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With A Little Help: A Look At The Avengers: Endgame’s Support Group

Written by Mcfly161

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Avenger’s Endgame was undeniably the movie event of 2019, and is currently regarded as one of the most significant achievements in modern story telling. Avoiding franchise fatigue over an arc that spans 22 films is impressive enough; however, having audiences whipped up into such a frenzy that such a finale goes on to briefly become the highest grossing firm of all time (as of this writing Endgame is back in the second spot-damn you, Bluey Saldana) is utterly unheard of. I attribute a lot of this success to the emotional weightiness of the film-watching these otherwise triumphant heroes deal with grief and loss as they struggle between acceptance and the desire to elicit change is compelling and most importantly, relatable. Today we’re going to deep dive into the scene that sets that tone and find out why this particular scene is my favorite scene in Avengers: Endgame. Welcome to the support group, I’ll start…

Vulnerability

The first twenty minutes of the film are dedicated to our snap-surviving heroes regrouping and then unsuccessfully attempting to remedy the catastrophic events that took place during Infinity War. Upon the conclusion of this failed mission, we jump ahead five years and are met with a small group of people and a very unsettling question: “Where do we go now that they’re gone?” Clearly, we are witnessing a support group for survivors. An unnamed character, played by cameo-having director Joe Russo, is describing the details of a dinner date he recently had. He tells us that both he and his date miss the New York Mets and that they each succumbed to tears at different times during the meal. In spite of this, the two have a second date planned. Steve Rogers, who is also in attendance, proceeds to praise our unnamed character for taking “those brave baby steps we gotta take to try and become whole again, try and find purpose.” He then opens up about his own loss and struggles before offering some inspirational words to conclude the scene.

Joe Russo In Avenger: Endgame

While relatively innocuous, this scene poignantly illustrates the need for support that follows traumatic events, something many a viewer will relate to, or perhaps be inspired by. Steve’s gentle encouragement and reciprocity tells us that it is okay to seek help, to open up. From a story telling perspective, Steve’s encouragement clearly indicates that Endgame will be a departure from the typical “loss as plot device” approach that plague far too many otherwise great stories (including many of the MCU films that got us here-seriously how many dead parents and lost lovers can one cinematic universe hold?) Furthermore, the stoicism traditionally attributed to great heroes won’t win the day. We need to lean on each other, we need to talk, to be vulnerable. In her book “Daring Greatly,” vulnerability expert Brene Brown writes, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” Brown’s definition can be applied to the majority of the character arcs in Endgame, from personal arcs like Tony finding closure in his father’s death, Ancient One trusting forces greater than herself, Thor discovering what “worthy” really means, Nebula reconciling with her sister, to the collective arc of the heroes coming together to put the 1 in the 1 in 14,000,605. In all cases, vulnerability is the path. More than any other MCU film, Endgame consistently rewards its characters for their vulnerability and the support circle is the foundation upon which this motive is laid.

Detoxing Masculinity

This looks problematic

One might argue that Peter Quill pistol whipping Thanos in Infinity War was forgivable because the heroes still triumphed in the end. One might even say that the pistol whipping was a necessary event in the timeline of success that Doctor Strange foresaw. I respectfully disagree. No matter how you reconcile Peter’s actions through the lens of the fandom, when you are on the side of good, it is hard to support selfish acts of violence as a proper response to a problem (especially when half the universe is depending on you to act in their best interest). It was wrong of Peter in Infinity War, it was also wrong when Captain America and Iron Man were moments away from a bloody conclusion to the titular Civil War, it was wrong when Thor chose to pick a fight instead of simply introducing himself in The Avengers, and it is the reason John Walker is currently so polarizing. Harsh words, inflexible attitudes, and stubborn independence are equally abundant amongst our heroes, particularly the male heroes. Moments of support, on the other hand, are a more rare occurrence and typically work against type to shock the audience with warm and fuzzies as opposed to driving character growth. A forlorn Rocket Raccoon allowing Drax The Destroyer to pet him after witnessing the assumed death of his bestie Groot is very heart warming; however, next we see Rocket he is as competitive, abrasive and difficult to reason with as ever.

Conversely, the support group scene shows two men devoid of these toxic traits, allowing them to share safely and openly. There is no arrogance, no judgment, no violence. There is merely self discovery and growth through connection with and support from others The theme of finding a healthy way forward permeates Endgame in a way that is lacking in previous MCU films-we aren’t merely driving the plot or giving the audience a reason to say “awwww,” we are fundamentally changing the characters and our relationship with them. We are witnessing the healing, and change that comes from stripping away armor and artifice; we are watching a film full of “brave baby steps.” There can be no doubt as to why Steve Rogers is chosen for this scene: the very emblematic Captain American is literally and figuratively telling the audience that sometimes you need to lower your shield.

Subtle Representation

As he is recalling the story of his date, Joe Russo’s character very calmly and casually tells that room that the person he had dinner with was a “he.” This is a huge moment. Finally, after eleven years and more than twenty movies the MCU has an openly gay character onscreen. Yet, there is no fanfare, no fireworks, no parade. Just a single pronoun. Yet, I greatly appreciate the subtlety in this scene. LGBTQ representation is all too often been based on little more than tropes and signifiers: the gay best friend, the bisexual character that, for reasons, was straight all along, the endlessly oversexualized queer character. Here, we do away with all of that. The MCU’s first openly gay character isn’t playing to the audience’s expectations, rather, they are providing a very authentic piece of representation by simply showing the viewers a real person who also happens to be a member of their community. I appreciate this scene all the more knowing that this is very intentional.

Speaking to Deadline in 2019 Joe Russo said, “It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them. We felt it was important that one of us play him, to ensure the integrity and show it is so important to the filmmakers that one of us is representing that. It is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity.” The acceptance that this scene promotes is further bolstered by Steve Rogers’ own. Steve Rogers might be a beloved symbol of freedom and perseverance, but let us not forget that he was a military man in a world long before sodomy laws began to be repealed. The fact that he remains nothing but supportive of Joe Russo’s character allows us to posit Steve as an embodiment of changing norms and values; this is more than support, this is an endorsement and it gives this otherwise subtle scene more heft and meaning. With all that said, I understand the argument that more could be done to promote LGBTQ representation in the MCU and I fully agree. Would it kill the creative team to get on board with SamBucky already? However, I still greatly appreciate this scene and the inclusive intent behind it.

TFAWS Part Deux

Mending Fences

One could be forgiven for not realizing that Thanos creator Jim Starlin is also a member of the support group. He speaks a few relatively inconsequential words and is on screen but a moment; however, his appearance is significant, particularly in the context of this scene and the tone it sets for the rest of the film. Starlin is a highly respected creator and has been one of the industry’s most prolific writers. Yet things haven’t always been amicable between Starlin and Marvel, manifesting in Starlin directing many a public gripe at his on again off again employer (Starlin has made a habit out of quitting on Marvel throughout the years). While we can be certain that money was a motivating factor in Starlin’s decision to appear in Endgame, his appearance, nonetheless, speaks to a willingness to look beyond aired grievances in order to find some degree of acceptance and to move forward. The same can be said for Marvel themselves; bringing in Starlin was clearly an olive branch of sorts. These are more “brave baby step” and they add another wrinkle to this deceptively well layered scene.

The man, the myth, the legend: Jim Starlin (photo by Dion Ogust)

The Natasha Problem

If you are person who thought that Clint Barton should have made the sacrifice for the Soul Stone, you are not alone. Leading up to Vormir, the audience is being primed to view Clint as a cautionary tale. We are led to believe that he will be the one to show us what happens when a person can no longer find a positive way forward and they abandon hope. His making the sacrifice would not only have completed this arc, but would have made for very nuanced and thought provoking cinema. Knowing that his undeniably heroic sacrifice was predicated on decidedly unheroic and cowardly motivations-the profound sadness of loss, a self-hatred born from his vengeful behavior under the guise of Ronin, a fear of seeking forgiveness-is very compelling. Not only would would we the audience have to reconcile our own feelings in regards to these two competing facets of his sacrifice, we would also see the remaining heroes, and, heartbreakingly, Clint’s returning family doing the same. Perhaps this idea was a little too close to what would later happen with the character of Tony Stark, or perhaps the studio just couldn’t help itself, because, instead of the compelling cinema described above, we get a bait and switch wherein a healthy and purpose driven Natasha Romanoff is the one to make the sacrifice, thereby threatening to dismantle the entire argument I’ve been making.

Oh for the love of…

Plain and simple, Natasha’s death was unnecessary and stinks of shock value. It is a clear attempt to elicit an audience reaction by brute force and largely eschews the otherwise amazing character work that Endgame does so well. Worse still is that following her loss on Vormir, we get to witness a bevy of predominantly male heroes angrily emote before deciding that they must complete their current goal as a way to honor Natasha. Good grief. The once formidable Black Widow has officially been relegated to plot device: the loss of half of all life in the universe wasn’t a strong enough motivator, these guys needed to lose half the universe plus a woman-friend to really get them going. “Lady die, audience cry, motivate guy” is a pretty tired movie trope and is an unfortunate strike against this film. The character and the audience deserved better; however, the seeds planted during the support group remain visible in most other aspects of the film and they appear to have taken root in future projects as well.

Looking Ahead by Looking Back

When looking at the MCU’s post Endgame offerings, we can draw a direct line from the more character driven, emotional tones ushered in with the support group scene to the media that follows. WandaVision, for instance, takes us on a journey through the heart and mind of a grieving woman while she stubbornly adheres to many a negative coping strategy. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, on the other hand, speaks to balancing the expectations we place on ourselves with those that are thrust upon us in order to find our own place in the world-to reconcile internal and external forces to find out what we stand for in this world. It also marks the MCU’s strongest effort to address systemic racism on screen. In short, these are character pieces. The big baddies are still present but they are given second billing. Our main focus has become character development and the genesis of this shift can clearly be found twenty minutes into Endgame. Hindsight helps with this analysis of course, but it is difficult not to corelate the intentionality of the support group scene and what it represents with the subsequent change in the MCU’s approach to their characters.

Wrapping Up

I think, ultimately, what keeps us coming back to superhero media is not necessarily the powers, the costumes, the over the top exploits, but rather, the connection we feel to the person under the mask. We come for Captain America but we stay for Steve, or Natasha, or Kamala. The support group scene is my favorite scene in Endgame because it marks the moment the MCU decided to strengthen our connection to its characters by allowing them to be more human, more diverse, more relatable, more like us. Stress and loss, grief and sadness, feelings of helplessness and desire for change are all things we face in various ways, but we don’t have to face them alone or in silence. This scene gives permission to the characters on screen to feel these feelings, to share them, to take brave baby steps. This scene is also giving that same permission to the audience. Take it, if you need it. Chances are that you do.

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2 thoughts on “With A Little Help: A Look At The Avengers: Endgame’s Support Group”

  1. Disagree… Natasha’s death was more moving than Clint’s ever could have hoped to be. She knew what he had lost, she knew what he had potentially given up to save her, we are going to see some of that in the BW movie, hopefully, or in an upcoming series. She gave him his life back, and in her own way erased her debt to him and others by being the blood offering. She knew Clint’s family would need him more than she needed to live if they succeeded.  Peter pistol whipping Thanos? As ‘wrong’ as it was, it shows his human side, his weakness in an emotional breakdown over loss. I guess Clint did something similar, didn’t he? Massacring thousands of criminals is never right. People do things under duress that are completely out of character. Marvel’s hero’s are relatable because they are flawed and imperfect. Cap and Tony bashing it out? Emotional, because it is relatable to me. There are different levels of friendship. Tony and Steve, they were never friends as much as they were ‘work buddies’. Steve and Bucky, friends til the end of the line. Vets who served together, bled together. Steve knew there was a reason Bucky did that, and it wasn’t truly Bucky who did that. I don’t doubt for one second that Tony would have vaporized Bucky without even asking him about his brainwashed past. 100% relatable, imperfect, human characters. There are 0 heroes in the Marvel comics or cinema who do the right thing 100% of the time.  No harm, just a different perspective.

    Like

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for your feedback 🙂 And thanks for reading! It was a long article so I really do appreciate you sinking your time into it. Definitely a different perspective, but that’s not a bad thing–how boring would the world be if we all agreed on everything?

      Cheers!

      Like

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