**Spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.**
Marvel fans have been waiting a long time for Avengers: Infinity War. It serves as the culmination of a decade of filmmaking and fandom, finally bringing together all the heroes we love for an epic showdown with the villain we’ve been promised for years. As the pinnacle of this journey, it’s fairly amazing, brimming with long-awaited meetings, callbacks to previous installments, and resolutions to plots set in motion years prior. As a film, it’s a ton of fun, brimming with witty one-liners and an epic sense of scope. Furthermore, its surprisingly tragic ending feels like an important step forward for a franchise that’s often struggled to create even the illusion of real stakes.
However, just because Marvel pulled off the crowning achievement of its shared film universe to date doesn’t mean that Infinity War is without its problems. In fact, one of those problems looks pretty darn familiar: how the epic story treats its women.
Female characters have never really been the Marvel universe’s strong suit. For all that the MCU has been chugging along for a decade, we still won’t see a female-led film until 2019. Most MCU women are still stuck being love interests or plot devices—sometimes both. Happily, there have been several notable exceptions to this trend in recent Marvel offerings: Thor: Ragnarok’s Valkyrie and the women of Black Panther, for example, as well as characters like Jessica Jones and Misty Knight within the television universe. That’s part of the reason Infinity War feels like a step backward.
Even though it brings many of our favorite female characters together, the women are given little meaningful story. The only woman who gets a significant arc of her own is Gamora, and that story ends with her being fridged to fuel the plot interests of her father and the emotional rage of her boyfriend. Nebula appears to be in the movie almost solely to get tortured. Yes, Black Widow and Okoye team up in an amazing fight sequence, but … that’s about it. At least Shuri gets to be an awesome scientist for a hot five minutes before she vanishes offscreen.
The thing is, Infinity War is such a massive movie that it can’t properly serve most of its characters. We never see Wong again after the opening fight at the Sanctum Sanctorum, and while Steve’s gorgeous new facial hair is certainly majestic, it’s also pretty much his entire arc in the film. But, somehow, the lack of these stories doesn’t feel as jarring as the women’s, because although certain men are absent from the larger story, generally, it doesn’t feel as though Infinity War diminishes them in any way. That isn’t true for the film’s female characters.
Wanda Maximoff is, theoretically, the most powerful figure in the Avengers’ arsenal. Yet, even though this is her third appearance in the MCU, we still don’t know that much about who she is or what she can do. Her one consistent arc has centered on her fear of her powers, rather than the kind of growth that male characters (Doctor Strange, Peter, etc.) get. On some level this makes sense, since the films frequently must incapacitate her so the good guys don’t immediately take out all their enemies. Wanda is simply too strong—using the full force of her abilities often makes her crazy and/or evil in the comics—and most fans accepted long ago we’d probably never get a fully powered Scarlet Witch in these movies. After all, for all Marvel’s flirtation with darker storytelling, they don’t seem too interested in doing an Avengers version of Dark Phoenix with her character, but Infinity War is ostensibly about a battle for humanity’s very survival. If there were ever a time to fully unleash your best weapon, this is it. Sadly, however, Wanda ends up sidelined even further than she has been before.
Scarlet Witch’s story in Infinity War is almost exclusively tied to her romantic relationship. This isn’t that unexpected, since she and Vision are basically the definition of an iconic comics couple, but since most of their love story happens offscreen—one awkward home cooking lesson back in Captain America: Civil War aside—it’s difficult to be as invested in it as the film’s narrative requires. Furthermore, by tying her story so firmly to Vision’s, Infinity War continues the MCU trend of not developing Wanda outside of what she means to male narratives. She’s Ultron’s weapon, Pietro’s sister, Tony’s prisoner, and now Vision’s love interest. For all that the Scarlet Witch pays a pivotal role in the film’s climax, we don’t really learn anything about her that we didn’t already know.
Though Scarlet Witch gets the final face off with Thanos, her abilities are used sparingly throughout the rest of the film. Okoye makes a joke about Wanda’s absence from the battlefield in Wakanda, but it’s a valid critique. Why is the Avengers’ best fighter left to cry and fret over her boyfriend? Wanda is strong enough to destroy an Infinity Stone—the only figure in the MCU we know, so far, of capable of this. Yet, her abilities seem to have been downgraded to something akin to a fancier version of Prue from Charmed. This doesn’t make any sense.
Yes, Wanda is a powerful telekinetic and can manipulate energy in awesome ways, but at one point she was capable of projecting illusions that incapacitated her victims and engaging in some low-grade mind control. Where have those abilities gone? Wouldn’t they have been helpful here? Imagine Wanda controlling swaths of Thanos’ fighters, or buying herself more time to destroy the Mind Stone by feeding an illusion to the Mad Titan himself. To be fair, the battle’s conclusion is incredibly powerful—and the image of Scarlet Witch blasting the Mind Stone with one hand while holding Thanos off with the other is instantly iconic. But where has that girl been all this time? And why don’t we get to see her more often?
Despite the carnage of the film’s ending, the Infinity War post-credits scene does offer a glimpse of hope. The reveal of Captain Marvel’s insignia doesn’t just herald the introduction of a long-awaited hero into the MCU. It also specifically hints at the idea that the salvation we all assume is coming in Avengers 4 will take a female form. Perhaps Carol Danvers’ arrival will finally kickstart a new era of MCU stories, one in which the women are allowed to lead—or, at least, to fully participate in the story alongside the men.
(image: Marvel Entertainment)
Lacy Baugher is a digital strategist and writer living in Washington, D.C., who’s still hoping that the TARDIS will show up at her door eventually. A fan of complicated comic book villains, British period dramas and whatever Jessica Lange happens to be doing today, her work has been featured on The Baltimore Sun, Bitch Flicks, Culturess, The Tracking Board and more. She livetweets way too many things on Twitter, and is always looking for new friends to yell about Game of Thrones with.
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