The Infinity Saga is finally complete. Eleven years after Marvel launched a shared cinematic universe with IRON MAN, the heroes of the MCU have become household names, and it seems like the entire world is invested in the outcome of the battle between Thanos and the Avengers.
Many superhero blockbusters draw inspiration from comic books, but AVENGERS: ENDGAME was primarily designed as a celebration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself. Shared cinematic universes have been tried before, but never on this scale. None has lasted so long or come to such a satisfying conclusion. As we bask in the afterglow, we look at how ENDGAME wraps up 11 years of Marvel stories — and how it points to the future.
(Note that spoilers follow for ENDGAME, so turn away now if you haven’t yet been able to see the movie.)
The Last Original Avengers
The original Avengers have assembled for the last time. The MCU began when Tony Stark suited up as the invincible Iron Man. As much as fans like to focus on Marvel’s post-credits scenes, the tone and style of the MCU was really established in the scene preceding the credits of IRON MAN. Secret identities have always been a core part of the superhero genre, but Tony Stark ditched his with one phrase: “I am Iron Man.” One journalist at his press conference spoke for the world when she expressed disbelief that a man like Stark could really become some sort of superhero.
The entire first phase of the MCU really wrestled with this question, culminating in THE AVENGERS, where Steve Rogers accused Tony of never being the kind of guy to make the sacrifice play. He was wrong, and in the end, Tony Stark’s supreme act of sacrifice saves the entire universe from the madness of Thanos. His last words to Thanos echo the birth of the MCU. Now, more than 20 movies later, “I am Iron Man” has a different, heavier meaning.
Stark’s actions touched so many lives. Spider-Man is like a son to him, and Peter Parker will grieve Tony’s death as he would his own father’s. This was neatly signposted in AVENGERS: ENDGAME, which introduced Tony’s daughter, Morgan, in a shot where she was wearing an Iron Man mask and mock repulsor gauntlet. That’s reminiscent of the kid from IRON MAN 2, who we now know was a young Peter Parker. Between Peter and Morgan, who’s sure to return at some stage in the future, Tony Stark will continue to shape the MCU for years to come.
Captain America Goes Home
While Tony Stark newly accepts the act of sacrifice, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, has already given up much for his country. Cap’s entire character arc has been defined by loss. Frozen in ice, he awoke 70 years later to find his loved ones and the world as he knew it all gone. S.H.I.E.L.D. became his family, and he helped bring that organization down in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER; even his new Avengers family fell apart in CIVIL WAR.
Now, AVENGERS: ENDGAME comes to a close with Cap returning to (roughly) his own time. He gets to live the quiet domestic life he always longed for, in the arms of his beloved Peggy Carter. Even that means sacrifice, as he is separated from Bucky once again. Cap leaves a legacy, too, as he hands the shield over to a new Captain America — his trusted friend Sam. The adventures of Captain America are far from over — it’ll just be a new Captain America.
Thor Learns to Be Thor
The throne of Asgard was the focus of Thor’s story for many years, as the God of Thunder and his half-brother, Loki, battled for control of their society. In the end, the throne of New Asgard — an Asgard on Earth, in Norway — doesn’t belong to either of the brothers. Thor has learned to accept himself for who he is, and he’s headed off into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy. (He’s sure to appear in James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3.)
Meanwhile, on Earth, Valkyrie is now ruler of Asgard. And there may well be another Thor; Cap took Mjolnir back in time, but that particular hammer came from a timeline that was destroyed when he returned the Infinity Stone (which we have to assume Cap did). What did he do with the hammer? Is there an enchanted hammer hidden somewhere on Earth, just waiting for someone to claim it and prove themselves worthy?
Gamma Makes Good
The Hulk hasn’t starred in a solo movie since 2008, largely a result of licensing issues, but he got to be a key player in AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Back in THE AVENGERS, Nick Fury recruited Bruce Banner because the Tesseract emitted Gamma energy, and Bruce is the world’s foremost expert on Gamma radiation. In AVENGERS: ENDGAME, the Infinity Stones all give off Gamma radiation, and that meant Bruce was the logical choice to wield the Infinity Gauntlet and put the snap to rights.
This smart Hulk also seems, finally, to be dealing with his feelings better than any other Avenger. That puts him in a good place for a post-Thanos existence. We have no idea what Hulk does next, but as long as he manages to heal up from his ENDGAME adventure, his future is bright.
The Doomed Pair
Finally, there’s Hawkeye and Black Widow. These two Avengers have been secondary characters in the MCU, appearing in several films but never starring in one. (That will change next year with BLACK WIDOW.) But AVENGERS: ENDGAME carefully pulled together the strands of their two stories in an impressive, moving way. Comic book readers knew that Hawkeye’s family was fated to die, as happened in the Ultimate Comics. What they couldn’t know is how powerful Hawkeye’s descent into violent grief would be or how eagerly we would anticipate seeing his daughter grow up to (maybe?) inherit his title.
Meanwhile, Black Widow’s desperation to erase the red in her ledger drove her to become a leader in the post-snap world. Natasha pushed the Avengers to undo the snap, and she sacrificed herself for the Soul Stone. The Avengers’ victory is in Black Widow’s hands. Could the upcoming BLACK WIDOW movie be a prequel, intended as a respectful nod to a character whose impact on the MCU has been so significant?
While the first overarching Avengers saga is over, hopefully the best is yet to come. The future of the MCU now lies in the hands of a new wave of heroes. During the mad scramble over the Infinity Gauntlet, it was picked up by Black Panther, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel — they’re the new Marvel Trinity, replacing Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. We can’t wait to see their new adventures.
AVENGERS: ENDGAME is in theatres now.