By now, most of the movie-going audience and fans have seen the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, Avengers: Endgame. The fourth Avengers film is a monumental epic that concludes the 22-film Infinity Saga that started back in 2008. While it sums up long-running character arcs Avengers: Endgame does leave us with many questions as to its implications, intricacies and the future direction of the MCU.
Needless to say, major spoilers will follow. So, if you’re one of the few who has yet to see it (what are you waiting for?), then stop reading and come back afterwards. You’ve been duly warned….
Avengers: Endgame had an expansive cast of characters, and that is not including all the MCU heroes that appeared at the end of the film for the climatic final battle with Thanos and his army. The film could have been overstuffed with characters and plot lines, but thanks to the skills displayed by the directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters, Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, the film breezed through its three-hour runtime. The characters were the main focus in the film and came off as more human than in previous efforts. They were all traumatized by the Decimation or Thanos’ snap and Avengers: Endgame, at least in its first hour, was a story of survivors and how they dealt with failure.
Survivors and Sacrifices
Some like Hawkeye aka Ronin aka Clint Barton, saw their families turned to dust and went to dark places in their souls. Hawkeye became a murdering vigilante who had to be coaxed back to help the Avengers in their time travel scheme to collect the Infinity Stones and undo the snap. He was hesitant at first, then skeptical and more willing than the others to lay his life on the line because with his family gone, he had nothing to live for, except for the faint hope that they would be returned to him. When Barton finally reunited with them, it was beautiful to watch as he attained an inner peace. But this won’t be the last time we see him. He will show up in a Disney+ show where it’s rumored, he will be mentoring a new Hawkeye.
Other heroes were ready to make sacrifices to reverse the Decimation. In the case of Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, her sacrifice was her own life as she gave it up so that Hawkeye could attain the Soul Stone on the planet Vormir. Unlike many of the other Avengers, Romanoff never had a real family until she joined the team. She was even surprised on Vormir to learn that her father’s name was Ivan. In a way, she had nothing to lose except her life when she willingly let herself fall to her death. Even though she had no one, her death was painful to watch since she is so beloved among fans. But at least she will return in an overdue solo film next year, which is obviously a prequel. Maybe we can find out what happened in Budapest.
“No team, only Hulk”
As extreme as Black Widow’s measure was in handling the Decimation, other characters seemed to have moved on. In the film, Steve Rogers held therapy groups that helped survivors grapple with their feelings after the snap. He advocated going forward with your life, though he admits he is not able to do this. One team member who appeared the most well adjusted was Bruce Banner/the Hulk. At the beginning of Avengers: Endgame Banner was still in the midst of an identity crisis that carried over from Avengers: Infinity War. His Hulk persona refused to appear, leaving him to don the giant Hulkbuster suit to battle Thanos’ forces.
After the Avengers confronted and killed Thanos in the early moments of Avengers: Endgame, the film jumps ahead five years. When we next see Banner, he is the Hulk but now with the Banner persona dominating the Hulk form. He stated that he and the Hulk made peace with one another and he appeared calmer and more accepting of his situation. The Hulk apparently had moved on, but unlike others, he did not hesitate to jump at the possibility of undoing the Decimation and took on a great personal risk when he donned a new Infinity Gauntlet and reversed the snap. Many fans were disappointed that the Hulk did not have more to do and never had a rematch with Thanos. It would be great if he could star in another solo film because there are so many things that can be done with him, but regrettably that is unlikely because of film rights issues with Universal.
This means he is doomed to only appear in other heroes’ films, such as Thor: Ragnarok. We could see him in a future Avengers film, but one possibility is to have him featured in a new version of the Defenders. Most fans know that the original Defenders in the Marvel Comics consisted of the Hulk, Namor, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, Valkyrie and other mystical heroes. In such a film, the Hulk could seek Doctor Strange for medical advice about his damaged arm and this could lead to the formation of the team. The Defenders seen in the Netflix show weren’t well received and this provides Marvel Studios with a chance to start over and go with the original line up. Of course, Marvel is unable to use anything associated with the Netflix show until two years pass. But who knows?
“Bring Me Thanos!”
All of our heroes have gone through an emotional ringer following the tragic events of Avengers: Infinity War as seen in the first hour of Avengers: Endgame. Thor isn’t an exception, which is quite disturbing to see because he is a god-like being. From the first Thor film and through the rest of his appearances in the MCU, the God of Thunder was seen as a self-confident warrior with a strong belief that things would work out in his favor.
However, the events in the recent two Avengers films rocked his foundation to the core. It all started when Thanos and his forces killed half of his people including Loki and Heimdall at the start of
Avengers: Infinity War. Thor was broken, but refused to show it. He set off on a quest to have a new hammer built, which was called Stormbreaker. Later, when he showed up as a literal deus ex machina in Wakanda it was a crowd-roaring moment of triumph. But it was short lived. He tried to kill Thanos, but didn’t aim for his foe’s head when he threw Stormbreaker at him, and enabled Thanos to use the Infinity Gauntlet and wipe out half of all life in the universe
In the early stages of Avengers: Endgame, the Avengers track down Thanos, but are too late. He destroyed the Gauntlet to keep anyone else from using it. In helpless rage, Thor kills Thanos but the damage to the universe remains, which is why he falls into deep despair. We next see him five years later in the film and Thor lives as a neglectful ruler of what is left of his people. He spends his time playing Fortnite and drinking and eating too much. He’s now overweight, disheveled and unwilling to think about the past. But when presented with an opportunity to undue tragic events, he needs little prodding to pick up his weapon and jump back into the fray. After Thanos is defeated, Thor realizes he is unhappy with his role as a ruler, something that is expected of him, and instead decides to take off with the Guardians of the Galaxy to be who he wants to be: a heroic adventurer, wandering the galaxy and looking for new challenge. He will come in handy when they encounter Adam Warlock if that does happen in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3.
“I Am…Iron Man”
The Infinity Saga started with Iron Man in 2008 and the title hero has remained as one of the most important, if not the most important focal characters in the Infinity Saga. It goes without saying that the success of the MCU is all due to Iron Man. In the past eleven years, we’ve seen Tony Stark aka Iron Man progress from a selfish, arrogant narcissist into a genuine hero willing to lay down his life as shown in the climax of Avengers: Endgame. But it was not an easy road for him.
Throughout his appearances in MCU films Tony came off as a flawed person. Despite the life-changing events of Iron Man where he was forced to confront his mortality and his livelihood, Stark still outwardly behaved as the same conceited and flippant playboy seen at the start of his first film. This led him to butt heads with other fellow Avengers, especially Steve Rogers/Captain America. We all know this culminated with the team splitting up and indirectly led to Thanos’ victory in Avengers: Infinity War. This was the fulfillment of his long-running nightmare vision of Earth being left vulnerable to alien forces. At the start of Avengers: Endgame, Stark, after being rescued from deep space, is a broken man. Nearly nonsensical, he lashes out at Rogers and blames him for their failure with the belief that if Rogers agreed with him, none of this would have happened. What is worse is that he officially gives up; this decision is punctuated when he angrily gives his arc reactor to Rogers.
Five years later, Stark lives a quiet life in seclusion with his wife, Pepper, and daughter, Morgan. On the surface, he seems to have accepted his failure and moved on. He is even dismissive of Rogers, Banner and Scott Lang when they visit him and present their time travel scheme. But later, we see that the past still haunts him as shown when he studies a photo of him and Peter Parker, a victim of the Decimation. Stark privately works on how to time travel and rejoins the Avengers to help them carry out their plan to go back in time and obtain the Infinity Stones. These journeys make up the second act of the film as it emulates Back to the Future, Part II. It also enables him to encounter his late father and achieve some closure. By the time, he and the others face off against an alternate Thanos he is finally able to make the ultimate sacrifice that Rogers accused him of being unable to do (shown in The Avengers). He dons the new Infinity Gauntlet and defeats Thanos, knowing that using the gauntlet would kill him. His mission complete, Stark is finally able to rest, cue the waterworks. Does this mean this is the last of Iron Man in the MCU? Yes, in this form. Do not be surprised if Tony Stark reappears as holographic messages, an interactive AI or in alternate or past forms, possibly to help out his daughter or some other hero.
“I Can Do This All Day”
While the MCU owes its existence to Iron Man and the titular character, Captain America quickly won over the hearts of many fans with his own story. In many ways he is the heart and soul of the MCU and arguably its most popular character. What made him so admired was his indominable spirit and his tragic backstory of being a man out of his time period adjusting to modern times.
Out of all the heroes in Avengers: Endgame, he is the one unwilling to accept their lot and move on. Rogers is incapable of giving up. That is just the way he is. This also demonstrates why he is the natural leader of the Avengers and is able to rally the team. Of course, this explains why Captain America is worthy enough to wield Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, when he is literally the last man standing against Thanos. This moment was as inspiring and crowd pleasing as was Thor’s arrival in Wakanda during Avengers: Infinity War. Even more satisfying to watch was how brutally he fought Thanos with his shield and Mjolnir. As hard as he fought, it was not enough to take down Thanos, who broke his shield. Still, Rogers refused to give up. As Thanos readied to finish off Captain America with his newly arrived army, the entirety of the MCU heroes, including those resurrected from the snap, arrive to join Cap. What followed next was the greatest superhero battle in film history.
Following the battle and Stark’s death, Rogers goes back in time to return the Infinity Stones and Mjolnir, which was taken from an earlier point in time. Only he never returns. His close friends, Bucky Barnes, Sam Wilson and Banner encounter a very elderly Rogers minutes later. He chose to remain in the past and live out his days with his lost love Peggy Carter. Their separation by time formed the core of his tragedy in his films. Tony Stark advised him to find a way to live a normal life and this is what Rogers did. We’re saddened that he is unable to be Captain America, but deeply content that he got to reunite with Carter and find happiness, at last.
As to the machinations of his temporal existence, that will have to wait for another time, but in short he went to an alternate timeline and traveled back to the Prime MCU to pass on his shield to Wilson. Whether or not Sam Wilson will be a new Captain America remains to be seen, but this act echoes what happened in the Marvel comics.
To Be Continued
Next up, we look at other heroes, the potential line up of the Avengers going forth and the future of the MCU.