Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. In this entry, we offer the last word on the ending of Avengers: Endgame.
Heroes don’t trade lives. That’s what Captain America believed before he ever went shield to gauntlet against the Mad Titan Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. When The Vision offered his head to the chopping block, begging his teammates to obliterate the Mind Stone that birthed him into existence, the selfless super soldier refused the gesture. No. Leave that “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” philosophy to Star Trek. Here in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Avengers either find victory together or they go down swinging together. After all, Steve Rogers is the greatest generation.
Cut to Cap fallen over the cold gray corpse of The Vision with half the universe blowing in the wind. “Oh god,” Rogers uttered. They went 10 rounds with Thanos, and the surviving “heroes” were left to contemplate all their noble, wrong choices. Everything Captain America believed before this moment delivered a catastrophic loss that every living lifeform is forced to reconcile. The good fight is a lie. There are only winners and losers. A person must do whatever it takes to stay on top.
The rules didn’t result in their preferred outcome. So, the Avengers can no longer play by them. Steve Rogers may struggle with cheating, but Tony Stark delights in misdeeds.
Part one of Avengers: Endgame takes you through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Then Ant-Man pops out of the Quantum Realm, rings the doorbell of Avengers HQ, and asks the two biggest (remaining) brains on the planet to plot a course through the Time Vortexes of the Microverse. Part two of the film involves a Time Heist that is not at all like Back to the Future, The Terminator, Quantum Leap, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, or Die Hard. Except that it’s kinda like of those paradoxes… well, maybe not Die Hard. The Avengers scrounge through their timelines stealing the Infinity Stones for their purposes before Thanos can ever get his grubby mitts on them.
Successful, Tony Stark constructs an Iron Gauntlet to wield the Infinity Stones. After fending off the mighty El Duderino Thor from shoving his rageful fist into it, the Avengers decide that Banner Hulk is the most suitable, clear-minded, and strongest subject to Snap on their behalf. There really is no other option considering how Thanos’ body nearly melted from his bones after his attempt in Infinity War and that the majority of radiation emanating from the Stones is of the Gamma variety. Banner Hulk was born for this.
Tony has very specific instructions for Banner Hulk: When you Snap, don’t get fancy. Bring back the fallen but to this time period. Do not erase what we’ve experienced in these last five years. Do not undo Morgan Stark, Tony’s precious daughter who loves him 3000.
Banner Hulk dons the Iron Gauntlet, the power of all six Infinity Stones courses through his system, and he snaps. The sun seems to come out. Birds suddenly appear. Ant-Man steps to the window to bask in their majesty and Clint Barton receives a phone call from his once-dusted wife. All’s good.
Unfortunately, Avengers HQ has an evil time-traveling stowaway. Nebula from the year 2014 has replaced the Nebula who went through some seriously significant character development between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Avengers: Endgame. She hijacks their time platform and transports Thanos and his army from the past to the present. Sanctuary II rains all its warheads upon the base, seemingly blasting The Avengers to the center of the Earth or at least many subbasements below the surface.
Past-Thanos has a new goal. Retrieve the Iron Gauntlet and use it to restart the universe. Forget balance. Clearly, if one soul remembers a time before the Snap, then they will fight to their last breath to correct the change. The only answer is a pure, new beginning for life to flourish.
Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man pull themselves from the rubble. While Hawkeye scurries about with the Iron Gauntlet under his arm, these three will finish Thanos once and for all. The battle is rough, brutal, and unwinnable despite Steve Rogers discovering his worthiness to wield Mjölnir stolen from The Dark World timeline. Even without the Infinity Stones, Thanos gains the upper hand on three of the Avengers’ heavy hitters. The Mad Titan points his army of Chitari, Badoon, and Outrider soldiers at Steve Rogers. Hope seems lost.
As Captain America attempts to calculate the Art of War in his mind he receives a radio transmission. “On your left,” says the newly resurrected Sam Wilson, calling back to their first encounter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Doctor Strange opens a portal and out steps T’Challa, Shuri, and Okoye. Captain America and Black Panther share a smile. Hundreds of other portals open up on the battlefield delivering hundreds of reenergized combatants eager to square off against Thanos’ horde.
Everyone whom we saw turned to ash at the end of Infinity War strikes a pose, plus several other heroes like an armored Pepper Potts, a pegasus straddling Valkyrie, and squadrons of Ravagers, Sorcerers, Asgardians, and Wakandans. With so many soldiers on the field, the sole concern becomes the acquisition of the Iron Gauntlet.
Captain Marvel appears at the last minute and nearly rips the Iron Gauntlet from Thanos’ grasp, but the dirty dog snatches the Power Stone from the knuckle and smashes Carol across the war-torn wasteland. Iron Man jumps on Thanos and pulls a switcharoo with the stones right before another cataclysmic click of the fingers. Thanos claimed, “I am inevitable.” Pishposh. Tony Stark responds to the Titan’s bravado as his armor’s nanotech arranges the stones into a new Iron Gauntlet, “I am Iron Man.” Snap.
Thanos and his armies get a taste of their own medicine, fading into nothingness. Tony Stark’s frail human body could not take the cosmic eruption of energy, and he readies himself for the end. War Machine is the first to arrive at his side, then comes Spider-Man, and finally, Pepper Potts has her last goodbye. She tells him not to worry. She tells him that they will be fine. Everyone will be fine. Tony Stark ends his life on the sacrifice play.
On the lake by their home, Pepper holds a funeral for her husband. She lays a wreath out on the water, at the center of which is the memento she made from the first mini-arc reactor that saved his life in the cave. Tony Stark had a heart. Here is the proof.
After the lakeside funeral for Iron Man, Thor appoints Valkyrie King of Asgard and joins the Guardians of the Galaxy. Happy Hogan promises to keep Morgan Stark forever fed on hamburgers. Steve Rogers returns all six Infinity Stones as well as Mjölnir to their proper time. However, he does not reappear as prompted. Instead, he sought out the life Tony Stark always told him he should find. He returned to 1942, got his dance with Peggy Carter, and presumably married her.
Mere seconds and feet from the mini-machine platform that sent Rogers back in time, Sam Wilson discovers a very old Steve Rogers sitting on a stone bench. Steve gives Sam his shield. Sam says it doesn’t feel like it belongs to him. Steve says that it does. Sam says, “Thank you.” Ladies and gentlemen say hello to your next Captain America.
Heroes do trade lives. That’s the gift that Thanos and Tony Stark gave Steve Rogers. If we’re not willing to lay it all on the line for each other than what the hell is the point of this whole mess? We all deserve our happy ending, but sometimes we have to redefine happiness to make it work and livable. The greatest joy we reserve for the ones we cherish the most, and there is no loss in dying to secure that love.