So. I’ve sat sans toilet break for three hours times two for Avengers: Endgame. Cheered a little, bawled a little, shushed my noisy neighbors many a time. Wondered why the body count wasn't higher. Well.
To begin with, Endgame is more of a crowd surfing than a cantata performance. It doesn't mean it's unimpressive for an ensemble movie, of course, because it is. It’s just that perhaps I should’ve long let go of my expecting a George and Margaret Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road kind of treatment from the beginning for the MCU ladies.
Let’s start with the dearly departed. The Black Widow.
I get it – I get it: it's a war and people die in war and the death can be messy. She sacrifices herself for the world and in particular for her male best friend, who has a family of his own. Meanwhile, she doesn’t—and can’t, if you remember Age of Ultron. There you go: no second chance, not even a memorial, for Nat because she has neither biological family nor children to remember her. Best friend goes back into retirement; Nat goes under. God forbid, the team remembers she has personally been grappling with the idea of a found family and, career-wise, is the de facto manager who keeps the crippled team running for five years post the Decimation. Dangling carrot of happiness, meet my tears.
Next foul. All actors but RDJ went into the Endgame premiere without knowing the full script or what scenes made the cut. I found it disrespectful not only to the actors, but also to their craft. Case in point: Brie Larson. While I do know of the Russos’ infamous tight-lipped secrecy as they shot and reshot Infinity War and Endgame back to back, not even telling Larson, whom MCU overlord Kevin Feige stated would be handed the leadership baton post-Endgame, that she was shooting the first ever appearance of Captain Marvel counts as a foul in my book.
Think of it as a litotes of Dustin Hoffman throwing a glass at Meryl Streep impromptu and only missing her head by a breadth of hair, itself helped make Kramer vs. Kramer a legend but was also Streep’s least pleasant work experience. Not trusting your actors insofar to keeping important details about their characters from them? Not cool, MCU.
Having said that about Larson, Cap Marv’s presence is where I feel most let down. MCU/Disney had been overhyping her and the Russos didn’t deliver.
"Before you didn’t have me" and all. You didn't have me my foot. I’d rather not have her say that at all. Look, while I find Cap Marv’s titular movie enjoyable, I’m of the opinion that she is shoehorned into Endgame. I get that she needs to be one of Endgame’s muscles, not the brain and definitely not the heart this time. I get that her time is yet to come. Yet to tease that she’s going to play a big role in offing Thanos only to have her picnicking on screen just like that? Oh, what a bait. Her new do can’t and won’t appease me.
(Although, yes, a lot of my queer friends seemed to channel their inner Billy Eichner’s let’s-go- lesbians meme as soon as she appeared with That Haircut.)
Here’s a somewhat meatier comparison: Judy Dench capped a total of mere 8 minutes in Shakespeare in Love to Anne Hathaway’s 15 in Les Miserables, but their screen time was impactful and Oscar-winning. If we’re holding on to Feige’s words, if Cap Marv’s really going to carry the torch, that is so not how you do Jerk with a Heart of Gold 2.0 justice.
Off screen, the discourse that surrounds Cap Marv has mushroomed to the point where real jerks show their true misogynist colors; on screen, she doesn’t need to be prematurely handicapped by the powers that be themselves. Even when in a supporting role, her presence needs to be as impactful as, say, Tony’s is in Spiderman: Homecoming and Captain America: Civil War. I want Carol to do more than just starfishing intergalactic ships to bits and being a glowing space Jesus. I want Carol to be her own person the way the MCU lets Tony be his own: unapologetically sarcastic, fantastic, and most importantly deserving the leadership – and screen time.
As well, this applies to the band of ladies wonder formed in the final battle, perchance the closest I could get of the comic book A-Force. Endgame’s three-hour running time is tight and at the same time feels insufficient, because there are so many dogs to feed from the master’s table. And when you can’t feed all the dogs, more often than not it’s the female ones, a.k.a. bitches, that are forgo.
Going forward, I can’t help feeling more cautious. I do hope the MCU addresses their ensemble problem. MCU directors need to address their biggest hiccup when it comes to handling a cast of leads and a cast of leads who happen to be women. Future phases of the MCU need to translate strong solo movies into an equally strong ensemble movie. Let the ladies do more than just posing to score for discount girl power, yes, because isn't that part of what Bob Iger of the House of Mouse promised?
Nat’s breakdown and Pepper Potts’ grief feel real, and despite appearing weak, I find it refreshing because it normalizes the idea that strong heroines are more and do more than just kicking asses. If Peter Parker and Carol can carry their own respective movie, let Peter weigh between calling her Auntie Carol or Captain Carol as the MCU moves on from Irondad. Let the other Peter, while traipsing to guard galaxies, exchange mixtapes of The Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye with that of hers full of Nirvana and No Doubt.
No more boom, kaboom, off you go to the powder room. No more bread crumbs. I want the full course, woof woof.
Illustration by Sarah Arifin