How Avengers: Endgame reminds us of a Marvel Universe without women


Avengers: Endgame doesn’t always succeed where its women are concerned, and definitely reminds us of a darker time where men ruled the roost.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame is all about returning to the beginning, when Iron Man was little more than an experiment by Disney in a landscape where superhero movies were still hit or miss. The 2008 feature Iron Man introduced us to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, but that was about it where the women were concerned. And it’s a criticism that stuck to Marvel for far longer than it should have. The studio was certainly, shall we say slow, to give us more than one token female character in their movies. Sometimes there were two, but they weren’t particularly substantive (looking at you, Rebecca Hall!).

But after fervent outcry, and once the dudes in capes had proven the superhero genre was here to stay, Marvel reversed course. The 2018 actioner Ant-Man and the Wasp was touted as Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie — although there’s plenty of debate about that, considering it is still an Ant-Man movie. This year gave us a Marvel solo heroine with Captain Marvel. So immediately upon watching Endgame, and seeing the majority of the screen filled up with the burly man faces who established this entire genre, it’s hard to ignore that history.

Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and War Machine/James Rhodey (Don Cheadle). Photo: ©Marvel Studios 2019

Avengers: Endgame reminds you of where this series started, as a male-dominated landscape where women didn’t necessarily factor in. Ladies were the stalwart girlfriends or wives, the Pepper’s and Laura Barton’s of the world. But this is also a movie where it becomes incredibly complacent in eliminating women from the narrative. Much of the marketing has positioned this as a feature where Captain Marvel is around. And while she is, her presence is relegated to some moments in the beginning, then little more than a series of grunts during a climactic fight scene, evidence that this was filmed before her own movie and thus before they knew of her popularity.

The only actress given an active role in Endgame is Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. The character whose solo film has been promised for several years initially started out as a spy masquerading as a secretary. Since then, her past has been hinted at but never developed. Black Widow has only ever been seen through the eyes of men, whether that’s being the sexy secretary with a secret or the barren “monster” turned lullaby singer from Age of Ultron. Here, she’s finally given a bit more meat, actually leading what remains of the Avengers post-“Snap.” Yet she’s immediately the one open to sacrificing herself in the group’s quest to capture the Infinity Stones.

Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Photo: ©Marvel Studios 2019

Feminine sacrifice is fine. But unlike Thanos’ killing of Gamora in Infinity War, which actively subverted the term “sacrifice” and made us deconstruct his toxic handling of love, Natasha’s demise does nothing short of kill the one woman in this movie allowed to be placed on a somewhat equal level as her male colleagues. Considering how haphazardly she’s been utilized in all these movies, her death is meant to have meaning because she’s dying. Her death is never earned, but happens and forces the male characters to galvanize around her demise and seek revenge. She dies to give them purpose.

Too often it can feel like Endgame pats its ladies on the head, giving them space for existence but only doing that to check off a box. In the film’s climax, there’s a pivotal scene of all the Marvel women joining together as a “team.” It’s an amazing moment that’s truly meant to inspire handclaps… and that’s it.

It’s meant to make you clap and feel empowered, but why have none of these women ever been given their own movies? Why have several of these characters been given little more than romantic subplots as a stand-in for importance (Elizabeth Olsen is far too good for that)?

Disney is regularly taking criticism for their trite presentation of women in their features — the whole “STEM stands in for personality” critique — and that’s felt here. It’s enough to just see these ladies band together, but let’s not give them the same weight as the men who created all this.

That being said, Avengers: Endgame is significant because it reminds us of what we now expect Marvel to do. Now that we’ve met these fantastic women, we want more of them. To watch a movie where they never existed now isn’t a possibility. From here on out, Marvel must give their women characters their own movies and, furthermore, the same level of character and significance as the men.

We can only go forward and Endgame shows us the future is female!

Review: Endgame will satisfy fans with heartfelt final chapter. dark. Next