Avengers: Endgame needs no formal introduction. The latest Marvel film currently sits at the second-highest all-time, worldwide box-office gross, and for most fans, Endgame was a celebration of the storm of Marvel movies made in the last ten years which pioneered (and at current, provided the only successful example of) the concept of a cinematic universe. Yet a large contingent of ‘progressive’ fans have taken issue with the film, not for any narrative or production reasons, but because the movie fails to officially canonize their personal ships and head canons. Speaking to this outrage, in a recently published and subsequently widely shared article by The Daily Dot titled How the straight agenda ruined ‘Avengers: Endgame’, author Gavia Baker-Whitelaw claims that “this film’s conception of a “happy ending“ is so rooted in heteronormativity that it ruined the final act for several key characters.”
Baker-Whitelaw first takes issue with the resolution of Hawkeye and Black Widow’s story line, which she believes downplays Widow’s self-sacrifice on Vormir (the planet where the Red Skull keeps watch over the Soul Stone) in order to reunite Hawkeye with his “cardboard cutouts who get fridged so he can have a homicidal makeover” in order to portray the “wives and children providing solace after men return from battle” in an overt plot to glorify the concept of a nuclear family.
However, Baker-Whitelaw views these actions as individual events occurring in a sequential order, rather than as collective actions which build the overall plot line. Hawkeye’s family did not die wantonly as an excuse to turn Hawkeye into Ronin, but rather his turn into Ronin was due to the personal impact caused by the larger events of Infinity War. Though true that “we don’t know Hawkeye’s family,” this does not nullify their impact in the story. An average viewer can empathize with Hawkeye’s (or really any citizen of the MCU’s) reaction upon discovering that one’s loved ones were instantly vaporized by a hereto unseen and unknown cosmic entity, and ultimately understand why a man who just lost his entire family may lose himself to grief in a no holds barred, murderous rampage against criminals.
Despite Baker-Whitelaw’s claim that Black Widow’s “ending downplays the role of “found family” relationships,” it is evidently apparent that the sacrifice Black Widow makes on Vormir was done in order to support both of her ‘found families’: Hawkeye’s family and The Avengers. In sacrificing herself for Hawkeye, she ensures that, if Thanos is defeated, Hawkeye’s family would be saved the pain, confusion, and horror or discovering that their husband and father had been killed during a period where they technically didn’t exist. Knowing that she would be able to help not only her best friend, but also a family with whom she was close with (after all, their daughter Lila refers to Natasha as “Auntie Nat” and their son Nathaniel is named in her honor), Natasha willingly chose to let go of Hawkeye’s hand. Of course, this action would also benefit The Avengers, as it would allow them to gain the Soul Stone and have a chance of fighting back against the devastation caused by Thanos’ infamous snap.
In accusing Natasha’s sacrifice of existing for no more reason than to prop up a male’s storyline, Baker-Whitelaw ironically erases the personal agency of the character, who willingly decided to sacrifice herself, rather than respecting the choice she made despite personal Umbridge with the people she sacrificed herself for.
Captain America and Winter Soldier
Baker-Whitelaw’s biggest point of contention appears to be the resolution of Steve Roger’s personal storyline, though more specifically the perceived failure to ‘resolve’ the relationship between Steve Rogers and his best friend, Bucky Barnes. Though Baker-Whitelaw begins addressing this issue by pointing to apparent failures in the script, such as “a sequence where Steve barely acknowledges Bucky’s return from the dead” or claiming that the time-travel plot device makes no sense and “obliterates years of character development,” her contempt quickly turns to the fact that “this epilogue erases much of Steve’s personal journey, removes Peggy Carter’s agency, and destroys any chance of closure for Steve and Bucky.”
Many fans, Baker-Whitelaw included, have taken issue with the fact that, despite appearing to have moved on from Carter during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Rogers’ story resolves with a marriage to and long life spent with Peggy Carter. However, it is important to note that in The Winter Soldier, Carter had passed on, and Steve had no choice but to confront and accept the physical limitations of human existence, but in Endgame, the discovery of physics-breaking technology and the means to freely travel through time changed those limitations, and granted Steve access to a second chance he would never could have fathomed before Thanos’ arrival on Earth.
Rogers’ choice to reunite with Carter emphasizes his humanity, as he suffered, fought, and dedicated his life to protecting others, but it is only with the help of a cosmic MacGuffin at the end of his journey that he is rewarded with the ability (for the first time in a long time) to choose how to live his life. This resolution also does not destroy Carter’s agency or the life she lived during the time Rogers was frozen in ice, as according to Endgame, even the most minor of manipulations to a given timeline produces alternate realities, thus allowing both the late Peggy Carter, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Peggy Carter, Former Agent of SSR and wife to Steve Rogers, to exist simultaneously.
Furthermore, Baker-Whitelaw finds that there is no “closure for Steve and Bucky” as “canonically, Steve and Bucky are straight. Yet they’re not perceived as straight enough until Steve breaks off his friendship with Bucky, and returns to a woman he kissed five movies ago.” However, though Whitelaw admits that the “idea that Marvel intentionally mothballed Steve and Bucky’s relationship is a conspiracy theory, but it’s a conspiracy theory I can easily believe,” she takes issue with the fact that the directors “take pains to keep [Rogers] and Bucky apart, avoiding the kind of crowd-pleasing reunion we see between characters with much less personal history.”
Admittedly, Rogers and Barnes do not share many personal moments in both Infinity War and Endgame, but this is also due to the much more important, looming threat of a planetary invasion and a genocidal alien titan. In the face of the end of the world, and potentially the universe, it’s understandable that personal reunions and catching-up would take a backseat to defending the billions of humans living on Earth.
As for the epilogue, though there is no reunion depicted on screen, Rogers does not immediately go directly from the battle with Thanos to jumping through time to replace the stones and marry Carter, and thus in the time between these two events the audience can assume that a personal and heartwarming reunion took place between the two. In a script writing sense, though such a moment would have been heartwarming, it is a difficult scene to include when considering the flow of the script and the already daunting three-hour run time.
Whitelaw also points to the “queer subtext” between Rogers and Barnes, something many fans obsess over in regard to ‘shipping’ the two characters, but this sentiment has never been canon and has never been hinted at in the movies. The “clash between their desire for a heteronormative ending and the reality of the queer-coded friendship between Steve and Bucky” exists almost solely in the minds of those obsessed with sexuality and representation in media and shippers, and appears to mainly be fueled by outrage from those who did not see their personal ship canonized in the MCU.
Curiously, though Whitelaw is outraged that more attention was not given to this alleged subtext, the fact that Whitelaw reinforces the close friendship and bond between Rogers and Barnes serves to only fuel the ‘toxic masculinity’ that social justice activists continually condemn; is it not toxic to reinforce the belief that two men can only be close and care for one another if they’re in a romantic relationship?
Ironically, though Baker-Whitelaw claims Endgame is “an example of romance and sexuality being forced unnaturally into an existing story,” this outrage appears to be a response from certain fans who are unhappy because the romance and sexualities they want to see were not ‘forced unnaturally into an existing story.’ Baker-Whitelaw may argue that Endgame is “obsessed with traditional family values” and that the film “derailed several of its main character arcs to make way for incoherent and offensive endings,” but these are hyperbolic statements meant to garner outrage on social media.
One protagonist is fueled by the loss of his family, another (Ant-Man) is at one point frantically searching for his daughter, and another travels back in time to live a dream life with the woman he loved for most of his life: hardly an obsession. Though it is debatable whether the time travel mechanics, existence of alternate realities, and somewhat abrupt endings for some characters (Where did the Hulk end up? Are Korg and Miek left alone on Earth while Thor goes off with the Guardians of the Galaxy?) lead to truly incoherent endings, those who find them ‘offensive’ are far more concerned with pushing agendas, often ignoring canonical information or story structure to take arbitrary offense at something which contradicts their personal desires. This is not to say Endgame is a perfectly written film, far from it, but rather to hopefully direct criticism towards actual issues with the film rather than inferred disappointments based on individual wishes.