My Thoughts on Avengers: Endgame
Recently (like basically everyone I know), I went to see the newest Avengers movie, Avengers: Endgame. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is the film that follows on from Avengers: Infinity War, in which the entire universe is under threat from Thanos, the big purple dude from Guardians of the Galaxy. Spoilers ahead. In Infinity War, Thanos used the Infinity Stones to wipe out 50% of the population of the universe according to his own warped moral compass. Meaning, half the Avengers themselves were dusted. Literally dusted away on the breeze.
Endgame begins with a charming scene of familial, rural perfection, in which Hawkeye is playing with his kids in a field, while his wife prepares the food. His entire family vanishes, dusted away by Thanos. Then, we get a bit of a recap over the weeks following Thanos’s mass slaughter, resulting in the surviving Avengers tracking him down, realising he’s destroyed the Infinity Stones (thus destroying their plan to use the Infinity Stone of Timey-Wimey Nonsense to reverse the effect), and ultimately ending in Thor efficiently decapitating him. Then, we skip ahead five years and the actual plot begins with Ant-Man’s emerging from the quantum dimension. My problem here is that there are three openings to this movie, but they couldn’t decide on any of them, so they included them all. The first two scenes could have been consolidated into shorter flashbacks, giving the film an altogether smoother beginning.
Anyway, that’s a minor complaint. I mostly have an issue with the treatment of female characters in Endgame. At a glance, it might look just fine. There’s even a moment in which all the female characters band together and face Thano’s forces on the battlefield. It’s dramatic, they’re powerful, there’s a nice pose. But honestly, looking at the whole film a bit closer, I found there were many moments that made me question the film’s commitment to presenting its female characters on an equal standing to the men.
First off, Black Widow’s death. Much like Gamora’s death in Infinity War, Black Widow plummets to her death as a means to an end. According the complex Timey-Wimey-Quantum plan, Black Widow and Hawkeye are sent to retrieve the Soul Stone on the planet Vormir, for which one of them has to sacrifice something they love. Black Widow gets killed off here, sacrificing herself in a quite annoying repeated bait-and-switch of who gets to die for the world. Of course, with the adorable opening featuring Hawkeye’s kids, it wasn’t ever really a question to me as to who would die. Earlier in the film, we see the grieving Hawkeye is roaming the world, murdering bad people. The scene on Vormir is the pinnacle of his half-assed redemption arc. When you look at it, it’s not just one woman who dies to propel his character development, but three when you take into account his wife and daughter. (Although two does eventually get brought back to life.) This is just another example of the way female characters are frequently used to propel either male characters, or the plot itself. By contrast, the plot tends to serve male characters rather than the other way around. It seems especially cruel to do this Black Widow since it looks like she was the one actually holding everything together for those five years between the snap and the Timey-Wimey-Quantum plan. She’s also the one to track down Hawkeye and get him to be useful to the world rather than wallowing in murdery misery. It would be good for her to get a bit more acknowledgement here.
My second problem was how little of Captain Marvel there actually was. Admittedly, I can acknowledge a problem with her inclusion. She’s obviously the strongest Avenger and how do the writers really ensure the other characters stay relevant and badass in comparison? She punches spaceships. But that’s a problem they should really tackle rather than shy away from. And in the scenes in which she appears, the writers did a good job of handling it. So, why couldn’t there have been more of her? Or more female characters in general? For the largest part of the movie the featured characters are Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, Rocket, Nebula, Captain America, Iron Man, Ant-Man, War Machine and weird Hulk-Banner. Of the ten characters, only two are women. That’s 20% to represent 50% of the population. And of those two characters, one gets killed off and the other one gets captured. Admittedly, the writers are constrained by who was left alive at the end of Infinity War. However, they could have made more of an effort when it came to their female characters. Captain Marvel was still around, so was Valkyrie, Okoye, and Shuri, but basically all the other female characters had been snapped, which is another thing they didn’t need to do... But that’s a complaint about Infinity War and I’m trashing Endgame here. What’s more , Shuri is all about intelligence and gadgetry, but Endgame makes a big deal about needing Tony Stark and Bruce Banner for their intelligence and technological expertise in making their plan work. Shuri would have been an amazing asset here, but she was left out. Was Shuri omitted in order to allow her male counterparts to shine more brightly? Maybe. Maybe not intentionally. Maybe she was just deemed too much of a new character to be starring in such a high-profile movie. So yeah, the diversity that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been showing in some of their recent films (I’m looking at you Captain Marvel and Black Panther) just wasn’t present here. The most annoying thing is that it could have been easily rectified with a bit more effort and consideration.
Finally, the weird “She’s got help” moment during the showdown between the newly revived Avengers and Thanos’s forces. The Avengers have been tossing the hot potato that is Thanos’s kitted-out Infinity Stone Gauntlet to each other, each time getting mobbed by enemies. Spider-Man has got it and is flailing, then drops it. But it’s okay! Captain Marvel appears! Then so does every single female Avenger. There’s a moment for the audience to take in all the powerful women onscreen. And then they get to fighting. Now, I really wanted to like this moment. It could have been wonderful and awe-inspiring. But, for me, it fell flat. It felt too much like the writers’ attempt at saying “Look! We think women are great! Women are equals! Hashtag feminism!”. It felt forced. It felt like a token gesture. Especially from a film that hasn’t treated its female heroes very well. They’ve been cut out, killed off, and minimised so that the men can look better. Besides, isn’t it kind of weird to gather all the female character together mid-battle? I’m pretty sure some of them don’t even know each other. And lumping a bunch of characters together for a group shot because they’re the same gender? Not really representation. It’s window-dressing. No, Endgame, you do not get any feminism points for that moment.
That said, there were some moments I really loved. Valkyrie, riding a Pegasus, (a moment which ranked third in Autostraddle’s list of gayest moments). I also loved the point at which Captain Marvel is wrestling with Thanos for the gauntlet and he headbutts her and she... stares at him with no reaction whatsoever. There was the touching moment between Nebula and Gamora- "We became sisters.". There was a lot of good humour and all round, I genuinely enjoyed the film. I do also understand that Endgame is the end of an era, not just of the Infinity Stone War. Tony Stark and Captain America make their last appearances and I genuinely thought Stark’s final moments were moving and powerful. Robert Downey Jr is iconic as Tony Stark and his performance really carried large parts of the film. So, I do understand the importance of making Endgame somewhat of a tribute to the ways in which those two characters have worked to improve the world. However, I’m sure they could have cut at least teeny bit out of the self-indulgent fight between Captain America and his past self. Or perhaps they could have edited down the three openings they included. Maybe then, they could have justified another female character? It’s just exhausting to see the same sacrifices being made in media over and over again. It’s hard to believe that Captain Marvel - a film that creates a truly full, strong, flawed, and recognisable female character – and Endgame, with all its attendant problems, are part of the same franchise. Just to make it clear: we want representation in all films. Not just the ones that Marvel deem to be the side-stories, or for a one-off. Representation isn’t truly representative unless it’s consistent. While Captain Marvel and Black Panther were brilliant and I will be watching them over and over, two films with good representation isn’t going to cut it. There needs to be more.
Comment below if you have thoughts about the film, about this post, or just idling brain meanderings.
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