Avengers Endgame: Ending White Patriarchy (Mostly) Gracefully

Did Avengers Endgame have an anti-patriarchy agenda? Did it deliberately remove white male figures from the story universe? Maybe, but it did so mostly with grace.
on May 9, 2019 · 30 comments

Yes, I really am going to say something that could be perceived as critical of the world’s currently most popular movie, Avengers Endgame. Yes, I saw it and yes, I for the most part very much enjoyed it. (No, I’m not insane to raise this topic–well, I may be insane, mind you, but this particular post isn’t a result of any potential insanity of mine 🙂 . )  Yes, as my title implies, I think part of the plot of Endgame really does strike me as if it were driven by the concept of Social Justice as understood in the modern sense, with the movie in fact removing power from white male figures (i.e. the white patriarchy). Though in all cases but one, the story does this gracefully.

SPOILERS by the way. No, I’m not going to spoil the whole movie from start to finish, but enough, including its ending.

First, I must say that pretty much all of you probably had a nicer cinema experience than I did. The showing was 3D but I got handed glasses that were not wrapped in plastic–they’d just been thrown in a box from the last person to use them. Mine were noticeably greasy and I never quite managed to get them clean. The theater in the Central American country where I currently am is one where if anybody opens the door into the theater from the lighted hall behind the entrance, light gets cast onto the screen in front. Not so much that you can’t see the movie anymore, but enough that you know the door is open. And yes, the door wound up opening many times during the 3 hour film…distracting (and I’m not even talking about the seats or anything else).

Now that I’ve written enough text to let someone who doesn’t want to see spoilers pull away without seeing anything of substance, let me say my original dissatisfaction based on the movie itself (and not just its viewing conditions) centered around the character of Thor. By the way, I’ve publicly objected to Pagan deities as characters in films that I want to watch, since real-live people actually worship these deities to this day, including Thor (and the Thor-worshipers I’ve known were not offended in the slightest that their god was portrayed as type of space alien–Neo-Pagans are not usually dogmatic about any type of doctrine). But putting that objection aside, let’s look at what happened to Thor as a character. Thor, driven by a sense of failure to kill Thanos before he could eliminate half the universe, was eager for revenge, eager to undo his failure. He even kills in cold blood a rather defenseless Thanos (who technically should be put on trial or something), yet this brings him no sense of relief. Fast forward to five years in the future in New Asgard, and the story reveals that Thor spends all his time drinking beer, eating junk food, and playing video games. He develops an obvious beer gut.

Actually if the point of this turn of events was to show that Thor went through some Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was overwhelmed by a sense of loss and failure and turned to eating, alcohol, and video games as a result his PTSD, the story would simply be showing one possible results of PTSD. Yet in fact, the story plays Thor’s fall from self-control for laughs, another character commenting at one point that cheese whiz runs through the Asgardean’s veins. At one point Rocket the Raccoon slapped him in the face to get him “to snap out of it.” The Marvel movies have dealt with Tony Stark’s PTSD with insight and grace, yet by making Thor a joke, Endgame undid a lot of the sensitivity Marvel movies had shown previously on this topic.

Yet as I thought about what was going on in the story more deeply, I realized that something important seemed be happening other than playing something serious for jokes (or “fat shaming” for that matter). I couldn’t help noticing a pattern in the movie involving the main body of white, male superheroes, who were among the most popular of Marvel’s characters. Four “white patriarchy” characters in effect get either removed from a position of power or get eliminated from the story in Avengers Endgame. Those characters are Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, and yes, Thor.

Image Copyright: Disney

Tony Stark dies with no obvious replacement, though his wife Pepper or daughter may fill that role. Bruce Banner seems to have been injured by gamma ray exposure and goes into what may be retirement with no clear replacement. Steve Rodgers literally retires via time travel and hands his shield over to Falcon (who happens not to be white). Thor is not eliminated as a character for future stories, but he is greatly humbled and gives up his kingship to Valkyrie, who is a woman (and not white).

And as these white male characters were cleared out of their formerly dominant roles by the story, note the inclusion of a number of prominent non-white or non-male characters in recent Marvel films. Most notably Captain Marvel. Is it just a coincidence that so many characters a SJW might consider emblematic of patriarchy (and white patriarchy no less) were eliminated from the story universe? That they seem to be getting replaced by a more diverse cast?

Someone might correctly point out that there are still plenty of white male characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and yes, that’s true. Yes, but there aren’t as many anymore, are there? And the ones that are left are nowhere near as strong, nowhere as near emblematic of “patriarchy” as many modern people see it.

Yes, it does seem to me (my personal opinion) that a number of the plot elements in Avengers Endgame were driven by social justice considerations. But let’s give credit for good storytelling where it’s due. Three of the white males retired from their positions of power in the MCU were given good sendoffs. Hulk and Iron Man make heroic sacrifices. Steve Rodgers went after his heart, seeking the love of his life. Only with Thor did the movement of the plot seem crass and forced.

That’s my take on this one element of Avengers Endgame. What are your thoughts on this topic?

Travis Perry is a hard-core Bible user, history, science, and foreign language geek, hard science fiction and epic fantasy fan, publishes multiple genres of speculative fiction at Bear Publications, is an Army Reserve officer with five combat zone deployments. He also once cosplayed as dark matter.
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  1. I agree, and was maybe annoyed by the obvious nods to contemporary clichés. When Captain Marvel appears and charges Thanos’ force, someone (a guy) says, “Let’s help her,” and his buddy says, “She has all the help she needs,” and it’s all women super heroes. I thought, “Okay, like, I get the message” (and message it was). I thought it was cool, too, that now Captain America can be a black man. Again, maybe a little overly-obvious message there, but a good one. But, despite the deliberate soft propaganda for these things, it was okay.

    • Travis Perry says:

      I think having a black Captain America is cool, too. Yet, I don’t think he ever took the superhero formula, right? (Falcon is a tech-driven superhero…)

  2. notleia says:

    Oh crap, Travis is gonna talk about patriarchy. I’d feel better about it if you seemed to have a better grasp of systemic oppression vs individual aggressions, but I guess I can’t have everything.

    But the SJW ship has done sailed already in the comics. The comics have already had a black Captain America and a woman Thor, it’s only now that public consciousness has caught up a little bit.

    • Travis Perry says:

      So you agree then that an element of these changes for the characters is for SJW considerations? To catch up to where to comics have already gone?

      I just felt it was important to point out why the story did what it did, meta-motivations laid out. You essentially agreed with me, which isn’t all that common.

      As for my understanding of partiarchy and white hegemony as the terms are used in modern times, my ideas are as far as I know are not identical with anyone else’s and since I’ve never completely explained myself on this subject that I recall, you probably don’t actually know the entirety of what I think on this subject. Which is ok.

      In any case, I’m not especially worried about Marvel’s SJW agenda. Just pointing out that it definitely seems to be there.

    • You can’t change a society without changing individuals.

      • notleia says:

        But you can limit how much harm an individual can accomplish by putting legal protections for minorities in place (also accessibility stuff and whole essay worth of things I won’t go into). Sometimes society only really changes at the rate the racists/sexists die off.

        • Legal restrictions hardly help. Look at the opioid epidemic. Come on. . . I’m not saying it’s not worth doing. It’s just naive to focus on auxiliary issues and say the heart issue isn’t the main issue. It’s so obvious it’s painful.

          • notleia says:

            Yet conservatives want to legislate the crap outta abortion…..

            But youre missing the same thing about the difference between societal oppression and individual aggressions. It’s probably a uniquely Protestant affliction (Calvinism only makes it worse) because we focus on individual redemption pretty much to the point of myopia.

            Individual racist cops are bad enough, but another source of the problem is that policing (or the military) generally attract the sort of toxic-masculine, authoritarian douches who probably shouldnt be cops in the first place. Also need to change how cops are trained.

            So those are broad-scale, forest-not-trees measures would support and complement individual education. Heck, the kind of acceptance teaching like kindergarteners get is more in the societal category.

            • The societal stuff matters and needs to be addressed(cops aren’t above the law and should behave fairly, for instance), but laws only go so far, and the more we add the more we invite authoritarianism and a loss of freedom. Not saying we shouldn’t ever make laws at all for this stuff, but if we talk about societal change, maybe it should be less about laws and more about how parents teach their children and how individuals can develop themselves into better people(Which causes a societal ripple effect).

              We should vote for the right things and be reasonably politically active, but each person’s key responsibility is their own lives and the way they interact with other people. Frankly, that’s the only thing they have direct control over. For me…I dunno. I know I can’t wait around for other people to change(way way way too exhausting…). I have to make myself better, and then live in a way that improves those around me.

              There’s been so many times when looking at things from an individual standpoint has been very huge as far as making a difference. Concentrating on improving my life has given me a lot of tools for helping others. Learning how to get out of tough situations makes it easier to help others do the same, which is much better and more empowering than spending time blaming others or waiting for laws to be as we want them.

              Usually, I’ve gotten more headway with calmly explaining my beliefs than I have with getting angry or making blanket statements about people. There’s exceptions, but those exceptions are more tailored to the individual person I’m arguing with(particularly when I have to defend myself) ‘Why do you always talk to me this way? Quit it!’ vs ‘Urgh, why are guys always so awful?’ (I’ve had enough conflicts with other girls to know not to blame only guys for things, anyway) Obviously I still get angry, but I’m conscious of it and try to keep it under control.

              It also doesn’t make sense to complain about authoritarianism, yet discuss authoritarian methods as the primary way to get what one wants(through laws and such). It shows a lack of awareness for the fact that having social justice in mind doesn’t keep someone from doing bad things.

              • notleia says:

                Funny, I didn’t take any of y’all to be anarchists. There’s a difference between authority and authoritarianism.

                But it’s exactly the point that you can’t control everyone’s thoughts and feelings that it’s important to be able to curtail the harm any particular douche can do. There’s not much you can do about microaggressions, but legal protections mean at least that the minorities should be able to gain jobs, housing, access to goods and services, and (probably) not being lynched for being in town after dark.

                It’s the bare effing minimum, but historically minorities rarely had that much.

                But it’s also not entirely about legal protections. If racists and sexist behavior got them shunned and disapproved at, then the racists and sexist would keep that crap to themselves a lot more. With the Spray Tan in Chief, they’re hecka lot more vocal because they believe that they won’t get pushback for it. (Tho that doesn’t seem to stop them whining about censorship when they do get pushback.)

              • I agree. But I’m not an anarchist. For the record, I didn’t vote for Spray Tan.

              • notleia says:

                Thank you for not voting for Spray Tan.

              • I kind of talked about how the societal stuff matters, and I talked about focusing on laws LESS, not getting rid of them althogether, so no, not going for anarchy at all. Law making just isn’t my focus or what I talk about all the time. I agree with your overall concept of keeping laws minimal and then working on individuals, but some of the things you say aren’t minimal. Basic income provided by the government to everyone no matter what isn’t a minimal law/concept.

                Haven’t read up on Spray Tan, but in general free speech is important. If someone’s racist, I’d like to know so I can be wary of them. That said, we should utilize OUR free speech to counter what they say. But there are reasonable ways to handle that. Getting uncontrollably angry or handing out death threats (as some people may be wont to do) probably isn’t reasonable.

                A lot of your speech seems to emphasize blanket statements more, especially in terms of who you blame. That’s probably what we respond to most. And your focus on laws (especially when you get mad about us emphasizing the individual part) makes it sound like you think it’s actually bad to look at the individual angle. Our efforts to express why we think the individual side is necessary and important apparently makes it look like we don’t care about the societal and legal aspect.

                I think we agree that we need to change both laws and individual behavior, but the fact that we’re coming at this from different angles means we talk about the issue differently. We emphasize different areas, and disagree on the details of what laws should be there and individual morals. From a minimal standpoint, of course there should be laws against murder, rape and assault. One reason I don’t bring it up is because that much should be obvious.

                Since I both want to preserve freedom AND make society better, though, I pour more energy into changing people’s minds in a constructive way. I do want certain laws to be there and will discuss that, but influencing people is more within hand. In many ways, that’s the best way to maximize one’s impact.

              • notleia says:

                I’m mostly on the same train you are, but I don’t think spending all the time necessarily to tenderly convince douchebags to perform basic human decency is all that that maximal a use of one’s resources.

              • Well, there are many times when I’ll be firm, blunt or even angry and unkind. I just try to keep myself under control and use those things reasonably, if I have to use them at all. Some of it is about taking the time to consider what will actually make the person stop and think, or actually have a chance of convincing them.

                That said, it seems to be I either stand up and be pushy for the right thing and have everyone think I’m unkind/horrible/annoying, or try to approach things in a calm, kind, rational way and have everyone think I’m a passive, naive pushover. Just an occupational hazard of being me, I guess, though I’m constantly examining ways to avoid all that.

            • Lol, I’m not missing a thing. Changing how cops are trained is an example of changing individuals. You just don’t get it. You THINK I’m against those things because you’re naive and jumping to poor conclusions. I agree that kindergarteners learn extremely powerful truths about how to live in healthy society. You complain so much. What are you doing to help society?

              • notleia says:

                I think it’s entirely a forest-for-the-trees thing.

              • Yeah, but ironically, you’re the one with the problem. All you want to focus on is the forest. All I’ve been saying is that the forest is made up of trees, and the only way to change the forest is to change the trees. It’s basic reality. Broad legislation CAN help change the trees, but the most pervasive and deepest changes happen at an interpersonal level. And the broad legislation only impacts the culture as it gets picked up by individuals and carried from person to person at the interpersonal level. Say the sky is purple all you want but no one’s buying it.

              • notleia says:

                It IS a more long-term view, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

              • If all you focus on is societal-level hoo-hah, it becomes a view that has no power to change people, right wrongs, or fix issues. It only complains about issues and points at them. It’s SJW “activism.” It never accomplishes anything but to be annoying. You will never. NEVER. Change anything unless you change individuals. There’s a reason Martin Luther King spoke to PEOPLE. People are not an ambiguous collective unconscious. People are individuals. There’s a reason he said, “I have a dream.” Not, “Collective Society has a dream.” Of course we need laws and people speaking to societal issues. But the core of the issue ALWAYS originates in people’s inner being. In their hearts. It’s always an individual issue before it’s a societal issue. People are racist because, in their hearts, they think they’re better than people who look different from them. And for the record, Biblical patriarchy demands that the father take responsibility for their entire family’s mistakes–it’s not a license for the man to oppress or suppress women or children. Ex. Adam is blamed for the fall, though Eve was the first to eat. Noah screwed up and let his relationship with Ham fall to pieces. Abram messed up and the awkward relationship with his sons still bears fruit to this day in the tension between Islam and Christianity. On and on it goes, over and over again. Western Christians don’t really know where to put all this, but it’s extremely clear in the Scriptures that patriarchy, rather than being a license to tell women what to do, was to have the demands of the entire family put on the father’s shoulders.

              • notleia says:


                Oh boy, another white dude’s invoking of a safely sanitized version of MLK. Obligatory gif response: https://imgur.com/gallery/exl28vD

                Also too: http://inthesetimes.com/article/20839/martin-luther-king-jr-day-socialism-capitalism

                Also, that thing about responsibility for the behavior of the family is more a feature of shame culture than strictly patriarchy. In guilt-based cultures, the solution was more likely to look like the patriarch casting off or just outright killing the offender.

                Patriarchy is still trash, tho.

              • Responsibility for the behavior of the family is a feature of biblical patriarchy, and stems from the concept of responsibility, not shame. Contrary to what you seem to believe, patriarchy can exist without the suppression of females.

                The use of Martin Luther King was simply an example of someone who changed societal norms. Congrats, your racism and bigotry is showing.

              • notleia says:

                Contrary to what conservative talking heads would have you think, liberals don’t automatically run away crying when someone accuses them of racism or bigotry. The accusation would mean more if you had a better grasp of how the power dynamics of oppression worked, but it feels like you’re just trying to cast Repel or some crap. You rolled a 2 in this metaphor.

                But as nice a sentiment as your rose-colored picture of patriarchy is, that is never how patriarchy has ever worked in the real world. How would your version be different? What keeps the patriarchs from abusing their position? What checks and balances are there? Would all problems end up being blamed on women not submitting hard enough? (Signs point to yes) What tangible responsibilities would dudes have and what would happen if they didn’t carry them out? Would women be allowed to leave without anyone giving them crap?

              • Um. I didn’t use a metaphor in my last comment, so what are you referring to?

                I have a perfectly good understanding of the “power dynamics of oppression.” You think everything can be dismissed with a flick of the wrist and a snarky comment. Funny how you accuse me of “trying to cast Repel,” when that’s literally what your gif response, your “PFFFFF”, your “oh boy, another white dude’s,” and your “you rolled a 2 in this metaphor” were all designed to do.

                You’re flat-out wrong that men have never led to protect women’s rights. It’s another laughable, sweeping claim. In answer to your questions: it’s not “my version”–it’s the Bible’s, and the checks and balances are the church (the faith community) and the other authorities. The Bible makes it clear how men are supposed to hold other men accountable, how pastors and elders are supposed to strongly correct men in the congregation and turn them into the authorities if they’re abusing their position. For minor offenses, if they don’t listen, the Bible commands that they should soon be rejected from the faith community. In addition, all believers are called to serve people who’ve been abused or neglected. My wife and I have volunteered to help take care of kids for single mothers with loser fathers who abandoned or abused them, and volunteered at pregnancy crises centers, my family adopted two kids in their teens that were being abused by people we thought were Christians–who we also turned into the authorities, and two other distant family members live with my parents (one on and off) because they were in a situation where the father was abusing them verbally and emotionally. My family has opened our home to countless people who got screwed over for one reason or another. Flap your lips all you want, but there’s real people who hold a Biblical worldview who are really trying to help others in the world BECAUSE of the plain text of the Bible. Again, what are you doing? I hope you’re doing something besides just complaining. Biblical patriarchy is exactly what led me to the obvious conclusion that it’s MY responsibility to protect women’s rights. The New Testament makes it clear that those who’ve been abandoned and abused and oppressed need to be shielded by the church community. Don’t throw that BS at me that “it’s rosy-colored non-reality.” This is my real life. Yes, many churches get this HORRIBLY wrong. It’s precisely the sense of responsibility that the Bible puts on men’s shoulders that propels men (me) to protect women’s rights. It’s why I believe in laws to protect women. Feminists aren’t the only people who believe the suppression of women is disgusting and shameful.

                For the record, I’m not political. I’m not a republican. I’m also not allergic to liberals.

  3. I think you’re reading too much into this. It was generally known long before the movie came out this was going to be the last goodbye of most of the original Avengers, their contracts were up, and they’d given a decade of their lives to these movies. I don’t think it had anything to do with the patriarchy from that aspect.
    The fat Thor storyline was rather meh in my opinion. It could have been handled well, but they played it for laughs, which is what they’ve done with Thor since they discovered Chris Hemsworth is a great comedic actor. His handing over the kingship to Valkyrie at the end felt true to his character overall, because he’s not a good king. As a character, he’s a brawler who wants to go out on adventures, and that’s not what a king is. To me, it looks like they’re setting up for him to join Guardians of the Galaxy, which could be a good fit for his character, if they don’t make the entire thing what we saw in the final scene with him with Thor and Starlord arguing like children.
    If they continue Thor’s storyline into Guardians 3, and it becomes a redemption story arc, that could be a good full storyline, but if they leave him as the comedic buffoon, that will be a true waste.

    Side point, in the comics, both Falcon and Winter Soldier have taken up the mantle of Captain America, so handing off the shield to Falcon works for me, right now Bucky doesn’t look to be ready or want to be Captain America.

  4. The fact that it’s so easy to wonder if something was put in there for the sake of an SJW agenda means something. SJWs have talked about putting things in media, hiring people for certain things, etc. simply for the sake of diversity for long enough that people just assume that’s why any decisions on their part are made.

    That said, I haven’t seen the movie, so it’s hard to judge it specifically. Whether or not it’s even a problem is probably going to depend largely on intent. From what I’ve seen, Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor aren’t really that bad, so if someone was trying to say white men and patriarchy are pure evil and need to be eliminated(or at least are problematic and need to move over), are these the best chars to represent that with? A lot of people like them, and flawed as they might be, they are hardly an evil that needs to be removed from the equation(based off the movies I’ve seen, anyway). At the same time, it’d be in rather bad taste to paint a bunch of 2d evil white guys just so they could be supplanted with girls and minorities.

    I think that recent Spiderman Movie, Into The Spiderverse, did a decent job of having girls/minorities in the spotlight without it feeling forced. The characters were likeable, and didn’t really drive a wedge in there based on race or gender(from what I recall). It wasn’t a ‘move over white guys, it’s by turn!’ type of thing(at least not in an obviously grating way). It was more like a bunch of people genuinely working together and learning from each other.

    Not all aspects of the show were great. They could have done a better job presenting some scenes in a way that left more of an emotional impact. But, that was probably a by product of them concentrating on the animation(which turned out pretty nice). And the characters were still likeable even if their development felt rushed.

    For the Marvel characters(like Valkyrie) to succeed and become as beloved as Thor and Captain America and such, focusing on these ‘newly promoted’ characters and developing them well will go along way. Most people don’t love characters because of their whiteness. They love them because they are cool/relatable/tragic/interesting/whatever else.

    As for Thor’s arc in this film…I don’t imagine it being very well done, so I might not have liked it either. At the same time, he’s supposed to be a tough warrior, and for someone that is supposed to be good at hand to hand combat, being in an obese, drunken slump isn’t ideal, so I wouldn’t expect the movie to treat it as such.

  5. Jay DiNitto says:

    Your observation looms large with its possible implications. In the context of the hypnosis of movies and TV, if you’re noticing a new pattern, presumably unbidden, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Folks needs to be trained (socialized) into contextual inquiry, which is why we’re very quick to notice patterns of some things (some types of racism, misogyny) and not others (other types of racism, misandry).

  6. Kristen says:

    Travis, you know me … I’m thoroughly egalitarian, and most of those themes went right over my head. The only time I felt a firm sense of the patriarchy is over” was when Natasha was leading the video conference. But then a couple of minutes later Steve showed up, and we were back to a “we’re all in this together” vibe.

    As for the endings of the white male heroes:

    Totally agree with you about Thor.

    I love Bruce’s arc. He’s now strong and brilliant at the same time. I don’t think it’s possible or desirable to “replace” Hulk, since he was always problematic as a hero.

    Iron Man’s sacrifice was, if you’ll forgive the expression, inevitable. His was the first film (by release date). Speaking as a writer, I don’t think any of the other heroes could have carried the emotional freight that Tony does in that scene. Only Clint has family to leave behind, but Hawkeye doesn’t have the prestige of Iron Man. As for Iron Man’s “replacement,” there’s a line in the new Spide-Man promo that implies Nick Fury wants Peter to succeed Tony.

    Cap earned his retirement and chose a worthy successor. That dude being black is secondary. If there is an agenda there, it’s a worthwhile one: people who have privilege need to lift up those who don’t.

    And, as an editor, an I just point out that (blame Unite the Right) the word “replace” is really loaded in racial contexts. Equality in the real world, just like in the MCU, isn’t about anybody replacing anyone else. It’s about all of us working together for the greater good.

  7. While I’m all for more “girl power” in superhero movies – my daughters and I were thankful for both Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel stand-alone movies while we still really longed for a Black Widow movie (think she has an intriguing redemption story in her past) – I also noticed that whole “she’s got all the help she needs” line and it kind of bugged me. I felt like they over-played it.
    I think overall the movie had some great sacrifices made by both sexes (Black Widow and Stark). I was disappointed with some elements – the fat shaming went on way too long and the mishandling of PTSD was also crude – while I liked other elements (thank you, Ant Man for showing up and being humble). I actually think there’s another player possible for the Iron Man suit (skimmed over at the funeral), and I hope the MCU will continue to grow a diverse cast while not getting rid of all of the white males.
    I was actually disappointed that Falcon took the shield because I think he’s super-cool as the Falcon … I didn’t really want him to become Captain America, I just wanted him to be the best Falcon he could be. I know, he’s a fictional character, but does he have to take up someone else’s mantle to be awesome? No.

What do you think?