Let’s Talk About Avengers: Endgame’s Big Moment of Pandering/Female Empowerment, Depending on Your View
**You know the drill by now. Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame spoilers ahead!**
Women and fans of female representation in film have been pushing for Marvel to give a bigger spotlight to its female characters for pretty much the entire history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that led up to Avengers: Endgame. In the last year or so, we’ve finally gotten our first female-led Marvel movie in Captain Marvel, and a Black Widow solo outing is on the way (though the studio seems to have dragged its heels long enough to miss the window of people caring).
While Black Panther had male leads at its center, its female characters were some of Marvel’s most interesting. When held up against the previous decade of mostly male MCU movies, that’s a relative tsunami of women-centric content. In reality, it’s just a small handful of additions to a vast cinematic universe.
So, when Avengers: Endgame gave us a big, shiny, all-caps GIRL POWER moment, I’ll admit, I got more than a little emotional. Seeing Okoye, Valkyrie, Mantis, Shuri, Hope, Wanda, Gamora, Nebula, and a suited-up Pepper Potts all come to Carol’s aid to help her get the Infinity Gauntlet across the battlefield brought actual tears to my eyes.
Which is a pretty ridiculous reaction, if I’m being honest with myself. I knew this was pure pandering. Logistically speaking, none of those characters offers much help to mega-powerful Captain Marvel, and given the treatment of Carol and the other women in this movie alone, it’s hard to see this moment as anything but pure, hollow lip service.
Let’s maybe start with Carol’s severe underuse in this movie. Endgame (or at least Carol’s introduction) was filmed before Captain Marvel, and knowing that, it feels like the Russo brothers might not have trusted how popular a character she’d be. (Or, more likely, they just knew that Endgame would have had a much shorter runtime if she were a bigger player.) She presents herself (rightfully) as the Avengers’ missing secret weapon before disappearing for the majority of the film and reappearing only for this one moment and the subsequent, apparent gag (depending on the quality of your audience) of seeing Thanos punch her into nonexistence (one could presume, based on her subsequent lack of screen time or plot importance).
Carol was not the only underserved female hero in this movie, as Princess Weekes explored in her recent piece on Marvel’s inability to handle powerful women. Did Okoye even have three lines of dialogue? I sure can’t remember them. Black Widow deserved better than her abrupt ending, sacrificing herself so that Clint could be with his family, a fate that Age of Ultron set in motion when it revealed Natasha believed her forced sterilization made her a “monster.”
Valkyrie at least got a great promotion that we’ll hopefully come back to sometime in the future. Nebula was the only real non-male star of Endgame, getting a fully formed, multi-movie payoff of a character arc.
I know that a lot of critics and fans think we’ve evolved past the Bechdel Test, but when a movie barely ekes by in the way Endgame does, it’s a clear sign of the larger ways in which women are viewed—which is to say, not highly.
I’m not surprised that I got emotional over the women’s team-up moment. That’s what it was meant to do. It was designed to be emotionally manipulative, and it worked. The screenwriters even addressed the potential hollowness of the moment in an interview with the New York Times.
“There was much conversation,” said Stephen McFeely. “Is that delightful or is it pandering? We went around and around on that. Ultimately we went, we like it too much.”
That’s understandable. You can like it. You can think it was a cool moment. I sure did. I found it to be both delightful and pandering, and I wish the same value was placed on actually giving the movie’s female characters their full due as it was on making us feel like they had for one single, fun moment.
(image: Marvel Entertainment)
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