It took us 21 movies to get to this point. It started in 2008 when Robert Downey Jr. first showed us his portrayal of Tony Stark. The success of Iron Man propelled the Marvel Cinematic Universe into an era of prosperity that no one could’ve seen coming. Since then, the number of superheroes included in this universe continues to grow. What started with Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye has now expanded to include heroes like Black Panther, Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and so many more. It’s only right that a movie titled “Endgame” would bring some sense of finality. The MCU as a whole will continue to grow, but Avengers: Endgame serves as a way to honor those original Avengers and the fans who spent their time and money to experience their story.
Avengers: Infinity War didn’t leave the audience with much hope for the future. A good number of our heroes were snapped away, and the ones left have to somehow find a way to pick up the pieces and move forward. This feeling of hopelessness creeps into the beginning of Endgame. The very first scene shows Hawkeye enjoying a simple day with his family until the events of Infinity War play out and they all disappear. This is a perfect note to start the film with because Hawkeye’s family has always been his motivation, and now he has to carry on without them. It’s the trigger for him to become Ronin and start slaughtering those who harm others.
When we get our first look at Tony Stark and Nebula in Avengers: Endgame, 22 days have passed since the fight against Thanos. They’re on the ship drifting through space with oxygen running low. Aside from the heartfelt goodbye message Tony records for Pepper, we get some interesting interactions between Nebula and Tony. Nebula continues to grow as a character, slowly but surely becoming a better person the more we see her. It was odd, but refreshing to watch her in a quiet moment having some fun. Tony’s ability to make light of any situation gives a simple game of paper football much more significance. When it’s over, and Nebula tells Tony she had fun, she looks both confused about what just happened and emotional because she was never allowed to have fun before. Captain Marvel soon finds them on her way to Earth and helps them make it back safely.
Their reunion isn’t filled with much love, though. Tony quickly learns that the remaining Avengers plan to find Thanos again so they can get the Infinity Stones and undo the damage. Tony is completely against it. When Captain America asks Tony for his help, it triggers one of the rawest moments in the entire film. A resentment-filled Tony Stark lashes out at Captain America for not listening to him sooner. All of Tony’s paranoia from previous films was justified, and Cap’s refusal to jump on board with his ideas in the past is an easy thing to blame for everything that happened.
Nebula tells everyone where Thanos went, so the team, now accompanied by Captain Marvel, suit up and head to the remote planet. When they arrive, they find a half-dead Thanos who destroyed the Infinity Stones to keep others from using them. I love the decision to give Thanos this simple life as a farmer after he’s killed so many. In his mind, his destiny is already fulfilled, so a peaceful life is all that’s left for him. Our heroes don’t take too kindly to Thanos, and Thor uses Stormbreaker to decapitate him. They finally defeat Thanos, but the victory means nothing without the Stones.
I was shocked that Avengers: Endgame chose to do a five-year time skip after killing Thanos. This gives us a fascinating look into a world that could never fully get over those events. Some areas look completely abandoned, and people haven’t found a way to move forward with their lives. This is especially true for both Black Widow and Captain America, who don’t really have lives outside of being Avengers. It’s encouraging to see that they haven’t stopped being heroes five years later. Steve Rogers is helping people cope with losing their loved ones, Black Widow runs point on an open communication channel that the heroes use to update her on their status, and everyone else is scattered across the galaxy doing what they can to make things right. The only people missing are Iron Man, Thor, and Hawkeye.
This sense of hopelessness goes away the second Ant-Man is introduced to the story. I’m on the fence about how they bring Ant-Man back. Having a rat randomly press a button to release him from the Quantum Realm is simultaneously the laziest plot convenience ever and the most fitting way for his character to be saved. Avengers: Endgame does a good job of letting its characters digest situations and act accordingly. Ant-Man’s return to the world is handled brilliantly; he has no idea what’s going on and ends up walking around aimlessly for answers. Once he understands the situation, the first thing he does is look for his daughter. That quick reunion between Scott and an older Cassandra is both a charming interaction and a reminder that there’s no one Scott cares about more in this world.
Ant-Man joins up with the rest of the Avengers and gives them the idea of using the Quantum Realm to jump back in time and collect the Infinity Stones so they can bring everyone back. I am not a fan of time travel in movies because a lot of times the rules are unclear. Avengers: Endgame tries its best to get the audience to forget about time traveling they’ve seen in other films and only focus on the rules they establish in this world. The problem is, they explain so little about time traveling that certain events don’t make sense.
Ant-Man doesn’t know the specifics of time travel himself, which leads to the reintroduction of Tony Stark in the present day. Tony lives a quiet life in a cabin with Pepper and his new daughter, Morgan. Once the team shows up to get his help, he immediately states that the science doesn’t back up the possibility of time travel. They do cut back later to Tony fooling around with the idea; being a scientist, he’s naturally curious about getting answers. When he does eventually crack the code for time travel his surprised look tells the entire story.
Avengers: Endgame gives us the best version of Tony Stark, and it’s largely due to his connection with his family. During that same scene, we get an adorable interaction between Tony and Morgan where she tells him, “I love you 3000.” It’s clear how much he’s embraced this quiet life over the last five years, and how much he loves Morgan. He also flips it into one of the best jokes in the movie when he tells Pepper that Morgan said she loves him 3000 while she only loves Pepper between “the 600 to 900 range.” Once he tells Pepper that he figured out how to time travel, she already knows there’s nothing she can say or do to stop him from helping the Avengers. What’s beautiful about this moment is that Tony says it in a way where he’s practically begging Pepper to tell him not to go. Tony wants to help get everyone back, but he doesn’t want to lose what he already has.
Black Widow goes after Hawkeye, who is in Tokyo under the name Ronin, slaughtering criminals. It doesn’t take much to convince him to come back with her once she mentions that he can get his family back. Hawkeye has been drowning in his own misery for the last five years and has taken it out on anyone he feels deserves it. He tells Black Widow he doesn’t want hope, but takes her hand anyway and rejoins the team. The Hulk, meanwhile, goes to get Thor from New Asgard and finds him to be a drunken mess. Thor has had to live with the fact that he was the only one who could realistically kill Thanos when it mattered and he failed. In his mind, everything is his fault, and he’s coped with it by drowning himself in alcohol. This is also where the controversial decision of making Thor fat for the whole movie is introduced. It makes for a good joke when we initially see it, but having him stay that way for the entirety of the film makes certain visual moments jarring.
With the team together, it’s time to go on a “time heist.” They all get sent to different points in time to retrieve the Stones. This means they’ll be revisiting moments from The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, and Ant-Man travel to 2012 when the events of The Avengers are about to wrap up. Hulk is sent to pick up the time stone from the Ancient One while the rest of them have to retrieve the Tesseract and the scepter. The entire sequence plays out similarly to an Ant-Man movie; it’s goofy, sloppy, and everything doesn’t go right.
Captain America really stands out in this sequence. He goes off to get the scepter from Hydra and does it in the cleverest way. In a callback to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America gets on a crowded elevator filled with Hydra agents. When he asks for the scepter, he can tell they’re about to turn on him, so he calmly whispers “Hail Hydra” into an agent’s ear before exiting the elevator safely with the scepter. Not only is this a clever callback to my favorite scene in Winter Soldier, but it also works as a nod to the infamous Captain America comic book where he becomes part of Hydra. This is fan service at its best. They follow that up by having Cap fight his past self, who thinks he’s Loki in disguise. They even play on Cap’s “I can do this all day” line for a quick joke during the fight. The fight itself is pretty standard, and present-day Cap eventually wins.
Hulk meets up with the Ancient One, who is hesitant to give him the Time Stone. Here, she explains a bit more about the rules of time traveling. She tells Hulk that taking the stone from this time would create a diverging timeline where they don’t have the Time Stone to defend Earth. Hulk offers up the rebuttal that, after they’re done using the Stones, they’ll bring them back to the moment they took them so there will be no diverging timelines created. She still refuses until he mentions that Doctor Strange willingly gave up the Time Stone to Thanos. The Ancient One already knows that Strange is supposed to be the best of them all, so she trusts his judgment and gives Hulk the Time Stone.
Iron Man and Ant-Man have the worst luck. Their plan to get the Tesseract falls flat when 2012 Hulk busts out of a staircase and causes Iron Man to drop it. 2012 Loki gets away with the Tesseract in the confusion, which means they failed and also created a diverging timeline. They don’t have enough fuel to go back to a different point in time and get home, so Iron Man and Cap travel back to 1970, where the Tesseract and more Pym Particles are in the same place. I really love the music that plays during this part of Avengers: Endgame. Part of the composition sounds like the Pink Panther theme. This is also, surprisingly, one of the most emotional scenes in the movie. Tony meets his dad and gets to talk about fatherhood with him, while Cap stumbles into Peggy Carter’s office and stares at her through the blinds of a window. There’s a running theme of characters confronting their past that hits the hardest in these moments.
Thor has a similar moment where he meets up with his mother on the day she’s supposed to die. This scene is one of the few examples in Avengers: Endgame where the comedy takes away from the scene. There are too many jokes about Thor being fat to allow this moment with his mother to resonate. Rocket ends up having to retrieve the Reality Stone. Thor calls for Mjolnir to make sure he’s still worthy and takes it back with him to the future.
The last group is Nebula, War Machine, Hawkeye, and Black Widow in 2014 to collect the Power and Soul Stones. Nebula and War Machine wait for Star-Lord to come and try to steal the Power Stone while Hawkeye and Black Widow head to Vormir to retrieve the Soul Stone. The team of Nebula and War Machine is easily the most interesting character combination they give us. On the surface, it looks like they have the most straightforward job of anyone, but Nebula warns War Machine to be careful because Thanos is hunting for the Power Stone in 2014.
At this point, we don’t have a third act fight for Avengers: Endgame. Current-day Thanos is dead, and once they retrieve the Stones, they’ll be able to return to the present and bring everyone back. I appreciated how they bring 2014 Thanos into the story. Thanos keeps tabs on Nebula’s memory, and present-day Nebula being in their time gives him a way to know what happens in the future. This is also where we get our first look at 2014 Gamora. Present-day Nebula and War Machine get the Power Stone easily enough, but while War Machine returns to the future with it, Nebula short-circuits and gets kidnapped by Thanos, and 2014 Nebula switches places with her and heads to the future instead.
Black Widow and Hawkeye head to Vormir and are faced with the same decision that Thanos was in Infinity War. They have to give a soul to get the Soul Stone, which cues one of the most interesting fights in the entire MCU. Black Widow and Hawkeye both want to be the one to die, so they get into a fight where the winner gets sacrificed. It’s such an odd scenario that makes complete sense in this context. Hawkeye doesn’t feel like he should live because of the terrible things he’s done, while Black Widow feels an obligation to do this for the only family she’s ever known. They play up Black Widow’s motivations enough in Avengers: Endgame that her eventual death scene is actually beautiful. It’s the completion of her character arc, and she shares it with the only other person that would understand.
Now that they’ve all returned to the present with their Stones, it’s time to bring everyone back. Stark uses his technology to create a new gauntlet for the Stones. The Hulk is the only who can realistically wield the gauntlet due to it giving off gamma radiation, but I felt bad for Thor in this scene. His plea with Hulk to let him wear the gauntlet because he just wants to do something good is a clear indication of how much he blames himself for their current situation. Hulk puts on the gauntlet, effectively crippling himself, and snaps everyone back into existence. Our only indication that everyone returned is Hawkeye’s wife calling him.
While this is happening, 2014 Nebula is away from the group and brings 2014 Thanos into the present. It took a long time, but the fight for the universe is finally here. Everything about this battle is a comic book fan’s wet dream. This is a large scale war that delivers on every level that an MCU fan could want. Thanos shows up and takes a seat while his army is charged with getting the gauntlet for him. When the actual fight starts, it’s Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor who initially confront Thanos. One of the most fascinating parts of Infinity War was Thanos’ perspective; he wanted to eliminate 50% of the population in order to restore balance. Now that he’s seen that there are people who will resist the change, his new plan is to recreate the universe so that no one will ever know it was changed in the first place. This three-on-one fight is where the movie magic really begins to show itself. Thor leads the charge with both Mjolnir and Stormbreaker, and the way he uses them to perform combos reminded me of a video game. Captain America is completely outclassed in this fight, so he’s easily tossed aside. When it’s just Thor and Thanos fighting, it’s clear Thor isn’t as strong as he was in Infinity War, so he nearly gets killed.
Mjolnir comes at the last second to save him, but it’s quickly revealed that it’s Captain America wielding it. That first shot of Captain America holding the hammer is truly iconic. Watching Cap go one-on-one with Thanos using both Mjolnir and his shield is epic. The shield bounces back and forth while Cap commands the thunder. It’s a great moment that pays off the scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron where Cap is only slightly able to move the hammer.
Thanos still manages to overpower Captain America, breaking his shield in half in the process. When Cap picks himself back up, knowing he can’t win, that sense of hopelessness from before creeps back in. The shot of Captain America staring at Thanos and his massive army while he only has Mjolnir and his broken shield is probably the most indicative shot of the odds our heroes are facing. In true cinematic fashion, Doctor Strange’s portal opens up behind Captain America, reintroducing our fallen heroes from Infinity War. The presence that characters like Black Panther and Doctor Strange command, along with the emotional resonance of seeing Spider-Man and the Guardians back, help this scene feel so rewarding.
More of Strange’s portals open and reveal an army full of the friends they’ve made over the course of these films. Everyone from the Asgardians to the Wakandans floods the battlefield and make this war feel like it’s truly for the fate of the universe. As they all stand behind Captain America, he says “Avengers assemble!” and everyone charges in. It gets chaotic from here, and also manages to highlight some of our heroes. We get a touching reunion between Tony and Peter, along with a funny meetup between 2014 Gamora and Star-Lord.
The most personal confrontation of them all is easily Scarlet Witch and Thanos. This version of Thanos has no idea who she is, but she doesn’t care. This is the first time in the MCU that we really get to see Scarlet Witch show off how powerful she is. She overpowers Thanos completely and rips off his armor. She’s only stopped because Thanos orders his ship to fire at the battlefield and she gets hit.
While all of this is going on, there’s this long game of keep away that Hawkeye, Black Panther, and Spider-Man have been playing with the Infinity Stones. They’re just running around with the gauntlet, making sure that Thanos doesn’t get it. There’s also this really cool moment where all the female heroes gather up and have a sequence on their own. It’s exciting and sad at the same time; Black Widow was the first main female in this universe, so her not being able to be part of that moment is unfortunate.
The ship that’s been blasting everyone suddenly switches its attention to an incoming Captain Marvel, who is only now joining the fight. It was clear that Captain Marvel was strong before, I just didn’t know she was this strong. Not only does she immediately destroy the ship with ease, but she instantly takes on Thanos afterward. Even when Thanos gets the gauntlet, she holds his hands open so he can’t snap his fingers. He tries to headbutt her to get her to let go, but it doesn’t even phase her. He has to take the Power Stone out of the gauntlet and punch her with that hand to eventually get her to let go.
Iron Man senses that Thanos is about to win and quickly looks over at Doctor Strange. Strange looks back and simply holds up one finger, signifying that this is indeed the one timeline he saw where they win the fight. When Thanos goes to snap this time, it’s Iron Man who stops him momentarily. Thanos rips Iron Man off with ease and snaps his fingers, only to find out that Iron Man took the Stones. This is the moment that everything has been building toward. Iron Man takes the Stones, attaches them to his armor, and snaps his fingers, causing Thanos and his army to turn to dust. The problem is, the Stones are too strong for a normal person to wield, so it ultimately leads to Tony Stark’s death. The people closest to him approach him to give him comforting words, yet it’s Pepper who tells him that it’s finally okay for him to rest. While watching this scene play out, I couldn’t help but think about how special the Tony Stark character is. He started out as the most selfish man in the world and eventually grew to be a character that would give himself up for everyone else. He’s been the main character of the MCU for the last decade, so not having him around is going to take some adjusting.
Tony’s funeral scene in Avengers: Endgame is nothing special. All of the heroes come to pay their respects, along with Nick Fury and a surprise appearance from the kid Tony met in Iron Man 3. Tony’s goodbye message to his family hits really hard; he recorded it the day before the war in case he didn’t make it out alive. We see a hologram of Tony thinking about what’s to come and eventually accepting that things will play out the way they should. He ends his message by leaning forward and saying, “I love you 3000.” During the funeral, they show us that Hulk’s arm never recovered, so he’s likely going to remain out of action. We also see Thor depart New Asgard so he can find a new purpose in life. He leaves Valkyrie in charge and takes off with the Guardians of the Galaxy. 2014 Gamora is still alive in the present, so Star-Lord wants to find her. The moment between the Guardians and Thor is the refreshing comedic moment the audience needed to cool off after the intense war.
All that’s left to do is return the Stones. Captain America decides to go on that journey himself. Hulk says he’s gonna be back in a few seconds, but when it’s time for him to return he doesn’t come through the machine. Instead, Bucky looks over at a bench and sees an aged Steve Rogers. Steve returned the Stones and decided to go back to Peggy and live out his life with her. He passes the mantle of Captain America to Sam Wilson and completes his character arc. I loved the idea of Steve Rogers going back and living his life with Peggy. In the present, he doesn’t have a life; he doesn’t really have anything outside of the Avengers. What has Steve Rogers been fighting for this whole time? The only thing we know is that he’s never been able to forget about Peggy. It makes sense that, when given the opportunity, he would finally do something for himself and live the life that was taken from him. My only real issue with this ending is how it breaks the rules of time travel that Avengers: Endgame established. Going into the past and staying there would create a diverging timeline, so it doesn’t make sense for him to be in their reality, on that bench, at that exact moment. If an older Steve Rogers came through the time machine, it would be completely different and this ending would be perfect. It doesn’t entirely kill the moment; it’s just an annoying inconsistency that could’ve been easily avoided.
Avengers: Endgame is a proper conclusion to the story of the phase 1 Avengers. While not all of their endings are happy, they’re appropriate and honor the journey they’ve taken over the course of these movies. This isn’t a perfect film, but everyone involved should be commended for making Avengers: Endgame live up to the hype. The countless callbacks to previous MCU films are rewarding for those who sat through them all. The actors all manage to bring their A game as well. Robert Downey Jr. is brilliant here, and everyone else has some of their best moments. Ya’ did good, Marvel.