I've now seen Avengers a couple of times, but I hadn't written a post because I didn't know what I could say that hadn't already been said. It was awesome, everything I hoped it would be. Whedon stood tall and rose to all my expectations. The arrangement of strong characters was well-balanced and well-written, each contributing a unique personality to the whole. Roger Ebert is an idiot. Moviefone is sexist. The end.
After discussing the film with others and watching it a second time through, I realized that while this film has some fantastic female characters, it does not pass the Bechdel Test (watch this if you're not sure what the test entails). Having said that, I still think it's a film with successfully feminist female roles in the form of Black Widow, and more interestingly to me, Maria Hill (Fury's second in command).
I like that Black Widow plays into all the stereotypes of the damsel in distress (helpless, sexually objectified, emotional, vulnerable) in order to trick her male counterparts into spilling their secrets. Is she still a femme fatale figure? Yes. Is her sexuality still referenced as important to her job? Yes. Is she still tied up at one point? Yes. But she's still a really cool superhero and incredible leaps and bounds beyond female characters in other Marvel films (I'm scowling at you, Jane from Thor).
However, the female character who really caught my eye is Maria Hill. This may seem odd, since she isn't a main character. She just sort of drifts in and out of scenes like a shadow with no backstory or characteristics shown besides those pertinent to her job. But this is what I like: her role could have easily been played by a man, keeping the script exactly as it was written. Of course, it would be strange if all female characters were written in such a way. But in this case, as a military-like employee, it makes sense. And I like that no one ever comments on her gender or makes gendered comments to her. She is just part of the operation; it is natural. She is a woman doing her job. It was so simple to make this character female, and yet, many films fail to incorporate similar female roles: everyday females doing their jobs in typically male-dominated fields. I like it.