Avengers Vs. Sailor Moon Vs. … maybe… all that GOT *stuff

Spoilers ahead for Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones, so read at your own risk!

I recently went to see Avengers: Endgame, the much anticipated conclusion to Marvel’s Avengers series of superhero blockbuster hits. Endgame is loosely based on the Infinity Gauntlet comics; and the movie begins with scenes of heroes experiencing and then dealing with profound loss. The villain, Thanos, has just used his gauntlet, powered by infinity gems, to commit genocide universally: half of all life in the universe fades away disappearing into ash. His motivation? To “save” the universe, every world, from the ecological devastation wrought by burdensome populace or ‘excessive’ life. At the beginning of the movie (and at the end of the prequel, Infinity War), Thanos has won. But there is exactly one chance, according to Dr. Strange, who was bearer of the time stone (an infinity gem), to make things right again.

However common, the ecological theme in these films is interesting from the standpoint of power analysis. I have been thinking a lot about paradigms of power lately; particularly our inclination to take certain ideas about power for granted, substituting “kinds” of power for “power itself.” Which is to say: many of us see (and are trained to see) one kind of power as the only thing that is actually power. We think all power is dominance, or control. Or maybe we think power is independence, or autonomy, etc. In Endgame ecological devastation, a kind of human wrought destruction, is set against the destruction of humanity itself. Thanos is deeply invested in the idea of power as destruction, and of destruction as rebirth. But what about the Avengers? What kind of power gives them their one and only chance?

Emphasizing relationships, mother to son, son to father, father to daughter, and friend to friend throughout the storyline, I think that Endgame makes an attempt to recast power. Heroes are not individuals, they work as a team and show love for one another. And in the final scenes, writers give a nod to female power as well. When Spider Man (who is really a boy) says he doesn’t know how Captain Marvel will get the Infinity Gauntlet through the ordeal ahead, every sheroe from the franchise appears together, an impressive group, and Okoye declares, “Don’t worry. She’s got help.” Women are backing women, despite the peripheral role women play in the film overall. This was a power-full moment. But it was also this moment that forced me to be aware of my own slip-slide.

For those of us who work to de-center or challenge the normalizing of dominating and oppressive paradigms of power, it is important to consider the way we may slip slide between the “kinds of power” we normalize in particular contexts. For example, I consciously work to unlearn dominance and practice a feminist ethic based on the idea of relational power in my classrooms. But when reading a book or watching a show, I may find myself reveling in vengeful power, or power expressed through violence and control.

I want to assert here: I don’t think this “slip-slide” is “bad” or “wrong.” I agree, as many feminists warn, that we cannot demonize “women’s pleasure,” because that too, is patriarchal and kyriarchal power. However, if I want to “counter-power,” as Catherine Keller’s work suggests, it is also important that I seriously engage this “slip-slide” in light of what I want to and will create.

Beautiful and powerful women stood together facing incredible odds. They were sheroes, superheras, certainly, but were they creating anything different? In the final battle scenes, Ironman uses the infinity gems to ash Thanos and his followers out of existence, sacrificing himself: it was their one chance, after all. But I can’t help but thinking, if you were wielding the most powerful, universe harnessing, unstoppable device ever conceived of, was destruction—the same ash—the only course of action? Is what is most powerful really “either/or?” Which brings me to Sailor Moon.

I grew up watching the classic anime Sailor Moon. A “magical girl” series, Sailor Moon has its own kinds of problems, which I will not detail here. But watching Endgame, taking me way out of the drama of the movie, I couldn’t help but think, “and if this were Sailor Moon, this is where Thanos would be transformed by the power of love.” A pink circle of light would descend, and Thanos would have to know himself, tainted by hatred, chaos and pride as he was. But we don’t like to be in relationship to chaos, do we? If hero/shero stories are metaphors for self and change, as they can be read, then what does it mean that we always destroy the “villain,” inside us?

Catherine Keller reminds us: while apocalypse can be useful, it is nihilistically dualistic and anti-relational. I deny the Thanos in myself. So, what happens to me? Game of Thrones, in its second to last episode, seems ready to cast traumatized Daenerys away, making her into just another woman whose goes mad because she has too much power. I was disgusted by this “Mother’s Day” episode (an irony my brother pointed out to me), which depicted “the Mother of Dragons” and “Breaker of Chains,” cruelly and unnecessarily burning an entire city alive. But Game of Thrones isn’t a feminist text. Endgame walks the line of popular feminism: it hints that we should ask for more but tries to use the same dominating power to get it. But Sailor Moon shows something more. Sailor Galaxia is overcome by the chaos she takes into herself to save the Universe. She is Thanos’ equivalent, and every Sailor Scout that tries to defeat her using her same destructive power fades away. But Sailor Moon reaches out to her with love, and something inside Galaxia reaches back.

In her relational theology, Carter Heyward explains that we frequently we fail to embrace mutuality as power because we can’t or don’t feel that mutuality is powerful. It is so difficult to let go of the only power we know, even when it is killing us. I struggle and slip-slide. And to stop it, I try to destroy myself. But Audre Lorde reminds us that there is something more: we already know, we can feel and know the power of the erotic inside of us. If only we would reach back.

Considering my own slip-sliding in power, this analysis is part of my effort to “reach back.” Thank you.


Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence.  In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.

Categories: Gender and Power, General, Popular Culture, power, Women's Power

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5 replies

  1. Isn’t it amazing that what seem to be new stories so often retell the same old deep story of the “war” against “evil.” And of course the idea of a savior or hero is also part of the old narrative.

    What if the pink cloud descended and everyone on earth felt love and gratitude for interdependent life and began to love everyone else and all beings (and the self too) and all they wanted was for everyone and everything to be as happy as possible and set about helping others in order to make that more possible? Now that would be a new story, though some might recognize it as the story of egalitarian matriarchies.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful article!


  3. In this excellent analysis I was struck by your words “Endgame walks the line of popular feminism: it hints that we should ask for more but tries to use the same dominating power to get it.”

    I think this is the reason I am having difficulty with feminism these days – because what I see over and over again is women behaving like men. And power over is the game.

    I also have to add that power expressed through violence of any kind remains repugnant to me. It’s not that I don’t have these feelings at times. I do of course, and during these periods I do allow myself to feel them – but I am too aware of the dangers of feeding this monster to stay in this place. I believe that violence begets violence even with respect to entertainment.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I very much appreciated your post. I, too, have been frustrated by this ‘watered down’ or ‘almost’ feminism, particularly in the movie Avatar, and so many other places.

    I would add, that Thanos is not a ‘standard’ villain. As with much of Marvel/MCU storylines, the so-called ‘villain’ has a legitimate point. From some ethical perspectives – perhaps utilitarian ones – his ideas and actions, while violent, at least are understandable. I am not defending Thanos, or Hella as another interesting example, so much as suggesting that Thanos is asking a fascinating ethical question: when we have overburdened our planet to the point where we are knowingly killing it, would it not be just, eco-centrically, to eliminate a percentage of the burden, equitably – not privileging any over another – to save the rest of life on Earth? (And Thanos nearly sacrificed his own life in the process, simply because he believed what he was doing to be the right thing for the Earth.) Of course, I understand why the Avengers’ answer is, ‘no.’ They do not give any reason; it is a gut level response: ‘it’s just wrong.’ We all understand and relate to that answer; and Thanos’ ideas are not mutual, empowering, ecofeminist ideas, either. In another interesting parallel between Thanos and Iron Man, Tony Stark also sacrifices his own life in doing what *he* thinks is right. Each of them vaporize a whole bunch of beings, with a snap of the fingers, and are willing to die for doing what they think is right. So maybe, who is the villain and who is the hero is a matter of perspective, and we are meant to note that ambiguity?

    The only reason I point this complexity out is that it, at least slightly, changes the dynamic of the film regarding a feminist analysis: it is one person, believing he is doing the right thing and forcing it on an unconsenting planet; and a team of others, trying to stop him by opposing force (although they did also try to talk him out of it, which did not work). This gets us into a feminist analysis of Just War Theory as well – when is force ethically justifiable? However, to back away and look at the larger feminist question you ask: in the end, do we always need an epic battle, with good ‘triumphing over’ (and even annihilating) evil, in order to have a ‘satisfying’ movie experience in this culture? Some of the other MCU films have tried to explore this ‘radical’ idea, which you so rightly point out: what if there is no villain?

    I may sound like I am disagreeing with you, and in fact, I am not at all. I just find MCU movies a more interesting topic for feminist analyses than DC or other films, so I appreciate the opportunity to point out the complexities from a feminist perspective. I have *many other* feminist critiques of this particular film, as well. Thanks for the fun post.


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