Avengers: Endgame and its Problem with Women – by Jasmin Davis
Major spoilers ahead for Avengers: Endgame as well as Marvel’s Agent Carter. Proceed with caution!
Over the weekend, like many, I experienced Avengers: Endgame. I laughed, I cried, I mourned for the end of an era. Most of all though, I mourned for the female characters in Endgame, many of which who got the short end of the stick in order to let the men shine a little brighter. I mourned for two of favorite MCU ladies in particular.
My favorite Avenger has always been Captain America. What appeals to me most about him is that the core of his character comes down to the idea that he is not “the perfect soldier, but a good man.” He does what he believes is right, and is willing to go against orders and protocol to do so, but always does so with the best intentions. So the idea that he would choose to selfishly inject himself into Peggy Carter’s life, knowing already – as we saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier – that she moved on from him to live a full life of her own is troublingly out of character. In taking this opportunity, Peggy Carter’s entire arc became stunted. This is assuming his remaining in the past hasn’t created a separate timeline entirely, considering that this likely the breaks the admittedly confusing time travel rules Endgame lays out. Don’t get me wrong, at first I was okay with this ending. It’s ideally what Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers always wanted. If they had given better circumstances, it’s what they would agree to. But the point of their story is that they weren’t, and the reconciliation of this idea and overcoming of grief is an overarching themes of Peggy’s entire character, which we see in her short-lived TV series. One of the most powerful scenes in the MCU happens during Agent Carter, in which Peggy chooses to pour out the last vial of Steve Rogers’ blood to keep the serum which gave him his enhanced abilities safe from recreation by Hydra. This is the closest she would ever come to a proper burial for him, the only flesh and bone piece of him left that she had access to, and thus marks her stepping away from his memory’s hold on her life. With the knowledge of how Endgame concludes Steve Rogers’ arc, this scene is rendered empty, and her development happens all for naught. Not to mention, there’s the itty bitty detail that in Captain America: Civil War, Steve briefly romances Peggy’s niece. Is this something they ever discuss? Did anyone on Endgame consider this when they were deciding how to end Cap’s story?
One of Endgame’s more clear examples of mistreatment of women comes in the form of Black Widow’s death. Watching Natasha Romanoff die left me in a state of utter disappointment. Not just disappointment in her dying at all, but the fact that her death had limited originality having happened in the same manner in which Gamora died in Infinity War. To add insult to injury, this repetition also means another woman dying for the sake of a man, just as Gamora did. It’s important to contend with the fact that even though Gamora was sacrificed unwillingly and Black Widow died because she wanted to, that doesn’t make the latter’s death somehow justified. Just because there are in canon reasons for these choices don’t make them good reasons. These characters do not exist in a vacuum; they have large production teams behind them calling the shots, a whole swath of eyes that can make decisions and have some input into what happens. Really, this comes down this: Black Widow as a character has been given little to work with since her introduction. Her character essentially boiling down to her femininity and femme fatale status existing to offset the otherwise all-male dynamic among the original Avengers. Even though she’s one of the few characters to keep some semblance of productivity in the five years post-Snap by becoming a capable acting director of S.H.I.E.L.D in Nick Fury’s absence. This is an aspect of her character which could have been further explored, or at least been another avenue into which she could have been retired, had Hawkeye died in her place. Despite being one of the founding members, its both interesting and very telling that Black Widow was not set up to do more in this regard. Instead, as with many female characters in the past, once the male writers have no idea what do with her, they simply kill her off rather than try and do their job properly.
I don’t want to be completely down on Endgame. Tonally, it hits some of the right notes. I was going out of my mind when Peter Parker hands off the Infinity Gauntlet to Captain Marvel, who is flanked by every major female character and then proceeds to throw down capably with Thanos’ army. When Thor graciously tells Valkyrie that she’s better fit to be leader of New Asgard than he is in the penultimate moments of Endgame, I cried the most proud and bittersweet of tears. But I’m also enough of a fan to realize it could be better, especially to its female characters. These moments don’t make up for the message that killing off Black Widow, and freezing the development of Peggy Carter sends. If anything, these moments of triumphant are stifled by the lack of proper characterization and respectable treatment for its female protagonists. Despite strides that films like Captain Marvel have made, it’s too soon to think that the Russo Brothers and Marvel as a franchise could have done this perfectly. But this kind of treatment is tired. I’m tired. I’m tired of this new wave of female empowerment in movies that gives us scenes like those while still undermining those same characters. Do better Marvel.