Marvel, That All-Women Scene in ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Is Not Enough
(Warning: If you haven’t watched Avengers: Endgame yet – (a) What are you doing?, and (b) This one’s got spoilers, so feel free to save tab until you’ve got a load of that.)
I think I may have seriously hooted only once during Endgame. (I let out some weak-throated cheers here and there, but I reserved my throatiest one for this one.) The moment when Captain Marvel takes the infinity gauntlet from Peter Parker, at first glance, is everything. The superhero with rather-undefined powers but with certain abilities to torch Thanos’ battleship in a nanosecond, has come to do what the other superheroes couldn’t – secure the gauntlet and carry it to the only ‘time machine’ left standing – Hank Pym’s van.
But – as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man points out when he stops cowering in a corner and gives her the gauntlet, she’ll have to take it through Thanos’ large and rather unpleasant-looking army. “I don’t know how you’re going to get it through all that,” says Peter Parker, and Black Panther’s Okoye pops up out of nowhere, saying, “Don’t worry; she’s got help.”
Before you know it, an entire legion of women have popped up and filled your screen, made up of every surviving female Avenger (sorry, Black Widow) – Pepper Potts in her Iron Woman regalia, Okoye, Shuri, Mantis, The Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Gamora, Nebula and Valkyrie. The scene has take-your-breath-away possibilities, which the makers must have known – and does, causing entire cinemas across to stand up and hoot and cheer. It’s a cleverly packaged moment of female solidarity which, in a franchise bereft of such moments, does a lot of ham-fisted work for feminism.
Now, you could argue two things – and I did, as I debated the scene: one, that for little girls and boys watching today, without the context of an entire franchise and its 21 movies behind them, that this is an empowering, paradigm-shifting scene. Little girls and boys will look upon it as the new normal and come to expect women superheroes in capes blasting the badassery out of baddies. But, with Marvel’s track record on this front, can you really expect more than this tokenism?
The biggest slam-dunk in that supposedly feminist moment is someone’s absence rather than everyone’s presence – the absence of Black Widow who had to be dispensed with earlier in the film, because she didn’t have a family, as opposed to Hawk-Eye who did. ScarJo’s character ends up hurtling herself off a cliff (although, to be fair, fiercely contested by Jeremy Renner) in a bid to secure the Avengers’ the soul stone.
It’s hard to shake off the dissatisfying feeling that the ONLY woman in the original Avengers’ group was just sacrificed, largely following the plotline of ‘no family, no life’. That ‘Black Widow’ had to undergo forced sterilisation during her mysterious early years of training was already a problematic trope in the movies – now, a death spurred by the fact that she has no kin, when compared to Hawk-Eye, is only doubly disappointing.
And while we’re on the subject of Black Widow’s death, could there be a starker contrast (geddit, GEDDIT) between her moment in the twilight and a certain Mr Stark’s? Weren’t both members of the core six-member team that Fury assembled a decade ago (in the movie-verse)?
Yet, we watch as, post the revelation of Black Widow’s death, five men sit around, looking out toward a lake, Hulk thumps his fist in sorrow and they debate the possibilities of whether the Stones will bring her – eventually, realising it will not. And what happens at the end of the movie, when Tony Stark aka Iron Man’s swan song rolls around, you ask? He’s given a funeral to bring Asgardians and mortals to shame, replete with camera-panning moments across a meadow filled with people who ever featured in a prominent Marvel film. There’s Aunt May and Hawk-Eye’s family – and even a resurrected Fury, for crying out loud. Tony deserves the nicest send-off, but then, so does ScarJo, so why the crimping?
What Captain Marvel and the women rallying around her in a tenacious war-cry really reminds us of, is the many times Marvel could have righted this wrong in the past – and didn’t. The wrongs of never giving us a woman-helmed movie to cheer for, before Captain Marvel slowly and predictably rolled around post Black Panther’s sudden success. Of ignoring the cries of ‘give us a Black Widow film already, will you?’ with convenient male-superhero-shaped earplugs. Of always pandering to the fanboy before the fangirl.
Captain Marvel being propped up by hefty women all around her, is also Marvel’s too-little-too-late message to the toxic fanboy to cut out the mansplaining and herald Carol Danvers as a superhero in her own right. It is certainly a message to the fanboy that, with or without his support/scorn/condescension, the female fans of the franchise will still hold her up to the light.
But coming on the heels of deeply dissatisfying character arcs for most of its women in the past, one can’t help but look at the motif with suspicion. Valkyrie’s ascension to the throne in the light of Thor’s abdication, for instance, might finally be a step in the right direction – and so might the finally-round-the-corner Black Widow movie that fans lost voices screaming for. Will they help avenge some of Marvel’s past indiscretions?
One can only hope.