Watching this, I reflected upon the fact that this is part of the reason The Avengers is so epic. Natasha or Pepper (or Jane!) could easily have been used as the catalyst-by-murder or the brainwashed person needing to be rescued, but they weren’t. And the movie didn’t suffer one bit from the catalyst being a bro as opposed to a love interest.
Pepper obviously served as a love interest for Tony but their relationship had already been established previously, with her as an intelligent and capable individual with her own shit going on that’s shown pretty well in the films (unlike say Mary Jane in the Spider-Man films, whose personal life and career were sort of glossed over). I think the Iron Man films were a pretty good example of how to develop the love interest as a real character, even if the romance isn’t the main plot of the film.
Natasha too is a pretty fully developed independent character - her relationship with Clint is implied, not explicit, and (as many people have already squeed/flailed about) she’s the only person who deliberately gets one over on Loki - by acting like a stereotypical female, which she isn’t (you could say Tony also got one over on Loki, but that was not on purpose). When Banner “Hulked out” I was fully expecting her to try to sweet talk him into calming down - thus playing into the nurturing female stereotype - but she didn’t. She got a lot of screentime, her outfit wasn’t terribly eye-candy or impractical, and she kicked a lot of ass without needing assistance.
I hope comic book writers and action film makers take notice! It’s possible to have a lady in a successful action film without her being a one-dimensional stereotyped waste of space!