A while ago I posted about how I really liked the fact that Joss Whedon kept Avengers free of any romantic sub-plots. Oh sure, you can read something into the relationship between Hawkeye and the Black Widow…or not. It’s pretty ambiguous, and looking at it objectively the only thing you get from their characters is that they really care about each other a lot, which could mean anything. It’s entirely possible for someone who has no prior knowledge of the characters at all to read them as brother and sister. And that was just perfect.*
My point was that I generally like my action-adventure movies, of whatever genre, to be romance sub-plot free unless the romance serves the main plot.
I was given a great example of this by Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. You would be hard pressed to find a fan who does not like Marion Ravenwood, and I think a large part of that has less to do with her (pretty awesome) spunky personality than for the fact that she was an integral to the plot. She wasn’t a hanger-on there to show us how attractive Indy is, she was a full-fledged and critical member of the cast.
She owned the headpiece to the Staff of Ra that Indy needed; she provided humanizing back story to Indy by representing his failures at personal relationships (both with her, and his mentor); and it’s pretty clear that it is HER kidnapping, not the theft of the ark from the shipping boat, that caused Indy to tie himself to a submarine.
Unfortunately, I can’t really say the same about Peggy Carter in Captain America, for instance. I like Peggy, I think she was a “sharp broad” in the lingo of the era. She was smart and witty and had Steve’s number. But she was, really, stage dressing. Her main contribution was putting Steve in touch with Howard at a crucial moment, but that could have been done about 20 different ways. If they had wanted a strong female character in the movie while avoiding the pointless semi-romance they ended up with, they would have done better to gender!swap Dr. Erskine.
True, the final scene with Peggy on the radio with Steve was heartbreaking. It really brought home that Steve thought he was committing suicide, and how everyone else thought the same thing. Still, I’m not convinced that was worth the price of putting up with heart-sick-puppy Stevie. Really, not.
So thank you Indiana Jones, again, for showing us how it’s done. Joss Whedon and I salute you.
* [There is honestly more flirt action going on between Tony (Iron Man) and Dr. Bruce Banner (the Hulk) in this movie. It was quite a shock to long-standing fans of the comics, who are farrrrr more used to Iron Man carting Captain America around like his blushing bride (Canon. Fact.) among other declarations of love. But then Tony’s a dog, we know this, moving on. The only onscreen kiss was between Tony (duh) and Pepper, who by this point in the franchise are an already established couple. Any possible Stan Lee-assisted flirtation between Steve and the Waitress of Destiny was left on the cutting room floor.]