This article contains Avengers: Endgame spoilers.
As it says on the death screens of various military first-person shooters, “‘If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles’ – Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War.” But what about when your enemy is yourself? Not in a figurative “I’m my own worst enemy” kind of a way but in a far more literal “I’m my own worst enemy and I’m coming at me with a Samurai Sword” kind of a way?
Knowing how to win such a battle is a journey through philosophy, causality, self-knowledge and fighting dirty, but it will also require some Avengers: Endgame spoilers, The Lego Movie 2 and more. I mean, sorry, but this headline and the fact this article features Endgame spoilers might in itself be considered a small spoiler, in that now you know somebody fights themselves in the movie. Sorry, there was no way to avoid that, but if you turn around and leave now you can avoid compounding the damage.
To be clear we’re not talking about fighting a robot double, a la Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey or the Sarah Connor on Sarah Connor violence of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. We’re also not talking about shape-shifting aliens that only look like you, such as Marvel’s Skrulls or Loki, the Thing from The Thing or Mystique doing her best Wolverine impression in X-Men.
We’re talking about fighting your literal self, with your memories, personality, strengths and weaknesses. But first things first, you need to establish how and why you’re here, as this will have a critical effect on your combat strategy.
Who am I and why am I trying to kill me?
Assuming this isn’t a shapeshifter or some poor unfortunate soul who just so happens to look like you, there are a number of possibilities for where your double has come from.
The first possibility is time travel, just as we see in Avengers: Endgame when both Nebula and Captain America have to literally fight themselves, but also seen in Looper and The Lego Movie 2. This opens all kinds of causality headaches that we’ve discussed elsewhere.
However, time is more complicated than a simple future/past straight line, and your double may be an evil and usually queerer counterpart from a parallel universe, as seen in Star Trek’s mirror universe where the Kinsey scale goes from bisexual to pansexual, “The Wish” and “Dopplegangland” in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and of course, Wario and Waluigi. In Jet Li’s The One, the protagonist sets out to murder every alternate version of himself in the multiverse.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need to traverse the space-time continuum to fight yourself. For instance, it’s entirely possible your adversary is simply a clone.
“But wait, wouldn’t my clone share my DNA but none of my memories or personality traits and also they would be a baby?”
To which we say, shut up nerd! Your clone may possess your memories, personality traits, and in certain extreme circumstances, your haircut. You can see various versions of this in The 6th Day, Multiplicity, Moon, and the upcoming Will Smith vs The Fresh Prince of Bel Air smackdown, Gemini Man. This is definitely real science.
Sometimes, however, the “self” you are fighting might be simultaneously more literal and more metaphorical. Rather than being your past, future, parallel or cloned self, your adversary might simply be a physical manifestation of your darker nature, as seen in Superman III, or Ralph Breaks the Internet. Here, simply outfighting or outwitting your opposite number may not be enough, and you might have to address your own flaws and maybe even grow as a person. We’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s worth it.
Regardless of how your other self got here, the fact is they are, and you have to defeat them in hand-to-hand combat. So let’s get into the practicalities of literally cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Rule One: Don’t hesitate
We can’t stress this enough. It’s especially important because now you’ve read this rule, you know it, and so the other you probably also knows it and will not be hesitating either. This can be seen to great effect in The Prestige. As soon as Angier sees a duplicate of himself has been created, he grabs a gun and shoots him dead. In the future when he creates duplicates, he saves time by ditching his original self into a tank of water to drown. In Looper, the Bruce Willis Joe attacks the Joseph Gordon-Levitt Joe as soon as he appears, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt Joe’s hesitation eventually costs him his life.
So ask questions later – as soon as you see that double, deck them as quick as you can and hope it’s not your long-lost twin or your stunt double (if you are an actor).
Rule Two: Do not get Shyamalaned
This is important. While fighting your double, it’s entirely possible that at a critical moment they will drop the bomb that they are actually the true original and you are the clone or robot duplicate – that against all expectations it’s your dimension that’s the “evil” universe. Tom Cruise’s character in Oblivion suffers this fate when he discovers that he is actually just one of an army of Earth-subjugating Tom Cruises, as does Moon’s Sam Bell when he discovers he’s the latest in a long line of disposable Sam Bells. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in The 6th Day also discovers that he’s a clone, after believing the original Schwarzenegger is actually a clone who has replaced him.
A discovery like this can utterly blindside you, making you question your memories, your identity, the nature of the self and even the existence of a soul. It’s exactly these sorts of mind-blowing, eternal questions that can slow you down long enough for the other you to perform a surprise suplex.
Just remember that identity is largely a construct but the self is an immutable truth, albeit one that is destroyed and reborn anew from instant to instant. Keep that knowledge secure in your mind, and draw what peace you can from it. Then nut the original you as hard as you can.
Rule Three: Know your causality
We’ll deal with this quickly because nobody needs another time travel rules explainer, but it’s important to know what time travel rules apply. Is this a branching timelines scenario, like Avengers: Endgame, where injuries on the past you have no effect on the future you (who is now from an alternative future)? Or is this a Looper or Lego Movie 2 scenario, where anything that happens to your past self will become part of your future self’s personal history, right down to serious injuries and amputations? In Looper, we actually see someone’s fingers disappear as they’re chopped off the hand of their past self.
If you are fighting your future self, this gives you an advantage, as the future version of you won’t want to inflict any serious or lifelong damage on your person. However, you should also bear in mind this means any injury you inflict on your future self is eventually going to come back and (possibly literally) bite you on the arse.
If you’re fighting your past self, you have other advantages at your disposal, namely foreknowledge. Whether you remember the fight in its entirety, or simply have the extra knowledge and experience that you’ve gained since you were that foolish, punchable younger version of yourself.
Rule Four: You’re evenly matched, so fight dirty
Who are you? A super-powered ninja with genetically enhanced reflexes and a mastery of all forms of weapons? A slightly overweight freelance writer with many admirable qualities but who doesn’t like running upstairs too quickly and has trouble with the tougher kind of pickle jar?
Well, guess what, so’s your opponent in this fight. Unless this is a time travel scenario and you’ve gone all eye-patched, leather-wearing, bad-ass future/alternate you, you will not be able to win this on brawn alone. Likewise, if you’re planning on chess-mastering yourself, you already thought of that.
We can see this tragically played out in the Steve Rogers vs. Steve Rogers fight in Avengers: Endgame, but we can also see it in the less majestic Sam Bell vs. Sam Bell fight in Moon. It gets ridiculous in the Evil Superman vs Clark Kent fight in Superman III, where over and over again both combatants are amazed to discover their opponent is invincible!
You won’t win this fair and square, so you need to find your advantage and take it. For Steve, this means telling his past self that Bucky is alive. In Oblivion, Tom Cruise’s character gains the advantage against his clone because the clone hasn’t seen his old girlfriend before, so Cruise is able to take him while the clone is distracted by a flashback. No secret is too dark, no blow is too low if it’ll give you the edge you need.
Rule Five: Be ready to make peace with yourself
We don’t want to blow your mind here, but has it occurred to you that while you’re fighting yourself, the one you are really fighting is… yourself?
Superman’s junkyard fight against Clark Kent is a metaphor for the battle within himself between the meek, yet noble Clark and the all-powerful Superman. In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, after Scott has defeated every one of Ramona Flowers’ evil exes, he must then defeat himself (which is fair, Scott Pilgrim is pretty evil in that film). Then there’s the ultimate self-on-self violence that is Fight Club, where the Unnamed Narrator doesn’t even bother being two people before whaling on himself.
In all of these conflicts, the battle is always about resolving a conflict within the person who is fighting their double. Does your evil double seem conveniently symbolic of your toxic relationships? Do they represent everything you wish you were but don’t dare to attain? An aspect of yourself you are ashamed of? Is the fact that the evil universe is so joyfully bisexual an affront to your internalised homophobia?
Well maybe, before you fight yourself, you need to have a word with yourself.
It has to be said, Scott Pilgrim gets on pretty well with his evil double, and he had glowing red eyes, so give yourself a chance and maybe you’ll find you have a lot in common.
But to be on the safe side, give them a purple nurple and knee them in the groin to make sure you have the upper hand. They would do it to you.