Editors Note: This article is a guest contribution from Jason Delgado.
By Jason Delgado
“I am Iron Man.” You have to love the famous line that kickstarted the Marvel cinematic universe, and fittingly the one that draws to an end this phase of the Avengers. Before that first Iron Man film, I can remember the collective bewilderment that Shellhead was the first character getting a movie. Most of the general public probably couldn’t tell the difference between Iron Man and Iron Fist, and you’re banking the fate of the entire Marvel movie universe on this character? The move turned out to be pure Tony Stark-like genius, because of the casting of Robert Downey Jr.
Downey Jr.’s casting was no sure home run either; everyone knew that he had immense talent and charisma, but for years he had battled alcoholism and addiction, just like his Tony Stark character had done in the comics, and in the poorly executed plot point of Iron Man 2. There’s one more casting story I can recall that would have changed the fate of both the Marvel and DC universes. I was in Hall H at San Diego Comic Con in 2008, before Captain America had been cast, and the question came up as to whether Ben Affleck should be the new Cap. The 6,500 seat audience booed, and even though he wasn’t on stage, Marvel president Kevin Feige listened. It’s a fun game of what if, like the old Marvel comic series (one of my favorites) that is about to be turned into a Disney+ streaming show. What if…Ben Affeck had ruined Marvel movies?
The core theme at the heart of Avengers: Endgame is family. The film opens with Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, spending quality family time, teaching his daughter how to do what he does best, namely shoot a bow and arrow. His wife and two boys are in the distance, when the infamous Thanos snap happens, wiping out half of all living beings, including all of Clint’s family, save himself. We know from the previous films how Barton values family above all else, and without them, he becomes a lost soul. After the time jump of 5 years, we learn that Clint has become an assassin named Ronin who, like the Punisher, has no issues with murdering bad people in cold blood. It’s a dark turn to say the least, but Jeremy Renner plays it with such anguish that you feel for the character instead of turning on him.
Later on in the movie, when Clint tries to sacrifice his life to obtain the Soul Stone by jumping off of a cliff, Renner does a fine job of portraying that he has nothing left for which to live. He is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, only to have it snatched from his grasp by Black Widow, when she saves him to give her life instead. Renner is great at emoting even more pain in this moment. At that point in time, the Avengers are his only form of family left, and he is losing them too. The maternal figure on the team is gone, and in Clint’s head, it is all his fault. Jeremy Renner is an Oscar-nominated actor. His performance in Endgame is amazing, and Disney+ is said to be giving him a streaming series where he trains the comic character Kate Bishop to become the new Hawkeye.
The heart of Avengers: Endgame is Tony Stark, or Tony Stank, as Stan Lee jokingly called him in Civil War. Stark started out in Iron Man 1 like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, searching for his heart, and he finally finds it in Endgame. When we first see him in Endgame, Tony is a shriveled up shell of himself, adrift in space, until Captain Marvel comes to save the day. He comes back to Earth in a bad place, bickering with Cap, and done with his Avengers family. The 5 year time jump happens and Tony Stark has never been better, a stark contrast (pun intended) to the rest of the world, which is still reeling from the pain of losing so many loved ones.
Tony has a home in the wilderness (quite the opposite of his former Stark Tower home), and now has a young daughter named Morgan, with his wife Pepper Potts. The Howard Hughes-like billionaire playboy (Stan Lee modeled the character after Hughes, minus the mental instability) who only looks out for number one is no more; instead Tony has become a devoted family man. This could have been quite a jarring, unrealistic change if it were in the hands of a lesser actor, yet it comes so naturally to Robert Downey Jr.; it is as if this is the side of Tony that he has actually been playing for the last 11 years.
Cap, Ant-man, and Black Widow come to Tony’s home with an offer they think that he can’t refuse. They need Stark’s genius to figure out a way to go back in time and defeat Thanos, so that the infamous snap never happens. The big problem with this plan is that Tony has all that he ever wanted in his arms, holding his daughter. Why risk losing his family for the good of the rest of the world? That is, until he starts thinking about the loss of Peter Parker, his friend and precocious student, who only wanted to grow up to be a hero like Iron Man.
Tony figures that he will just run some computer generated tests, and boom, the mystery of time travel has been solved. Far-fetched, yes, but at the same time Tony is supposed to be an off-the-charts level genius, who uses technology masterfully by his side. Tony comes clean to Pepper with his discovery, and the weight of it all hits them both, but they also know what Tony has to do. Tony comes screeching up to Cap in a fast car (a vestige of his former life) and tells him that the time travel quandary is no more, but that they have to do it without jeopardizing Tony’s family (by not erasing the 5 years after the snap, or by losing to Thanos). Cap, being the stand-up guy that he is, has no qualms with those stipulations, so they go about getting the band back together to achieve a “time heist,” a la Time Bandits, in order to retrieve the Infinity Gauntlet.
Thor is a fun character in Endgame, because no one is as ravaged by the 5 year time jump as he. Thor is no longer the chiseled symbol of manhood over whom ladies fawn in this film, he has become more like the Big Lebowski. His outstanding characteristics are now a huge belly and beard, resembling the famous Jeff Bridges character. He is a drunkard who loves junk food and is an emotional wreck, but the Avengers still need the strength of the God of Thunder, diminished as it may possibly be.
Thor does not allow those around him to speak the name of Thanos. Even though Thor shockingly lopped off the head of Thanos in the opening act of the movie, Thor is still scarred by what Thanos has done, and the pain has obviously led to his downtrodden state of being. I like how this film uses the Back to the Future 2 model of jumping back in time to previous films in the series, so that the current versions of the characters can interact with their past selves or other characters (I won’t get into the jumbled mess of time travel logic that this film presents, the FoCC forum can do that). Going back to the theme of family, I enjoyed it when Thor was able to talk to his mother (played by Rene Russo), on the day when she would later die. It gave his character much of the clarity that he needed to move on with his life.
Ant-man and the Hulk are two more characters who bring comedic levity to the heavy, emotional undertones of Endgame. Paul Rudd always brings the funny (I like the time travel scene where we see young and old versions of Ant-man, and who’s to say which one peed in his pants?), but Mark Ruffalo unexpectedly did as well. Known more for being a dramatic actor, Ruffalo shines in the Mr. Fixit/Grey Hulk storyline brought over from the comics, where Bruce Banner’s personality has been merged with the body of the Hulk. I always liked that story in the comics, because it was fun to watch Hulk have both the brains and the brawn, even though his strength was less so, because he couldn’t muster up the same level of anger and aggression that the old primal Hulk could do. A good example of this in movie is when they travel back to 2012, when the Avengers are battling aliens in NYC. The old Hulk is smashing cars and aliens, on a rampage of destruction, while batting his chest like King Kong. The new, brainy Hulk witnesses this, yawns, slowly tears off his shirt, and tries to hype himself up to fight, but it’s just not the same.
Another huge part of the Avengers family is Black Widow. She has seen some stuff in her lifetime, and now when the going gets tough, she becomes a leader to whom the rest of the heroes report. She’s the one who brings Ronin back to the humanity of Clint, instead of that of a cold-blooded assassin. In the past, she’s done the same for Hulk. Natasha Romanoff knows how to reach the other Avengers on an emotional level, in a way that the male characters cannot. That is why her sacrifice for the good of her Avengers family (the only family that she has) hits the remaining Avengers so hard. Thor begs the question of why can’t they just use the stones to go back in time to save her, but they can’t, because then they would never have the Soul Stone for which she gave her life in order to defeat Thanos and bring everyone back from the snap.
Thanos had a smaller part in Endgame than many had anticipated after Infinity War, but his shadow still loomed large. Early in the film, Thanos is at a melancholy peace with himself, contrary to the vengeful version that we see near the end. He’s accomplished his mission of getting rid of half of all life, which he believes is for the greater good because of overcrowding on the planet. Thanos sees himself as more of an environmentalist, rather than the greatest villain in the history of the MCU. So when the Avengers find him hanging out on a remote, peaceful planet, he is good accepting of his fate of being avenged. Thor chopping off Thanos’ head so early in the movie was a jolt.
Endgame screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely deserve credit where credit is due (and the Russo brothers for great directing execution), because so many big blockbuster movies are predictable and bloated. The Endgame storyline was unexpected, and it was a deeply emotional film, with action sprinkled in. Near the end of the movie, when the Avengers must fight the version of Thanos before the snap, along with his hordes of alien creatures, we get the gigantic, crowd-pleasing battle that, as Thanos likes to say about himself, was “inevitable.”
Another character dealing with family issues in this film is Nebula, one of the adopted daughters of Thanos. Thanos starts to apologize for the pain that he has caused her, just as he is being slaughtered by Thor (and you thought that you had family problems). There are two versions of Nebula in this movie: the one on the side of the Avengers, and the one from the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, who is blindly loyal to Thanos. The pre-snap version of Thanos is able to tap into the future memories of Nebula, since they are linked, to find out everything that has happened in the future to lead the Avengers back to him. Thanos mounts a ambush attack on the Avengers at the most opportune time, when they think that they have won by going back in time and successfully retrieving all of the infinity stones needed from different points in Marvel history. We see the evolution of Nebula’s character through the lens of her former self, because she is no longer the type of character who wants to follow in her father’s path of destruction.
If Iron Man is the heart of the Avengers, Captain America is the soul. Ever the optimist, Cap is imbued with the values of a bygone World War 2 era. He won’t stand for bullies or for Nazis, which, strangely, is relevant for modern times. We first see Steve Rogers in Endgame leading a support group for people who have lost their loved ones from the snap. Steve can relate, since he’s a Rip Van Winkle type of character, who was frozen for 66 years after Captain America: First Avenger, and lost the love of his life, Peggy Carter, because of it. He’s always been a leader of the Avengers, while oftentimes butting heads with Tony Stark. They had a truce in Infinity War, after forcing the other heroes to pick sides in Civil War.
Kevin Smith said that his favorite scene in Endgame is when Steve and Tony go back to the 1970s to confront their past, in order to retrieve one of the stones. I enjoyed it as well, and not just for the Stan Lee cameo where he’s a hippie saying, “Make love, not war!” According to the Russo brothers, the mystery woman in the car with Stan is supposed to be a young version of his late wife Joan. Stan’s love for Joan, just like everything else he did, was legendary, so it’s a fitting final appearance for Stan “the man” Lee.
Viewers can tell that the bond between Steve and Tony is back in the camp Lehigh scene (the same camp where Cap trained decades before for WW2 in First Avenger), by the playful nature and care that they show each other. It’s great to see them getting along again after all they’ve been through, like brothers finally at peace with each other. It is short-lived though as they go their separate ways in order to get the stone. Tony is flustered when he runs into his father, Howard Stark. It is cool to see father and son talking to each other about fatherhood. Two parts of this 70’s scene set the stage for the ending: when Steve Rogers sees Peggy Carter through the window, longing to be with her again, and when Howard tells Tony that he hopes that he doesn’t have a boy, because he would be egotistical, just like Howard. Tony really takes that message to heart, because even though he has changed to become a family man, he also knows that he can still become more selfless.
Some of my favorite scenes in Endgame have to do with Captain America. He has always been one of my favorites in the comics for a couple reasons. Cap is the kind of hero that we can all strive to be out of pure goodness, and great writers have given him some awesome storylines, like Ed Brubaker who wrote the Winter Soldier story. I love it in the film when Cap fights the younger Winter Soldier-era version of himself. Younger Cap uses a line that he has uttered before, “I can do this all day,” and the older Cap replies, “I know!” You can tell that the younger Steve has more energy and power, but the older Cap outsmarts him by using his wits. He catches his younger self off-guard by whispering that his old pal Bucky Barnes is still alive, something the younger Captain didn’t know at that time. Wily old Cap, like an old basketball player using his knowledge of the game to outplay a younger, more athletic player (i.e. like using the “pulling the chair” basketball play).
The elevator scene is great too, because it harkens back to the epic fight scene in the same scenario from Winter Soldier, and puts a fun spin on a controversial Captain America comic book story. Cap is in the elevator full of secret Hydra operatives, with the tension in the air so full that it could be cut with a knife, when Steve whispers “Hail Hydra!” This is something for which comic writer Nick Spencer caught a lot of flack, but here in the film, it turns into a huge crowd pleaser as Cap walks out of the elevator with the scepter he was after and a smirk on his face.
My favorite Captain America scene has to do with a criticism of the character that I have heard from some people. What are Captain America’s super powers? Other than human decency, agility, strength, and shield throwing? In the final epic battle with Thanos, Thor is getting his butt kicked, when Steve Rogers summons the power of Mjølnir, the mighty hammer that can only be wielded by those worthy enough. Cap brings the thunder and the hammer to Thanos, and the theater crowd to its feet! This was something that was hinted back in Avengers: Age of Ultron, when Steve was almost able to pick up the hammer on a dare.
However, Mighty Cap is still not enough to defeat Thanos all by himself. Despite being knocked down, Steve keeps getting back up, and viewers can tell that he is wearing down, when another moment that elicits applause from the audience occurs. Falcon says, “On your left,” and the Avengers who were snapped away come to the rescue from a portal opened by Doctor Strange (who hatched this plan when he willingly gave the time stone to Thanos back in Infinity War). Now it’s a fair fight with Thanos and his alien hordes. Cap then utters the iconic line, “Avengers assemble!”
One moment that drew some criticism from a Hollywood Reporter critic was when all of the powerful Marvel female characters banded together to enter the gigantic battle fray. I personally enjoyed the moment, because it is easy to forget how many awesome, tough, female characters exist in this universe. It may have come off as manufactured to some, but I saw it as a challenge to rival comic company DC. Yeah, you guys have Wonder Woman, but look at how many strong females Marvel has!
After the portal opened, Spidey and Stark were able to rekindle their bromance. When Tony asks Doctor Strange if this is the one scenario out of the 14,000,605 outcomes that would result in a victory for the Avengers, Strange replies that he can’t say, or it won’t happen. Then a high stakes game of hot potato/capture the flag ensues, with different heroes taking turns trying to keep the Infinity Gauntlet away from Thanos. Naturally, Thanos is finally able to capture it, and it appears as if all is lost yet again. Captain Marvel tries to pull the gauntlet away from Thanos with sheer brute force, but to no avail. It takes Tony Stark using his wits instead to pull the stones off of the gauntlet (after Doctor Strange gives Tony a look, as if to say, ‘This is the only way we win.’), without Thanos realizing it. Stark then uses the stones in his Iron Man suit, to do a snap of his own while saying, “I am Iron Man”, turning the alien hordes and Thanos to dust. The use of that line was perfect, because Tony said it at the end of Iron Man 1 during the press conference, when out of nowhere, he revealed his secret identity. In that instance it was used as a coming out party line, while in Endgame, it is used as a triumphant goodbye.
Tony lies badly burned on the ground, as we’ve learned from previous films and from the Hulk in this one, that the power of the Infinity stones are too much for any mere mortal to wield and expect to survive. Tony made this sacrifice for the good of the world, proving that he could be selfless in the ultimate way. Tony gets to say his last goodbyes, with Peter Parker, and Pepper Potts (in her own Iron Woman suit) by his side. Earlier in the film, when Tony was putting his 4-year old daughter to bed, she told him that she loved him 3,000. Now, in a holographic message that Tony left for his family, because he knew the odds of coming back alive weren’t very good, he tells his wife and daughter that he loves them 3,000. It’s a poignant moment, but one that also has a hidden meaning. One theory is that the total runtime of all 22 Marvel films is said to equal to 3,000 minutes, while the screenwriters of Endgame have said that Robert Downey Jr. tells his kids in real life that he loves them 3,000.
During the funeral, we see Tony’s arc reactor, the only thing that was keeping his heart going since the first Iron Man, with the inscription, “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart.” The camera pans through all of the different Avengers at Tony’s funeral. Viewers see Hawkeye back with his family as composer Alan Silvestri’s orchestra music swells, and the audience’s tear ducts open.
It’s not over yet though, because Captain America is tasked with going back in time, in order to put all of the stones back in their rightful place, so that no more damage can be done. Cap is supposed to appear back in the time travel machine five seconds later, but he doesn’t, causing Hulk and Falcon to freak out, while Winter Soldier has already figured out what went down. Bucky tells Falcon to look at the bench by the park, where an old man is sitting. Falcon is happily surprised to see old man Cap, and asks him if “something went terribly wrong, or did it go terribly right?” Cap explains that he decided to take Tony’s old advice of living a little, but is tight-lipped on the details. Falcon is happy for his old buddy, but explains that he is going to be sad to live in a world without a Captain America. Steve says, “about that,” and pulls out his shield from a bag to give it to Falcon and says that he is a good man, passing the torch of Captain America, while Winter Soldier nods in approval (both Winter Soldier and Falcon have recently played the part of Cap in the comics). It is a great moment that has huge implications for the MCU, and the upcoming Falcon and Winter Soldier streaming series. Endgame then ends on a touching note, with Steve Rogers’ memory of going back in time to spend his life with his girl, Peggy Carter, as they slow dance to their song in the 1940’s. Fade to black.
There are no end credit scenes, but rather a tribute to the Marvel characters and actors who have appeared in this grand saga throughout the years. At the very end, there is the sound effect of a hammer banging, and it was the same sound used when Tony Stark first started to build the Iron Man suit in the first movie. The original six Avengers of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, and Hulk were Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but they were also a close-knit family. Who knew that Disney would use their biggest franchise to tell another family tale?
I have heard the criticism before that these Marvel movies never end, so it’s more like a television series, rather than film with a contained story. Now the story has almost come to a close (Spider-Man: Far From Home is the final film of phase 3), and as a huge Marvel fan, it was more than even I could have expected. Robert Downey Jr. deserves an Oscar for Endgame (though the Academy likely won’t nominate him), and Chris Evans has always been pitch perfect as Captain America, because he makes it seem like an easy role to play, even though it is quite the opposite. My earlier knock against Ben Affleck wasn’t meant to say that he is a bad actor; he is actually quite talented in certain roles. The problem is that I believe that few people could have pulled off what Evans did. Cap is so ‘apple pie’ that it is easy to spiral into parody or insincerity. Marvel president Kevin Feige had great vision, because most people couldn’t see the character of Cap in Chris Evans after his turn as the douche-bag-like character of the Human Torch in the prior Fantastic Four films.
Kevin Feige is said to be the mastermind of Marvel films. I have seen him speak at many Comic Cons, and it is easy to tell that he is a huge fan of the comics and the characters. He brought that love and expert knowledge, along with an almost perfect road map planning of these movies for 11 years down the line, from start to finish. It is an amazing feat, something that we have never seen accomplished throughout the history of film. Bravo Mr. Feige!
Avengers: Endgame gets a 5 out 5 hot sauce packets score from me! It’s inferno level hot! I’m a bit sad that it is the end of the line for some of these characters, but what an ending it was! “Nuff Said.”