Like her namesake, Black Widow is small, but deadly. What she shows us on the outside (firing pistols, riding motorcycles, karate chopping robots) is pretty impressive, but it's nothing compared to what she's got going on on the inside. We're really talking about two key ingredients here: guts and heart.
Tough as a Leather Jumpsuit
Let's start with her guts. In the comic book world, the blind lawyer-turned-vigilante Daredevil is known as "the man without fear." Well, we think that the Black Widow deserves "the woman without fear." Keep in mind that her training as an elite assassin is really her only superpower. She can't fall back on gamma radiation or her relationship to a Norse god when the mud hits the fan. Don't feel sorry for her, though. She's got courage to spare, which allows her to keep up with her fellow Avengers, no matter what the situation.
One way to measure that is by her comfort level when things get hairy. She's stays cool, calm, and collected, even when Hawkeye drops her out of the Quinjet in a motorcycle to race after Ultron through the streets of Seoul. She barely bats an eye as she does, pausing in fact to pick up Captain America's shield after he loses it in the fight. Her reaction?
Black Widow: I'm always picking up after you boys.
She's also totally dedicated to her cause. When it at first seems like the Avengers will have to blow up the floating Sokovia—as well as themselves—to save the rest of Earth, Black Widow is actually pretty cool with the idea:
Black Widow: There's worse ways to go. Where else am I gonna get a view like this?
Talk about tough. As the only female member of the Avengers, Black Widow stands out not because of her gender, but because of her bravery.
A Monstrous Past
When we get more of Black Widow's backstory in Age of Ultron, we start to realize just how tough she really is. After she's zapped by Wanda Maximoff, BW experiences some hallucinatory flashbacks to her training as a child. Let's just say there were not a lot of nap mats or story circles involved.
Instead, how about forced murder and sterilization? We're talking seriously grim stuff, and it's clearly left a mark on Black Widow's character, albeit one that she rarely shows. With Bruce Banner, though, it's different (more on that in a minute). She carries a flame for him throughout the film, and feels comfortable enough with him to divulge her dark past:
Black Widow: In the red room where I was trained—where I was raised—they have a graduation ceremony. They sterilize you […] You still think you're the only monster on the team?
It's tragic that Black Widow has internalized the ugliness of her upbringing in this way. At the same time, the revelation shows us just how deep her courage runs.
One other thing runs deep in Black Widow's character: her affection for one Dr. Bruce Banner. Theirs is the only love story in the movie. Even though it's not exactly conventional, it speaks to a kind of bond that goes beyond mere teammates. In that way, their exchanges help offset the more testy back-and-forths between Iron Man and Captain America.
The whole thing starts off as heavy flirting, with Black Widow telling Bruce about "another guy" at the Avengers' victory party:
Black Widow: He's also a huge dork. Chicks dig that. So what do you think? Should I fight this? Or run with it?
Bruce Banner: Run with it…right?
That's good advice, Bruce. It's just a shame you don't take it yourself. When Black Widow finally makes her move, Banner is too afraid of his Hulk alter-ego to allow himself to commit to a relationship. Still, by being so forthcoming with Banner, Black Widow demonstrates both her guts and her heart.
Sure, it winds up being more tragedy for her to endure, but we know she can handle it. By the film's end, she's refocused her efforts on training some new Avengers into fighting shape. They could do a whole lot worse for a coach.