I liked Avengers: Endgame, a lot. It was the culmination of not only eleven years of filmmaking spanning 22 movies. It was watching the heroes of my childhood realistically come to life. I grew up reading Marvel Comics, patronizing Shinder’s Bookstore on the corner of 7th and Hennepin in Minneapolis which was fortuitously where I changed buses on my way home from school five days a week. A black youth spending much of my disposable income following the exploits of the almost all-white heroes. Then, and now, my favorite being a blonde haired Norse god who carried a hammer whose name I only realized I was mispronouncing in my head when I finally heard someone else say it aloud.
I am unashamedly a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I learned to appreciate characters I only tolerated in the comics (Iron Man and Captain America) and was highly satisfied with the characterizations of most everyone, not minding when they varied from the comics. I may have been one of the few that liked Thor: The Dark World, which coincidentally is on in the background as I write this piece. The film that preceded Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, was near perfect in the way it blended almost all the characters of the MCU. Setting us up for the biggest movie event in the history of film. By box office receipts, Endgame didn’t disappoint. It surpassed every record for opening weekends, the only question left is will it pass Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time?
Avengers: Endgame is a long movie that didn’t feel that way, logging in at three hours and 58 seconds. Most fans even forewarned there would be no after-credits scene, waited to hear the faint clanging of metal at the end. Allegedly Tony Stark constructing the original Iron Man suit. The movie was an emotional roller-coaster. We saw what happened to the heroes that survived Infinity War over five-years. Tony Stark got married and had a baby girl Morgan. Bruce Banner permanently merged with the Hulk and became Professor Hulk. Clint Barton dedicated himself to killing bad guys. Steve Rogers was conducting a group to help people cope, reminiscent of those the late Sam Wilson (Falcon) conducted for those returning from battle. Thor… he became a drunk and got fat.
That was my first issue with Endgame, that Thor, my favorite, was reduced to a running fat joke. That was my first source of discontent but by no means the most prominent. Thor as a character has suffered from some of the same problems as Superman from the DC Universe. He’s too powerful and suspense must be created by finding ways to make things even. In the comics, they often took away half his powers, all his powers, made him spend time as the vulnerable Don Blake, needing to tap his cane to become Thor. His primary flaws were his lack of humility and patience. He would have been far more likely to succumb to “Warrior Madness” than become a sloppy drunkard. The MCU did a disservice to the character for a few punchlines, but I’ll set that aside to discuss the bigger issues.
Women have not been treated well in the MCU. One wonders were there any women in the room when decisions were being made? Sure, Captain Marvel made a heroic return from space, destroying Thanos’s ship. There was the A-Force moment when a team of female characters (with almost no speaking parts) vowed to help get the Gauntlet to the Time Machine. I read where the directors debated whether it was “too much pandering,” but ultimately left the scene in because they liked it so much. It’s revealing that the women’s scene ended up being meaningless as the Time Machine was destroyed and Thanos ended up getting the Gauntlet anyway.
Worse still was the treatment of Natasha Romanoff, The Black Widow. In the MCU, she was the original Avenger, there before Iron Man, she recruited the Hulk. I’d say she was the least powerful Avenger of all except that she whipped Hawkeye’s ass every time they fought. In the first Avengers, she shut down the portal to space when the “big guns” couldn’t. In Age of Ultron, they made her a “monster” because she couldn’t have children. In Endgame, she was the one that had to die so that the deranged murderous Hawkeye could go back to his family and all the boys could get back together and do their avenging thing. When Iron Man died, he got a hero’s funeral, everyone showed up from the teenage Harley that helped him out in Iron Man 3 to Nick Fury, to Thunderbolt Ross. Captain America finally got the girl and had decades of marital bliss. We last saw Natasha lying in a pool of blood on Vormir.
When Thor’s mother dies in Darkworld, she at least got a sendoff befitting someone of her stature. Natasha got zip, zero, nada, the original Avenger ultimately not worthy of recognition. It’s worth noting that in the comics, The Wasp was one of the original Avengers, in the MCU in Endgame, she got maybe three lines.
To a lesser degree, I’m reminded of how small a role black people play in the MCU. The best thing they ever did was let a black team run with the production of the blockbuster Black Panther. If the Russo Brothers had directed that, Killmonger wouldn’t have been the unacknowledged hero of the film. Saying many things more popular with black audience members than T’Challa. It didn’t go unnoticed that the New York of the MCU was far less multi-cultural than the one I’ve visited several times. Even the much praised (by themselves) first openly gay character in the MCU wasn’t a hero, just a guy… baby steps.
Still, I have enjoyed, even loved most of the films of the MCU. I could throw out The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton as an outlier, they still brought me back to a simpler time and helped relive the glorious adventures of my childhood. I give the Russo’s great credit for their fanservice. All the references to moments of the previous films, working in hundreds of characters without too much exposition, that they could make that movie even in three hours was amazing. I was on edge the whole time. They will go down in history along with Kevin Feige, the President of Marvel Studios as having imagined and pulled off something never done before. If they also go down in history for maintaining a boy’s club, limited by their own maleness and whiteness. That will be true as well.