This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.
We’re out of the endgame now. You’ve seen it, you’ve laughed, you’ve cried, and you’ve had a little time to mourn. Endgame ended up being a love letter to eleven years of the franchise. Just the right amount of fan service was woven into an incredible story that justified every second of its three-hour runtime. The movie did many things just right, but most importantly - it let the women of the MCU soar.
Proper female empowerment doesn’t just come from letting your larger than life heroes like Captain Marvel whoop on some super villains. We all love seeing it, and Carol Danvers is a nuanced character with real emotions in and of herself, but letting your smaller, less powerful characters have their moment is often overlooked in storytelling, even with the progress that has been made over time. Endgame is the perfect example of how to make all women feel strong rather than just putting forward the textbook definition of “strong female character” and pushing anyone else off into narrative limbo.
Take Pepper Potts. She’s critical to Tony’s story, but every attempt to let the character shine has come up short. It’s nice to see them try at all, I suppose, but her representation in the films has only ever been to push Tony forward, and yes, that includes when she was hopped up on Extremis and saved the day her damn self. It was great to watch, to be sure, but what’s missing there is the well-roundedness that she deserves. Smash cut to our girl swooping in as the long-awaited Rescue to help not just Tony, but the entire team - a team that exists largely because of her support of her husband.
When she steps into that suit to help save the day, Rescue doesn’t just support their surrogate son Peter, and shoot a few blasters at a rogue villain. No, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, the sole reason that Tony Stark has survived or progressed at all, gets to fall right in line with the rest of the female heroes when Captain Marvel takes control of the gauntlet.
For anyone not into comics, that team has a name: The A Force. Captain Marvel leads an all female team of Avengers that canonically includes a core group of Medusa, She-Hulk, Singularity, Dazzler Thor, Dazzler, and Nico Minoru (with many other favorite lady-heroes joining the fray as the story progresses). Though none of those characters exist in the current MCU, and the series starts in a matriarchal world outside of the main timeline, the intention of the scene is clear: don’t worry, boys. We’ve got this one.
Watching the women start to drop in one by one as they marched into the fray alongside Carol was one of the most emotional moments in the film for me. Never in a million years would I have thought that we would get such a scene. We’ve had our “she is not alone” drop-ins and some really solid friendships, but this was something more. Spider-Man and the boys handing off the gauntlet to Captain Marvel and her girls felt like a new chapter. It’s not five boys and one girl, with a bunch of tertiary characters thrown in anymore. The future of the MCU is female, and our favorite heroes - whose stories we’ve heard told over and over again - support that.
What might be my new favorite scene in cinema is only made slightly bitter by one clear absence. Natasha Romanoff, once the only female Avenger, helped pave the way (along with the likes of the incomparable Peggy Carter) for this new force of unstoppable, emotionally complex women. She deserved to be a part of that incredible scene, but was destined for a greater sacrifice. Nat might be represented as a constant double agent on the surface, but the only member of that team with more loyalty is Steve Rogers.
While devastating, Black Widow’s ending is unequivocally her own. In the first Avengers, Loki asks her if she really thinks that she can wipe out all of the red in her ledger. Frankly, she’s atoned for what she’d done a hundred times over by the time she throws herself off that ledge, but heroes who come from that kind of backstory never really believe that they’ve made it right. All of the lives that she’d saved, keeping Avengers HQ operating long after they’d lost the war, none of it was ever enough.
So she made the sacrifice play. Natasha Romanoff dies so that the Decimated can return. She dies so her friend can win the war and so, when they do, the first person to ever show her that she can be something more than an assassin can be with his family again. No matter how they tried, the team couldn’t bring her back. But you can be damn well sure that they avenged her.
In this also exists my sole complaint with Endgame: none of this, including the snap that ends Thanos and his armies, would have been possible without Nat’s sacrifice. Her “sendoff” includes Clint Barton and Wanda Maximof standing at the edge of a lake. Meanwhile, the last ten minutes of the movie are spent with Stark and the impact of his death. If that sounds a little bitter, it’s because it absolutely is. And, if it sounds a little nitpicky, it’s only because, overall, they get the women of the film so right that it caught me off-guard.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge moments given to Frigga, whose fridging remains a point of contention among fans, and Valkyrie. By letting Frigga refuse the knowledge of the demise she seemed aware she was about to walk into, she is given control of her story. She then sends her son off with an important piece of wisdom that results in the leadership of Asgard being given to Valkyrie, who actually deserves said crown. New Asgard was built on her leadership while Thor wallowed in beer, and will thrive now that it’s been handed over to someone with the actual desire to lead it.
And finally, things end as they began (at least from a timeline perspective). Primary focus will always exist with the glitz and glamour of the Avengers, but the MCU has been built on the back of Peggy Carter since the chronological beginning of the story. There is no Captain America without Margaret “Peggy” Carter. She walked so future generations of women could run, and founded the very institution that would bring the Avengers together to begin with. Marvel would take the character away from us twice in the same year with the cancellation of Agent Carter practically running alongside the character’s death in Civil War, but hats off to the Russos for giving the old girl the ending she deserved. A life of walking against the crowd and representing that women can be feminine, emotional, unwavering badasses all at the same time is rewarded with the happy ending that she and Steve always deserved.
I don’t know what the future of the MCU holds. What I do know is that this chapter is closed out by giving the women who have built the franchise (almost) everything that they deserved. There will be more missteps, followed by inevitable and likely justified outrage, but that’s how progress works. We’ve spent eleven years to get to where we are, and I can’t wait to see where we go next.