How 'Avengers: Endgame' Wraps Up The Threads Of Previous Films In The Marvel Cinematic Universe

After 11 years and 22 movies, Marvel Studios has finally brought a definitive end to the Infinity Saga—the retroactive name for its first long, ambitious cycle of interconnected films. While the upcoming Spider-Man: Far from Home will officially conclude Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that movie promises to be more of an epilogue to Avengers: Endgame. The Russo Brothers' three-hour superhero epic gives thundering finality to a number of arcs that we've been following since as far back as Phase One. Who would live? Who would die? Who would retire and form a beer gut? Those are the questions fans might (or might not) have been asking themselves going into this unprecedented crossover conclusion, the fourth Avengers mega-sequel, the biggest movie event of all time.

If you've seen Endgame, then you know that it's densely packed with callbacks and scenes linking back to previous MCU films. It's a lot to take in all in one sitting. Let's face it: John Q. Moviegoer probably didn't have time to embark on a three-week regimen of a-Marvel-movie-a-day in the lead-up to the film's April 26 release. Here on /Film, Siddhant Adlakha revisited every prior MCU entry in his Road to Endgame series, but now we're at the end of the titular road and it's worth talking about how this movie wraps up the threads of everything that came before it.

To do that, we'll need to delve into specific plot points that might ruin the surprise for anyone who wasn't able to get into one of the sold-out screenings that kept some theaters open for 72 hours straight this weekend. Avengers: Endgame is chock full of twists and turns, so if you haven't seen it yet, this is your last chance to bow out, because we'll be going full spoilers in two shakes of a raccoon's tail.

AND THANOS SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION

Before we take a deep dive into the various character threads of Avengers: Endgame, I want to talk about the movie's ending, because the second time I watched it, I had heavier emotional response to it and I began to realize why maybe it's not just knee-jerk hyperbole coming from early reactions that has already caused people (as usual) to label this brand new Marvel movie the "best Marvel movie ever."

Bittersweet sacrifices aside, Endgame gives us a mostly happy ending. The reason that's not a cheat, in this instance, is because it feels earned. There's something deep in the human heart that yearns for renewal and reconciliation. Even when Tony Stark dies, he's surrounded by people he loves, and he knows that life will go on and be replenished thanks to him.

Thanos (hands down, the best Marvel movie villain) has a name that's derived from the Greek word for "death." That's an inescapable part of the human condition. Endgame taps into the universal urge to see life reborn. Entire world religions have sprung up around that instinct, the comforting comic book idea that death is not, need not ever be, the end. It's like that Dylan Thomas line, the one Interstellar quoted: "And death shall have no dominion." (And yes, I'm aware that there's also a line in that poem that goes, "Though wise men in their end know dark is right.") The very idea of a Snapture, this comic book movie version of the Rapture, has a quasi-religious connotation to it.

When you watch Endgame in the light of life and love as all-powerful truths, it's not hard to see Tony as the unlikeliest of Christ figures, sacrificing himself so that everyone else can go on to live and love another day. Tony started out supremely selfish, with Steve Rogers being the yin to his yang, a guy who would throw himself on a live grenade in an instant to protect everyone else in the group (see: Steve's boot camp training in Captain America: The First Avenger). By the end, Tony shows himself capable of making this one selfless act. It's a decision that costs him his life but buys the world a second chance.

If it sounds like I'm waxing falsely profound about a hollow superhero spectacle here, that's okay. I realize the movie is pure fantasy, but it's one that audiences all around the world are invested in. The box office numbers don't lie: this is the most successful film franchise of all time we're talking about. It's a fantasy writ on the largest possible canvas and one that has touched the lives of many moviegoers.

This is something that casual viewers and non-comic book readers might not fully appreciate, but for the longest time, Bucky Barnes was one of the few undone deaths in comics. Forget the Winter Soldier with his bad-ass cybernetic arm. The only Bucky we knew was the Robin-like teenage sidekick who died at the end of World War II. Then writer Ed Brubaker brought Bucky back to life for Marvel Comics and we got this whole new series of stories where he became a vital character once again. Of the three big guns in the Avengers — Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor — Cap has the best solo movie trilogy, but two-thirds of that trilogy might never have happened were it not for this resurrectionist tendency in comics.

If "no one's ever really gone" in Star Wars, then maybe the reason the same holds true for comics is because these modern myths spring from the deepest, most childlike place in the collective unconscious, where all things are possible and that's what most sacred and everlasting, even above thanatos, as the Greeks called it. And death shall have no dominion ...

Think about that moment when Ant-Man visits the memorial to the vanished in San Francisco. Now think about what's left offscreen in Avengers: Endgame (and in life, if you believe there's something more beyond this one). Picture all those reunions we don't see between the names on the walls in that memorial and their families and friends.

Avengers: Endgame is the Return of the Jedi of our generation. Producer and franchise architect Kevin Feige consciously strove toward that, and with the help of a revolving door of cast and crew members over eleven years, he successfully laid the tracks that got us to this junction where we're staring up through misty eyes at a new kind of tech-friendly fairytale ending. Endgame is the ultimate 21st-century big-screen bedtime story (especially if you finish watching it at 3:20 a.m. and go home and go to bed right after). It's a movie that will fertilize the imagination of kids and it's a movie that, on its opening weekend, has already thrilled and delighted the kind of grown-ups who are still kids at heart.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE

Endgame still has a typical Avengers juggling act to do with all of its characters, but there are less leads, or co-leads, vying for screen time than there were in Infinity War, simply because heroes like Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man — all of whom have headlined their own films — are no longer in the picture when the movie starts. The real effect of them crumbling to dust at the end of Infinity War was for the Russo Brothers to streamline their cast going into the next movie, focusing the narrative back on the original team of Avengers from Phase One.

Endgame is a swan song for Iron Man and Captain America. It also shows us the death of Black Widow (though we know that she'll live on, perhaps in prequel form, since she's got her own long-gestating solo movie on the way). In addition, Endgame culminates multi-film arcs for the other founding Avengers, Thor, Hulk, and Hawkeye, leaving them in a place that is very different from where they started.

Ant-Man's "time heist" scatters the survivors of Infinity War across MCU history in different groupings ("Six stones. Three teams. One shot," is how Cap breaks it down for the audience). Looping back on key moments, the zigzagging heist — which is not without its pratfalls — allows the characters and us to revisit The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Guardians of the Galaxy with fresh eyes. We discover hidden pockets in those movies and elsewhere across the series timeline. The end result is a crowd-pleasing, TV-finale-like blockbuster that leans hard into our nostalgia for the faces of fictional friends, characters we've come to know and love over the course of numerous adventures.

More than any other Marvel movie, Endgame is one that emotionally charged, powered, as it is, by an arc reactor with an 11-year battery. More than any other Marvel movie, it's one where you can see the ripples coming across the Soul Stone pond from earlier installments. Let's examine how the film brings closure to, or sets up the next chapter for, each of the core Avengers and their supporting characters, as well as some of the next-generation heroes who are resurrected by the time the closing credits roll. Some return to the status quo; others see their storylines impacted just enough to leave us wondering where the developments of Endgame might take them next.

TONY STARK / IRON MAN

"I am Iron Man." Those words ended the first Iron Man movie and they're also Tony Stark's last words before he sacrifices his life in Avengers: Endgame. Back in 2008, when Tony suddenly decided to announce himself as Iron Man at a press conference, it subverted the secret identity trope for superheroes, but it also showed him to be a singular narcissist who was not above jeopardizing his loved ones on a sheer whim if it meant massaging his own ego.

This is something that Iron Man 3 would expound on when it had him publicly provoke a known terrorist into launching an attack on his Malibu estate (with the woman he loved, Pepper Potts, inside). Tony's "penchant for combating mistakes with more mistakes" is something Siddhant wrote about in his article about that movie and others. The creation of a murderous A.I. in Age of Ultron is merely one example of an action that falls into this pattern.

In Endgame, Tony comes close to realizing this basic character flaw about himself when he — the very first Avenger who we met on screen in 2008 — starts angrily lashing out, talking about how the team's name is the Avengers, not the Prevengers. Their "best work is done after the fact," and so it goes with him. This bit of dialogue informs his character and gives crucial meaning to the Avengers name ... which was always rather meaningless, because what were they avenging? They were supposed to be protectorsEarth's mightiest heroes, not a squad bent on avenging done deeds.

Until Endgame, that is. Tony began his superhero career by undergoing a literal change of heart. He's someone who recognizes that he needs to change his outside behavior, as well, and throughout his journey, he's paid lip service to doing that: giving up arms dealing and even going so far as to blow up all of his suits for Pepper at the end of Iron Man 3. All the while, however, he's been operating under an illusion of growth that has continued begetting new mistakes for him.

Even his recruitment of Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War could be seen as one of those mistakes. Tony was really just using Peter to try and help his side in the conflict win. After that, he wanted to put this unwieldy teenage object named Peter right back up on the shelf where he found him in his neighborhood in Queens.

The thing is, Spider-Man kept wanting to crawl off the shelf and use his superpowers, endangering his young life in the process. This happened in Spider-Man: Homecoming and it happened again in Avengers: Infinity War. The loss of Peter, this very human mistake that Tony has made, haunts him enough that it provides the eventual impetus for him to join the time heist in Endgame.

His father Howard's shadow had always hung over him, too, but their reunion at a secret underground S.H.I.E.L.D. installation in 1970s New Jersey (the same one from Captain America: The Winter Soldier) allows Tony to see Howard (John Slattery, returning from Iron Man 2) in a less mythic, more down-to-earth light. By his own admission, "the greater good has rarely outweighed [Howard's] own self-interest." He's so self-involved that he doesn't even know how far along his wife's pregnancy is.

This reflects back on Tony as a character. He's his father's son, through and through, but by the end of the movie, he's finally reached a place of real character growth where he can be humble and put the greater good above his own self-interest. Now the roles are reversed from Infinity War and it's Peter who is there as he's dying.

PEPPER POTTS TO THE RESCUE

More importantly, Pepper is there with Tony in his final moments. At this point, we've already seen her in her blue Rescue armor as part of the Women of Marvel money shot that comes during the final fight. This builds nicely on her "Not only boys can be superheroes" arc from Iron Man 3, when we saw her energized with Extremis.

Pepper, like Tony's best friend Rhodey (who gets his own little cyborg-bonding moment with Nebula) always existed, character-wise, as more of an adjunct or moon to orbit Planet Tony. She's already the head of Stark Industries, so it would be interesting to see her come into her own more now that Tony is gone, taking the lead in an Ocean's 8-like, all-female Avengers movie.

Is that in the cards? We'll have to wait and see. Beyond possible cameos, I honestly don't know if we'll see Pepper or Rhodey's War Machine in the MCU again, but at least they're right out there in front at Tony's funeral, as is his daughter Morgan, whose presence in this movie pays off the Potts pregnancy tease in Infinity War.

Also at the funeral: the Tennessee kid from Iron Man 3, all grown up now and unrecognizable enough to warrant us identifying him in greater depth here. R.I.P. Tony Stark.

STEVE ROGERS / CAPTAIN AMERICA

Since being unfrozen in the modern day at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers has been a man out of time, so it only makes sense that the movie would bring his arc to a close by putting him back in the right place: namely, in the arms of Peggy Carter, his long-lost love in the distant past, whose picture he's been carrying around in a compass locket. Steve and Peggy finally get to share that dance they had scheduled before his plane went down in the Arctic at the end of The First Avenger. It's a comforting last image that the movie leaves us with before the credits roll.

The aging of Rogers and choosing of Sam Wilson as his Captain America successor are both things that we theorized might happen in our look last year at Marvel Comics plots that could inform this film and Phase Four of the MCU. Chris Evans makes for such a believable, sweet old guy. There's a weak but wistful, tender and true note in his voice as he passes the Cap mantle onto Sam. Their rapport is as convincing as it was when they first met while jogging around the National Mall in Washington, D.C. I missed it on my first screening, but I actually got a little choked up the second time around when I realized that the quote, "On your left," from The Winter Soldier is what heralds the opening of the portals and arrival of our resurrected heroes in Avengers: Endgame.

It helps that you've got the same directors, the Russo Brothers, serving as Cap's custodians for this final adventure. One of them, Joe Russo, even makes a cameo as a member of the post-vanishing support group that Cap is counseling in 2023. The Russos also let him say goodbye to Bucky, the Winter Soldier himself, and they give us an amusing callback to the epic elevator fight in The Winter Soldier movie, only this time, Cap is able to use his knowledge of the future to outsmart those nefarious Hydra thugs and walk off the elevator without throwing a punch.

"Hail Hydra," indeed. Cap also faces off with the tightly rear-ended 2012 version of himself on a Stark Tower catwalk, and we get another funny callback during their fight where his oft-repeated line, "I can do this all day," pops up again at an inconvenient time.

Cap has always been somewhat of a fixed quantity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the same way that the memory of Peggy is his spiritual compass, he himself is the moral compass of the Avengers. His dignity is the team's magnetic north. There's a steely-eyed, stoic quality to this war veteran from Brooklyn and he only changes insofar as his understanding of situations changes (i.e. realizing that putting power in the hands of overseers who are vulnerable to corruption and infiltration, like S.H.I.E.L.D., might not be the best idea). Even then, he always reacts honorably because he's Captain America, a shining beacon for others, capable of putting them in touch with the angels of their better nature.

The biggest transgression he's ever committed was his withholding of information from Tony regarding the death of his parents. Endgame finally lets them bury the hatchet by having Tony realize that "resentment is corrosive" and he's got to forgive Cap. Once he does, that might be the thing that restores Cap's full worthiness as a wielder of Mjolnir, Thor's otherwise un-liftable, enchanted Uru mallet.

We last saw Cap give the hammer a budge at the party in Age of Ultron when everyone was taking turns trying to lift it, all to no avail. As it turns out, that throwaway party gag set up the moment in Endgame that got the biggest reaction from the audience in my theater on opening night. Spirits audibly soared when Cap took up the hammer and power of Thor, God of Thunder, to fight Thanos one-on-one on the battlefield. He gets his replacement shield broken by Thanos, but that's alright: Old Man Rogers has a brand new shiny one that he bequeaths Sam Wilson at the end, like the true contemporary knight that he is.

We never get to see Cap's (doubtlessly awkward) reunion with Red Skull on Vormir, and truth be told, there's probably a whole movie you could make just charting what happened to Cap when he went back to the past to return the Infinity Stones and decided to stay there and live out a normal life. But maybe just knowing that he got to experience his own little slice of happiness is enough.

In the end, Cap's arc is the inverse of Tony's: he went from being a selfless leader to finally earning a personal life. Peggy's face on his chest in their living room, that scene of domestic bliss, is a warm hug goodbye to the audience from him, the Russo Brothers, and all the other beautiful working components that helped make this first long chapter of the MCU such a cinematic milestone.

THOR & VALKYRIE

"You should have gone for the head," Thanos said to Thor in Infinity War, and that's exactly what Thor does to the Mad Titan on his farm in Endgame. First he severs Thanos' Gauntlet arm, then he severs his head. Before the movie is over, we'll see Thanos die again another way.

dir="auto" style="text-align: left;">It's too late, of course. The damage is already done to the universe, and Thor's failure to save it sends him on a downward spiral whereby he becomes The Big Lebowski: developing a paunch, growing out his hair all shaggy, shuffling around in a bath robe, and even sharing a scene with a friend on a cliff overlooking the ocean at the end.

Infinity War left a big question mark dangling over the fate of Ragnarok characters like Valkyrie, Korg, and Meek, but Endgame shows them all alive in the sleepy, earthbound village of New Asgard, where Thor now spends his days drinking beer and threatening gamers. It's not located in Oklahoma like in the comics, but New Asgard does obey the comics precedent of rebuilding Thor's kingdom on Earth after its destruction. It also sort of satirizes the Aquaman idea of a beer-swilling superhero in a Nordic fishing village.

Thor's previous buddy pairings with Hulk and Rocket Racoon in Ragnarok and Infinity War make them ideal candidates to ride into New Asgard on the back of a pickup truck and recruit him into the time heist. Sending Fat Thor back in time to The Dark World allows him to reunite with his mother Frigga, whose death in that movie got glossed over when Thor and Loki went back to immediate MCU quipping without waiting a respectable amount of time.

The Dark World is frequently cited as the weakest MCU film but Endgame accomplishes the feat of making it retroactively more interesting, so that people are now talking about how they want to go back and revisit that movie (seemingly for the first time ever). Natalie Portman makes a cameo in Endgame as Jane Foster, but as Thor reminds us drunkenly, they're not dating anymore. Her brief inclusion in this movie is more because her body is the living MacGuffin that holds the Aether, the liquified version of the Reality Stone.

Valkyrie's Pegasus, last seen in her Ragnarok flashback origin, reappears in Endgame during the final fight. She's apparently the new Queen of Asgard, which means she could perfectly fill Thor's place in an all-female Avengers movie, the same as Pepper could perfectly fill Tony's place.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Tessa Thompson: the next Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett, leading a team of ladies in a summer tentpole feature? Or maybe the new Men in Black movie, starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, is a Trojan-horse sequel that will be crossing over with the MCU instead of 21 Jump Street (in which case, the future of Thor and Valkyrie is for them to have their memories erased and become MIB agents).

Will Thor now be folded into the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, much like Iron Man and Hulk became supporting cast members in Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok? Endgame certainly makes it look that way, with Thor and Star-Lord engaging in some friendly bickering as newfound co-leaders of the Guardians. Going this direction with the character would let Hemsworth keep his trilogy intact but still hang around and get some more mileage out of the new and improved comedic Thor we've been following since Ragnarok.

Either way, Infinity War promised that Loki wouldn't be coming back from his death this time, but it's a safe bet that his vanishing into a blue portal in 2012, courtesy of the Space Stone, will somehow dovetail with his upcoming streaming series on Disney+.

BRUCE BANNER / HULK

Stealing scenes in an Avengers movie isn't a first for the Incredible Hulk. One of my personal favorite comic book runs of all time is Incredible Hulk #377-425, the saga of the Smart Hulk. Seeing Mark Ruffalo integrate Bruce Banner's brain into Hulk's body — giving us a picture-snapping (later, Gauntlet-snapping) MCU version of the Smart Hulk — was a welcome surprise, easily one of the biggest geek highlights of Endgame on a first viewing.

In The Incredible Hulk movie (remember that red-headed stepchild of the MCU?), we saw Edward Norton meditating at the end, only to open his green, gamma-irradiated Hulk eyes and flash a smile. Then, in the first Avengers movie, we saw Banner transform into Hulk on cue, uttering that memorable quote, "That's my secret, Cap, I'm always angry."

These scenes showed that Banner was learning to control the Hulk personality. He would continue to do so with the help of Black Widow, only to lose control with disastrous consequences in Age of Ultron before flying a Quinjet into self-imposed space exile.

In Thor: Ragnarok, we saw that Hulk had taken over and repressed Banner's personality so that the Green Goliath could become a champion gladiator on the planet Sakaar. Thanos seemed to scare Hulk into hiding in Infinity War, but by 2023, he's no longer flip-flopping between personalities. Instead, Banner is at peace with both aspects of himself and can have fun letting his brain inhabit the Hulk's body.

This feels like the logical conclusion of his onscreen arc. Smart Hulk's feeble attempt at impersonating a rage monster again and smashing a car on the streets of New York in 2012 makes it seem like he doesn't have a lot left in him as a fighter. It's no small task undoing the disappearance of half the universe's population, either, and with his arm now scarred and atrophied from using the Infinity Gauntlet, it remains to be seen where, if anywhere, they can take the character from here.

Reintroducing William Hurt's General Ross in Captain America: Civil War (he shows up again in Endgame at Tony's funeral) almost makes it seem like the MCU could be setting up Red Hulk and the Thunderbolts for a future movie. Maybe the future of Hulk in the MCU, then, is red, not green.

HAWKEYE & BLACK WIDOW

There's justice for Hawkeye fans in Endgame, as the movie opens with his perspective on the day of the Decimation (can we just call it the disappearance or the dusting, since the 50/50 killing ratio doesn't line up with the original 1/10 ratio of a historical Decimation?)  On his homestead somewhere in America, Jeremy Renner's character — who was noticeably absent from Infinity War — is back among the family we met in Age of Ultron. His ankle bracelet shows him to be under house arrest after the events of Captain America: Civil War.

Fast forward to a Quinjet flying in toward the Rainbow Bridge (the real one, not the one to Asgard) and Tokyo Tower at night. After his family went the way of Proxima Midnight's loved ones on The Leftovers (what is it with Carrie Coon and worldwide disappearances?), Hawkeye apparently went and watched The Wolverine and was inspired to go live his own mini superhero adventure in Japan. We see that he's adopted a new identity as the ruthless vigilante Ronin.

Chalk it up to cross-company research pre-Disney/Fox merger, but in a single scene, Ronin does indeed live out something of a compact version of The Wolverine, ticking off some of the same Cool Japan boxes: samurai swords, neon signs in the rain, and a fight to the death with Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada. The award for coolest makeover in Endgame goes to this new Hawkeye with his mohawk and yakuza-esque tattoos.

In his absence, Black Widow has been leading the Avengers. Once again, it falls to her to try and reel in her wayward comrade. This time, Hawkeye isn't brainwashed like he was in the first Avengers movie; this time, he's just acting out his grief over the loss of his family with street violence. Pairing him and her up on a mission to retrieve the Soul Stone gives us some time with the two most human members of the original team. There's a reference to Budapest, as there was in The Avengers, but now we get the impression that Hawkeye is the one with more "red in [his] ledger."

These two characters have a way of fighting each other in a dance-like fashion. Their last tango in Vormir ends with Black Widow falling from a cliff and assuming a sprawled-out Gamora position on the rocks below (a la Infinity War). Widow's death might actually be the most surprising one to come out of Endgame, but the intended pathos of it rings slightly hollow in the context of what we've seen onscreen in the MCU thus far.

Sounding briefly like a character in The Fast and the Furious franchise, Widow throws out the word "family" when talking about the Avengers. She's alluded to her dark past and how Hawkeye didn't judge her for it but rather saved her from it ... yet we the audience haven't actually seen enough of her pre-Avengers life to reconcile the loneliness of it with her Avengers life.

We've been told it, not shown it, but maybe that's something the Black Widow movie can rectify. If and when it does give us a clearer picture of what she went through in her spy and assassin days before the Avengers, maybe then we'll have a better appreciation for how her story concluded in Avengers: Endgame.

SCOTT LANG / ANT-MAN

Ant-Man and the Wasp left Scott Lang trapped in the Quantum Realm, but when a storage unit rat in 2023 accidentally triggers the device needed to bring him back, the eternally youthful Paul Rudd returns to find that everyone on Earth has aged five years except for him (Avengers: Endgame ... based on a true story?) This includes Scott's daughter, Cassie, who has been his emotional constant since the first Ant-Man movie.

As mentioned earlier, Ant-Man's "time heist" idea sets into motion Endgame's whole plot, and the coinage of that phrase feels very much in-character for him, given how he and his buddies were pulling off heists when we first met them back in 2015. His fanboy admiration of Captain America, shown in the parking garage in Civil War, continues, as he assesses the look of Cap's posterior in his old costume with the winning line, "That's America's ass."

During the final battle in Endgame, Ant-Man is reunited with Evangeline Lilly's Wasp, and we see him go big as Giant Man for a brief spell, though the only moment that comes close to matching his show-stopping emergence in Civil War is when his gargantuan foot comes sailing in to stomp the life out of one of the bad guys. During Tony's funeral, we also see Michael Douglas's Hank Pam and Michelle Pfeiffer's Janet van Dyne show up, even though previous movies established that there was no love lost between Pym and the Starks.

CAROL DANVERS / CAPTAIN MARVEL

Captain Marvel, the most recent addition to the MCU, makes a blinding entrance early on to airlift Tony Stark and Nebula out of deep space. After Thor decapitates Thanos, the movie takes Carol Danvers off the chessboard for the majority of its running time by reminding us that there's a whole universe out there full of other planets that have had half of their populations disappear.

Earth has the Avengers; the rest of the universe has Captain Marvel. She comes crashing back through Thanos' spaceship at the end and goes toe-to-toe with him on the ground for a while, casually resisting a head butt;  but since the film introducing her was in theaters only two months ago, there aren't a lot of callbacks to it other than the moment when we see her old pal Nick Fury come walking out on the porch near her at Tony's funeral.

BLACK PANTHER & DOCTOR STRANGE

Endgame doesn't give Black Panther and Doctor Strange a whole lot to do besides participate in the final fight, though Black Panther is the first of the resurrected heroes we see. This was another moment that got an audible reaction from the theater crowd at both of the screenings I attended on opening weekend. Okoye and Shuri — the latter of whom had an uncertain status in terms of surviving Infinity War — both step through the portal with King T'Challa. Wakanda forever!

Tilda Swinton's Ancient One returns from the Doctor Strange movie to exposit the danger of branching timelines and remind us that Strange is supposed to be "the best of" the Masters of the Mystic Arts. There's a neat visual callback that sees the Ancient One knocking Bruce Banner's astral form out of Hulk's body, the same way she did with Stephen Strange and his body once upon a time

For his part, Doctor Strange does deserve credit for giving us the movie's title. He foresaw this as the one reality where the heroes would win against Thanos. He and Tony mirror each other in some respects: they're both egotistical men who had to learn humility, but Doctor Strange is better at metabolizing what he learns. Both of these factors contributed to him and Tony not getting along in Infinity War. However, they share a last moment where Strange holds one finger up as a signal to Tony that this could be the one good reality ... if Tony is brave enough to let it be. "Whatever it takes."

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

As for the Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie takes us back to where it all began for us with them on the planet Morag (no shame in forgetting the name of that one). Star-Lord comes dancing in again, kicking around defenseless space lizards, as is his won't, only this time there's a funny moment where we see how he looks when the diagetic music from his Walkman is confined to his headphones (as opposed to playing over the movie's soundtrack).

Oh, and if you thought the relationship between Thanos and his daughters was thinly sketched in Guardians of the Galaxy (because, well, he spent most of his time talking to Ronan the Accuser),Endgame fleshes it out by showing us some new interactions between him and them. Nebula, the more abused daughter, even gets to fight the evil 2014 version of herself.

Now that James Gunn is back in the director's chair, will he be giving us Guardians of the Galaxy 3: The Search for Gamora? One theory I've seen floating around online is that when Tony snapped 2014-Thanos and his army into dust, he didn't actually erase them from existence, but merely sent them back to their proper place in the timeline, much like Cap would do with the Infinity Stones. This would prevent the past from branching off into a new timeline or Thanos from negating his own Snap, but it might also mean that 2014-Gamora went back to the past with him.

It seems more likely, however, that 2014-Gamora merely ran off solo into the brave new world of 2023. Between her disappearance and the inclusion of Thor on the team, Endgame has teased out some intriguing possibilities about what might be in store for the Guardians in Phase Four.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME AND BEYOND

Anytime you're dealing with time travel in a narrative, it automatically creates confusion, paradoxes, and potential plot holes. Since it would take another whole article to sort through all that, I'll just say here that the one burning question I had after my first viewing of Endgame was this. Why is it, at the end of the movie, that Ant-Man's daughter has aged five years, but we see Peter Parker go back to high school and meet his friend Ned, who looks the same as when we last saw him? Was Ned also one of the people who disappeared during the Snapture, and if so, does that mean that Spider-Man: Far from Home will deal partially with what it's like for kids like Peter and Ned to be re-integrating into school after half of their peers have aged five years, graduating high school and going on to college?

I guess we'll know the answer to that in July when Far from Home hits theaters. On an anecdotal note, as I was heading into my midnight screening of Endgame, I passed right by a big advertising banner for the movie that they had hanging on the lobby wall. By the time my screening let out, they had already changed the banner to one for Far from Home.

That seemed symbolic somehow. It will be interesting to see how long the MCU can continue its forward momentum and global box office domination now that it's hit the mountaintop of Endgame, and now that the culture at large has entered a year that feels like absolute peak geek (Game of Thrones and Star Wars, anyone?) At the very least, with its expansion into streaming television on Disney+ and with the acquisition of 20th Century Fox putting X-Men on the horizon, the MCU shows no signs of slowing up anytime soon.

Avengers: Endgame feels a little stagey at times, like you can see the franchise planners moving the pieces into place, checking off certain things that need to be done here and there. The hand that doles out the movie's fan-service moments is occasionally just a teensy bit heavy. When you're sitting there watching it on opening night at 3 a.m. and it climaxes in a cluttered CG battle with dreary, bombed-out skies overhead, a person could even be forgiven for lapsing into a moment of delirious superhero film fatigue where suddenly Marvel seemed indistinguishable from DC and this movie seemed indistinguishable from Zack Snyder's Justice League (a movie I defended, but which pales in comparison to how well-executed and emotionally affecting Endgame is).

Personally, I'll need to give Endgame a couple of rewatches on home media before I know how it would definitively fit into an updated ranking of the best Marvel movies. That said, right now, the non-giddy, sober-headed adult in me is still leaning toward Endgame being the greatest Marvel movie of all time. The sheer logistics of paying off a screen narrative on this massive scale are impressive like nothing else we've seen in the superhero film genre, and the movie is full of enough humor, heart, and plot payoffs that it feels like a satisfying resolution to most of the ongoing storylines we've been following since Phase One. This is a motion picture event that was eleven years in the making, and you have to give Marvel Studios credit for pulling off that rarest of feats: they stuck the landing.