ENDGAME SPOILERS: Ranking the Narrative Arcs of the Core Avengers

It’s a hell of a time to be a geek. After ten years of watching Marvel create a multi-faceted, interconnected cinematic universe worthy of the comics - one that has come to dominate not just nerd culture, but the mainstream zeitgeist - we have finally reached the Endgame. We knew it would be painful, that it would mark the end of the road for many of our favorite heroes, and it did not disappoint in that regard. Hard as it may be, much as we may mourn, there’s some solace in a well-crafted narrative arc. If the end was worthy of the character, if it summed up their journey and delivered a fitting rest/retirement, or set the stage for new possibilities, then it can’t all be sad, right?

There’s a lot to unpack in Avengers: Endgame, but let’s start with the core team.


6. Black Widow

Yes, I’m upset. And perhaps this is the denial talking, but I feel there’s hope in these murky waters of open-endedness. We know that Black Widow is getting a solo movie. Odds are, it will be a prequel and that’s absolutely okay. There’s so much narrative meat in her backstory that has only been hinted at and that deserves to be the focus of its own film. We could see all the ass-kicking of her assassin years, already sympathetic to her as an anti-hero. We could see the moment that Clint took a chance on her. We could even get an appearance by the Winter Soldier, who had a role in her training days in the comics. If the movie isn’t a prequel, it could be a story of her return, an exploration of identity in the aftermath of sacrifice and resurrection. And that sounds delicious.

Either way, as soon as she and Clint split off to Vormir, most in the audience knew one of them was a goner. The back-and-forth at the literal cliff’s edge drew it out enough to make us squirm. The Avengers’ beat of mourning back at the compound felt like a bit too little, though. Very upsetting, but the mechanics of Black Widow and Gamora’s fates as those intertwined with the Soul Stone was left vague enough to keep hope alive.


5. Hawkeye

At first, I was not a fan of the family man take on Clint. It didn’t have much basis in the comics… except in the Ultimate universe, where they were tragically killed - well played, Endgame. It also felt like it took away from the “loveable ass” vibe that he usually provides. While I’d love to have seen the schlubby-but-loyal, coffee-dependent bachelor of the Matt Fraction and David Aja comic series, this questionable Whedon arc went though enough shake-ups in Endgame to feel like a welcome resolution. We finally got to see Ronin and the vicious presion that earned this loving dad his reputation as a badass in the first place. Clint has been reunited with his family and it’s rumored that he’ll be training his successor, who in the comics became the Hawkeye of the Young Avengers.


4. Thor

Personally, I popped hard for this take on the character, but I’m a big fan of The Big Lebowski. This take is definitely going to be divisive, especially when compared to Tony Stark’s similar PTSD struggles in Iron Man. But in comic team ups, there’s often been a “big lug” element to Thor that’s played for comedy. We saw some of it in Ragnarok (along with Hemsworth’s excellent comedic chops) and here, it takes on the additional darkness of all his worst impulses - excess, self-absorption, worthiness-issues - being dialed up to eleven. That he can make us smile through his struggle isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was also nice to see Frigga again, especially in a role that gave Rene Russo more of her due. Having this version of Thor join with the Guardians at the end of Endgame leaves plenty of possibilities for Guardians 3, Thor 4, or some combination of both. And I think the beard braids look great.


3. Hulk

Even before the movie opened, the Professor Hulk rumor was well-established. And he did not disappoint! The merging of the two personalities may have happened off-screen (which makes sense, since that could be a movie all its own), but the big guy stole every scene that he was in. So far he’s worked best in the movies in a supporting role, but this take has made the character into something new. As much as this movie is a celebration of the work that went into the films, this incarnation is a celebration of Mark Ruffalo. After the recasting drama, he’s made this character his own - charming, awkwardly funny, even popular with the kids online. The fact that Professor Hulk is still around leaves plenty of possibility, but the reconciliation of these two personalities has been a struggle that we’ve watched over ten years of films. This leaves room for us to see this Hulk again but, if we don’t, this still feels like a fitting ending to his narrative arc.


2. Captain America

Oh, boy. This is the one that I had the most questions about going into the movie. I’m a huge Caps fan and, yes, I mean that in the plural. But this is about Steve Rogers and I am absolutely thrilled with how his story resolved. They started dropping hints about Peggy early in the movie and, by the time she showed up - watched unseen by an emotional Steve - all I wanted was to see time travel shenanigans reunite them. It might have been a tad too obvious that things were going in that direction, but we also got to revist the Cap-that-was as he faced off against himself in the past. “I could do this all day. / Yeah, I know.” Brilliant.

We also got That Moment, the one that had been teased back in Age of Ultron. Steve is officially worthy of Mjolnir and seeing him stand with both the hammer and the shield before absolutely nailing Thanos was one of the biggest pops in the entire movie. If anyone deserves his retirement, it’s this guy, the one who stood against an army in that one, breaktaking shot. And then came the “on your left” and I lost all my shit.

In the end, Steve’s departure and the passing of the torch was played with the perfect delicate touch. His return as an old man, married to Peggy, and smiling with the secrets of a full life - the life he should have lived - is the perfect reward. I was very eager to see if the shield would go to Bucky or Sam, since they both carried the mantel in the comics, and it was nice to see a literal nod to the fact that it was Bucky’s first. Giving it to Sam feels right in this world. Bucky’s run as Captain America was very dark, focused on redemption and, given the overall context of the movies, giving it to Sam feels like a more optimistic move. Plus, we’re getting an entire Disney+ show to explore the dynamic between them. For Steve, though, he has a dance to get to.


1. Iron Man

This is the big one, the narrative that has been at the center of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. And it’s the center here as well, brilliantly recapping Tony Stark’s entire journey. His momentary regression to self-interest, though understandable in wanting to protect his family, is a callback to where he started. We again see the neurotic genius who wanted to put “a suit of armor around the world” as he obsesses over the time travel quandary, returning to peak hyper-verbal snark as he returns to the team.

The scene where he meets his father in the seventies is a lovely interlude, especially their opportunity to come to an understanding as new fathers moving past their self-obsessed tendencies. During the visit to the battle of New York, we get a first taste of Tony’s self-sacrifice as he gives his past self a cardiac incident in order to create a distraction. This comes full circle when he finally “lays down on the wire,” making the final sacrifice in picking up the Infinity Gauntlet.  That last "I am Iron Man" as he snaps his fingers is breathtaking. Ours and, of course, his. Peter Parker’s death was the most haunting of Infinity War and now Tony is dying in his arms, before Pepper steps in to tell him to finally rest.

(Are you crying? I’m crying.)

Tony’s funeral shows the rest of the cast reunited (down to the kid from Iron Man 3 - nice touch), tracking through what feels like the history of the franchise with Nick Fury watching over it all. Well played, Marvel. Well, freakin’ played.