Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 2 November 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Bechdel Wallace Test

It was Sunday yesterday, and the beginning of a new month… and it’s winter… almost.

I don’t know… but yesterday, I wasn’t at my energetic best. That’s OK, though, we can’t all fire on all cylinders all of the time.

At about two o’clock in the afternoon, the husband asked if there was anything I’d like to do. I suggested that if he didn’t just want to keep me company, basically doing nothing at all, he might want to do something on his own, because I wasn’t really up for much of anything… Maybe a movie?

As it happened the husband had a stack of movies he was looking forward to catching up on, so, having worked through lunch, we gathered together a vast pile of snacks, I poured myself a very innocent glass of wine, I lit the stove for the first time this year, and we settled down to watch ‘Age of Ultron’.
Marvel Movies, Avengers: Age of Ultron

You’ll all remember that I’m a middle-aged woman, and that this kind of blockbuster movie really isn’t aimed at me… I’m not Marvel Entertainment’s audience. I also didn’t quite make it all the way through the movie. I wasn’t feeling great, I’d filled my stomach with snack foods and I was warm and cosy… and let’s not forget that glass of wine. I slept through maybe twenty or thirty minutes, towards the end of the movie. The husband assures me that they were some of the best minutes, and I’m willing to take his word for it.

Had this been my kind of film, I’m guessing I wouldn’t have fallen asleep… I’m guessing it might have held my attention.

I’m not going to be critical of Age of Ultron, because it kinda does what it says on the tin… It’s pretty much what it’s supposed to be. I take no issue with it. There are superheroes who conform to our expectations of super-heroism, and villains who are extra-specially villainous. What’s more, it doesn’t hurt that there is drama and tension in the relationship between our heroes and our villain… Oh, forgive me, villains.

There were great big dollops of action, which are mandatory, I guess, but I thought they were pretty well-done. For my taste, they were a little longwinded at times, but that’s OK, I’m sure it’s a case of the more the better for the movie’s target audience. I’m not an expert on CGI, but this all looked of a standard to me.

Technically, there were one or two issues, I thought, but they were mostly from a writer/storytelling viewpoint, and I’m being picky. I think there was too much shoe-horned in, basically. It was a bit all over the place, and linking sequences didn’t always work well and were a little heavy on exposition at times. My guess is that time was carved out of storytelling sections and given over to action sequences. If the whole thing had been tighter this might have been less of an issue.

Characterisation was, on the whole, pretty good, but I see no reason why every character has to be funny; we have Tony Stark for that, and Cap, of course, for his inadvertent, earnest funnies. I’d prefer that Thor really was God-like, and Hemsworth’s timing isn’t really good enough to get the laugh. Again, quibbles. Finally, as a big fan of Mark Ruffalo, I wonder whether it was his take on the character, or the direction that was the problem with his performance, but, either way, it left me cold. I like James Spader very much, but was less impressed with the appearance of Ultron than I wanted to be.

The one thing that really irritated me about Avengers: Age of Ultron was a scene where all the characters were gathered at a party, discussing the absence of women. Yet again, there isn’t a whole lot of room for women characters in the big action blockbuster movies, and I’m not just pointing a finger at Marvel. Scarlet Johansson was there, obviously, and Cobie Smulders, although her part was pretty small, and she’d lost what seemed to me like quite a lot of weight to fill the role, and was wearing what seemed like extremely fitted dresses for a woman doing the job Maria Hill would be doing… but I digress. I believe that Tony Stark and Thor were discussing the absence of women, and in particular, their absence of their partners Pepper Potts and Jane Foster. The irony was hardly lost on me, and pointing out the absence of strong female characters in movies is hardly the same as writing strong female characters for movies and then casting great female actors in the roles.

The Bechdel Wallace test is applied to all forms of fiction. It forms an opinion about that work of fiction based on whether two women characters have a meaningful conversation about something other than men.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, two men had a conversation about women. Stark and Thor were comparing their women partners’ accomplishments. I believe the engagement ended with Thor saying something like, “Yeah, but Jane’s better.” I don’t remember exactly, and I can’t bear to sit through the scene again to find out.

Some might recognise the nod to the Bechdel Wallace test in this exchange and find it referential, funny, knowing, but it positively made me cringe, to the point of being insulted by it.

It’s bad enough that women are constantly being kept out and kept down; that we are constantly being put in our place, and Hollywood might just be one of the cruellest places in the World when it comes to the treatment of women, but to be mocked while we are being excluded is just too much. 

Natalie Portman played Jane Foster in two Avengers movies and Gwyneth Paltrow played Pepper Potts in, I believe, 4 movies. It’s no excuse that they weren’t available to reprise their roles when the absence of these fine actresses was reduced to this laughable footnote. It is just plain mean. 

That the Bechdel Wallace test was reduced to a gag is a bloody disgrace.


  1. Couple of things Ma'am

    1. Natalie Portman played Jane Foster in two *Thor* movies, not Avengers

    2. I believe that Portman's absence may be explained by behind the scenes stuff. Essentially, the female director who she had heavily recommended/supported to do Thor 2 was then unceremoniously dropped *after* Portman had signed on (ostensibly because of her good pal and fave female director being attached) and therefore she was somewhat peeved about even doing Thor 2 as she felt she had been lured under false pretenses. I suspect that given this, she had absolutely no interest in returning for AoU.

    That said, given that we are on our second actors for the Hulk and 'Rowdy' in the MCU, if they really wanted to, it seems that they could have recast the role.

    As for the absence of Ms Paltrow, I have no idea. A shame, because I actually really liked her in the Iron Man movies, and she is generally not really to my taste at all.

    1. Thanks for the clarification Greg. I think my point stands. Smiles.

  2. Wait, Marvel slash Disney is the bad guys..?

  3. I've not seen the latest Avengers so cannot speak to your main point. Your issue about the storytelling was intimated to by Whedon during production. Lots of storylines meeting and too much to fit in neatly. It exhausted him and he didn't find it enjoyable so has ruled himself out of any more. If/when we get to see the film, I'll return to your point about the Bechdel Wallace test.