WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, now in theaters.
There are many things about Avengers: Endgame that have sparked controversy. From the film’s massive box office to Thor’s expanded proportions, Endgame has dominated the cultural conversation since its late April release.
The previous Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Captain Marvel, made it seem like the future was bright for female superheroes in the franchise, but Endgame indicates the truth may be more complicated than that. The moment that speaks to that reality most is the fleeting girl power moment embedded in the middle of the movie’s climactic battle.
In the scene, Spider-Man passes off the Infinity Gauntlet to Captain Marvel so she can take it across the battlefield. Spider-Man wonders how she’ll do it. Right on cue, all the female Avengers assemble for the assist. There’s Scarlet Witch, Valkyrie, Okoye, Shuri, Hope van Dyne, Gamora, Nebula, Mantis and even an Iron Man-armored Pepper Potts.
The camera passes over them as they look heroic and determined. Then the movie moves on. Some fans found this moment exhilarating, but others complain that it’s pandering to the audience. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
Contrived or Chill-Inducing
While all-male team-ups in superhero movies are unremarkable, all-female team-ups pretty much never happen. Seeing so many heroic women together is notable for that reason alone. But it’s true that the girl power moment in Endgame is contrived, especially when compared to a similar moment in Avengers: Infinity War.
That scene also takes place during the climactic battle and sees Scarlet Witch cornered by the evil Proxima Midnight. For a second things look bleak for our hero, then Black Widow and Okoye step in to help her.
The Infinity War moment felt earned in a way the one from Endgame simply doesn’t. First, in Infinity War, it was believable that Black Widow and Okoye happened to be there and stepped in when they saw an ally in trouble. The same can’t be said for the Endgame scenario.
In the midst of a chaotic battle how did word get out to nine specific people that Captain Marvel needed help. Then there’s the fact that Captain Marvel is incredibly powerful, more so than the heroes assembled around her. In Infinity War, Scarlet Witch isn’t a fighter and could believably require the assistance of one (or two) people who are.
Despite the contrivances of the Endgame scene, the filmmakers practically flashed an applause sign on-screen when it happened. Yet according to the screenwriters, there was an awareness that the moment could come across as less than authentic.
“There was much conversation," said co-writer Stephen McFeely of the moment. "Is that delightful or is it pandering? We went around and around on that. Ultimately we went, 'we like it too much.'”
That impulse is understandable. After all, when it comes to female representation, the MCU has come a long way, and Endgame’s girl power moment proves it.
“Looking back on the entire road that the MCU has traveled, it just struck us how many amazing female characters have entered the [landscape]," said co-director Anthony Russo. "I think it was really, for us, a moment of celebration and acknowledgment of the intensity and empowerment in that.”
The Future of the MCU’s Female Superheroes
Celebration and acknowledgement of the MCU’s female superheroes is great, but we also have to remember that, outside of Captain Marvel, many of the women included in that moment are secondary characters in their respective franchises. And in all those cases, they’re playing second fiddle to a man.
Plus, even though female representation has improved greatly in the MCU since the only female superhero around was Black Widow, Marvel’s track record hasn’t been great. It took 11 years for it to bring its first solo female superhero to the screen.
Also, a Black Widow movie is finally in the works after intense fan demand. However, it all feels like too little, too late given how long it’s taken the company to get on board with the project, coupled with what happens to the character in Endgame.
As a result, the movie’s girl power moment creates some cognitive dissonance. The scene suggests hope for Marvel’s female superheroes as the MCU moves into the future, and that’s a future many fans are hoping to see. But looking back on the MCU’s past indicates that fans of these powerful women shouldn’t get too excited just yet.
Some have speculated that the moment could foreshadow a coming movie centered on Marvel’s all-female team, the A-Force. Yet, there isn’t any real evidence that Marvel Studios head, Kevin Feige, will take things in that direction, at least not in the near future. And if the length of time it took to greenlight a Black Widow movie is any indication, we could be waiting quite a while.
When asked about the possibility of an all-female MCU film, Feige respondedly vaguely: “It is all about figuring out when and how.” So, although Feige continues to tout the value of on-screen representation, it’s hard to imagine Endgame’s all-female team-up moment actually resulting in an all-female team-up that lasts an entire film.
However, if there’s any studio today that could successfully pull it off, it’s Marvel. Both Captain Marvel’s introduction in her self-titled movie and Endgame’s Avengers wrap-up have been massive successes. The MCU is on top of the world right now with fans who are likely to follow it anywhere. Unfortunately, when it comes to female solo films and team-ups, it sounds like hesitation behind the scenes persists.
Every time a woman dons a superhero suit and kicks butt in one of these movies, it becomes more normal and less remarkable. Marvel has a big role to play in continuing to bring female superheroes to the screen. The first 11 years of the MCU hit some milestones in female representation in superhero movies, but not nearly as many as it could have. Here’s hoping the next 11 will see the MCU make greater strides.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Avengers: Endgame stars Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Don Cheadle as War Machine, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Danai Gurira as Okoye and Bradley Cooper as Rocket, with Gwyneth Paltrow Pepper Potts, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, Benedict Wong as Wong, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Josh Brolin as Thanos.