'Avengers: Endgame' Explained By a First-Time Marvel Viewer
[This story contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame]
It's rare to meet someone who hasn't seen at least one installment from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 22-movie franchise that has earned more than $20 billion at the worldwide box office. But Chris Brower is one such person. After years of hearing me talk about Marvel, I asked Chris, who was the best man at my wedding, to make Avengers: Endgame his first MCU movie. I wanted to see if the film would (A) be enjoyable and (B) be comprehensible to someone with little background information and no emotional ties to these characters. He did not know about the Infinity Stones. He did not know about Thanos or his snap. The only media he consumed about the film was this trailer and whatever posters he may have seen in passing. In other words, he was going into Endgame almost as cold as possible. Chris took notes during his packed Sunday afternoon screening, and the following is his best attempt to recap the events. In certain spots I've added links after the fact to aid his explanations. Spoilers (some accurate, some not) are ahead. — Aaron Couch
Heat Vision breakdown
The film opens on an idyllic day, as Jeremy Renner (at this point, character name = ??) is coaching his young daughter in archery, while his wife and their two sons prepare a picnic. The daughter hits a perfect bull's-eye, but when Renner turns his back for a second, she disappears and then so does the rest of the family. A rumble (thunder?) sounds, signaling uh-oh.
After a lighthearted title sequence, which seems at odds with a man’s family having just disappeared, the film cuts to Iron Man explaining (mansplaining?) paper football to some sort of robotic woman. While she struggles at first, she soon gets the hang of it, flicking a perfect field goal. Iron Man is clearly ailing from something, perhaps on his last legs, as he and the robotic woman travel (where?) in a spaceship. The robotic woman’s name is never clear, though Iron Man refers to her one time as “Blue Meanie.” Blue Meanie, though deadpan and shy, shows some compassion toward the sickly Iron Man. It looks like Iron Man is about to die, but then Captain Marvel appears outside the spaceship. It’s not clear whether it’s actually her or just some sort of foggy hallucination, but it’s obvious this is a joyous, fortuitous moment.
Back on land somewhere, members of the Avengers crew are hanging out. This includes Scarlett Johansson (character name, ??), Chris Evans (character name, ??), Don Cheadle (character name, ??), Gwyneth Paltrow (character name, ??) and some others. Suddenly, the spaceship arrives, dropped off by Captain Marvel, who appears to be somewhat on fire, but this has no negative effect on her and is perhaps one of her superpowers.
Iron Man laments to the Avengers crew that he “lost the boy,” though it’s not clear what boy this is, other than perhaps his son. Paltrow consoles him, and it seems this is Iron Man’s wife and the mother of the lost boy.
There is talk among the crew about Thanos wiping out 50 percent of things in the universe. At the mention of Thanos, the picture on screen is of Samuel L. Jackson, signaling that this eye-patched character is the one they call Thanos. It is obvious that Thanos is their nemesis. While Thor vents his frustration at not having stopped Thanos himself, we spot a beer can on the table, the only alcoholic beverage present, signaling that Thor might having a drinking problem, because not only is he the only one drinking, but he is drinking beer out of a can, which in movies seems to imply a character has hit rock bottom. In a moment of “I can’t take it!” Iron Man rips out his IV, seeming to not care if he ever gets better. A heart decal of some kind is on his chest.
During the group’s “vent session,” the concept of “stones” is mentioned. It becomes clear these have some special significance. Perhaps they can bring back people that Thanos wiped out. It’s also clear that Captain Marvel, who’s still lingering around, must be new to the group or an outsider. There are no friendly handshakes or thanks for carrying Iron Man’s spaceship back to wherever the Avengers group is. Thor, demonstrating his powers, summons a hammer that quickly whizzes by Captain Marvel’s head, slightly ruffling her hair. When she doesn’t flinch, Thor decides, okay, he likes her.
Next, the Avengers crew goes to space to find Thanos. Some of them, including Cheadle and Thor, have never been. [Editor's note. Thor has indeed been to space before.] There is also a fox with them.
During the flight, Evans looks at a locket/compass/pocket watch (?) with a photo of a woman. It’s old looking, which seems odd, since everything else is so high-tech and modern.
When they arrive at their destination, it becomes clear Thanos is actually not Samuel L. Jackson’s character, but some sort of beast who looks like Shrek meets Stone Cold Steve Austin. There’s talk that Thanos murdered someone, perhaps named “Troy.” [Editor's note: a reader has pointed out Troy = trillions.] It’s also said that Blue Meanie is actually Thanos’ daughter.
The Avengers crew seems to fight Thanos quite easily (this is the bad guy??). Thor pretty simply cuts off Thanos’ hand, which is possibly prosthetic. The Avengers crew stares at the hand, but the significance is not yet clear. In a moment of rage, Thor beheads Thanos (quite easily), killing him. Thor, in general, seems unhinged.
Words on the screen let us know it’s now five years later. Aerial shots show New York City, looking wintery, deserted and desolate, a post-apocalyptic hellscape. Evans is in group therapy in a VFW hall. A man recounts his recent first date where he and another man bonded over how much they miss the New York Mets. The date cried before the salad came, while the man recounting the story in therapy cried before dessert. Despite the bleakness of this date, there are plans for a second. During group therapy, there are hints that Evans lost the woman from the photo in 1945 and woke up 75 years later. Perhaps it’s just the talk of “1945,” but is Evans’s character a World War II veteran?
The movie switches to a similarly bleak San Francisco. In a dark warehouse full of junk, a rat scurrying around a conversion van steps on a button, which shoots out a duffel bag containing Ant-Man (in his everyday/non-superhero look). A security guard resembling Ken Jeong in a fake mustache kicks Ant-Man out of the warehouse.
Ant-Man walks through a quiet, deserted-looking neighborhood. He spots a teen riding a bike (without a helmet) and asks what’s going on, but the angsty teen pedals away without providing help.
Ant-Man continues walking and comes across a memorial site near Golden Gate Bridge that contains “the Vanished.” This makes it clearer a lot of people have in fact vanished, like as in some sort of rapture. Ant-Man frantically searches the stone tablets for a “Cassie,” presumably his wife/significant other. He rudely squeezes in front of other people looking for their own loved ones’ names, though they don’t seem to mind. When he spots the name “Scott Lang,” he is stunned, implying to the movie audience that his name is Scott Lang, and that the world had thought he had vanished too.
He hurries to his home. A young woman answers, astounded that Scott is standing before her. It soon becomes clear, oh, this is his daughter.
The movie cuts to Johansson in a warehouse/lab having a hologram meeting with other members of the Avengers crew. She’s eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut diagonally. Cheadle says he is currently in Mexico, fighting a cartel of some kind. While the other characters look about the same as they did five years ago, Captain Marvel now has a short haircut, resembling an '80s gymnast, such as Kerri Strug. [Editor's note: Kerri Strug's day was actually in the '90s.] The fox teases her about her hairstyle.
Scott joins the group. He says that the five years was just five hours for him. Time is different in a quantum realm. The group discusses traveling through time and the possibility of entering the quantum realm at different spots.
Johansson makes a quip about getting emails from a raccoon, making it suddenly clear that, oh, the fox character is actually a raccoon.
The movie cuts to Iron Man at a cozy cabin, sharing a cute moment with his young, cardigan-wearing daughter. Three of the Avengers arrive at his home, driving an Audi. They discuss traveling through time, as the stones might be in the past somewhere. Iron Man seems dismissive on the topic of traveling through time: it could be dangerous, and they could screw everything up. During this scene, someone uses Iron Man’s real name, Tony, the (perhaps) first mention of his name in the movie.
Cutting to an all-American diner, the Avengers talk with the Incredible Hulk, who looks like an L.L. Bean-wearing college professor with stubble and jaundice. Some youngsters flock to the Incredible Hulk for a photo, implying he’s a celebrity. Ant-Man, on the other hand, is unknown, and the kids do not want a photo with an adult male stranger they don’t recognize.
At his home, Tony tries to make time travel possible and realizes it is in fact possible. His young daughter overhears him say “shit.” After the daughter is put to bed, telling her father that she loves him 3,000 times, Tony talks to Paltrow. While she is studying composting, he shares his discoveries related to time travel.
Now things transition to the Avengers’ headquarters, where they are doing time-travel tests with Ant-Man, using Ant-Man’s van. It’s becoming clearer that Ant-Man is not very smart and basically a joke to the others. The early time-travel tests go poorly, and though Ant-Man does go into the past, he returns as a different age of himself, from baby to elderly. During one of those ages, Ant-Man pees himself. It is also during this scene that Evans is first shown as Captain America.
Iron Man shows up to the Avengers’ headquarters, also driving an Audi (official car of the Avengers?). Iron Man shares his own time-travel research with the group.
Ant-Man tries to eat a large, overstuffed taco when the giant bird-looking spaceship from Iron Man’s earlier travels, arrives, blowing the taco away and continuing his string of bad luck. In a moment of friendship, the Incredible Hulk shares two of his tacos.
The Avengers crew then travels to New Asgard, which looks like a quaint Dutch town. The movie music playing sounds like what would be in a Wes Anderson film, connoting lighthearted quirkiness awaits. It is during this scene that the raccoon’s name is revealed to be Rocket, though at first it sounds like Rocky.
The crew meets up with Thor who is now a full-time drunkard and resembles a beer-gutted Jason Momoa/Jesus. He lives in a shack and is playing video games with two creatures, including one who resembles WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar if he were made of cement. You almost expect to see a bong or Funyuns somewhere.
The movie cuts to Tokyo, where some kind of crazy, unexplained samurai fight is going on while it pours. When the fight ends, it is revealed that one of the men is Renner. Johansson arrives, protecting herself from the rain with an umbrella. They briefly hold hands, hinting there is some kind of special bond between them.
Renner rejoins the Avengers crew, and it becomes clearer his name is actually “Clint.” Clint time-travels and arrives at his barn back home in the past. On his property is a Ford truck, not an Audi, ruining the idea that all the Avengers drive Audis. Clint is about to be reunited with his daughter when he’s zapped back into the present day.
The group continues discussing the stones, and it’s revealed that there are six in all and that they are “infinity stones” or at least one is an “infinity stone.” There is also one known as a “power stone.” Other stone names will reveal themselves later. We also learn around this time that Thor’s missing woman is named Jane Foster, and like Captain America, Thor stares at a photo of her, feeling sad. Meanwhile, Rocket continues to mock members of the Avengers crew. His role in the group is increasingly confusing, as he mostly just makes fun of everyone and seems annoyed to be there. Blue Meanie’s role in the group is likewise confusing at this point, as she doesn’t seem to do much other than be a sort of “Debbie Downer,” morosely mumbling her words and sucking the fun out of any situation.
The group having harnessed the power of time travel is ready to go get the stones, and it’s revealed that the stones are in three places: New York City, Asgard and somewhere else that is written on the movie screen but disappears quickly.
Some of the Avengers travel back to New York in 2012, which is in chaos. Ghoulish beasts fly through the air, duking it out. The present-day Avengers see their past selves doing battle, and they cringe at the 2012 Hulk running amok and smashing a taxi and motorcycle for no valid reason.
Present-day Hulk confronts a monkish Tilda Swinton on a rooftop. Who she is, or her name, is never apparent other than she works for someone named Dr. Strange. What kind of doctor Strange is, is similarly never shared. During their confrontation, Swinton transforms Hulk into his human self, Bruce.
The movie cuts to Asgard in 2013. Thor and Rocket are in a castle, which is revealed to be where Thor lived before his beer-soaked, video-game days. The other inhabitants in the castle look to be royalty from Medieval times, making the timeline confusing (this is 2013? The people look to be from another century.). Thor realizes this is the day his mom died. He and Rocket hope to get the infinity stone.
The movie cuts to Morag in 2014. There are little lizards running around. Some sort of sexual tension continues to simmer between Johansson and Clint. Somewhere else on Morag, Thanos and the past self of the Blue Meanie are looking for the stones, perhaps the infinity stone, which is on Morag. 2014 Blue Meanie and a Green Woman (name = ??) do battle. It’s revealed they are sisters, though they look nothing alike. It also becomes more apparent that the Blue Meanie used to be on Thanos and the Green Woman’s side, but something happened to make her change sides (and align herself with the Avengers), though what is unclear. The 2014 Blue Meanie then has what looks to be a bad migraine but is perhaps some sort of technical glitch that broadcasts things that are happening, including that Cheadle and perhaps others are also on Morag.
Back in New York City, at some penthouse, Iron Man, Ant-Man and Captain America are looking for a stone. Tom Hiddleston (character name = ??) is there, and from his dark attire, it seems that he must be a villain of sorts. He also can’t seem to see Iron Man, Ant-Man and Captain America. In fact, it often seems like the present-day characters can’t be seen when they go to the past even though they’re standing in broad daylight.
Present-day Ant-Man sneaks into 2012 Tony’s shirt. There is talk of “Hydra.” On an elevator, present-day Captain America is in danger of being caught by some group of henchmen/businessmen (so, he can be seen), but he proclaims, “Hail Hydra” and easily walks out with a briefcase, containing the stone. Apparently announcing “Hail Hydra” means one is handed a briefcase.
2012 Tony, now carrying the briefcase, is stopped by Alex Pierce (Robert Redford) who basically says, “Hold on a minute there . . .” Ant-Man makes Tony have a heart attack by fiddling with the pieces of his heart decal thing. It’s only now clear that, oh duh, Tony has a serious heart condition. When Tony falls to the ground, the briefcase is flung away and picked up by someone else (present-day Tony?). But then Hulk knocks out Tony (wait, is this the present-day Tony?), and the stone gets out. Hiddleston, whose character is now referred to as “Loqui” (??), picks it up.
Present-day Captain America has a wrestling match with his past self. Their swords act as a sort of stun gun to each other. Upon defeating his past self, Captain America stares fondly at the butt of his 2012-era body, calling back to an earlier joke about his “American ass.”
The movie then cuts back to Bruce Banner with the Swinton monk character, who reveals she gave the time stone to Thanos. [Editor's note: She didn't.]
Back in Morag, Thanos learns more about what is going on, thanks to some Star Wars-looking personal assistant who can show him the Blue Meanie’s memories.
Back in Asgard, Thor reunites with his mom, who, like the mother of a high school student, seems on to the fact that Thor has been drinking, or at least that something is wrong with his eyes. Elsewhere in the castle, Jane Foster wakes up. Rocket has an implement in his hand that looks like a needle. What he plans to do with this needle is never clear, though it helps him get a red thing from Jane, yet we don’t know how he did it. Thor then summons a hammer to his hand. From the movie theater audience’s cheer, it’s clear Thor is getting his groove back.
Back in Morag, Chris Pratt walks around a swamp, singing along to music playing through headphones that look to be from the '90s, as other Avengers look on. The significance of this scene is never explained.
Elsewhere, Cheadle and the Blue Meanie use a fancy screwdriver to enter a temple that contains the power stone. The Blue Meanie gets the stone but can’t continue on the journey, due to the migraines/head issue.
The movie cuts back to Thanos and his assistant showing him that Thanos gets killed in the future. Thanos thinks Blue Meanie is the one who killed him, not knowing it was Thor. He is naturally furious at his daughter for killing him.
Back in New York City, Ant-Man mentions particles, which implies that something is important about them.
Tony and Captain America, who in this scene is called “Steve Rogers,” go to a New Jersey army base in the year 1970. While Steve fits in, appearance wise, Tony’s counterculture (for the time) beard grooming arouses suspicion among some of the people. Also, someone resembling Stan Lee drives by (is that him?).
Tony wanders around a basement and finds the stone. Why the stone is stored at an army base in a seemingly forgotten basement is never explained. He encounters a man named Howard Stark. It’s not clear who that is, but from the movie theater audience’s murmur, he must be a person of significance. Tony uses the fake name Howard Potts to conceal his own identity.
The movie then cuts to a Dr. Pym (played by Michael Douglas). In his lab are “Pym Particles,” which must be what the group is looking for.
Howard Stark tells Tony that his wife is about to have a child, appearing mostly indifferent to the whole thing at first (he acts as if going to see his wife at the hospital is just another mundane chore like picking up a gallon of milk). Stark admits that he is selfish. Despite having just met Tony after catching him wandering around a basement, Stark unloads on him all his fears and concerns about being a parent. Tony gives him advice. Elsewhere at the army base, Steve stares at a woman named Margaret Carter, who is standing in an office. Is she his mom (though they have different last names)? Despite the woman being just on the other side of a glass window, about a foot away from Steve, Margaret somehow does not spot him and let out a blood-curdling scream.
Back in Morag, present-day Blue Meanie pleads with Thanos, but past Blue Meanie injures her and takes part of her head/helmet, which contains Pym Particles.
Now in Vormir (what’s Vormir?) in the year 2014, Clint and Johansson stand atop a mountain. Something resembling the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come says that one of them will have to die to get the soul stone. Again, Johansson and Clint seem to have some sexual tension, making it further confusing due to Clint’s desire to get back to his wife and family. It is during this scene that Johansson’s character’s name of “Natasha” becomes apparent. Natasha and Clint fight it out. It’s not immediately clear whether they’re trying to kill each other or kill themselves, thus sparing the other person’s life. Ultimately, Natasha is the one to fall to the ground, perhaps dying. Clint wakes up in a pond and has the soul stone.
Back at Avengers headquarters, they have all the stones (wait, they do?), which are added to a glove. Why the stones are connected to a glove is not explained, though it’s now clear this is the Thanos hand/glove thing they were staring at earlier. Unbeknownst to the crew, it is the “past” (aka Evil) Blue Meanie with them, not the sullen, withdrawn one that was with them earlier in the movie.
Now that they have the stones, things are perhaps right again in the world. This is further exemplified by Clint’s phone, which is on vibrate mode, buzzing with a call from his wife Laura, signaling she is alive once more. But then soon they get bombed. Thanos is back to get his stones.
While before Thanos seemed to be mostly alone except his green daughter, the Blue Meanie, and the memory-reading personal assistant, he now has a legion of evil beings to take down the world. But then, a roll call of other Avengers characters arrives, including Black Panther, whoever Benedict Cumberbatch plays, and a bunch of others. Spider-Man arrives too — oh, so this is Iron Man’s son. Where these other characters have been hanging out this whole time is totally unclear. From here, craziness ensues, showing the Avengers don’t exactly have a cohesive battle plan. Thor summons lightning, and it’s further clear he’s back and ready to kick some ass.
Clint gives the glove of stones to the Blue Meanie, not realizing it’s the evil, past one. Luckily, the present-day Blue Meanie injures or kills the past one and gets the glove back. Meanwhile, the Thor hammer is caught by Captain America (or was it his hammer all along? Why do Thor's hammers always fly to him? Where are they coming from?).
The movie theater audience cheers, signaling this has some significance. The fight continues. The glove goes back and forth to various characters in a sort of game of “hot potato.” Someone has it, then someone else gets it, then someone else, then someone else, etc. Captain America gets the glove and tears one of the stones off of it. Thanos has what’s left of the glove and tries to snap, snapping evidently how he makes the world turn into what he wants it to, but the snap doesn’t work, perhaps because he doesn’t in fact have all the stones. Iron Man attacks Thanos and overwhelms him and announces, “I am Iron Man” in a declaration of self. Iron Man then snaps and all the bad guys disappear, including Thanos who disintegrates.
Iron Man’s pesky heart troubles flare up again. Spider-Man calls his own father, “Mr. Stark,” the use of “Stark” now making it apparent that the Howard Stark that Tony talked to at the army base before was his (Tony’s) own father. Presumably, Iron Man and his dad had a bad relationship. Iron Man now dies.
Back in the present day, life returns to normal. Spider-Man exchanges a handshake/bro-hug with some dude in a high school hallway. Clint hugs his family. Everyone seems to be reunited with their families. Tony’s family watches a hologram recording he made the day before he died. Tony’s funeral takes place, which is attended by all the members of the Avengers universe, though for some reason they stand very far apart from each other, with Samuel L. Jackson’s character standing 40 feet away from the action on a porch.
Tony’s heart decal thing is put on a little raft and sent out to sea. Jon Favreau (character = ??) offers to get Tony’s daughter a lot of cheeseburgers, the daughter not seeming to fully grasp yet that her dad is dead. Other characters mingle and tie up loose ends (ends that, until this moment, weren’t apparently “loose”). It becomes apparent there are many alliances and kingdoms and relationships and such. The stones are shown as being kept in a titanium briefcase, which is evidently secure. Captain America seems to disappear but then reappear by a lake. Some guy named Sam talks to him, and we see it’s Captain America now at about age 80, even though math-wise, he should be even older, perhaps around 100, if we’re to believe that he was a grown man in 1945 and it’s now present day. Captain America gives his shield to Sam, who is appreciative.
The movie cuts to Captain America slow-dancing in 1945 with the woman from the locket who looks almost exactly like Laura, Clint’s wife, creating momentary confusion to the viewer. They kiss, and the movie fades to black.
A few questions I had after watching the movie...
*Captain Marvel's relationship to the group is a little confusing. She seems like an outsider and not known or well-liked by them. She's rarely there, but she does participate in that one hologram teleconferencing call.
*What is the point of them killing Thanos at the beginning? Was it that the glove was missing the stones and thus they realized, uh oh, the stones aren't here?
*I get the basic idea that the stones are something they need to control time/change events/change the world, though I don't quite know why or the real background of the stones.
*Are the Avengers celebrities and well-known? Hulk gets recognized by a bunch of kids. Why do they recognize him? What is he famous for?
*Similarly, I don't quite know if the Avengers are some rogue organization or a recognized crime-fighting unit known by the public and happily used by the government. I don't recall seeing any law enforcement (police, etc.) anytime in the movie, unless if you count the Army in 1970. This calls into mind some general questions about their world. Like, where do the Avengers live? Is there headquarters in the United States? They also seem to live in space, or at least are capable of traveling in it. They seem to be in different galaxies, like at the end battle scene.
*I believe the movie uses both Asgard and New Asgard. Are these different places?
*How do the Avengers pay their bills/make a living? We see them existing in real life, yet I don't have any sense of what their real lives are, beyond that they have families and houses. With Batman, we know he's wealthy and he has a business and so on. He engages in day-to-day human behavior. We get almost no sense of the Avengers' actual lives beyond cute moments with their families, so again I was a little lost whether they're, like, special beings existing on an imagined world or what. We do see Captain America in that group therapy session, which indicates some normal human behavior.
Chris Brower is a writer based out of Chicago. His second novel, How To Keep Everyone Happy, was published in March.
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