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Career Watch: Scarlett Johansson, Beyond the Black Bodysuit

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood May 7, 2012 at 3:40PM

Scarlett Johansson's role as Black Widow in "The Avengers" would be unnecessary if the superhero rulebook didn't require at least one buxom babe in black spandex. Thus secret agent Johansson plays a distant fiddle to Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans et al's super-human powers. Although her assassin has no superpower--other than outsmarting, interrogating and shooting and beating people to death ("looking puzzled or confused")--thanks to Joss Whedon's box office hit, attention is back on Johansson the kick-ass action babe rather than Johansson the nude-photo-hacking-scandal babe. But is Black Widow the best Johansson can do?
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Scarlett Johansson, Avengers

Scarlett Johansson's role as Black Widow in "The Avengers" would be unnecessary if the superhero rulebook didn't require at least one buxom babe in black spandex. Thus secret agent Johansson plays a distant fiddle to Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans et al's super-human powers. Although her assassin has no superpower--other than outsmarting, interrogating and shooting and beating people to death ("looking puzzled or confused")--thanks to Joss Whedon's box office hit, attention is back on Johansson the kick-ass action babe rather than Johansson the nude-photo-hacking-scandal babe. But is Black Widow the best Johansson can do?

Scarlett Johansson, "Lost in Translation"
"Lost in Translation"

SIGNATURE QUOTES: "I just don't know what I'm supposed to be." - As Charlotte in "Lost in Translation" | "If you don't start undressing me soon this is going to turn into a panel discussion." - as Cristina, in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

THE START: Johansson, at age thirteen, was "introduced" in Robert Redford's 1998 "The Horse Whisperer," though she had appeared in six films prior. Her pillowy lips, comely face and come-hither voice caught the attention of Sofia Coppola and Woody Allen and have afforded her consistent work as a self-aware and comparatively intelligent ingenue in films such as "Ghost World" and "A Love Song For Bobby Long" and as a thankless babe in Michael Bay's "The Island," Brian de Palma's "The Black Dahlia," Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige," and "Iron Man 2." While she hasn't been relegated to a single genre (she has steered clear of the rom-com hell of Katherin Heigl and Kate Hudson, probably because she played the other woman in "He's Just Not That Into You"), she has mainly popped as the muse of indie directors Coppola and Allen.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: "Lost in Translation" (95% Fresh) not only offered Johansson her strongest co-star to date (Bill Murray) but her most challenging role as an aimless woman stranded by her husband in Tokyo. It won her a BAFTA and a Golden Globe nomination (her others were "Girl with a Pearl Earring," "A Love Song for Bobby Long" and "Match Point"). Allen made us love her within the strong ensembles of "Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (82% Fresh), but "Scoop" was their least successful joint effort. "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (72% Fresh) made her beauty high-brow and earned raves.

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
BIGGEST ASSET: She's a young, smart, sophisticated, sexy and unique New Yorker. Nobody else looks like her. At twenty-seven, with a failed Hollywood marriage already behind her (to Ryan Reynolds, whose superhero attempts were less successful in DC land), a resume of big pictures, little pictures and everything in-between (not to mention a few albums, and a beauty endorsement from Dolce & Gabbana), it's feasible that she could reinvent herself and make a "serious actor" comeback before she's thirty. Whether she wants to or not is the question.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: Her reputation is not as a strong actress, which may be why she has avoided major career misfires, because she's never been responsible for carrying a film on her own; if she wants to change that perception she needs to shift her selection of projects.

CAREER ADVICE: Depending on how Sacha Gervasi handles the material, Johansson could launch a substance-over-style phase by playing Janet Leigh in "Hitchcock" (a making-of "Psycho" true story co-starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren's Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock). Or not: if anyone's got the body for a nude shower scene, it's her.

Revisit Johansson's career in trailers below:

This article is related to: Career Watch, Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Sofia Coppola, Directors, Genres, Headliners, Media, Features


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.