HEAT VISION

How Avengers Can Live on After 'Endgame'

The three-hour epic is not the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it's the start of something new.

[This story contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.]

While the dust has far from settled on Avengers: Endgame, the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and comics they're based off have taught us that it's never too early to start thinking about what's next for these characters, even in the face of apparent closure. Many fans expected to leave Avengers: Endgame mourning a host of dead heroes, but the death toll was surprisingly lighter than anticipated, though no less powerful.

Endgame ensures we remember each and every sacrifice and makes it personal while highlighting the fact that a hero's greatest triumph isn't just a warrior's death but the legacy and lives they leave behind. And there's quite a lot left behind, promising that while Marvel Studios next chapter may be fresh, it won't be without familiar faces.

A number of the MCU's more recent additions — Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy — will surely still be headlining their own franchises in this next chapter. But the future for others, our three remaining original Avengers in particular, and the mantles of those we said goodbye to, remains less certain. What's their place in the series as the new guard comes forward and even more characters begin making their way into the MCU?

Hulk

In a film full of surprises, one of the biggest early on was the revelation that Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) had found balance with the Hulk, becoming the perfect blend of both. This "Professor Hulk," as he became known in the comics after his debut in Peter David and Dale Keown's The Incredible Hulk No. 377 (1991), exhibits all the Hulk's strengths and massive green physique while retaining Banner's mind and newfound confident personality. In Endgame, the Hulk gets to be more than a weapon in search of a target, a true hero who for the first time can exhibit control and act with an emotion other than anger. His use of the Infinity Gauntlet to bring back 50 percent of life wiped out by Thanos leaves him injured, but he's alive thanks to the central power of the stones having gamma radiation. As Banner says before the heroic act, "It's like I was made for this," suggesting the existence as more than an accident of science but part of some cosmic equation. Now that the equation is balanced, what's next for the Hulk?

Unlike the other characters who received solo films on this list, Hulk never got his franchise. In fact, the Edward Norton-led The Incredible Hulk (2008) has been treated like the black sheep of the MCU, conspicuously absent from promotional material highlighting the saga. Regardless, there's a wealth of Hulk material that hasn't been tapped into yet and loose threads from the '08 film like the Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), who could easily be revisited. Ruffalo said a couple of years ago that a solo Hulk movie would never happen because the rights are tied up with Universal. But Disney has a history of making deals, and I imagine that a Hulk solo film isn't entirely off the table.

But let's say that it is for now. Hulk could appear as a supporting character in other solo films as he did in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). It's easy to imagine Banner assisting Peter Parker (Tom Holland) as his teacher and a battle buddy in a future Spider-Man installment. There's also the possibility of a She-Hulk film in the future, which could give Banner the opportunity to help a new, savage Hulk, as well as see some of his monstrous villains brought to the screen. While his days as an Avenger are likely over, the future for the Hulk looks bright green.

Hawkeye

Clint Barton's (Jeremy Renner) journey in Endgame is bookended by the loss of his family and his reunion with them. Ever since audiences discovered he was a family man in Age of Ultron (2015), Hawkeye has always seemed like the guy who could most easily leave his life of superheroing behind him. It would have been unsurprising if Barton, surrounded by his family in Endgame, was the last that we saw of Hawkeye. But the fact that the Disney+ streaming series centered on Barton and apprentice Kate Bishop means that Hawkeye's story isn't over just yet. Still, after losing his family, it's tough to imagine Barton wanting to be separated from them for long, which leads me to believe that his appearance in the Hawkeye series will serve as a bookend for his superheroing career.

As much as audiences love to joke about the guy with the arrows throughout these MCU movies, it's become clear that Hawkeye is necessary — not simply because he's quick with a bow but because he offers a perspective from the outside looking in. He can see past the bullshit and egos that so frequently put teammates at odds. And his relationship with Scarlet Witch also proved that he's a hell of a mentor. The Hawkeye series can be a way for Barton to guarantee there is always an eagle-eyed marksman to monitor the world's most powerful individuals and keep them honest. Clint Barton may become a scarcely seen figure in the MCU, but Hawkeye, through Kate Bishop, isn't going anywhere.

Black Widow

Natasha Romanoff's (Scarlett Johansson) death in Endgame is one of the film's most shocking moments and one that's going to take a while to process. It seemed that if any of the original Avengers were going to have a long future in the MCU, it would be her. But alas, Black Widow is gone, though not without cementing herself as a hero and atoning for the red in her ledger. She went from guarded spy to an emotionally honest beacon of hope within the Avengers, and her death was certainly one that tugged at the heartstrings. But we haven't seen the last of Black Widow. With a prequel film starting production soon, we'll learn about Natasha's origins. But what purpose does this origin story serve within the MCU's next phase if Black Widow is dead?

Perhaps there will be present-day set bookends in Black Widow, a fellow Avenger digging into her life and discovering a secret from the Red Room that could have major ramifications. Or perhaps her story will inspire a new character (Florence Pugh's?) to break her conditioning and become a new shade of Widow. Given Kevin Feige's sprawling and tight-lipped planning, we're betting that a Black Widow movie is happening now for a reason other than simply being late to the game. Whether Natasha returns as a clone, as she recently did in Marvel Comics, or her backstory is a window into Marvel's next big conflict, we expect the impact of Black Widow to be felt for a long time to come.

Thor

No longer the ruler of New Asgard, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) relinquished his crown to Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and set off with the Guardians of the Galaxy at the conclusion of Endgame. Will Thor stick around with who he referred to as the Asgardians of the Galaxy (another nod to a recent Marvel Comics concept) for long, or are there more solo adventures in store for him? As Thor comes to terms with his own identity, I definitely wouldn't be opposed to him staying for James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 as the team presumably starts a search for Gamora (Zoe Saldana). The dynamic he's developed with the team is certainly one of the best things to happen with the character. But Thor still has just as much potential as a solo character, and Hemsworth hasn't given any indication that he wouldn't be on board for more.

Unlike the other Avengers who received solo trilogies, it seems like Thor is only just beginning to find his footing. Without the burden of a monarchy, the mischief of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) or an earthbound romantic interest, Thor's journey is on the precipice of a new beginning. As a cosmic adventurer, Thor may finally have a chance to meet the fan-favorite Beta Ray Bill, discuss godhood with the Eternals or clash with Galactus. Hopefully, the future of the Thor franchise will lean heavily on the works of Jason Aaron, whose celebrated Thor run is just winding down with War of the Realms. While so many of these original Avengers are able to pass their mantles on, Thor is less of a legacy character. And given the unlikelihood of Natalie Portman leading a Jane Foster as Thor series, we expect the Thor franchise to continue with Hemsworth bringing the thunder and lightning.

Iron Man

Tony Stark gave his life to defeat Thanos and save the world. The man whose story started the MCU is over, but in the process he forged a new era of heroism. Although Endgame fittingly lacks a post-credit scene, it does have a sound bite reminiscent of Stark forging his armor in Iron Man (2008), which alludes both to where the MCU began and the fact that Marvel Studios is currently at work building something new. Iron Man is irreplaceable, but those Tony Stark left behind — Rhodey (Don Cheadle); Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and their daughter, Morgan (Lexi Rabe) — could all have roles within the future of the MCU.

Cheadle recently spoke about a previously discussed War Machine solo movie, which could still be on the table. Pepper got to suit up in Endgame, a reference to her Rescue guise that first appeared in Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca's Invincible Iron Man #10 (2009). But it's hard to imagine her leading a superhero life after she tried so hard to get Tony to stop. And then, of course, there's Tony and Pepper's daughter, Morgan. While she's too young to do any superheroing now, there could certainly be a role for her in the future, especially given her proclivity to tinkering in the garage. Another Stark tech-equipped character from the comics, who doesn't appear in the film, is the recently introduced Riri Williams aka Ironheart. Iron Man 3's (2013) Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) also shows up at Tony's funeral, and perhaps he'll be inspired to become an armored hero. Perhaps Marvel Studios could have a team of Iron Men and Iron Women on their hands. But the thing is, Iron Man was so specific to Tony that it's difficult to imagine another character in a suit of armor offering something radically different from his arc. Perhaps Marvel Studios' best bet is to let the Iron Man mantle rest, and showcase his legacy through new and unaffiliated characters.

Captain America

While bets were placed on his death, Steve Rogers found the life of normalcy in the past that he'd never been able to obtain in the present. Endgame saw the hero traveling back to the past to return the Infinity Stones and Mjolnir to their rightful timelines and then deciding to stay in the past and start a life with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). In an ending better than fans could have hoped for, Steve Rogers gets to have his dance with Peggy and show up in the present, albeit as an elderly man, to pass on the mantle of Captain America to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).

While it seems Chris Evans' time in the MCU is over for good, there's little doubt that Captain America will live on. But the road to Sam Wilson becoming Captain America likely won't be as easy as being given a shield. Disney+ has announced plans for the series Falcon & Winter Soldier, starring Mackie and Sebastian Stan. Given that Feige has said that these Disney+ series will be instrumental to the films going forward, unlike the Marvel Netflix series, we expect the show to cover Wilson's transition into the role of Captain America.

But it's possible that he won't be the only one to wear a star-spangled suit. In the comics, Sam Wilson's tenure as Captain America began when Rogers, aged as a result of being stripped of the super-soldier serum, passed on his mantle. But when Steve was restored, both men served in the role. While Rogers is out of the picture, the concept of two Captain Americas isn't. Before Falcon became Captain America, Bucky Barnes had a noteworthy run, struggling with representing the best of America when he was once one of the country's most wanted terrorists. We shouldn't write the idea of BuckyCap off yet, because while Sam Wilson is definitely our new Captain America, he certainly won't be alone.

The original six Avengers will never be together again, but their lives and heroism pave the way for new stories, new adversaries and new Avengers. Make that New Avengers. Endgame isn't the end of the MCU. It's the start of something new.

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