I love how for the longest time there was this stigma around Superhero Movies, as if starring in one made you less of an actor. You weren’t taken seriously, because the movies themselves were mostly regarded as mindless trash with no merit outside of some cool effects and an unabashed good time. You couldn’t become a star by pursuing those types of roles and then be taken seriously as a true thespian. What I love more than that fact is that we now live in a world where The Joker has an Oscar for being, well, The Joker, Batman has an Oscar for playing a drug addict and Iron Man is two-time Oscar nominee. Yes, Superhero Movies aren’t all fun and games anymore. This isn’t the land of rubber nipples and cheesy one-liners (ok, the one-liners are still there), but this is a more realistic and acceptable world. I guess it’s safe to say that Superhero Movies aren’t just for kids anymore.
Robert Downey Jr. – Two Time Nominee
Mark Ruffalo – Nominee
Jeremy Renner – Two Time Nominee
Samuel L. Jackson – Nominee
Gwyneth Paltrow (not pictured) – Oscar Winner
So this leaves me with a bit of a conundrum, because as much as I adore the fact that this genre no longer carries with it the stigma of years past, I can’t help but wonder if full emersion in this genre could mark the death of an actor’s career OUTSIDE of the genre. Look at Robert Downey Jr. He’s basically come out and said that he’d rather cash a paycheck in a slew of effects heavy films than slum it for an Indie film in order to gain acclaim. That may work for some people, but there are some actors who I don’t want to see get swept up in the barrage of spandex suits and explosions.
This is for you Scarlett Johansson! There is still so much you have left to show us. Please don’t forget where you started!
So, that brings me to my piece for Bubbawheat’s ‘Comic Strip Double Dip’. I chose to cover Scarlett Johansson’s double dip of ‘Ghost World’ and ‘The Avengers’ (and by association, ‘Iron Man 2’). I chose these because this was one of those rare pairings that almost bookend a career up to this point. While Scarlett was in the movies for quite a few years before ‘Ghost World’, her career didn’t really start until 2003, when she became a household name after ‘Lost in Translation’ (and her obvious blossoming), and it was 2001’s ‘Ghost World’ that kickstarted her critical acclaim as a talented actress who was sure to do great things.
And great things she did!
The great thing about these two roles is that they couldn’t be more different, and in many ways I think they serve as great identifiers as to where her career started and the shape it took over the decade to bring her to where she is today. It doesn’t paint a very pretty picture, but thanks to the points I mentioned in the outset of this post, it doesn’t spell doom either.
As Rebecca in Terry Zwigoff’s ‘Ghost World’, Johansson plays down any trace of sexuality to embody the role of an outcast trying to juggle her life post High School. Lapdog to the more outspoken and abrasive Enid, Rebecca is constantly trying to get a word in edgewise in order to make a point, or leave a mark, on Enid’s life. It is a quiet performance, as were most of Scarlett’s early performances, and because of that she makes the most of her screen time with those little flourishes of subliminal messaging, giving us glances and facial movements in order to convey the inner workings of her character’s emotional output. She’s a more internalized force, and her presence lingers on every frame. When she does speak her mind (her sidewalk outburst) she manages to unveil an entire swell of pent up frustrations. Let’s also not forget her line delivery, which is so crisp and perfectly executed, living well within the walls of deadpan and delivered in a way that would make Bill Murray proud.
As a side note; Wes Anderson should totally cast her in his next movie!
That brings me to her more recent work in ‘Iron Man 2’. In all honesty, this is a sad state of affairs and an almost telling result of Johansson’s career choices post-2003. Becoming a complete bombshell has its perks, sure, but it apparently has its drawbacks. Her role in ‘Iron Man 2’, as the sexy Black Widow, is just that; an opportunity for her to be sexy. I mean, what do we remember about her performance other than the fact that she runs down that corridor and wraps her legs around some guys face before slamming him to the ground? We remember the sex. There is no denying that her body is a force and that she can make almost any breathing person sweat, but this girl is more than that, and seeing her demoted to mere sex appeal is degrading and heartbreaking. Thankfully, ‘The Avengers’ managed to make the most of this character, giving Johansson an avenue to emote and make something more out of her character. By drawing lines in her backstory and fleshing out a love story, Johansson was able to use her knack for subtle facial emoting to better effect (sure, she can convey sex with a raising of the eyebrow, but I’d rather see her convey emotional baggage through the quiver of her bottom lip).
But here is where my concern lies. Over the past two years Scarlett’s name has been linked to some very high profile gigs. She was initially speculated for the role of Eponine in Hooper’s ‘Les Miserables’. She auditioned for, and got rave feedback from Fincher, for ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and she was Cuaron’s favorite for the lead role in his upcoming ‘Gravity’. With all that said, she managed to land NONE of those roles. Fincher went with Mara, and stated that while Scarlett aced her audition he felt she was too sexy for the role and that the audience wouldn’t be able to separate her from her well known image. Cuaron, despite wanting Scarlett, had to pass since the studio felt she wasn’t a big enough name to carry the film. This is troubling to me. It appears that Scarlett, despite undeniable range, talent and persistence, cannot catch a break because of the exploitation of her overt sexuality; and I fear being boxed into the world of Superhero movies will only further cement her status as a ‘bombshell’ and separate her even further from the roles she so deserves.
Remember when she was Woody Allen’s muse!
I mean, look at the films she has slated to come out in the next few years. She has ‘The Avengers 2’, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and then a sex comedy and a film where she plays a sexy alien. Even her role in ‘Hitchcock’ was an obvious ode to her body. This isn’t to knock the fun that is to be had from a comic book film. I mean, even Oscar winner Anne Hathaway donned a leather jumpsuit for her role as Catwoman, but she also counterbalanced that with an Oscar winning turn in ‘Les Miserables’ (honestly, she was Oscar deserving for BOTH performances, but it was a better written role). It appears that Scarlett wants those other roles. She’s auditioned and scored raves for some high profile gets, and yet she was always passed over. I’m afraid the girl is going to get discouraged and next thing you know she’s going to ultimately disappear.
Sophia Coppola needs to give this girl a call, quick!