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Feature Article

Avengers: Endgame Fails Black Widow--And Most Of Its Other Characters

Warning: So many spoilers within.

Avengers: Endgame has the nearly impossible task of bringing plot threads established, expanded, and twisted across 21 different movies to a satisfying conclusion. All the stuff that's been set up, hinted at, or teased across the last decade is supposed to be leading to this one place--and not only does Endgame have to deal with all that plot, it also has to work on resolving a variety of years-long character arcs. With all that in mind, it's no wonder Endgame clocks in at three hours long.

Like any massive undertaking of this scope, some elements of Endgame are more successful than others, as Senior Entertainment Editor Mike Rougeau pointed out in his review. The story ultimately belongs to Tony Stark, and it is successful in bringing to a close what Iron Man started 11 years ago. But Endgame isn't nearly as well balanced as other Avengers movies, despite Thanos's many lectures about the importance of evening the scales, and several of its main characters are short-changed throughout the proceedings.

The character who gets mistreated the worst is, easily, Black Widow. The decision to sacrifice Black Widow for the Soul Stone is a messy and frustrating one on a lot of levels. First and foremost, Widow has more character development than just about anybody in Endgame, despite being more or less silent through the course of Infinity War. After the time skip in the post-Thanos world, it's not Captain America or Tony Stark holding the Avengers together to safeguard the world--it's Black Widow.

Natasha Romanoff has come a long way through the course of the MCU, from aloof spy at Nick Fury's beck and call to finding her calling as a full-fledged Avenger, and now, literally leading the cause. When everyone else wandered off into their respective lives--Tony starting a family, Steve processing his grief, Thor falling into depression, Hulk embracing his celebrity--Black Widow kept the lights on.

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What's more, she's the character most obviously burdened by the aftermath of Thanos. Five years on and Nat can barely deal with what has happened to the world on her watch (a weight that, frankly, should have been borne by Captain America, given his past character development). Nat talks in Endgame about how important the Avengers have been to her, and how the opportunity to become a superhero allowed her to make up for her darker spy history. The team means more to Nat, seemingly, than anyone else, and their loss to Thanos devastates her.

Especially painful for Nat is what the failure to stop Thanos has done to Clint "Hawkeye" Barton, who, after losing his family, has gone full-on psychopathic vigilante. Clint is out there dealing with his loss by racking up a major body count. Nat owes Clint a great deal, as established in The Avengers: Though it's only discussed and alluded to, we know that it was Clint who brought Nat over to the side of the good guys years ago, when he could have killed her instead. A big part of Nat's story in The Avengers is that she feels indebted to Hawkeye and bent on saving him from Loki. She clearly feels responsible for what he has become in Endgame.

All that builds to a Black Widow who occupies a place at the heart of the Avengers in Endgame, but who never gets to fulfill that role in a movie that constantly overlooks her. In just a few scenes, it's clear she has the most skin in the game against Thanos, and that's where some of the most interesting potential conflict and emotion in the movie resides. But then the movie sends Nat to Vormir with Barton, where they replay Thanos's sacrifice of Gamora, but, like, friendlier.

Chucking Black Widow over a cliff on Vormir is a complete waste of her character and a frustrating end to her arc throughout the MCU (Clint, on the other hand, makes more sense for the sacrifice given what he's done as Ronin, even if offing him there would be completely predictable). Black Widow has her own standalone movie coming, which you might think makes up a bit for her death in Endgame, but it actually makes the choice to use her in this way all the more baffling. The stories of women in the MCU are finally getting told, and one of the most important ones is finally getting the spotlight--why cut off her future when you're about to flesh out her character?

And not just that--killing Black Widow in the middle of the movie is also a really bad look for a studio that has struggled with perceived sexism throughout this franchise (Marvel infamously made toys of all the heroes except Black Widow back when The Avengers came out). The next scene after Black Widow's death throws into sharp relief the fact that the movie just disposed of its most major female character: We cut back to all the remaining Avengers having feelings about the loss of Nat--and they're all dudes. Twice, the MCU sacrificed important women for a magic rock in order to give surviving men their feels.

And while Tony gets a hero's sendoff and a funeral attended by a ridiculous number of big names--including some characters who appear in the movie only for that purpose--Natasha Romanoff, a character central to the MCU since Iron Man 2, gets a momentary mention from Barton, and she has to share it with Wanda lumping in Vision.

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Avengers, Assemble (Around Iron Man)

Endgame's handling of Natasha is its biggest problem, but far from its only one. Rocket, Nebula, War Machine, Ant-Man--they have next to nothing going on in terms of character development and are mostly warm bodies waiting to serve functions in the plot. If they're lucky, they get a few jokes.

Hulk is flubbed even more than those others. Like most of the Avengers, Hulk has zero arc in Endgame; he mostly exists to push buttons on a console and say time travely things. It's worse than just a misuse of one of the main cast of Avengers, though. The driving force of Bruce Banner's story, the motivation at his core, is the conflict between Banner and Hulk. Banner is constantly afraid he'll lose control, and lose his very sense of self, by becoming Hulk, while hurting innocent people in the process. Through his life with the Avengers, Banner has found a use for Hulk, and in Infinity War, their dynamic changed. Banner could no longer use Hulk as his battering ram when danger reared up, and as Thor: Ragnarok established, Hulk was more than just a raging monster--he was a person unto himself.

Endgame deals with these evolving ideas about Hulk's dichotomy by resolving all his issues off-screen. During the five-year time skip, Bruce just figures out how to mix his own personality together with Hulk's. In the post-Thanos world, Bruce is doing pretty great! He gets to be huge and strong while maintaining his intellect and personality, all his personal demons have been exorcized, and he finally has love and acceptance from the people, rather than their fear and resentment--another core driver of his character throughout the MCU. Banner didn't resolve his troubles by learning or growing or doing anything; Endgame just handwaved them away and moved on.

And then there's Captain America, whose wrap-up in Endgame Meg Downey already addressed. The Avengers' through-line since the very beginning has been an ideological schism between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers that speaks to the fundamental nature of their characters. Tony will give up a lot for safety and protection, and is often looking for the preemptive solution to a problem. Steve has, tragically, lost everything and has no ties to the present world, but given the chance to get back some of what he's lost, he's willing to gamble everything. These things are why Steve would fight his Avengers pals to try to save Bucky; they're what blinded Tony to what he was risking in creating Ultron. They're why the two of them clashed in Captain America: Civil War. The wounds from that movie never healed and its conflicts were never resolved. Endgame seems ready to deal with them all, especially early on, when Tony, half-dead from starvation, took Cap to task for failing to be there to fight Thanos together as a result of their schism.

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Endgame is perfectly suited to pit these two characters and their ideologies against one another. When Cap gets a time travel solution to undo Thanos' snap, Tony is stuck worrying about the family he's gained in the five years since. Cap is willing to die to retrieve what he lost; Tony is willing to die to protect what he has. It's a great setup for conflict and, eventually, resolution between the two men.

Instead, the movie conveniently just puts an end to the longstanding feud between Cap and Tony in one conversation, where both basically say, "Eh, let's move on." Meanwhile, Cap winds up with no character arc at all. He executes some time travel shenanigans and he hits Thanos in the face, and the real character stuff gets handed off to Tony. Pointedly, Steve and Tony never exchange words in the scene before Tony's death.

Endgame completely wastes plot threads set up over multiple movies that have informed the core plotlines of what makes the Avengers interesting. It's not that Endgame couldn't or shouldn't be Tony Stark's movie--it's fitting to focus on him as a bookend to how the MCU started--but a focus on Tony doesn't necessarily require the exclusion of the other Avengers. So much of Tony's development as a character has come through his interactions and disagreements with Cap, so why not bring those disagreements to a thorough conclusion that allows them both to grow? Why call the movie "Avengers" if all the Avengers aren't going to have equal importance in the story?

The thing that made the Marvel Cinematic Universe exciting was its ability and willingness to pay off investment, to build character arcs over multiple stories, making interactions between superheroes that go beyond punching people to deal with deeper emotional conflicts, scars, and baggage. Telling what is more or less one story over more than 20 disparate films has been an incredible achievement--and something that made being an MCU fan worth the time and money it requires. There are a ton of these movies, but tuning in for all of them allowed you to enjoy and understand each one in more ways than is usually possible with film franchises.

Emotionally, Endgame hits a lot of the right notes to pay off all that MCU work. There's a reason it's breaking box office records--it's a fun, exciting movie that works with the broad strokes of the MCU. As epic conclusions go, it's pretty damn epic. And the conclusion of Tony Stark's story is legitimately well-executed, thoughtful, and powerful. Despite its problems, at the top level, there's a lot of payoff for MCU fans to be had in Endgame.

But from a more granular, close-up perspective, the conclusion of that story and the MCU experiment, Avengers: Endgame is something of failure. Tony Stark's story gets the wrap-up it deserves, and a few other characters (Thor, most notably) get an emotional and involved journey that uses the best elements of the MCU to its advantage. But Endgame drops the ball on what has made the MCU movies, and the Avengers films in particular, worth showing up for over the last few years. In trying to wrap up everything neatly, Endgame fails to be the satisfying conclusion the Avengers deserved.

If you can't get enough Avengers: Endgame, we've got lots more coverage. Check out our full review of the movie; we've got rundowns of all the Easter eggs hidden throughout its three hours, and a list of every MCU character that appears in the film. You can also get an explanation of the movie's ending, and read our opinion on why Captain America's final moments don't match his character.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

philhornshaw

Phil Hornshaw

GameSpot editor in Los Angeles, and the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel and The Space Hero’s Guide to Glory. Hoped the latter would help me get Han Solo hair, but so far, unsuccessful.

Avengers: Endgame

Complete coverage of Marvel's latest big movie release, which caps off the Infinity Saga and sends the MCU into Phase 4.
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Avatar image for jedijax
jedijax

Never mind the fact her or his sacrifice would have made no sense. Barton's most important thing for him is his family. Romanova's most important thing was whatever it was, but surely it wasn't Clint. They shouldn't have got the Soul Stone either way, because if they did, that means the stone doesn't respond to sacrificing "the most important thing" but any kind of life sacrifice will do.

Avatar image for heartindarkness
heartindarkness

The stories of women in the MCU are finally getting told, and one of the most important ones is finally getting the spotlight--why cut off her future when you're about to flesh out her character?

The next scene after Black Widow's death throws into sharp relief the fact that the movie just disposed of its most major female character: We cut back to all the remaining Avengers having feelings about the loss of Nat--and they're all dudes. Twice, the MCU sacrificed important women for a magic rock in order to give surviving men their feels.

the amount of feminist crap is just damn much, like what now females are not allowed to die for men to grieve, who writes this crap, whats next shuri should be the king of wakanda and be black panther cuz a male panther is insulting, srsly these are not excuses for a character to be bad, that is just self biased crap

i am seriously tired of how media is now treating things that dont display women in the strongest light and that a movie without them is absolute crap is just an insult, and then have the audacity to say shit like there is creativity freedom is just wow.

Avatar image for lionheartssj1
lionheartssj1

She sacrificed herself for her fellow man (both Clint and mankind in general), and prevented Clint from doing it in hopes that he would be reunited with his family. She had a good character arc that ended in a noble sacrifice and died a hero. Why does this need to be a sexism thing? Is Gamespot trying to compete with Kotaku or something?

Avatar image for monkyby87
monkyby87

I used to think of Gamespot as a more grounded reviewer compared to IGN and some of the junk they put out.

But then I read stuff like this and their review of the latest GoT episode, and I lose all respect for them. They’re just writing crap for the sake, and finding faults just to write another article.

Avatar image for camverge
camverge

Sacrificing Hawkeye makes more sense? Kill the guy who has a freaking FAMILY?

I would have loved to have seen that final scene at the end of the movie with Natasha approaching Hawkeye’s family.

“Heeeeey, so, you guys never really liked your dad right?”

Avatar image for vilified_signals
Vilified_Signals

Personally, I like Hawkeye a whole lot more than Black Widow. Never have liked Black Widow. I feel like, in a team full of super powered/armored individuals, Black Widow never had a place to fit in. She was the token powerless female character. Clint retired. So he was safely out of the picture.

We already have replacements for female heroes. Better replacements. If I want to watch a spy movie, it won't be Black Widow. So I'd skip it. Because I never wanted a Black Widow movie. I want a House of M movie. Or at least something featuring Scarlet Witch.

And Captain Marvel was already an excellent movie. Standard origin story fare, but still good.
Black Widow doesn't need her own movie. Or comic book. Or, really, anything. She's boring.

Avatar image for Elranzer
Elranzer

Black Widow was the most useless Avenger. Her sole job was to be the only female on the original team and keep it from being a sausage-fest.

Her jumping off the cliff to become the Soul Stone is the most useful thing she’s ever done.

Now, Nebula... there’s a character that Endgame really screwed over in favor of the Iron Man circlejerk.

Avatar image for mistervulpes
MisterVulpes

Making the death of Black Widow into an issue of sexism is such a bizarre BS reach.

GS is normally better than the likes of Polygon and Kotaku.

I feel like the writer explains, in this very article, why it had to be her.

You write as if the death was something enacted upon her, but it was her choice.

She took responsibility, that’s why she’s great.

She’s a f*cking badass and that’s why she makes the ultimate sacrifice instead of one of the men...which would’ve been eye rollingly predictable, and would have just as much chance of spawning BS articles like this one, but from the opposite side.

‘Black Widow had to be saved by Hawkeye, a man, here’s why that’s problematic.’

Pull the other one.

The character that got really railroaded was Peter Quill.

He’s relegated to an unstoppable moron in Endgame, with all of his heartfelt development with Gamora just gone.

‘Just kick him in the balls, that’ll be a laugh’

*clown horn*

Thank Sobek that Gunn is back for G3. Neither Infinity War nor Endgame could get Quill right.

Avatar image for Donut0389
Donut0389

@mistervulpes: Gamora kicked him in the balls because THAT Gamora never met Peter Quill. Peter just walked up and put his hand on the shoulder of one of the universes most deadly assassins as if they're lost lovers. But that isn't his timelines Gamora so she knees him in the dick like "Who the **** are you?!".

Also Peter in the MCU has always been the unstoppable moron. He challenged Ronan the Accuser to a dance-off as a distraction and fought a Celestial by turning into a giant Pac Man in the climatic fight.

Avatar image for mistervulpes
MisterVulpes

@Donut0389:

I’m aware of the Gamora circumstances. Just thought it was unfortunate because their interactions in Infinity War were some of the most heartfelt.

Neither of those things are him being an unstoppable moron.

The dance off is for a specific reason and pac man is because, ‘why not?’ his crazy giant power avatar has to look like something and pac man holds a certain symbolism for him.

And he’s fighting a living God, it’s hardly just him being a dipsh*t for the sake of it.

In Guardians 1 and 2 Quill has real heart within his dumb antics.

In Endgame and Infinity War he’s just dumb.

Avatar image for cooolio
cooolio

@mistervulpes:

He barely had enough screen time on Endgame to give any reason to complain...

Avatar image for P00DGE
P00DGE

I wanted Hawkeye and Black Widow to both throw themselves off the cliff. I have never liked either of them, and quite frankly, I felt zero emotion about either of them being sacrificed.

Avatar image for xcael
xCael

what a stupid article

Avatar image for darthbluntsaber
DarthBluntSaber

Ultimately the movie did not fail and was pretty darn good.

Besides, wasnt black widows big motivator right from the first avengers about how she was looking to balance her ledger and do some good to make up for the sins of her past? Seems like sacrificing herself for the entire universe fits perfectly with her character arc.

Avatar image for Xero_Kaiser
Xero_Kaiser

Is Gamespot's thing going to be picking Endgame apart, trying to come up with some silly reason that it, "failed"? Not every character or plot thread is going to get an entire movie's worth of development at once.

And are you really going to complain about two women dying as if no male characters died? Hell, we saw two male characters get killed off, "in order to give surviving men their feels" in the first 5 minutes of Infinity War and neither of them got grandiose funerals either.

Avatar image for kreid
kreid

@Xero_Kaiser:

It isn't just this movie either. They seem to have an unusually large number of "writers" that are poor at comprehending what they've seen visually in a movie. I attribute this to a lack of story problems, which used to teach kids how to comprehend what they read/viewed, now days in the US education system and GS simply employing "writers" on the cheap that simply aren't intellectually qualified to be offering flawed opinions yet. There's so much in this review that would be a reach even for someone with 6th grade education that I'm left wondering if the reviewer even bothered to ask any of their peers to proofread and correct all of the incorrect assumptions.

Avatar image for Decoy77
Decoy77

@Xero_Kaiser: They seem to be going for the hipster vibe here. Attacking Endgame and GoT's. Then they have their SJW members going after "not enough gay's and feminists" in Endgame too. But of course you can't comment on those post because they know they'd get destroyed. Gamespot has taken a turn for the worst lately.

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide
Bread_or_Decide

@Xero_Kaiser: I think it has more to do with the fact that these soul stone deaths are super cheap and every scene played out kind of silly or dumb. I mean why was that their only option? Instead of finding clever answers end game settles for the simplest and sometimes the dumbest ones, time travel heist included.

Why not find a more clever solution? Maybe use red skull somehow, ending his tortured existence and freeing the stone. Nope, it's this dumb idea that you gotta kill someone for it. Gamora's scene is laughable on how clueless she is during it and then we gotta watch nat and hawkeye fight eachother to die for it.

Avengers : Simple Dumb Solutions should have been the title.

Avatar image for Dragon_Nexus
Dragon_Nexus

@Xero_Kaiser: Loki was a villain and Heimdal was a tertiary character with no real plot relevance ever. It's hardly comparable to someone who's been in the movies since 2010. Black Widow's been in 7 MCU movies. That's the same as Steve and two less than Tony. She's had more movie appearances than the Hulk or Thor.

The core theme of the pair of them was family. Clint had a family to go back to if it all went well, but Nat had no family. She didn't even know her father's name. But the Avengers was her family, and that was the point for her.

And...it kinda feels like her family let her down.

Avatar image for BoomWav
BoomWav

I don't agree with everything you said. It's true that they could have made a double funeral at the end. They did take the time to show her sacrifice properly. She had very little to lose. Perhaps we'll see more of it during the Black Widow movie.

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide
Bread_or_Decide

@BoomWav: Geesh, except her own life, which to anyone is worth a ton. Kind of f-ked up to say that just because she didn't have family and kids she had nothing to lose?

Avatar image for fiesel
Fiesel

@Bread_or_Decide: Lol calm down, she's a fictional character.

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide
Bread_or_Decide

Two characters got a bad death all thanks to the soul stone. Geesh. That stone will ruin any death.

Avatar image for Blev08
Blev08

It was inevitable that some characters were going to get shortchanged given the sheer amount of territory, plot threads, and so forth this movie had to juggle. As much as I would enjoy a 20 hour Avengers movie finale in which every single character got to have their own mini-movie worth of development, that was just never going to be feasible.

By the way, it could've gotten way worse, at least none of them got the cry-baby Thor treatment.

Avatar image for Dragon_Nexus
Dragon_Nexus

@Blev08: They're not saying every character had to have their own special 20 minute ending scene like it's Lord of the Rings, they're saying a lot of characters didn't get an arc within the story, instead serving as plot tools.

Rocket existed to have a device to get the Ether. War Machine was erm...there? Hulk was a muscular science guy because I assume the Russos had no idea how to use the Hulk normally (and obviously needed Banner a lot more than Hulk for science stuff), Ant Man was comic relief. Clint became Ronin for 5 minutes.

Tony got to reconcile with his father. He got to marry Pepper Potts. He got to have a family. He got to Avenge the world.

Steve didn't get anything because his main sidekicks from his movies were dusted. Sam was gone, Bucky was gone, Sharon...just...didn't exist as far as this movie cared. He got a nice resolution at the end, sure, and a passing of the torch (which kinda makes no sense because Sam is just a dude. No super soldier serum or anything). Steve had no real arc in the story.

Ultimately the movie was really good, but out of the three hours, I feel maybe the first two thirds were a little too fan wanky. Too much nostalgia and not enough actual plot. The MCU movies have often been "Find the McGuffin to defeat the bad guy" but this was REALLY that.

Also Thor crying because he gets to meet his murdered mother again doesn't make him a crybaby you chud.

Avatar image for larowyn
Larowyn

@Dragon_Nexus: Being too tough and emotionally reserved is toxic masculinity, but crying because your long-dead mother gave you one last pep talk and a hug makes you a crybaby manchild apparently.

Avatar image for Dragon_Nexus
Dragon_Nexus

@larowyn: Being too tough isn't toxic masculinity. Feeling that showing emotions is a negative and that you must be stoic and unfeeling and aggressive to the detriment of your mental health is toxic masculinity.

Avatar image for uruvamanar
UruvaManar

No.