Structuring a Superheroine: Feminist Film Criticism and the Black Widow Controversy

MV5BMzE2MjQ1NzE5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTg3MjQ0NDE@._V1__SX1303_SY601_[This post contains spoilers for The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier ]

“That is horseshit.”

That rather blunt one-liner was Joss Whedon’s reaction to reports that his decision to leave Twitter shortly after the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron was motivated by the flood of angry tweets over the writer-director’s treatment of the titular team’s single female member – Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow.

Natasha has long been a target for feminist critique, due not only to her depiction across the Marvel franchises in which she has appeared, but also to the studio’s failure to produce a stand-alone movie focusing on the character. The continued absence of a Black Widow movie in the Marvel film canon has been a persistent point of contention with Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, to the point that, as Jen Yamato argues, the executive’s “evasiveness on the glaring lack of Marvel stand-alone superheroine vehicles has its own narrative” of repeated promises and assurances that have yet to materialize.

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“May the Force be with you, always”: Reflections of a Lapsed Star Wars Fan

Luke Sunset

When it was announced that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm to Disney, and that the studio would be producing a new series of Star Wars films with their newly purchased rights to the franchise, I was somewhat taken aback by my reaction.

Fan reactions, as film scholar and Star Wars fan William Proctor argues, dominated news reports following the announcement. Media outlets, benefitting from the immediacy of the internet, drew on comments from social media, suggesting they “had been run amok with fan voices expressing discontent, indifference and, at times, downright indignation” to the news. The necessary pithiness inherent in Twitter’s character limit provided an ample sampling of sound-bite worthy reactions, from the simply declinatory – “so apparently disney is buying lucasfilms for 4billion USD and then going to make a star wars 7. JUST NO” – to the downrightly apocalyptic – “the world really is ending! Disney bought Star Wars for over 4.5 [b]illion dollars and making more. We’re doomed.” For Proctor, these media reports were overly reductive, focusing on negative reactions to the news that were “non-representative of the Star Wars community,” given the “more varied and complex” comments he had read from fans of the franchise, whose feelings ranged from excitement and optimism, to anxiety, anger, antagonism, a wait-and-see agnosticism, or some intricate combination of these and other emotions. Continue reading

Cloudy with a Chance of Narrative: Storytelling in Children’s Cinema and Narrative Unity

cloudy copy

One of the things that drew me to film studies was its tendency to reveal the complexities behind what seems to be self-explanatory. A large portion of our experience of film has become pretty well automatized. A great deal of the films we see follow the same narrative strategies, and unless we happen to come across something that proves especially memorable, each film, as Kristin Thompson argues, tends to get lumped into that “undifferentiated mass that we have come to think of as classical cinema.” Continue reading

“Give me the same thing… only different!” On the Horrors of Sequelitis


I love a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s not because I relish other people’s defeats, it’s just such a remarkable achievement to not be able to find a single critic willing to give a film a favourable review. Someone always likes to play the Devil’s Advocate no matter how bad a film they’re confronted with. I suspected Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 might be a candidate for the elusive 0, so I got a chuckle when the reviews came in this weekend and there wasn’t a positive one in sight. But for others the film’s garnering of a goose egg from the critical community is a sign of something more serious than just another critical catastrophe. Continue reading

Why I Don’t Like “Let it Go” and Why it’s Not Why You Think

LiG 1I feel the need to start this post with some sort of fully indemnifying disclaimer or risk the amassed criticism of the internet descending on my head like so many sneeze-induced miniature snowmen. So…

I like Frozen. It’s a perfectly good film with accomplished animation and voice acting. It looks good, it sounds good, and it has a compelling narrative which refreshingly does away with the typical fairy tale gender dynamic and the need for a conventional, lone villain against which the protagonist can be set. It also has deeply resonated with its audience in a way that seems to insulate it from criticism, its popularity and the affection it has engendered with its fans turning it into a no-go zone for critical analysis. The popularity of the song “Let it Go” alone has practically co-opted that phrase to the point that I can often discern the attempt to resist making reference to the movie whenever someone says it. Continue reading

If the shoe fits: Fairy Tales, Familiarity, and Difference in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella

Cinderella 2015I have a bad habit of trying to overhear what people are saying in movie theatres. I’m not typically a nosy person, but years of academia have taught me that what we write about film and people’s actual reactions to it can be widely divergent.

It’s participant research, not snooping.

So when a couple sat behind me at a screening of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella last week, I didn’t make my typical, everywhere-other-than-a-movie-theatre attempts to not listen to what they were saying. They spoke in generally hushed tones, leaving me with only the occasional word or phrase, but there was a discernible cynicism in everything they said. A satisfied laugh followed by a whispered comment. Continue reading

We Need to Talk About Animation


Last week I wrote two rather lengthy post (Part 1, Part 2) looking at shot scale as an element of film style and its connection to meaning by analysing sequences from three different films. Two of these films were live-action (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1) and one was computer animated (How to Train Your Dragon 2), but I used the same terms in describing all three, referring to things like camera movement despite the fact that in CGI animation there is no physical camera to move. 3D animation software allows for a virtual camera to be placed in a virtual space, but that does not shake the suspicion of using terms that derive from a physical apparatus to describe a film made without using that apparatus, and it also doesn’t account for 2D drawn animation, in which there may be a real camera but it is one that captures still images rather than an existing reality. Continue reading