- Scarlett Johansson said Black Widow was treated like “a piece of a–” in early Marvel films.
- We looked back at her 8 major MCU appearances, rounding up times Nat was treated like an object.
- Before 2015, Nat’s appearances largely play up her sexuality. “Iron Man 2” is the worst offender.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Of Natasha’s eight appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film which treats her with the least respect is her introduction in 2010’s “Iron Man 2.”
2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” began taking her character more seriously after one specific outfit change was nixed. The following year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” directed by Joss Whedon, was the last time we saw the character grossly mistreated on screen as little more than a love interest.
Maybe this is partially why it took over a decade for Johansson to get her own solo film. No one was taking her character seriously until about five years into her MCU tenure.
From the moment Natasha walks into a room with Stark in “Iron Man 2,” he can’t focus and keep his eyes off of her. He effectively becomes one of those loopy cartoon characters ogling over a woman with their eyes popping out of their head.
He invites her into a boxing ring, calling her lady and saying it would please the court (Tony being the court) if she entered the ring. Pepper apologizes for his eccentric attitude and the camera follows as Natasha slowly slinks between the ropes to join Tony on the mat. After staring at her wordlessly, he steps aside to watch as Happy gives her a lesson.
Tony’s former-assistant-and-now boss Pepper Potts quickly reminds him that Natasha is “potentially a very expensive sexual harrassment lawsuit if you keep ogling her like that.”
Tony, wanting to learn more about her, pulls up some racy modeling photos of her.
Within 2 minutes and 30 seconds of knowing Nat, Tony tells Pepper, “I want one,” not even referring to Natasha as a person, but as an object.
Pepper, knowing Tony (at the time) goes from woman to woman, immediately shuts him down with a swift, “No.”
He asks if she has any boxing experience. When she says she does, he asks if she did Tae Bo or something called “Booty Boot Camp,” which, as it turns out, is not a made up thing, but a real workout program with a woman named Kenya Moore.
Instead of giving a verbal response, Natasha’s demeanor immediately changes. She pouts and audibly clears her throat, seeming a bit annoyed and over this man, before quickly putting Happy in his place, pinning him almost immediately.
The scene is meant to wow fans by showing us Natasha isn’t who we expected, but it simultaneously belittles her. You can tell she’s used to being viewed a certain way by men and she uses that to her advantage, but she shouldn’t have to.
Johannson is in a dress that’s so low-cut you can see her bra. It sticks out so much that it looks like a mistake, drawing viewers’ eyes to look at her chest unnecessarily.
The actress doesn’t seem to have been thrilled with the wardrobe choice either. In one of the behind-the-scenes features on the making of the film (available on Disney+), when costume designer Mary Zophres tells director Jon Favreau about dressing Johansson in a “plungier” neckline, Johansson makes a face, scrunching her eyes a little as if she’s waiting to see what he’ll say.
When the director says, “Good. That’s great,” Johansson nods and says, “Good,” but her body language seems to disagree a bit as you briefly see her look down and clasp her hands as Zophres and Favreau walk away.
You can see a bit of the scene here. It’s tough to grasp that she’s actually thrilled to wear a plungier neckline.
This line makes little sense when Nat’s revealed as Black Widow a few scenes later and explains she was sent to watch Stark after he was poisoned.
Instead of giving a distraught guy she’s supposed to be keeping an eye on real advice, it sounds as if Nat’s trying to seduce Tony in the moment. The scene also makes it look like she instigated Tony’s massive bender and subsequent break down. What was the point of all that if she was supposed to be keeping an eye on him?
We see Tony flirting more with Nat in a deleted scene, also seen above, which is meant to pit Nat and Pepper against each other a bit.
Pepper even tells her at one point that she’s “onto her,” but the next time we see the two together, it’s as if nothing ever happened. Pepper doesn’t seem aware of Natasha’s secret identity.
Nat calls him out when she realizes he’s not watching the road and he then keeps his eyes focused forward, clearly embarrassed to have been called out.
The scene could have ended there, but for whatever reason we had to see Nat fling her leg up into the air. I don’t know if you’re a woman who has ever tried to change clothes in a car, but you can do it without dramatically flinging your feet up in the air. If Nat was really getting changed, she would have moved the passenger seat all the way up to give her more leg room in the backseat.
This scene simply wasn’t needed.
Her captor sets the tone for how the audience should view Black Widow. In her very first appearance in this film, he views her as nothing more than a sexual object. Nat is seen in a sexy black dress and panty hose without shoes.
Nat then breaks free and quickly disables all of the men, but it feels like an excuse to see her fighting in a low-cut, tight dress.
This is the least offensive example on this list, but it’s still annoying when you know Cap or any of the male Avengers would never have to deliver a line like this before fighting. (Cap would likely say a corny dad pun, but it wouldn’t be in a playful, flirty tone.)
Then, Black Widow adds the line, “Bye, bye bikini season,” as if that’s a thing Nat’s character has ever cared about.
This scene is annoying because it’s just an excuse for Johansson to lift her shirt up and show the audience her stomach and belly button. The gunshot wound could have been placed anywhere on her body, but it was chosen to be in a more sensual location.
If the Winter Soldier was aiming to kill someone, wouldn’t he have gone for the head or knicked a shoulder or a spot near Nat’s heart? If this scene was absolutely necessary to the story, it would’ve been a bit more believable if Nat pushed back her hair and showed a scar or gave the collar on her shirt a tug to show a gnarly bullet scar.
Instead, the film makes us focus on the thought of Black Widow in a bikini.
Even Cap seems frustrated with the line, sarcastically telling Nat he’s sure she looks terrible in a bathing suit now.
In 2012’s “The Avengers,” Nat says love is for children, but all of a sudden in the follow-up she’s fawning over and flirting with The Hulk.
It was a bit much after Nat spent 2014’s “The Winter Soldier” sometimes flirting with and even smooching Cap. Before that, she caught Iron Man’s eye. There was no need for Nat to keep moving from teammate to teammate in these films. It undercut her character growth.
You can see the “Justice League” scene here.
“It was very quickly killed,” Johansson said of the scene written by male writers.
She added, at the time, the change in her character came because of a “cultural shift” in how people were portraying female characters in Hollywood at the time.
The changes in Widow’s character really started taking shape in 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” After 2015’s “Age of Ultron,” it’s tough to find a spot where the character isn’t treated more respectfully and like one of the team instead of purely as an object.