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One of the most frustrating moments of Avengers: Infinity War was Gamora’s death. Thanos sacrificing that which he “loved” in order to get the Soul Stone felt like a misstep, both for female representation and in seemingly cementing the idea that an abuser’s love is valid and true. Unfortunately, Avengers: Endgame leans just as hard into the notion of female sacrifice.
Spoilers within for Avengers: Endgame.
There are ten main heroes left for most of the first act of Endgame, in which they are attempting to pull the Infinity Stones out of time to make their own gauntlet so they can bring back the dusted half of the population with a snap. Of those ten, eight are men and two are women. (I mean, one is a raccoon but that raccoon is played by Bradley Cooper so, uh, male.)
At the top of the movie, Natasha has taken on a leadership position at the Avengers compound. She wants to figure out how to help, she needs something to do. She's managing the connection between the leftover heroes: Where is Captain Marvel; What are Rocket and Nebula up to; What's the status in Wakanda? Over the course of the next hour and a half, she brings back Hawkeye, helps plan the group's "time heist," and goes off with Clint to retrieve the Soul Stone from the planet Vormir before Thanos can get there.
When she and Hawkeye get to Vormir, as in Infinity War, they meet with the spectral deity wearing Red Skull’s face. He tells them what he told Thanos — about love, sacrifice, et cetera.
Then comes a really thrilling sequence, during which we don’t know who is going to make the jump. Both Hawkeye and Black Widow feel that they should be the one to die, Hawkeye for his family and as atonement for the atrocities he's committed, Black Widow for… needing something to do, I guess? For wanting to contribute in a meaningful way?
And for about three minutes, we really don’t know who is going to win. Until in the end, Hawkeye jumps off the cliff, and Natasha jumps after him, roping him to the cliff’s edge while he holds on to her, only for her to yank her hand away and end up a Xeroxed image of a broken Gamora from Infinity War.Then Hawkeye wakes up in the water, clutching the Soul Stone in his fist, and he breaks down crying for his lost friend. As the movie continues, Hawkeye continues to be Hawkeye… but in that Hawkeye way. (Meaning, not particularly exhibiting necessary skills other than “Hey I can also fight. And run. And shoot arrows.”)
There was no reason that their positions couldn’t have been swapped. The scene would have been just as tragic if Hawkeye had died — moreso, actually, considering his family coming back to find their father and husband had sacrificed himself for them. Not to mention two separate instances of Clint murdering a bunch of Mexican people and a bunch of Japanese people (the optics of that entire scene in Japan were not great, to say the least). I’m not saying Hawkeye should have had to die, but I am saying that Natasha didn’t need to.
It led to short scenes of the all-male team being sad about her death (because by this point, 2014-Nebula has replaced her current self and is off pulling Thanos and his ilk through the Quantum Realm into the future). There’s a moment of sadness for Natasha, but nothing like the lingering camera shots of mourners at Tony Stark’s wake. They both sacrificed themselves, but one was in service of plot and one was in service of character. Tony's death was the culmination of 22 movies in which he journeyed towards learning that sometimes you have to put the greater good above yourself. Natasha... needed to die so that they could get the Soul Stone, without knowing if they'd even succeed.
Black Widow is one of the MCU’s strongest female characters, the only one we’ve had since nearly the beginning. To kill her off halfway into the movie felt like another misuse of a character who was just coming into their own as a leader. She’s always been an integral part of the team, cutting through Cap and Tony’s bickering like it was her job (it was). Her death was the only piece of the movie that truly didn’t feel earned. Her absence was particularly felt during the far-too-short scene of all of Marvel’s current female characters banding together to fight Thanos’ armies. It was as if the filmmakers were saying "Don’t worry, look! We have enough women now. You don’t need her anymore."
But we do need her. We need them all, because there are still too few.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.