Avengers: Endgame and Female Empowerment (SPOILERS)
We recently watched Avengers: Endgame and I loved every moment except for one. And if you’ve seen the movie, I bet you can guess which one. I’ll explain what I’m talking about and why I was disappointed, but first let’s take a look at female empowerment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) leading up to Endgame. Spoilers below.
In the world of female empowerment, Marvel’s been playing catch up.
DC Extended Universe (DCEU), with all of its pitfalls, beat Marvel to the punch by releasing a female lead superhero movie. And surprisingly, they did an incredible job. There are many articles written about the portrayal of Wonder Woman and how her strength in the film wasn’t portrayed as masculine, which is awesome to see in a world where femininity is often thought of as a weakness. Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) seems to be trying really hard to play catch up. They saw how incredibly successful Wonder Woman was and they decided it was FINALLY time to create a female lead superhero movie of their own.
The problem is they rushed to do it. One of the best things about the MCU is that Mravel took the time to allow characters to develop over multiple movies. The first Avengers movie came after five movies introducing the characters who would become the Avengers. Whereas DC tried to do the Justice League movie after only three movies, two of which were quite terrible. Marvel’s patience in building characters is the reason for their continued success. But Captain Marvel didn’t feel carefully planned and measured like the other movies. It felt like a quick push to put a female lead on a Marvel property before the final movie in the series came out.
I could write an entire blog about the good and bad attempts to show well developed female characters throughout the MCU, but for now I want to focus on Endgame. There are lots of amazing moments in Endgame that show women being strong, wise and selfless.
Here are my top 5 favorite strong female moments in Avengers: End Game
Nebula facing her past self. Seeing the broken person she used to be, Nebula tried to reach out to her and let her know that she can be her own person and doesn’t need to do Thanos’s bidding. And when her past self is unmoved she killed her. It takes a great deal of strength to face the pain of your past and to put it to rest for good.
Valkyrie taking care of New Asgard while the king drank his sorrows away. She stepped up to be the leader her people needed and Thor acknowledge her leadership when he offered her his throne. (Before seeing the movie, I had just been discussing with my husband how I wish they would use the term king for a woman who is head of an Aristocracy and then she said, “the people need a king” and he replied “they already have one” and I was like “YES!”)
Pepper Potts giving advice to Tony about going back in time to try and fix things. She has spent so many years wishing Tony didn’t have to put his life in danger. In Infinity War she even tells him if he wanted to have kids he wouldn’t have attached a new arc reactor to his chest. But now that he’s given that all up and Pepper has a perfect little family with him, she knows the world needs him more than she does right now. She realizes the risks but she also understands that neither of them would be able to live knowing they could have brought everyone back and did nothing. I think she knew Tony needed her to tell him it was ok or he wouldn’t do it. At the end of the movie when Tony is dying she even tells him, “we’re going to be ok.” She’s been taking care of things for Tony since before they were together and she took care of him up to the very end.
Thor’s mom helping him through his panic attack. She tells him that it’s ok if he has failed because we all fail sometimes but we can learn from it. She also tells him to stop trying to be what everyone thinks he is supposed to be and start being who he is. At this moment his mother shows great strength and wisdom. She is able to focus her energy on helping this future version of her son. She doesn’t know what he’s been through, but she knows who he is and she knows he needs his mom right now. When he tries to warn her of her death, she tells him he is here to fix his future, not hers. She loves him and puts his needs above her own.
Black Widow taking charge of what’s left of the Avengers after the snappening. The world still needs heroes and somebody had to step up. Even though Natasha is hurting and struggling to cope with everything, she refuses to just give up on the world. Her desire to make things right leads to her sacrificing herself to save her friend and bring back all that was lost. That’s what a hero does and in her final act, Natasha finally was able to wipe out that red in her ledger.
Now for THAT scene
This particular scene felt like an afterthought that was forced into the script in an attempt to give women a, “WOOHOO! Girl power!” moment. I was watching the big battle wide eyed and excited, when suddenly the action was halted for a camera to pan over to the entire female cast not fighting, but rather gathering together like they were posed for a photoshoot for the movie poster. I literally rolled my eyes. In the movie Infinity War, the girl power moment worked, but in Endgame it fell flat. Here’s why.
Infinity War vs Endgame
In Infinity War, the scene happens when Wanda was knocked down by the villain and told, “He'll die alone, as will you.” Then Natasha says, “She's not alone.” The villain turns to realize she is surrounded with Black Widow on one side and Okoye on the other. Then they the three of them begin an awesome fight.
In End Game, the “girl power” scene happens when Spider-Man hands the gauntlet to Captain Marvel and says, “I don’t know how you’re going to get it through all of that.” Then the camera pans over and Wanda as she says, “don’t worry.” Then Okoye says, “She’s got help,” as the entire female cast gathers together and looks directly into the camera.
Why did the girl power moment work in Infinity War and not in Endgame?
The reason Infinity War’s moment was better is because it felt like a natural sequence of events during a fight. The two women showed up to save Wanda when she was knocked down and needed help. But in Endgame Captain Marvel had literally just ripped through a ship. So, she clearly didn’t need any help.
Also, Natasha has fought beside Wanda before and knows her well. Her showing up was more meaningful than a huge group of women, most of whom have never met one another showing up to support Carol Danvers, a woman that none of them even knew existed until she came zooming down from space a few moments before.
What they should have done instead
There are so many better ways they could have shown girl power in that moment. The most logical way would have been for Captain Marvel to respond to Spider-Man with a playful laugh and then zoom through all of them like the beam of energy she is.
The point is, Endgame’s moment felt cheap.
The most disappointing thing about the attempted female empowerment moment in Endgame was how superfluous it was. They practically broke the fourth wall and winked at us. It would be like if in Infinity War, Wanda was told she would die alone, only for the camera to pan over to Natasha with her arm around Okoye saying sassily, “She’s not alone,” while snapping her finger in a zig-zag motion.
We didn’t need them to nudge us so we would realize the women were powerful, that was apparent. My favorite writing professor always said, “don’t treat your audience like they’re stupid.” I understand as a writer you so badly want to make sure the audience doesn’t miss the point. But in doing so, the audience is robbed of the opportunity to discover the meaning for themselves.
The men who wrote the movie could have let the 5 bad-ass moments mentioned above speak for themselves. Instead, they decided to throw in a poorly written scene that was basically them congratulating themselves on having female superheroes being heroic. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone and you don’t get to pat yourself on the back for it.