WARNING: This article contains MANY spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.
For the last 10 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been dominated by men. Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Ant-Man, Spider-Man and Black Panther have all enjoyed their own solo outings while female heroes have been relegated to supporting role positions or as one member of a male-heavy team.
In recent years though we’ve seen female superheroes get more agency. The Dora Milaje, Shuri, and Nakia played more prominent roles than their male counterparts in Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 welcomed Mantis to the fold and Thor: Ragnarok introduced Valkyrie to brilliant and progressive effect as an ally of the God of Thunder. Now, with Avengers: Infinity War, we see the female heroes of the MCU playing a bigger part than ever before.
Don’t get me wrong, though; the latest film from the Russo Brothers is heavy on the masculine side, and there are certainly elements that had me eye-rolling. Star-Lord’s peacocking over Gamora around Thor is as tired a trope as the scene during the Wakanda battle which saw all the female heroes battling the one female villain, Proxima Midnight, like some girl-on-girl mud wrestling match.
And the climax of Gamora’s three-movie narrative is rather disappointing too, despite the fact that she had a significant amount of screentime. Her role in the movie is to humanize Thanos, a man, and her death works to spur the actions of this same man forward—what DC Comics writer Gail Simone refers to as “fridging.”
However, we did see Scarlet Witch play a far more pivotal role than ever before. Hers and Vision’s narrative may have been slightly secondary to that of Thanos and Gamora, but it always saw her playing her lover’s defender. It’s Wanda who has the strength to keep fighting a take on two Children of Thanos while Vision is nursing a wound. It’s Wanda who joins the Wakanda battle when Thanos’ army threaten to massacre several heroes and soldiers with the massive rotating machinery. It’s Wanda who faces off against Thanos singlehandedly and destroys the Mind Stone, despite the fact that it meant killing her true love in the process.
Scarlet Witch’s powers have never been displayed in such a vital and powerful way. Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War merely hinted at the depth of her strength whereas in this movie it proved a force to be reckoned with and integral to not just the battle, but taking on Thanos directly. Now, of course, we know that her efforts proved futile. The mad titan used the Time Stone to go back a few minutes and rip the Infinity Stone out of Vision’s head before she gets to destroy it, but she was able to get further than any of the other heroes who came up against him, men included.
Mantis too proved her worth in the fight against Thanos on Titan. Without her, Spider-Man and Iron Man wouldn’t have gotten as close to getting the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos is one of the most formidable adversaries in the galaxy, but just like when she took on Ego at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Mantis expelled great power to keep his consciousness under control. That’s a serious task that would have been successful had it not been for Peter Quill’s “Se7en moment” after realizing Thanos killed Gamora. Now half the universe has disappeared into ash, including several of our favorite superheroes and who is expected to save the day in the next movie?
When Nick Fury sent that message to Captain Marvel, moments before he himself vanished into dust, it marked the dawn of a new era in the MCU which would see women move out from the margins and into the center. It meant something that when the apocalypse came, Fury's plan B was to call a female superhero, especially when it has been men saving the day for the majority of Marvel movies from the last decade.
Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has confirmed that Captain Marvel is the most powerful Avenger in the MCU and Phase 4 is going to see exactly what she can do, no doubt with Avengers 4 written around her too. It’s clearly no mistake that the next film will be released directly after Brie Larson’s solo movie comes out. And before that, we have Ant-Man and the Wasp, the Ant-Man sequel which gives Evangeline Lily’s Hope van Dyne the double billing she deserves.
Hope spent the entirety of the first movie proving why she’s a far more capable Ant-Man than Scott, but because of her dad Hank (another man deciding a woman’s fate) she was unable to fill the superhero boots that she deserved. Now that she’s got her own suit as the Wasp, we can expect her to play as big a role in the sequel as Ant-Man.
And let’s not forget Shuri’s role in the future of the MCU. Avengers: Infinity War made it clear that she was far smarter than the Science Bros. When the Avengers bring Vision to Wakanda to see if they can separate his consciousness from the Mind Stone, Shuri asks Bruce Banner why he didn't just “reprogram the synapsis to work collectively,” which leaves him dumb-founded. Add to that the fact that we didn’t see her explicitly perish like her brother during the final moments of Infinity War and it hints that she’s still around and likely set to be an integral character in the next movie too.
Avengers: Infinity War signaled the end of the MCU’s Phase 3, but it also left the door wide open for female heroes to take the lead in Phase 4. It has set up a new narrative that will hopefully see the likes of Captain Marvel, Valkyrie, Okoye, the Wasp, Black Widow, Shuri and other female heroes take the helm of the Marvel ship and navigate into a more inclusive and equal direction.
Maybe it's naive of me to be so hopeful of women getting an equal shot in the next phase of the MCU, but after 10 long years it certainly feels like it’s our girls’ turn to take the lead.