ivan and his pals.
Kick: The Marvel universe: Where there is also always room for more retcons.
Alex: Yeah. What’s interesting is that in the comics version of this origin, they only trained girls. It was kind of a hamfisted commentary on sexism, because they also programmed with aftershave.
Kick: I guess they changed it to justify Alexei’s status. And an all-girl assassin force has a pretty steep bell curve of “really creepy” on one side and “kinda silly” on the other.
Alex: It was odd, because the plotline used the whole “evil cosmetics company” device straight out of the Catwoman movie. But then, played it completely straight and serious.
Kick: Evil make-up companies are pretty odd villains for comic books to tackle. “How dare these companies promote unrealistic body standards among women! Starfire, Power Girl, get them!”
Alex: I’m surprised there hasn’t been a plastic surgery supervillain, now that I think about it.
Kick: Who would fight him? The X-Men know which side of their bread is buttered. That’s the mutant version of however that saying really goes. Anyway, Natasha and Ivan go on this way for some time, Natasha posing as a cleaner until Alexei, the best and brightest, bullies her. Having picked on both the hero of a superhero movie and a plucky female character, Alexei gets introduced to karma’s pimp hand. Natasha is officially officially put in the program, making friends with Natalia (a fellow student). They sneak out of their dormitory at night and steal ice cream and walk on top of cliffs. You know, chick stuff.
Alex: It’s weird because Natasha and Natalia are the same name. It makes reading War and Peace confusing.
Kick: Maybe Natali is supposed to represent Natasha’s innocence or something. Because she gets murdered later. Spoiler: a female character dies in a comic book movie!
Kick: But before Natasha and Natalia can braid each others’ hair and show each other their Johnny Depp slash fiction, Sergei reveals that he’s finally gotten the okay for that medical procedure. And since Natasha’s parents are dead, no one will miss her if it goes wrong. Ivan reluctantly goes along, and Natasha is subjected to LTA—a procedure that “recreates the reflex-response of certain insect joints.” Hence the Black Widow name, I guess. So no one remembered spiders are arachnids, not insects? No wonder the Soviet Union fell.
Alex: Well, what insect codename sounds as sultry and mysterious?
Kick: Praying Mantis? Ladybug?
Kick: Dung Beetle (scat fans only)?
Alex: Oh, Wikipedia says there is an “assassin bug” which I did not know.
Kick: Sounds like a Metal Gear Solid character. I can just hear him talking for twenty minutes about bioweapons.
Alex: Which would be appropriate for this movie, considering who wrote it.
Kick: Natasha’s strength and speed are augmented—I guess, she doesn’t go around juggling cars so much as doing James Bond junk like shooting people fast—but she takes it about as well as Logan did in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Worse than that; like watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Natasha never forgives Ivan and at 16, she becomes a riot grrl punk rocker, complete with leather and piercings, as are commonly available in top-secret Soviet facilities. She even starts making out with Alexei. I’m glad they don’t hold the “You’re trash”/”Here’s a minor concussion” exchange against each other.
Alex: That’s how young love always blooms. Alexi’s a character from comics, too, and they actually did meet through a KGB matchmaking service.
Kick: Yeah, I read your recaps about him. They actually pretty significantly decrease his presence in Natasha’s life, but I have a theory on that for later. After a seriously random interlude where Natasha punches out her pedophile science teacher, Alexei tells Natasha that, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the program is being shut down. Sergei’s having none of that, though, and has decided to go rogue, which Natasha is having none of. She didn’t sign up to kill her countrymen! Actually, she didn’t sign up at all, but still, a no on the treason!
Ivan hasn’t taken the news well either, getting soused on vodka, and while Natasha tries to revive him, Alexei relays Natasha’s answer to Sergei. On his orders, Alexei and five of his fellow trainees kill the other boys and all of the girls. Because what use would the forces of darkness have for teenage girls?
Alex: No all-girl assassin squad here!
Kick: I watched the Charlie’s Angels reboot, so I can’t be all the way against this.
Alex: The makeup companies are safe, at least.
Kick: Natasha finds her friend Natalia dead (Natasha’s dead friend count: 1). Adding Obi-Wan to injury, Alexei also kills Ivan (Natasha’s dead friend count: 2) and tries to kill her, but Natasha steals the Widow Suit (think Batsuit, but cleavagier), kills the doctor who experimented on her, and shoots Alexei in the face with a shotgun. Dabbling in poetic justice, she pays Sergei back for the surgery by shooting out his kneecaps. “You think you know pain? Try dealing with an HMO, that’s pain!”
Alex: I imagine they have evil state-funded health care.
Kick: Ron Paul tried to warn us. At seventeen, Natasha shows up in New York—and I thought for sure she’d go to Beaumont and end up fighting for her right to dance in public. You gotta admit, the audience would not have expected that twist. She grows up to the ripe old age of 22, fending off the occasional assassin and starting a hedge-clipping business that specializes in ivy on skyscrapers. Which apparently is a job. Her business is called “Black Widow High Altitude Gardening,” and since her costume is called a Widow Suit and the female trainees were called Widows, I guess the name “I’m Secretly A Defecting Russian Spy, Come Get Me Gardening” was taken.
Alex: She has never been a high altitude gardener in the comics. That’s something completely new!
Kick: Boom, pull quote!
Natasha’s partner Freddy gives her an hourglass pendant for her birthday—hey, kinda like on a black widow spider, I get it (what is this, Smallville? No, they would’ve literally made her an African-American woman whose husband is killed, then had Chloe say “You really are a black widow, Natasha!”) Still, Natasha shoots him down. Just, not with a shotgun, like she did her last boyfriend.
Alex: She does unfortunately wear a lot of hourglass jewelry though, the same way Captain America wears a ton of flagties out of costume. And Hawkeye always wears purple. So we can keep the generic blond white dudes visually distinct!
Kick: I think we all know that if you can pull off purple, you goddamn flaunt it.
We’re also introduced to Stevie Hunter, Natasha’s black roommate. It’s safe to say they’re friends, but is Stevie sassy? The world may never know. After literally a single page of screentime, they part ways so Natasha can go play high-stakes poker with “a blond Nordic type” named Karl. As anyone who’s watched Die Hard knows, no one who spells their C-name with a K is good news, and he tries to kill her after some spectacular losing at poker (in which Natasha drinks vodka martini and smokes a huge cigar. Say…)
With the jig up, Natasha rushes back home (after some car trouble of the “attack by two Humvee” variety) to warn Stevie. But despite her best efforts, Stevie is killed (Natasha’s dead friend count: 3) and Natasha has to fend off even more assassins. Amazingly, she’s able to do it despite being wracked with grief over the death of that person we saw for one minute. Oh, Stevie, I’ll never forget how you were black, and possibly sassy.
Natasha kills the soldiers, throws on her Widow Suit—oh, honey, after five years, that thing can’t be in fashion—only to find herself confronted by Alexei.
ALEXEI is an adult now, and very big. The upper right quadrant of his face is gone, the skin twisted and torn, showing bare white SKULL. His EMPTY EYE SOCKET is RINGED in SILVER METAL.
Who was his surgeon, Todd McFarlene?
Alex: I like how “very big” is his descriptor. You always need comically large men to threaten petite female action heroes.
Kick: Maybe if there’s ever a Big Barda movie made, she’ll fight a really short, but incredibly agile guy. I would watch Jet Li Vs. Barda Free.
Alex: Yeah, I’d pay money to see Jet Li on Apokolips.
Kick: Natasha escapes, only to run into Freddy, who’s been tracking her with the pendant she got for her birthday. Lucky thing he gave that to her just now. Freddy turns out to be Natasha’s ‘CIA tail’ who’s basically just been keeping an eye on her, not trying to… I don’t know… get the super-spy to work for them or reveal Russian secrets or anything.
Anyway, he tells her that the Russian government has a ten million dollar bounty on her head—and yet, they seem to be perfectly fine with Sergei using AWOL Russian troops to be a warlord, spoiler alert! Freddy can’t help her, but he refers her to Anton Sweetwater, who she can meet at a bar for spies. Because when your job revolves around keeping your identity a secret, why not all meet up in one place to socialize and drink inhibition-lowering alcohol? Natasha is suspicious as well (of Freddy, not the ‘spook bar’ concept), but when Freddy gets shot, she decides he probably wouldn’t die to fake her out. (Natasha’s dead friend count: 4)
Alex: In the 70s that was her gig, everyone she knew would die. Unless they were a male superhero, because you can’t kill those off.
Kick: Actually, nowadays, Hercules died, Hawkeye died, Daredevil died(ish)…
Alex: Bucky died! For a few months!
Kick: No wonder she and Daredevil got along so well. Their sexual organs of doom canceled each other out.
Alex: Matt was only cursed after Natasha dumped him. Or until Frank Miller, depending on how you look at it. But yeah, at the time she’d mope around in melodramatic comic book fashion about how everyone she loved was cursed to die!! And then Hawkeye and Ivan were completely fine. It was only random people she just met who would die inexplicably.
Kick: Or ‘Written by Geoff Johns Disorder,’ as it’s called in the medical community.
Kick: Natasha goes to the spook bar, where Anton turns out to be a completely wrecked alcoholic. I guess being told you could find someone in a bar and not at, like, their house should’ve been a clue. Anton fills her in over drinks, telling her that Sergei’s become a warlord and made billions selling Russian nukes on the black market, through a man named Haman Ramdani. And since Anton is too old to take Natasha out and claim that bounty, he agrees to help Natasha out in exchange for her filthy lucre.
Alex: Hahah, I like how it’s a spook bar, and don’t they ask her for a password? But she doesn’t have one? And they let her in anyway.
Kick: It’s because the spy game isn’t the same since the Cold War ended!
Alex: Back in the old days, it would have been on the north pole or something. A hidden bar-fortress constructed wholly of ice.
Kick: Where villains pick up hordes of shamelessly loyal henchmen and the occasional oversexed henchwoman.
Kick: Anton takes Natasha to a secret airfield, where negotiations for a flight to Kazakhstan fall through. But when the FAA (yes, really) try to arrest the secret airfield owner, Natasha snags a ride by beating up the agents and giving him time to flee. It’s kind of a weird scene. Natasha is being hunted by ex-Soviet warlords, bounty hunters, assassins, spies, and general nogoodniks, yet she spends five minutes dealing with the FAA.
In Russia, Natasha parts ways with Anton and steals a motorcycle (you’re not an action movie heroine until you ride a motorcycle!) to get into Kazakhstan. There, she meets up with Rashad, Ramdani’s lieutenant. Since Sergei has betrayed Ramdani to take over Kazakhstan, Natasha is promising to kill Sergei in exchange for Ramdani’s help. Unfortunately, Ramdani would prefer to betray her to Sergei, who in turn betrays Ramdani (again!) and kills all of Ramdani’s men. I bet Ramdani’s feeling pretty stupid right about now. If he weren’t, y’know, dead.
Alex: Everyone always wants to take over Kazakhstan. I’m surprised Natasha didn’t win it earlier at poker.
Kick: It is the world’s leading exporter of FPS bad guys. Taken prisoner, Natasha is given the obligatory ‘tied up and taunted by the villain’ scene, with Alexei calling her a traitor and Natasha calling him a traitor right back, until Alexei reveals that since Natasha FUBARed their whole lab notes, they’re going to cut her open and find out how to create new Black Widows the Saw way. A prospect Alexei isn’t entirely thrilled at.
You were my first love, you know.
WIDE ON: NATASHA, bound to the ceiling, freezing to death.
Oh, Alexei… That’s just gross.
On the way back to the Red Room, the soldiers stop the truck for a bit of rape—I’m thinking Natasha’s next birthday will top this one pretty easily—and Ivan, who is not dead (Natasha’s dead friend count: 3), saves her. He was shot, but managed to sneak into a secret passage and live, all this time, in the Red Room’s attic. He’s the smartest raccoon he knows.
Alex: I mean, it wouldn’t make any sense to try and leave the place where they killed you.
Kick: My favorite part is that he has a nuclear weapon, but no one thinks to use it on the mountain fortress full of the villain’s legion of doom until the very end. Spoiler! There’s a big explosion in a superhero movie!
Ivan’s plan is to sell that “very small” nuclear device on the black market and use the money to go to New York. Natasha is more interested in settling accounts with Sergei, and not selling a nuclear weapon. Come to think of it, Ivan is a guy who raised a secret baby, lived in an attic for five years, and tried to sell a nuclear warhead. I think he might be creepier than Sergei.
Alex: Ivan is totally creepy in the comics! He is in fact less creepy in this than he is in the comics. He was basically supposed to be her Alfred, except he followed her around and told her she was a little girl who would get hurt punching things. Comics had totally forgotten about him by the time this was written.
Kick: There’s a Nabokov joke in here somewhere. I’m going to edit it in later, as well as a picture of Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow. You know the one.
Of course, the elephant in the room is that Ivan let Natasha be experimented on, and have you ever been in a room with an elephant? It’s really hard to carry on a conversation about assassinating a rogue Soviet general with a pachyderm butting in. Natasha forgives Ivan, knowing he couldn’t have stopped what happened, and Ivan apologizes anyway, saying he should’ve gotten himself killed fighting for her. He tells her he loves her and bam, Natasha’s dead friend count is back to four.
And Ivan’s death doesn’t even have anything to do with anything. Anton, of all people, has decided to un-retire, as inspired by Natasha, and go after the bounty. Natasha, naturally, kills him, taking a moment to snark at his feelings of self-worth over having managed to wound the legendary Black Widow.
Since it’s winter, Natasha can’t dig a hole to bury Ivan—man, those trauma-inducing body augmentations really paid off—so she takes him along, even dragging him up the cliff she has to climb to get to the Red Room. What is it with this family and boundaries? So Natasha stashes Ivan’s body in his old place and starts killing everybody, stopping when she finds that Sergei has restarted the program. There are twenty tween girls chained to the dormitory beds. That’s what happens when one of your child care provider”s references is Jerry Sandusky.
Conveniently, the girls idolize Natasha and have no loyalty, Stockholm or otherwise, to Sergei, so they follow her out dressed in stolen mini-Widow costumes. Wait, why would they make those? Wouldn’t the girls outgrow them? Aren’t they expensive? No wonder the Soviet Union stayed fallen.
Alex: I also thought they’d lost all the technology somehow, although I guess that’s just for the insect ligatures.
Kick: It is going to be embarrassing if they never get the secret from Natasha, as they’d just have a bunch of disgruntled girls hanging around. For that matter, why girls? The procedure would work with men, and you know how evil overlords are. Gotta be a little sexism there.
Alex: In the comics, she has a serum deal, without the traumatizing surgery. There was recently a male counterpart program revealed, codenamed “Wolf Spider” but it drove all the dudes insane, in that way chemicals sometimes do in comics.
Kick: With the girls running for it, Natasha surrenders herself to Alexei, who pistol-whips her unconscious anyway because that’s what villains always do in these things. She wakes up naked in the operating room, with convenient PG-13 straps. Yeah, be careful, you don’t want her boobies getting loose and killing everyone.
Alex: I was kind of wondering if this was supposed to be PG-13. They say fuck like, four or five times. I don’t think that’s allowed.
Kick: But then, what are the odds that Marvel would make a Black Widow movie teenage boys couldn’t see?
Alex: When I was a teenager I never let movie ratings stop me. But they might be stricter with IDs nowadays
Kick: She also learns that Freddy is still alive, and has betrayed her to Sergei. Okay, time for a Venn diagram.
Kick: So, the plan is that Sergei gets the Widow technology from Natasha and Freddy gets her body to cash in the bounty (How’s he going to explain that, anyway? “Oh, I also autopsied her too. Was that weird?”), with the horrifying consequence of Sergei ruling Kazakhstan. Which is a pretty low-key goal for a comic book supervillain. “I’m going to make part of the Middle East really crappy to live in! And after that, I’ll falsify evidence humiliating Sarah Palin, making it appear as if a US political figure is foolish!” Aim for the stars, Dr. Evil, even if you miss, you’ll still hit the moon.
Natasha and Sergei go back and forth on the time Natasha crippled him (he’s in a wheelchair now because knees… don’t… heal?). She betrayed him, he betrayed the Soviet Union… Natasha even quotes the Spetznas Field Manuel like she’s Hermione Granger, Super-Spy. The Soviet Union fell! No one cares! Is this really your conflict, I mean, God.
Alex: We’ve already noted that the evil healthcare provided in this film is pretty suspect. Dudes wind up with horrific holes in their face, etc. I bet appearance altering surgery would work better on the ladies, though, just like the insect ligaments would.
Kick: Maybe he’s the Darth Vader to the death panels’ Emperor Palpatine. Black Widow 2 would’ve been all about Natasha fighting healthcare providers who wanted to kill Stephen Hawking.
Alex: The script writes itself!
Kick: Natasha uses a blowdart hidden in her mouth to shoot the surgeon, who drops his scalpel into her hand so she can cut herself loose and go to town. Yes, that was a much more sensible plan than just continuing to kill people. And her plan at Ramdani’s was to get captured by Alexei and brought to the Red Room too. What is it with this chick and getting tied up?
Alex: It’s a tried and true school of superheroics.
Kick: If you’re Dick Grayson, maybe.
Alex: Bucky’s the same way. Natasha actually yells at him for it.
Kick: He needs to realize that Steve was into that, but Natasha’s different. She has her own needs.
Alex: It’s the ultimate sidekick coming of age story.
Kick: Natasha sets off explosives she’s planted, and then turns on Ivan’s suitcase nuke. I think maybe next time, lead with the nuclear device. Alexei, even more deformed, attacks Natasha, so now it’s our two Red Room graduates against each other. Only Natasha already kicked Alexei’s ass as a little kid and has cybernetic enhancements. I mean, just the fact that she has a face tells you she isn’t the underdog in this fight. Of course, Alexei has soldiers, but they’re all killed by the Lil Widows, who snipe them from their escape route.
Natasha runs for it, Alexei tries to defuse the bomb, but no action movie introduces a nuclear weapon only for it not to go off. He gets a Hiroshima tan and Natasha takes the girls to a U.S. Field Patrol, where they’ll be treated alright. I don’t know, wouldn’t them just being reunited with their families be a better scene? I’m not asking for Natasha to get spritzed by a baby elephant, but Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom knew what was what.
Alex: Do they even have families? I feel like in action movie Russia you can just find orphans in clumps on the street.
Kick: Life must be easier for Russia’s Batman Inc.
Alex: And Russian Batman gets a hat! But yeah, you’d think Natasha would be somewhat wary of handing the kids from one government to the other, especially given that CIA guy who betrayed her.
Kick: With all that done, Natasha goes to settle accounts with Freddy, who managed to escape. He offers her a job working freelance for the CIA and she agrees, after filling his bed with black widow spiders. You don’t wanna… expose the obviously corrupt CIA agent so you can work with someone even slightly more trustworthy? Okay then. And that’s that. The stage is set for more adventures of Black Widow and the ghosts of her supporting cast.
Alex: I’m not sure what the visual would be like on the bed full of spiders. There’s probably not a way to make that not look goofy.
Kick: Especially since it takes him a good minute or so to notice. That’s just cartoon physics there.
Alex: Well, and how do you get the spiders on the bed in the first place. Once you set them free, how to you train them to appear only at the most dramatic moment?
Kick: I assume animal husbandry is an integral part of Soviet spy training.
Alex: Just like High Altitude Gardening. Which must be in all caps, it’s very specific.
Kick: Somewhere out there, a spy can command Grizzly Bears simply because his codename is “Bearly Detectable” or some such.
Alex: Falcon! He’s a spy sometimes.
Kick: What sticks out to me about the script, firstly, is that there’s some subtextual weirdness about mothers I’m not sure is intentional. The first scene is Natasha’s mother dying, with her father totally off-screen, then she grows up without a mother, and finally she sorta becomes a surrogate mother to the Lil Widows.
Alex: Well, except she hands them off right away. Doesn’t she say she hates children at one point?
Kick: I’d still argue her character development goes from unmaternal to maternal, at least subtextually, and that’s the script’s version of Natasha achieving humanity over the dehumanizing Red Room.
Alex: Yeah, we’re definitely meant to see the kids meeting up with the US government as a happy ending for them.
Kick: Of course, you could also read that as her getting closure on her childhood trauma… almost painfully literally, with Ivan coming back from the dead just long enough for her to come to terms with him.
Alex: And to give her a nuclear bomb.
Kick: I still say she just should’ve chucked the nuke in there and left.
Alex: The whole thing is an origin story, I’d say. It’s only at the end, after taking care of the Red Room, that she’s free to really act like a superhero.
Kick: I actually dislike those kinds of superhero movies, like Green Lantern or The Punisher, even Daredevil, where it takes the entire movie for the hero to really become a superhero.
Alex: She kind of has a codename that gets mentioned over and over again, and a goofy outfit, but she’s mostly on a mission of personal revenge.
Kick: Iron Man and Batman Begins, by an hour in, it’s go time, they’re superheroes, they act like superheroes, they’re dealing with a situation. Natasha’s more on that end of the spectrum than Hal Jordan goofiness–I don’t think there’s a set formula that says she has to be getting a mission from Fury instead of handling personal business.
Alex: Sure, and Fury in that context is mostly a plot device anyway. I mean… that’s how he is in the movieverse at present. They like to have her not be a superhero sometimes, and kind of, make her all spy instead? But I think that’s a mistake.
Kick: She’s much more spy than superhero in this, though.
Alex: I can see how it might work better for a movie with no shared universe attached, though.
Kick: But it gets to the point where it’s actually a bit generic. They have to give her boyfriend a ridiculous scar to have something close to a supervillain.
Alex: I think a lot would depend on how it was directed, how they did the set pieces and designed the costume, etc.
Kick: The Black Widow costume is pretty low-key to begin with.
Alex: But yeah, I think the problem with her when you really do try to do it as straight-up espionage, no hero gimmicks, is like… then why is she saying her codename all the time? Yeah, they didn’t need to alter it much at all to fit into the movies, unlike Hawkeye. It’s still a bit dumb for like, a serious action picture spy to be running around in a catsuit, but it works if you embrace over the top genre silliness, to me.
Kick: Another thing that really, really stood out was that, for a character who’s usually something of a sex object, they pretty much out-and-out desexualized Natasha here.
Alex: They did have the scene where they had her tied up and naked, but yeah.
Kick: Let’s see… Aside from kissing Alexei, she never willingly expresses her sexuality. And that was just a make-out session, in the comics they were married. Then she comes to America and they make a point of how she never romances anyone. Usually in these stories, she’d have a token boyfriend to get killed, a la Nikita, but here, she just has a female roommate.
Alex: It’s really a lot like those Morgan minis that were somewhat contemporary. I wonder which came first, I think I’d have to look it up, but those were the comics that introduced the whole “trained as spy since birth” angle and also had a ton of killing, and emphasized the spy stuff. They had a similar maternal theme, too, actually. And they worked very hard at reminding us that like, she’s hot and men want to do her, but the Natasha in those didn’t seem to like men much. Daredevil shows up eventually and there’s no sexual tension, she’s just kinda mean to him. And then ironically the series has Greg Land covers.
Kick: Just like that Emma Frost series. Inside, young adult shenanigans. Outside, Maxim photo shoot.
Alex: But that’s the story of every month DC or Marvel puts out a book with a woman in it.
Kick: Nah, sometimes the inside is a Penthouse letter forum. I guess what Hayter was trying to do was get away from portraying Natasha solely as a sex object, but I’m pretty sure completely removing her sexuality (except for having her leered over by the villains) wasn’t the best way to go about that.
Alex: And really, if you have a whole movie about her motivations and ass-kicking, you’re good part of the way towards making her not solely a sex object already. It’s a pretty common thing though, for films to slap a NO ROMANCE label on female characters if they want them to be taken seriously.
Kick: As soapy as it was, I think the comic origin of her becoming a spy to avenge Alexei, then finding out he was still alive, would’ve given the story more of an emotional heft.
Alex: Yeah, now her comic origin is becoming a spy to avenge Ivan, which I think works better, but I agree. She’s supposed to be compassionate and melancholy, which makes her more interesting than a kind of pre-programmed assassin figure. It’s hard to get a read on emotions without seeing actors or much in the way of direction, though. Would she just stand there when friend #4 was killed in front of her, or would we get a moment to see her emote?
Kick: That’s the thing–the biggest personality trait Natasha has in this is a sort of snarky attitude towards being in a spy movie. She has to put up with all these crazy assholes and their BS, and she reacts like Mike Nelson watching a B-movie. But that doesn’t really square with all these people dying around her. You think she’d be an emotional basket case by the end of this, yet she’s still alternating between quips and “sorry for killing you, bad guy.” It’s somewhat odd.
Alex: Yeah, that’s why I wonder about the tone. And the rating? Idk if they were shooting for PG-13 or R, like I mentioned.
Kick: Right, let’s move onto the script’s quality itself. How do you think it did as a representation of Natasha Romanov?
Alex: Hmmm, well, like I said, it’s sort of hard to say without having performances to go along with it. I think the asskicking stuff is appropriate, and the sort of post-Soviet action themes work well enough without invoking sliding timeline weirdness. But she’s very young here? And you don’t get a sense of gravitas or maturity from her character in the script. That said, she was also not introduced by having Tony Stark look up pictures of her in her underwear, so the bar is low.
Kick: I noticed that too. The script keeps treating her like a legendary figure, with everyone reacting to her in awe and terror, as if she were this veteran spy who’s coming out of retirement, but all she did was escape from the Red Room.
Alex: And beat up some assassins in a brief ten years later segue.
Kick: Who can’t do that? You can’t buy a dry martini in the spy world unless you can foil the odd assassination attempt.
Alex: She also hid a blowdart in her mouth, that was unusual. There was also a bit too much wanton killing, for my tastes, but that’s kind of how it is with movies. There’s not a no-kill code for action movies the way there is for the Avengers. But like I said, you kind of have to wait until the end for her to be anything like a superhero. But I think Black Widow transfers better into strange B-movie espionage capers than most superheroes.
Kick: For me, it was a bit too Generic Milla Jovovich Action Heroine. One thing about Marvel spy fiction I like is that everything is Jim Steranko craziness–flying fortresses, Life Model Decoys, kooky secret organizations. Turn it into The Bourne Identity and you’re doing it a disservice.
Alex: Yeah, that’s why I wonder about the set design and such, what sort of visual style they would have tried to evoke. The current movieverse is very SHIELD-heavy, but they play it pretty straight, because most of the lead characters are so obviously unrealistic. I guess we’re getting a helicarrier, though.
Kick: And the constant stream of people Natasha likes who are barely introduced to the audience before being killed gets old, as does Natasha being betrayed by would-be allies. That definitely could’ve used some pruning.
Alex: As could some of the “black widow” based repetition, especially if they were going to make it less superhero like.
Kick: Natasha having superstrength or something but only using it to shoot people really fast was also odd. I wonder if that was supposed to be an excuse for some bullet-time sequences in the final film.
Alex: I think so? I mean. It seemed like they were doing something of that nature from the script, and this was 2005, right?
Alex: And she doesn’t have powers, really, in the comics.
Kick: Well, shooting-people bracelets. I’m always annoyed when adaptations leave those out. They’re not that out-there. “Screw that, she’s too distinctive and memorable! Let’s just give her some guns!”
Alex: I think she’ll actually use them in the Avengers movie, so. She had them in IM2 but they didn’t do anything. Which was sad, because she had a lot of other gizmos in that fight scene, but not the one she’s actually known for.
Kick: It kinda makes me wonder what would’ve been different if this movie had been made. The script was written in 2005… give it a year and a half for production, it could’ve come out summer 2007, a year before Iron Man. I mean, aside from dream scenarios where Black Widow: The Movie makes 300 million dollars and a Wonder Woman movie is instantly greenlit, Natasha could’ve made her way into IM1. She could’ve easily been fit into that as a replacement for Agent Coulson and Nick Fury. She’d actually work better than Samuel L. Jackson. “Holy shit, it’s someone from another superhero movie! What’s she doing in this one!?”
Alex: Did Marvel have the rights to this movie? Or are we just pretending?
Kick: I’m not sure. For the sake of argument, yes.
Alex: Yeah, the Marvel cinemaverse would look a lot different if it was sort of begun with a female-lead movie. And her role in the Iron Man movies would feel a lot more… complete, I guess. And her appearing instead of Coulson in everything at the least would make her seem much more integrated. People love Coulson, probably more than they love movie Natasha at present.
Kick: I suppose it would help too, introducing her as a badass secret agent instead of a competitor for Pepper’s role as love interest (I know they didn’t end up playing her that way, but you only get to make a first impression once).
Alex: Yeah, though it was obvious from the beginning she was some kind of uberbadass, she did spend a lot of time playing sexy secretary. We got like, three minutes of her “real” personality in IM2. One of the things that annoys me about the movieverse is how completely reliant on Fury she is there. If she had her own movie first, about what she was doing before she met Fury, that issue would sort of go away.
Kick: Personally, with a first-time director and a kinda rote script, I couldn’t see this script as more than a middle-of-the-road, Thomas Jane Punisher kinda movie. But then, that would be better than an out-and-out abominations like Elektra or Catwoman. How about you, how do you think a David Hayer-introduced Black Widow would compare to IM2-introduced Black Widow?
Alex: I guess it depends on where they go in the Avengers movie.
Kick: It looks like she has a thing with Hawkeye. That’s the most I’ve got so far.
Alex: My opinion is sort of incomplete, since IM2 was basically a prequel thing for her, anyway. Ah, see, ScarJo in interviews has been pretty adamant about the no love interest thing, and the EW blurb on her calls her “nobody’s sweetheart” so I was wondering if they might be going the same desexed route? I don’t know. Certainly fandom acts like she’s hooked up with Hawkeye. But yeah, I mean, I’d rather have a kind of mediocre solo film than a limited cameo. But maybe with the system they’ve got now, they can build her up to the point where she’ll get a better movie. I like the shared-universe aspects of the movieverse and I think that could help save a Black Widow film from being spybusiness as usual. I think the real problem is we’re at a place where we release tons of silly action flicks, but female leads aren’t given the same freedom to be mediocre.
And then we went on talking about the Avengers movie, as will happen any time two comic fans exchange more than three words (Avengers 2: Enter She-Hulk. MAKE IT HAPPEN), but that’s all the time we have before I run out of Black Widow pictures that don’t feature her nipples.
Black Widow, obviously, ended up showing up in Iron Man 2, with a somewhat controversial role. (Apparently there’s something “wrong” with introducing a character by having the hero look up pictures of her in lingerie.) There’s been talk of a solo movie, but although there’s the possibility it’d be a prequel, it’s doubtful they’d use Hayter’s script. It’s actually so grounded that it wouldn’t quite fit in the by-now kooky Marvel universe. Who cares about some Soviet jerk when there are evil gods running around? And, of course, B-Dub will be showing up as the female lead by default in The Avengers, where Joss Whedon will have to give her something to do or turn in his feminist card.
So, things worked out kinda like a TV show on TNT. Not too great, but not super-bad either. Mostly okay.
Quote source: http://www.latinoreview.com/news/david-hayter-talks-what-happened-to-marvel-s-black-widow-9307