Warnings: The following contains massive spoilers for "Avengers: Endgame" and the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films. You should also watch the recent "Spider-Man: Far from Home" to understand one deranged rant that comes up later.*
Early on into writing notes during my showing of "Avengers: Endgame," I wrote "A cyborg is holding hands with a raccoon and I'm about to cry."
What more do I even need to say?
Despite insane expectations and mouth-foaming-anticipation that began the moment the credits rolled on "Infinity War," Marvel's latest film managed to put a satisfying cap on the first decade-plus of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Considering the army of beloved characters it juggled and the dozens of plot points from other films it pulled from, it's honestly a cinematic miracle that it isn't a complete mess. It paid off one of the most memorable endings to a blockbuster in over a decade while still giving certain icons fitting ends, provided a climactic fight packed with least 15,000 things happening at once without feeling overstuffed and somehow also successfully incorporated elements of failure and grief.
Our heroes' failure to save the day looms large in the first act of "Endgame." This was the first film where the MCU Earth as a whole was drastically effected by the superhero lunacy around it. It also marked an evolution in the films' approach. The first few MCU films, with all of their frantic have-to-keep-the-people-entertained energy, would have never spent around the first hour on characters' anxieties and traumas. The "Infinity Saga", as all of the movies from "Iron Man" to "Endgame" are now being called, were building to the tone of this film. The first phase of films set the stage. Then phase two moves like "Iron Man 3," and "Winter Solider" — with its heroes' anxieties front-and-center and the Mandarin twist and Hydra twist — showed that the our heroes couldn't trust the systems they were upholding as they struggled with themselves. Phase three moments like the fraying of Steve and Tony's relationship in "Civil War," and devastating revelations about the sins of our heroes' fathers in "Black Panther and "Thor: Ragnarok," completely turned the characters' worlds upside down, with "Infinity War" unveiling the ultimate challenge they couldn't halt. It's a little on-the-nose at times, but literally journeying through the MCU's past in "Endgame" highlighted the characters' growth while signaling that these films are willing to try new approaches to material.
Thanos pontificated in "Infinity War" that the universe had to change or die, and the characters who survived his Snap adapted in ways that were both surprising and fitting for their arcs. Arcs in blockbuster franchises and corporate comic books can be tricky, since characters have to change but there is a temptation to not stray too far from what audiences loved about them in the first place. With that in mind, many of the icons you've followed for years are genuinely different in "Endgame" than they were when we first met them.
Of all of the arcs that receive swan songs in "Endgame, Tony Stark's journey from hard-partying, selfish walking ego to responsible family man received the most build-up. The character went through the same arc of massive jerk to slightly less of a jerk in both "Iron Man" installments, but his anxiety and the rising pressure he feels to protect the world from escalating threats, as shown in films like "Iron Man 3" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron," moved him closer to accepting more responsibility, like proposing to Pepper and taking in Peter/Spider-Man as a surrogate son. Robert Downey Jr. also conveyed Stark's escalating disquiet better as the films continued. By "Ultron" and "Civil War," the witty one-liners came with weary sighs and undertones of anxiety in his voice, increased frustration in his body language and more tension conveyed through his eyes. He made it believable that the guy who basically told the U.S. government to shove it when they wanted his armor in "Iron Man 2" is the same way who took it upon himself to be the poster boy for accountability in "Civil War." It ultimately took the demise of 50% of the universe and nearly dying on a floating sardine can of a ship for him to come to terms with his demons. His final sacrifice in "Endgame" is an emotional high point and his clear devotion to his daughter made his final moments even more poignant.
Captain America, whose one constant in life was violence and conflict after being frozen for over 60 years, fighting Nazis and aliens alike and being a fugitive from the government, finally gets to have the dance with love interest Peggy Carter that was brought up in their first film. Steve's domestic bliss with Peggy rendered the make-out session he had with her niece Sharon in "Civil War" even creepier than it already was, though, and it's odd that Steve shared such a small exchange with Bucky, the man he spent two different movies saving.
How Thor ended up during the five-year time gap was upsetting to some, but it makes sense due to Taika Waititi's re-jiggering of the character in "Thor: Ragnarok." He went from a somewhat generic warrior with hints of insecurity and humor to a proud, slightly fratboy-ish motormouth who unleashes a bottomless reservoir of doubt and grief through cocky chatter. Despite the near constant stream of jokes in "Ragnarok" belie the fact that the film upends Thor's life. Between that movie and "Infinity War," he loses his home, the hammer that affirmed his worthiness, an eye — remember that? — almost all of his old Asgardian pals, his dad who spent his entire life lying to him, and his brother in the span of about a week. To top it all off, he gets a new weapon and nearly takes down the cosmic big bad himself just before HALF OF ALL LIVING THINGS IN THE UNIVERSE ARE WIPED OUT because he didn't aim for the head. All of that trauma boils over and this god has an all-too-human reaction to that avalanche of misery. He comes out of "Endgame" with a new lease on life as he makes Valkyrie the new leader of New Asgard, though it appears she had been doing that for the last five years anyway. When viewed in the context of his entire story from the first "Thor" — where he first grappled with whether he was worthy of his abilities and title — the character's arc is the story of a man realizing and accepting that he doesn't want and isn't cut out for his birthright. Thor hitching a ride with the Guardians of the Galaxy feels in-line with this interpretation of the character.
The Hulk also benefited from a shift in "Ragnarok." The Green Goliath was treated more like an incredibly strong child struggling to communicate there than an unstoppable rage monster. This Hulk was a little whiny and started to speak, which stopped the character from feeling like a stagnant plot device that would show up when an action scene was needed. He refused to show up in "Infinity War" beyond the first scene, and then we cut to intelligent Hulk of "Endgame," who was basically just taller green Mark Ruffalo. He explained that Banner simply needed to stop rejecting the Hulk and instead accept him. Though the transition to smart Hulk is jarring at first, it is somehow perfect that the OG Avenger who was arguably the most well-adjusted after the time jump was the character whose entire thing was spiraling into unstoppable rampages. I was the only person in my screening who laughed hysterically when green Mark Ruffalo pretended to be angry back in the past, and damnit, I'd do it again.
Not every character's arc fared so well. Hawkeye is a fascinating character in the comics, but his cinematic development was marred by a series of starts and stops. The archer as the Avenger we spent the least amount of time with by far leading into the big team-up, and he spent most of "The Avengers" under Loki's mind control. We saw Black Widow talk at length about her relationship with Hawkeye, but we didn't see much of that bond for ourselves. Halfway through "Age of Ultron," we learn the crucial information that, oh yeah, he's actually a married family man. That film conveyed Barton's fear over his own mortality in light of his lack of powers and familial obligations well, but then he was absent entirely for "Infinity War" and became a katana-wielding Punisher on steroids. Renner played Barton's Ronin phase well, but it didn't mesh with what came before since he was developed in just one of the three previous "Avengers" movies. Black Widow's controversial ending allowed her to sacrifice herself for Hawkeye and allowed her to help bring back far more people than she killed in her shady pre-SHIELD days. Her fate fit the character but it was maddening because, like with Gamora in "Infinity War," the most prominent female character on a male-dominated team was killed off. (Confession time: When Scarlett Johansson's signature appeared in the credits, I, a grown adult, shouted "YOU DESERVED BETTER!" in the theater. I regret nothing.) Overall, though, the original Avengers who helped make the MCU the cultural behemoth it is were given satisfying cinematic endings that worked well within what had been established before.
Enough with all of the substantial analysis, though; Let's dive into some severe overthinking!
One of the most interesting aspects of the movie was how the ending was handled. All of the Snapped come back, as had been almost universally expected, but the five-year gap remained. Time travel wasn't used to stop the Snap from ever happening or wipe the event from the public's minds. To Disney's credit, they didn't tie up everything nearly as neatly as I expected. All of that cosmic genocide still happened, so survivors' traumatic memories and all of the events of the films persist.
The implications are insane when you think about them for a minute — or, in my case, for way too many minutes. Say you are simply living your life like a normal person on earth in the Marvel universe, with your-day-to-day existence largely untouched by the killer robots, deities and 40-foot giants that sometimes pop up. You've seen YouTube footage of the occasional Hulk rampage, and you're maybe a little annoyed by the 300 clickbait articles that pop up every time Tony Stark posts a meme on his Twitter page, but for the most part, none of that stuff really affects you. Then your partner is suddenly gone. Not just them, but every other person you know. You eventually find out after the hysteria that half the world's population was decimated by some kind of cosmic deathbringer while you were in the office bathroom. You struggle with this ludicrous information that has suddenly steamrolled over your life. And you struggle with that heavily for two to three years, if you're lucky. After some serious therapy — if that therapist can somehow also deal with having lost most of their loved ones — you manage to not let it dominate every other thought you have. You meet someone. You help each other come to terms with what happened, because someone else in your life is also contending with the tremendous guilt that would likely come with something like this, regardless of it not being your or their fault. You manage to carve out a life together for a little while. Then suddenly your old partner is back. The person who you were just beginning to accept was gone has appeared out of nowhere and is back again, scared and confused. Now what?
Or imagine the flip side, and you were one of the Snapped. You walked all the way to your car only to discover you forgot your keys and then you felt a little weird — assuming you were spared the nightmare scenario of seeing your own limbs get erased from existence a split second before the rest of you dissipated — and then you were gone. Suddenly you're back and you feel physically fine but everything is different now. Maybe your partner moved on or your partner or a parent died of natural causes within that five-year span. What if you came back only to see your house was abandoned or foreclosed on? Or your old job isn't available — assuming you weren't a small business owner whose business might have been screwed because you weren't there — because even with vacancies, less potential clients meant a lot of companies probably downsized (Because you really wanted to think about theoretical economic issues within the Marvel universe, right?). Thinking about houses leads further down the rabbit hole because it begs the question of where un-dusted people were placed when they were brought back. Spider-Man mentions everyone on Titan simply re-appeared when Hulk snapped everyone back into reality. So does that mean everyone just appeared in the exact same spot they were when they were erased? That leads to the horrifying thought of what happened to those who were in airplanes. Did they reappear in that exact spot in the air, but without an airplane around them? Were people who were on cruise ships suddenly stranded in the Pacific Ocean? If someone was driving a car at the time - there must have been crashes galore on the day of the snap, by the way - does that mean you reappeared in that exact spot on the road you were on at the time? Did some people miraculously come back after being phased out of existence, only to get plowed by a car in traffic once they re-materialized?
All of that said, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently confirmed that Hulk — being the "Smart Hulk" now as Feige put it — ensured during his snap that everyone who had been vanished by Thanos all came back safely. The deeper explorations of the Snap will likely never be explored, at least not with any kind of depth. Most of these movies are fairly upbeat. They certainly have some dark undercurrents, mind you — "Infinity War" and "Endgame" not only contended with how people deal with trauma but it touched on difficult subjects such as Thanos' abusive relationships with his daughters. But the films moving forward likely won't cover the pitch black material suggested here. It's all fascinating to think about, though.
So what's next for the Marvel universe, especially with the time skip they committed to? "Far From Home" has the most pressure on it to address how this world works now, because it's the next movie coming out — the latest trailer proved the film is not ignoring "Endgame"'s ending — and because Spider-Man normally features the MCU from more of a ground-floor perspective. Aside from Tony and his influence in "Homecoming" and Nick Fury's apparent super spy shenanigans in this film, Peter's world is in New York City with his non powered classmates and everyday people like his Aunt May. This is still an adventure film, though, so deep exploration of the Snap-related trauma that would absolutely dominate the cast in real life will take obviously take a backseat to trips through Europe, Peter crushing on Michelle and fights with water monsters and obvious bad guy Mysterio. But even a couple throwaway lines here and there could go a long way toward showing us how this world works, especially since most of Peter's classmates should be college-aged by now. The trailers have indicated that like when the Snap spared all of the OG Avengers whose stories still needed closure, apparently Thanos effectively held back all of the kids who are important to Peter's story, like Ned, Michelle and Flash Thompson. Unless they make a joke about Ned somehow being held back for five years and inexplicably not aging, because you just know Jacob Batalon would crush a line like that.
Speaking of "Far from Home," this seems to be as good a place as any to drop a tinfoil hat theory spawned from from the latest trailer: What if this film's Mysterio, or Quentin Beck, is actually an older Peter Parker from an alternative universe? Nick Fury and Maria Hill say Beck is from another dimension since the Snap ripped a hole in our dimension. This is where it could get a bit meta, since it has been rumored for years that Beck's actor, Jake Gyllenhaal, was a major contender to play Spidey in the early 2000s films. He and Tom Holland have similar looks, so casting Gyllenhaal as an older version of Holland is not a huge stretch. The thumbnail from Sony's official trailer even features the two shaking hands in the exact same pose. Say I'm not insane, and something really bad happened to this alternative Peter during his web head days — Beck says "Saving the world requires sacrifice. Sometimes people die" at one point in the trailer — and abandoned his spider powers and focused on his technical prowess. Despite the spider suits from Stark, "Civil War" established that Peter made his own web fluid and first costume so he still has some skills in that department. This other Peter buckled into the pressure of being "the next Iron Man," as those exact words pop up a couple times in the trailer, and, well, because he's Mysterio, went bad. You can not tell me that the movie's moral won't be "You can't be the next Iron Man, but you can be the best Spider-Man" or something similar to that. What better way to illustrate that than by depicting a Peter who couldn't handle that responsibility? Holland recently said there is a scene in the film that will likely upset a lot of people, and a flashback of a different friendly neighborhood Spider-Man hurting people and breaking bad would fit the bill.
...Or Mysterio is lying about being from a another world, as deception is his M.O. in the comics, as he is an master illusionist and is adept at creating life-like scenarios. Or, if I may crank the paranoia a notch higher, it goes one step further and they play into the meta angle more by making the alternative Peter backstory a fake scenario Beck tells as a part of his machinations, though I doubt the film will have time for that kind of a fake out. Or he really is guy named Quentin Beck from another world but is still lying about his true intentions. The Mysterio from the primary comics universe has ventured into other universes before, after all. In any case, these are all just crazed guesses about where that character is headed and I'm probably going to be laughably wrong once the film hits in July. The only thing we can be dead certain about is that Beck is the main villain. There are whispers of The Chameleon popping up in the film, likely disguised as someone else like Nick Fury, but the smart money is on Mysterio turning out to be the primary big bad.
Other MCU projects that have been confirmed, such as sequels to "Doctor Strange" and "Black Panther," will likely address the Snap's consequences in some form. The good doctor's next appearance could feature him wrestling with guilt over allowing the events of "Infinity War" to unfold regardless of it being the sole scenario he saw working out of the 14 million futures he peeked at. That could show some Stark-like growth: An arrogant man who always believed he was the right way now questioning himself amid the weight of those decisions even when he is right. Perhaps Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo from the first movie has been amassing power since his first appearance. The living fear deity Nightmare has been rumored to face Strange on screen at some point, and a figure like that could easily wreak havoc in a post-Snap landscape.
It's hard to imagine the last two "Avengers" films won't impact "Black Panther 2," as Wakanda appeared to get torn up something fierce by the end of "Infinity War." "Endgame" gave the impression that Akoye was running the show in T'Challa's absence, since Shuri was gone too. Perhaps Ramonda was the last royal standing, or M'Baku stepped up since we know he survived the Snap but haven't seen him since. Since T'Challa's nation is key to his story, how it was affected by the Snap and who governed it in the absence of its king will likely come into play in some form.
In regards to the "Black Widow" film, that is almost certainly a prequel unless one hell of a twist is coming. There have been conflicting reports about when exactly it will take place in the past. Though he hasn't been announced yet, a brainwashed Bucky Barnes could show up for a scene, tear shit up and then bolt, as Natasha talked about encountering him in "Winter Solider." One could make an educated guess that Hawkeye will show up and we'll see the start of that bond that was so often referenced in the films but wasn't shown nearly as often. Maybe we'll see what the hell happened in Budapest, since it was brought up so many times.
If Hawkeye doesn't show up there, though, we'll be getting him in his own Disney+ show, with Kate Bishop in the wings. The series will likely focus on Barton retiring and meeting up with Kate to train her. His five-year John Wick period will probably at least get a mention, likely during an emotionally revealing heart-to-heart between the two. Show on The Falcon and Winter Solider will definitely follow-up on the fact that Sam was handed a really shiny thing in "Endgame" as the two continue without the Cap they know, Reports have said Sharon Carter and Zemo are coming back, and I'm just glad someone didn't forget about them. Meanwhile, the "Wandavison" series will definitely focus on Wanda trying to bring Vision back to life and likely tear space and time asunder to do so. The VIsion is said to be a major part of the show and it's well established that Wanda is incredibly powerful, so it's likely that it won't take long for her to get her robot boyfriend back in some capacity. Loki is also getting a show regardless of whether that's a good idea, and though it's rumored to feature a younger God of Mischief messing around in the past, Loki grabbing the Tesseract in "Endgame" means the fan-favorite is likely scheming around the cosmos somewhere. Maybe he got transported to Bormir and traded notes with The Red Skull?
The third "Guardian of the Galaxy" is an interesting case not only because of where "Endgame" left the cast but the possible addition of Thor. Unless there is a casual mention that they dropped him off somewhere, Chris Hemsworth may very well be in the film. For my money, though, the most interesting characters there are Gamora and Nebula. The latter is probably the most complex figure in the MCU canon right now, and this Gamora - being from 2014 Gamora ,likely just before the first "Guardians," and was brought to the present - needs more screen time than she'll probably get. This is a Gamora who had no experiences with Quill and the others. The only one she knows in this time is Nebula, and their relationship in 2014 was fraught at best. While having 2014 Gamora leave Earth without everyone else at the end of the movie is better than her being trapped in a ship with strangers, you just know she'll still get with Quill anyway because movies. Either way, "Endgame" put Nebula and Gamora in spots worth great exploration, but a large chunk of the film will probably be dedicated to Quill and Thor's metaphorical hammer-measuring contest before they bond over being guys with major daddy issues who have weathered traumatic situations, if Hemsworth is even in the movie and is prominent.
(Quick aside: On the note of time-displaced characters, the Thanos who shows up in the climax of "Endgame" was a tad...boring. This Thanos, like Gamora, is from the past and didn't experience the events of "Infinity War." This version didn't go through any of the sacrifices the previous one did, like giving up Gamora to the Soul Stone. While that was problematic in its own right since, like with Black Widow in "Endgame" and in countless other stories, it was another case of a woman dying to further a man's story, here by the man's own hand, Thanos' guilt over that choice and his efforts to gather the other Infinity Stones added shades to the character. This other Thanos had his Nebula do all the work to bring him into the present with little actual work on his part, making this version of the big purple brute feel like more an end boss in a video game than a complex threat. This Thanos had the same motivations as the one we spent so much time with before and he puts our heroes through the wringer, but their victory is a tad less satisfying because he wasn't the same guy who went through all of the events of the last film. Killing off that version of the Mad Titan — who was basically the main character of "Infinity War" — in the first 20 minutes was a fascinating choice and it cemented that that Thanos still got everything he wanted. But that left us with a Thanos who was more of an obstacle to defeat than a compelling antagonist. End of aside.)
The hype on the MCU hasn't ended with "Endgame," and it should be fascinating to see how the franchise continues from here. What did you think of the movie? How did it treat your favorite characters? Do you think the ending is strangely horrifying, or am I just overthinking? Let me know.