Sacrifice and the Superhero: Contemplating the Ending of Avengers: Endgame

Obviously spoiler-territory, so enter at your own risk


Cultured Vultures spoilers

I have a confession to make. It is embarrassing given my claims of being a Marvel fan girl, but the truth is, I only saw Avengers: Endgame today. This is more than a week after its release. While rabid fans were rushing to buy tickets online, I was just trying my best to avoid spoilers. I didn’t watch the trailer, I would scroll past every post that had Endgame in its title, and I would literally scream at anyone who attempted to spoil the movie for me.

When I watched it today, I do think the movie succeeded in tying up whatever it needed to, and I enjoyed the entire movie despite hearing whispers that you could go for a toilet break in the first half of the movie. The only issue that bothered me slightly was the ending for Captain America. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t want a happy ending for Steve. Of course he deserves it. His entire life has been one tragic thing after the other. He didn’t get to be with the love of his life, loses his best friend, his best friend becomes a brainwashed killing machine, best friend comes back only to ruin his relationship with the rest of the team — I think you get the picture.

Throughout the entire movie, the theme of sacrifice was constantly reinforced. To be a hero, you need to give something up, even if it comes at a cost to yourself. This is why Natasha’s sacrifice blew me away. She has always been the group’s mediator, as we saw in Captain America: Civil War. Her only goal was always to keep the team together. When it came time to retrieving the Soul Stone, and it was down to Clint and herself, I knew she would go all out to protect Clint and offer herself instead. In their tussle we see how much they each value the other, truly encompassing the traits of a hero. At the end when Clint is reunited with his family, we feel Natasha’s sacrifice in that moment; the loss of her life was able to facilitate such beauty and love.

In the same way, Tony’s sacrifice accomplished a similar feat. When he agreed to help them figure out the time travel mechanics, he knew what he was risking. At that point, after so much chaos and near-death experiences, he was finally experiencing peace. But he chose to move ahead because being a hero means putting others before self. When he has that brief conversation with Doctor Strange in the battlefield, there is a sense that he knows what awaits, the fate that has been inevitable all along. He faces it bravely, his sacrifice sparing so many lives and finally putting an end to Thanos.

Avengers Endgame 1

Then we have Steve Rogers, who in the midst of returning the stones to their original places in time, decides to return to Peggy, whom he spends the rest of his life with. My first thought was: What about Peggy’s husband and the family that she has with him? Is Steve taking all that away by supplanting himself in a time that he is not meant to be in? Surely you see the issue with this narrative. Steve chooses his happy ending over his hero status. However, a rather popular theory floating around is that Steve is actually Peggy’s husband in the original timeline. Think about it: we never see her husband, just pictures of her children. If this is the case, it allows Steve’s ending to sit more certainly.

Steve moving on is somewhat hinted to us when we see him chairing the meeting at the beginning of the five years later timeline. He encourages others to move forward though he has yet to do so. His conversation with Natasha also indicates a movement past all this war, since war has been the only life he has ever known. It is not that Steve has never sacrificed, but that was in the past. He doesn’t sacrifice anything in this current war, and by giving him this contrived happy ending, the chance for him to leave the franchise as a proper hero was also taken away.

Captain America has always been one of my favourite Avengers, not just because he has America’s ass, but mainly because he is such a good man. Evans has done a great job at conveying how absolutely dependable and virtuous Steve Rogers is. Isn’t this why he gets to wield Mjolnir? He is worthy of doing so.

Captain America is a man of ideals, and a strong ideology guiding his person. Perhaps this is why he holds on to the ideal of Peggy Carter so tightly. Instead of the narrative sticking him in the past, what he should have done is to embrace the current timeline, and move forward from there. But I can also see the difficulty of this, since there is no way Captain America can exist in this timeline and just stand back and do nothing. He should have been given a worthy death, however maybe they felt killing him would drown the movie in too much tragedy, since we were already reeling from the deaths of Natasha and Tony.

So yes, I understand that narrative-wise, Tony and Steve have a role reversal of sorts. For Tony, it is a moment of growth and ascension to hero-hood. For Steve, it is a human moment of desire. He will die a man, while Tony dies a hero, and that my dear friends, is an absolute shame.

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