Thursday, July 11, 2019

Heeeeeere's Howard!

We talked about Howard on our podcast and promised some photos! You'll find a few of the little guy below.












Thursday, June 13, 2019

Six Stones to Peggy: A Marvel Cinematic Universe Story



You can listen to an audio version of this story on iTunes or ShoutEngine

Bucky was right, Steve Rogers mused, he was taking all the stupid with him.

But Bucky would understand. He always did.

Always would.

And Sam…

Well, maybe not so much.

But, in time, maybe.

Time.

He was sick of thinking about time. Talking about it. Scott Lang’s idea for the “Time Heist”—it still sounded so stupid—shouldn’t have worked, but Bruce and Tony figured it out. They brought everyone back. They beat Thanos.

They used time to do it.

Thanos had taken so much from the world, and from them. First, half the universe. After that, Nat. Tony.

He allowed a slight smile as he thought about Nat. 

Black Widow was the best of them, even though she never thought of herself that way. Most people looked at Steve Rogers and saw the perfect soldier with perfect manners and perfect teeth. She saw the flaws and challenged him to be an even better version of himself. 

The world owed as much to Nat as it owed anyone else. 

Thor had a hammer, Tony had a suit of armor, and Hulk had the strength to casually toss a house halfway around the world.

But Nat and Clint didn’t have any of those advantages. They survived through wits and courage, always dependent on a special bond forged in the battlefield. As much as Steve didn’t understand monsters and magic, he understood that type of bond. He shared it with Bucky and the Howling Commandos, and with Nat and Sam after the Sokovia Accords, when they traveled the world to stomp out the stubborn remnants of Hydra.

But Nat was gone now. A soul for a soul, as Clint explained it. She gave her soul to Vormir, and Vormir gave up the Soul Stone in return. He couldn’t imagine Clint’s pain; Hawkeye would’ve gladly given himself up so the world could go on with Natasha Romanoff at the helm.

She wasn’t the only fallen Avenger.

Steve remembered standing face-to-face with Tony—he thought of him only as “Stark” back then—on Fury’s Helicarrier, telling him he was just a “man in a suit.” He knew guys with none of Stark’s wealth or genius worth ten of him. He told him that, straight and true, like he always did. 

Steve thought himself a good judge of character, but his judgment lacked something back then. He hadn’t been out of the ice that long. They never really saw eye to eye on things, but fate brought them together and they managed to smooth things out, at least until Zemo broke them.

Bucky was always his weak point. What if they’d worked things out before Thanos? Would the Avengers have stood together to defeat him the first time?

In the end, Tony made the sacrifice play. He brought back the kid and everyone else, but he left his daughter and Pepper behind. Rhodey and Happy. The Avengers. Everyone else.

He was Iron Man.

Steve underestimated Tony because Tony overestimated himself. He was a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” who wore his feelings and vanity on his sleeve. Steve didn’t think to dig deeper, and he should have. 

The wizard guy—Strange—told him later that there was only one way to beat Thanos and bring everyone back. That one way, Steve realized, required Tony’s genius and his sacrifice. Strange knew it because he saw it—one of the many things Steve didn’t fully comprehend about the superpowered world he lived in—and Strange couldn’t say a damn thing to Tony because it could’ve meant defeat.

If Tony knew he had to die, maybe he would’ve hesitated to snap Thanos and his army away. That hesitation could’ve allowed Thanos to make his latest insane idea of “balancing” the universe a reality. If Tony knew he had to die, he wouldn’t have wanted to abandon the kid or leave Morgan.

In the end, Tony Stark had a heart.

And a family.

That was something Steve hadn’t had in a long, long time.

He had a chance to change that, to live the kind of life Tony talked about it.

A simple life.

Only a few tasks remained.

Time. 

Mind. 

Space. 

Reality. 

Power. 

Soul.

Six Stones to Peggy.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for my poor brother


This post is for my brother, who has only a passing interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a son who really wants to see Avengers: Endgame.

He's only seen a handful of MCU movies, including the first Captain America, The Avengers, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Black Panther. 

Those of us who've seen all the MCU movies know how much impact Endgame can have. I can only imagine confusion from anyone who hasn't seen all the movies. This handy guide is intended to help my brother get the most out of his viewing of Endgame. It's a noble goal that's probably futile, but hey, I like to write stuff.

MCU vital statistics:

  • The MCU spans 22 movies so far, if you count Endgame (the 23rd movie will be Spider-Man: Far from Home in July)
  • There are three phases of the cinematic universe
  • Phase I includes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers
  • Phase II includes Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man
  • Phase III includes Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2., Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnorak, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War; Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far from Home
  • There are six Infinity Stones: Mind, Soul, Power, Space, Time, and Reality
Simplified plot summaries

Iron Man: Arms manufacturer and billionaire Tony Stark is wounded during a kidnapping attempt in the Middle East. He escapes by making a suit of armor and becomes obsessed with upgrading that armor to become a superhero. His best friend is James "Rhodey" Rhodes. He harbors a great deal of affection for his assistant, the put-upon Pepper Potts.

In this movie, he perfects the Iron Man armor and reveals to the world that he's a superhero, dramatically declaring, "I am Iron Man."

At the end of the credits, a man named Nick Fury approaches him about "The Avenger Initiative."

The Incredible Hulk: Dr. Bruce Banner can't contain the anger inside, which manifests itself as a green creature full of rage known as the Incredible Hulk. You know the story.

This mostly forgettable entry is notable for introducing us to General Thunderbolt Ross, who later becomes the Secretary of State in the MCU. 

Iron Man 2: The sequel is notable for introducing Natasha Romanoff, the spy/assassin better known as "Black Widow." Tony continues to upgrade his Iron Man armor and runs afoul of a villain named Whiplash and another weapons manufacturer named Justin Hammer. Ultimately, Iron Man wins the day and his friend, Rhodey, gets a suit of armor of his own and becomes "War Machine."

Pepper and Tony further enrich their relationship.

Thor: Thor is a prince of Asgard, a technologically advanced society based in Norse mythology. His hammer, Mjolnir, can only be wielded by someone who is worthy. He has a brother, the clever but unbalanced Loki, who is adopted and resents Thor's status as heir to Asgard. Their father is Odin.

After ticking off his father, Thor is banished to Earth without his powers and unable to wield his hammer. He falls in love with a woman named Jane Foster, becomes worthy of Mjolnir once more, and returns to Asgard to face Loki. Loki, who has plotted to gain the throne and prove himself worthy of being a king, loses their battle and drifts off into space.

Captain America: The First Avenger: Scrawny guy Steve Rogers keeps trying to enlist in the Army to fight in World War II even though he's physically weak. His best friend, Bucky Barnes, heads off for war. A doctor sees something in Steve and offers him a chance to become a candidate in the Super Soldier Program.

Steve takes the Super Soldier Serum, which turns him into a "peak human" with exceptional size, strength, and speed. He remains a "good man" at heart and never gives up. After the doctor dies, Steve tours the country as "Captain America" to raise money for the war effort.

He eventually makes it to Europe, rescues a bunch of soldiers (including Bucky), and fights a bad guy named Red Skull, the leader of a Nazi offshoot called HYDRA. His reunion with Bucky is short-lived however, and Bucky dies during an attack on a HYDRA convoy (he's not really dead, though).

Steve also falls in love with a British agent named Peggy Carter, but their story is cut short when Steve sacrifices himself by crashing a plane filled with explosives in the Arctic. 

He remains frozen for 70 years before he's revived and brought to the present day.

Also, there's a very important object known as the Tesseract, which is the Space Stone.

The Avengers: Thor's brother Loki comes to Earth with a scepter powered by the Mind Stone in order to steal the Tesseract. He's working for a being called Thanos to take over the Earth. Only the Avengers stand in his way.

The team includes Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk. Also along for the ride are Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow, the spy introduced in the second Iron Man) and Clint Barton (Hawkeye, an expert archer). 

Captain America and Iron Man, in particular, have trouble connecting. Although I didn't mention it in the Captain America summary, Cap worked with Tony's father, Howard, who had a lot of respect for Cap. Tony has a strained relationship with his father, who died in a car crash in the 1990s.

The team doesn't work well together at first but eventually gets it together and defeats Loki. 

The Mind Stone is turned over to SHIELD while Thor takes Loki back to Asgard with the Tesseract/Space Stone.

Iron Man 3: Tony Stark defeats a villain called the Mandarin in a movie that's more of an action comedy than a superhero entry. Nothing major really happens that affects the overall MCU.

Thor: The Dark World: A Dark Elf lusts after the Aether, which is the Reality Stone. The Aether attaches itself to Thor's girlfriend, Jane Foster, who must be taken to Asgard in order to be cured.

Thor's mother, Frigga, is killed in the movie (important for Endgame). She's played by Rene Russo...Tom Berenger's girlfriend in Major League. 

After some interdimensional shenanigans, the Aether is removed from Jane Foster and taken to a safe place. Loki fakes his own death and assumes the identity of Odin.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Cap learns that SHIELD has been infiltrated by HYDRA for decades. He manages to stop HYDRA's plan to kill millions of people perceived as "threats" to HYDRA's new world order.

Cap also meets the Winter Soldier, HYDRA's top assassin, who turns out to be the not-so-dead Bucky Barnes. Bucky has been brainwashed for years and doesn't know who he is. They fight at the end but Bucky ultimately prevents Cap from drowning and then disappears into obscurity.

Guardians of the Galaxy: An idiot from Earth named Star-Lord teams up with a talking raccoon, a talking tree, a green alien woman, and a warrior who takes everything too literally. It's better than it sounds.

This movie is notable for introducing the Power Stone. Thanos makes an appearance here as well. He's the "father" of the green alien woman (Gamora) and her sister (Nebula). These relationships are very important for Infinity War and Endgame.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: This movie is notable for introducing Vision, an android powered by the Mind Stone, as well as Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlet Witch) and her brother Pietro (don't get too attached).

Strains appear in the relationship between Cap and Iron Man. Black Widow and Hulk have an ill-fated romance (important for Endgame). Iron Man creates an advanced AI named Ultron that tries to destroy the world and kills several people in a country called Sokovia.

And, very important to Endgame, we learn that Hawkeye (the archer) is a family man. Only Black Widow is aware of this.

The Incredible Hulk blasts off into space at the end.

Ant-Man: Thief Scott Lang finds a suit that allows him to shrink down to the size of an ant. He works with Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne, to stop a generic CEO-ish supervillain from misusing a similar shrinking suit. HYDRA goons are also involved.

Notably, Scott is a convicted thief who has a daughter named Cassie. She means everything in the world to him.

This movie is one you should probably see because it's a light-hearted comedy. It also introduces the concept of the Quantum Realm, a plane of existence where the rules of time and space work differently than they do in our world.

Captain America: Civil War: After the disaster in Age of Ultron, world governments want to hold the Avengers accountable with the Sokovia Accords. Iron Man wants everyone to sign up, but Cap refuses, creating a rift that splits the Avengers into factions.

Vision and Scarlet Witch have a romance. Bucky is framed for a bombing that kills the leader of Wakanda, whose son is the Black Panther. Hawkeye comes "out of retirement" to fight for Cap's side. Falcon recruits Ant-Man for Cap's side. Iron Man recruits a kid named Peter Parker (you know Spider-Man!) to help him.
  • Team Cap: Cap, Bucky, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Ant-Man
  • Team Iron Man: Iron Man, War Machine, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Black Widow, and Vision
In the end, Iron Man learns Bucky was framed for the bombing. However, he discovers that Bucky is responsible for killing his parents when HYDRA brainwashed him. Cap knew but didn't tell Iron Man, creating a rift that won't heal for years and leaves the Avengers splintered when Thanos puts his plans into action.

This movie does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of character work leading up to Infinity War.

Doctor Strange: A brilliant but arrogant surgeon severely injures his hands and seeks help through "alternative therapy" (um, it's magic). He learns to become a sorcerer and stops a plot from the "Dark Dimension" to take over Earth.

Dr. Strange possesses the Time Stone, which grants kind of unspecific abilities regarding time. This means we've now encountered the Mind, Space (Tesseract), Reality (Aether), Power, and Time Stones, leaving only the Soul Stone undiscovered so far.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: There are no more Infinity Stone shenanigans here, but we learn more about Star-Lord's background. All the Guardians are back, though Star-Lord and Gamora are in a relationship now (important for Infinity War and Endgame).

Also, Gamora and Nebula, the "daughters" of Thanos, start to repair their fractured relationship. There's a lot of entertaining stuff in this movie, but not much of it impacts the overall MCU.

Spider-Man: Homecoming: You've seen this one, so I won't go into too much detail. Just remember that Iron Man recruited Spider-Man, who is kind of a surrogate son to him. Spidey looks up to Iron Man and is eager to please.

Thor: Ragnorak: Thor and Loki learn they have a sister named Hela who's bent on taking over Asgard once their father, Odin, dies. Thor and Loki end up on a backwater world where Thor is forced to become a gladiator. He fights the Incredible Hulk, who ended up on the same planet after Age of Ultron.

They eventually escape and return to Asgard. However, Thor's home planet is destroyed and Hela is killed. Loki, because he's Loki, takes the Space Stone (Tesseract) from Asgard.

Thor takes the remaining Asgardians into space in order to find a new home. Unfortunately, they run into Thanos instead.

Black Panther: You've seen this one, so I'll keep it brief. Black Panther is an awesome hero with awesome allies. He's working to deprogram Cap's friend Bucky. This movie also gives us a compelling villain in Killmonger.

Avengers: Infinity War: You have to watch this one to understand anything about Endgame. Thanos collects all the Infinity Stones. He kills Loki and half of Thor's Asgardian survivors, acquiring the Space Stone (Tesseract) along the way. He already has the Power Stone.

He wants to collect all the Stones and embed them in his Infinity Gauntlet. He sees overpopulation and inadequate resources as an obstacle to the continuation of life in the universe and plans to snap half of all life out of existence. This dude is completely committed to the cause.

Thor joins up with Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy. They eventually split up; Thor goes to acquire a weapon that can kill Thanos while Star-Lord and his friends go to retrieve the Reality Stone (Aether). Star-Lord and his friends encounter Thanos, who already has the Reality Stone and kidnaps Gamora.

Thanos sacrifices Gamora to acquire the Soul Stone, the only Infinity Stone we haven't encountered yet. In order to earn that one, you must sacrifice something you love. This plays another major role in Endgame.

Dr. Strange refuses to give up the Time Stone and tells Iron Man he will do anything to keep it safe, even if it involves letting Iron Man or anyone else die. He eventually relents when Thanos is about to kill Iron Man, giving up the Time Stone in a surprising move that speaks to Iron Man's importance in the future.

Meantime, Cap, Black Panther, and their allies mount a furious defense in Wakanda, where they're trying to keep the Vision safe (he has the Mind Stone embedded in him). They face an onslaught from Thanos' army and hold them off for a bit.

Despite their efforts, Thanos kills Vision and gets the Mind Stone, giving him a complete set. Thor makes a timely appearance and almost kills Thanos. Still, the villain manages to snap his fingers, using his Infinity Gauntlet to harness the terrible powers of the collected Infinity Stones.

Half the universe dies as a result.
  • Snapped Heroes: Bucky, Falcon, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Star-Lord, Groot (talking tree), Drax (literal warrior guy)
  • Unsnapped Heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, War Machine, Nebula (Thanos' other "daughter"), Rocket (talking raccoon)
  • Dead Heroes: Loki, Gamora, Vision (all died before the Snap)
Ant-Man and the Wasp: As a whole, this movie is simply another fun Ant-Man caper filled with humor. The end credits scene, however, introduces us to the concept of "time vortexes" within the Quantum Realm. Ant-Man becomes trapped in the Quantum Realm after Thanos' Snap.

Captain Marvel: Notable for introducing Captain Marvel, who plays a small but important role in Endgame. She's a super-powerful hero originally from Earth who has spent the last couple decades patrolling in space. She's a friend of Nick Fury and inspires his idea for "The Avenger Initiative."

The MCU hits the Endgame...and what an (Avengers) Endgame it is!



NOTE: The following post contains massive spoilers for Avengers: Endgame. You've been warned!

I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I've seen every movie in the theater, most of them on opening weekend, most of them multiple times. I'm well versed in the mythology of the movies and love the characters inhabiting the expansive comic-book-inspired universe.

There have been ups and downs. While the first Iron Man is fantastic, The Incredible Hulk didn't grab me and Iron Man 2 was a disappointment. I've always liked the first Thor and Cap movies, and The Avengers remains one of the strongest entries in the series.

I enjoy much of Thor: The Dark World while acknowledging its shortcomings. Basically, other than The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 (movies my wife and I skip during MCU rewatches), I'll sit and watch any MCU movie at any time.

I love Captain America. Iron Man. Thor. Black Widow. Hulk. And, yes, I love Hawkeye (some people think he's useless, but I firmly disagree). I concentrate on these original Avengers because they're the ones Avengers: Endgame is most interested in telling us about.

Infinity War left us on a down note, with half the universe snapped away in Thanos' insane plan to "balance the universe." It's hard to say his "heart's in the right place," but the guy's got his warped convictions, at the very least, making him a very compelling villain. But the weight of that act--with so many beloved characters fading into ash--was devastating.

We lost so many great characters, including Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Drax, Falcon, Groot, Bucky, Black Panther, etc. All gone in a snap with the entire rest of the universe. As a fan, it destroyed me to see them go; Cap had just gotten Bucky back, Iron Man had bonded with Spidey, Black Panther had fought so bravely to prevent Thanos and his forces from carrying out their plan.

And then they were all gone. The only feeling of hope we had came in the form of Nick Fury's space pager after the credits rolled.

That sense of loss and failure continues in the first act of Endgame. Our characters get one spark of hope when they discover Thanos' location and go to reverse the Snap. But then they learn Thanos, committed to the end, destroyed the Infinity Stones so no one could undo his work.

Five years pass, and the Avengers are essentially broken. As an audience, we're broken, too.

But then along comes Ant-Man, who may not be the smartest or strongest of the team but makes up for it in heart and much-needed optimism (along with his charmingly dorky "I'm just a regular guy along for the ride" demeanor). He's experienced a few hours in the Quantum Realm, which passed as years in the real world.

And he comes up with the idea for a "Time Heist" to recover Infinity Stones from different points in the past. Yes, the Avengers will travel through time in a mind-bending, heart-wrenching, thrilling, and often hilarious quest to set things right. It's a critical mission that will require tremendous sacrifice for our heroes but allows us fans to relive some of the greatest moments in MCU history.

With that setup out of the way, here are some of my thoughts on Avengers: Endgame.

Emotional payoffs. If you're invested in these characters, it's hard not to get choked up. The fates of Nat, Tony, and Steve are touching. Each deserves its own entry (and will get one shortly). We see Thor's fall into self-doubt and unworthiness, Clint's loss of his family and its cataclysmic effect on his inherent goodness, and Bruce's final acceptance of his two personalities.

You suck, Vormir. When Thanos sacrificed Gamora in Infinity War, it was one of the most powerful moments in the movie. It showed that while Thanos was a monster, he was truly committed to his cause and capable of love, no matter how warped the concept was for him. The alarm bells started ringing when Nat and Clint were dispatched to recover the Soul Stone because I knew one of them wasn't coming back.

I don't think anyone in the movie really knew how the Soul Stone worked, not even Nebula. The audience, however, did. I didn't want either one of them to go. For Clint, it would've meant making amends for his fall into reckless vigilantism. For Nat, it would've meant giving herself up for something greater and sacrificing the Avengers family she'd come to love. I like that they stepped back to discuss it and then fought with each other to make the sacrifice.

Also points to the movie series for giving us two characters who truly loved each other without making it a romantic connection. We'll never forget you, Nat. No, you're tearing up while writing this.

So that's why Dr. Strange gave up the Time Stone. Obviously, when Dr. Strange surrendered the Time Stone to Thanos to prevent him from killing Tony, it meant Tony had a major part to play in the "endgame." However, we didn't know it meant the Sorcerer Supreme knew it meant Tony had to die until this movie.

I mean, Dr. Strange could've simply turned over the Time Stone because he knew Tony was the only person who could figure out the quantum shenanigans required to undo the Snap. We know better now. Yes, the plan needed Tony to figure out the mechanics and build a new gauntlet, but it really needed him to steal the Infinity Stones from Thanos and snap away the Mad Titan's army.

It was the only way--and Strange knew it. More importantly, he knew he couldn't tell anyone, not even Tony.

The callbacks. My goodness, did this movie reward longtime fans of the series! Some of the cameos were jaw-droppers! Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford!). The Ancient One. De-aged Hank Pym and Howard Stark. Frigga. (Sort of) Jane Foster. Peggy Carter! Rumlow and Sitwell. Loki.

They were all fantastic.

Get a Bowflex, Thor. One thing that underwhelmed me during Endgame was the treatment of Thor. He was so great in Ragnorak and Infinity War, and I initially thought what they did to him in Endgame was a disservice to the character that simply made for some easy jokes.

Then I thought more about Thor and his character arc. He was a brash and bold warrior who needed to learn humility. He did that in the previous movies. He regained some swagger in Infinity War and, I believe, started to think he had everything figured out.

When the Avengers failed to defeat Thanos--and he had a chance to end it but didn't--Thor went dark. So dark, in fact, that he killed Thanos with little thought at the beginning of Endgame. Despite that, self-doubt sprang in, perhaps for the first time in his life. He felt unworthy of his weapons and his title. He felt himself a failure to his people and the entire universe.

When viewed from this perspective, the Lebowski act made a lot more sense. He lost himself and was so desperate to prove himself useful, even pleading with the others to let him wield the new gauntlet even though it was clear he wasn't ready for it. His conversation with his mother and his ability to still summon Mjolnir were vital moments in his development, helping him become the "old Thor" in some ways and the "new Thor" in others.

I'm still not completely sold on the look and the jokes, though.

Finally got that dance. Peggy Carter is one of the best characters in the entire MCU, and the movie series has made sure to keep her, if not front and center, then at least present. She had her own TV series and has made cameos in several movies, including both Cap sequels and the flashback in Ant-Man.

Her tragic romance with Steve is something not easily rectified. Cap spent 70 years on ice while Peggy moved on and had a family of her own. Even if they were soulmates, nothing could come of it.

However, when you add in some time travel and Infinity Stones, just about anything is possible. Cap gets the chance to grow old with the woman he loved--and to enjoy the kind of life he never thought he'd be able to experience.

Peggy--or at least a version of Peggy from a branched timeline, it's really not clear--gets to have the dance that fate denied her. It's poetic and cathartic. The next time I watch Captain America: The First Avenger, it should be interesting to see how Endgame gives new context to their relationship.

Tony makes the sacrifice play. Some of the original Avengers were going to die in this movie. It's the only way to give weight to the grand stakes of the MCU and close out story threads that started with Iron Man in 2008. The obvious choice was Captain America--almost too obvious.

Also obvious: Tony Stark. I thought either Tony or Steve would say goodbye in this movie, and in a way, they both did. Steve returned the Infinity Stones, lived a fulfilling life, and then returned as an old man to complete the mission. However, it was Tony whose act of sacrifice allowed for the ultimate victory against Thanos.

At the beginning of the movie, he was embittered after surviving his trip into space. He blamed Cap for fracturing the Avengers and weakening them against Thanos. He isolated himself from the team, built a family, and pretty much swore off further superheroics. He told his colleagues he wasn't interested in helping them even after Ant-Man returned.

But Tony's Tony--so the idea of mastering quantum mechanics won't go away. It's kind of like his obsession for upgrading Iron Man's armor. He cracks the code but tries to convince himself it won't matter. He talks to Pepper about it and realizes everyone who lost something in the Snap deserved the chance to have that back.

So, the crazy Time Heist works with a few unexpected miscues and the Avengers face down Thanos once again (Thanos from 2014, by the way). Thanos gets a remade gauntlet and snaps--only to discover Tony stole the Infinity Stones. We saw what two snaps did to the Thanos of 2018 and what one snap did to the Hulk--both super-strong beings.

Imagine what it would do to Tony Stark, a regular human being.

Yeah, Tony doesn't survive. He defiantly says, "I am Iron Man," snaps his fingers, and then dies, surviving just long enough for Rhodey, Peter Parker, and Pepper to say their goodbyes. Most affecting, to me anyway, was Pepper giving him reassurance that everyone would be all right and he was free to rest.

Tony Stark, the self-centered genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, gave up his life and everyone he loved to save the world.

The ultimate sacrifice play.

No, you're tearing up while writing this.

The secret MVP. Since Nebula survived the Snap and knew about Thanos and his plan, I thought she'd have a pretty big role in Endgame. I didn't think, however, she'd be one of the darn MVPs of the movie! Nebula, next to the original Avengers, is probably the biggest key in the whole thing.

She leads them to Thanos at the beginning, ends up being "entangled" with her past self in 2014 (allowing for a dual role), and convinces 2014 Gamora to switch sides. She did a lot of heavy lifting in this movie and showed a tremendous amount of growth from her one-note appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy. I was really impressed.

So many memorable moments. We lost Nat, Tony, and (effectively) Steve in this movie, so let's lighten the mood a little bit with some of my favorite moments from the film.

Hail Hydra. The elevator fight in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best action sequences in the whole 22-movie series. The callback on this scene, with future Steve stuck in an elevator with a bunch of traitorous SHIELD/Hydra agents, is terrific. Instead of getting into another fight, he utters, "Hail Hydra," and gets the Mind Stone.

Also points for Ant-Man pointing out that all the traitorous SHIELD/Hydra agents all looked like bad guys to him.

Two Caps. When the team returns to the Battle of New York, 2023 Cap faces off against 2012 Cap, who reminds him that he "can do this all day." I love 2023 Cap's reply, an exasperated "I know."

On your left. With all hope lost, Steve steels himself for a one-man confrontation against Thanos and his entire army because Captain America never gives up. It looks like he's about to make the big sacrifice when he hears Sam Wilson's voice over the radio.

"On your left" is another callback to The Winter Soldier, and it's so satisfying! Within a few seconds, the entire landscape of the battle against 2014 Thanos shifts to even odds. Black Panther appears. Spider-Man appears (the crowd at my screening went WILD over both of these). Falcon's back, Bucky, Wasp, the Guardians, Dr. Strange--all the snapped heroes come back and Cap knows the final battle won't be futile.

A Worthy Super Soldier. Captain America wields Mjolnir and conjures lightning. It's spectacular and pays off the "hammer party" scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even better was Thor's excited shout of "I knew it!"

Taco buddies. In a brief, sweet moment, Professor Hulk gives Ant-Man a couple tacos after Ant-Man's were obliterated by a returning spacecraft.

Father and son. Tony's conversation with his father in the 1970s was another great moment. His excitement in telling his father that he "has a daughter" was emotional, even though Howard Stark didn't know the context. We did.

Lost love. The same 1970s scene brought Peggy Carter to the forefront; Steve gets a glimpse of her but doesn't say a word. The photo on her desk of Steve before the Super Soldier Serum speaks volumes (it's the same photo of him from the end of Captain America: The First Avenger).

An idiot sings on Morag. Going back to Morag for the Power Stone was a fun scene with Rhodey and Nebula. I loved how they showed Star-Lord singing to himself while recreating the opening from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Valkyrie, Korg, and Miek. Thank God they're alive!

Avengers, assemble! He said it. All is well.

I'm sure there are several moments I'm forgetting and I'll probably add to the list after a second viewing.

A few lingering questions/comments. Endgame is perfect as a crowd-pleasing coda to the first phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I do have a few questions and minor nitpicks. Let's go through a few of them.

Half the world is five years older. Due to the rules laid out in time travel, those killed in the Snap came back to 2023 without having aged while the rest of the world is five years older. This creates a lot of headaches, including the fact that Cassie Lang (and her mom and stepdad) is five years older while Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne are not. Also, since Peter Parker and Ned reunited at the end and appeared to be the same age, both were snapped while about half their classmates are five years older.

What about Coulson and the Agents of SHIELD? Look, we were never going to see Phil Coulson. Due to his death in the Agents of SHIELD TV show, he wouldn't have been around for the Snap. The decision to go back to the Battle of New York in 2012 meant a Coulson cameo wasn't possible because Coulson had died in Avengers before then.

Still, I would've liked a reference somewhere in there for Clark Gregg's character, who appeared in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Avengers. The movie world never acknowledged his return in the TV show, which is frustrating but understandable. I simply wanted someone in the movie to mention Fury's "one good eye" because he was there at the very beginning--and that beginning is ultimately what led to Endgame.

Where was the Nick Fury-Captain Marvel reunion? Introducing Captain Marvel so late in the MCU meant she couldn't have a major character arc in Endgame. That's fine--we got about as much of Carol as we could get and then she sort of disappeared "for reasons" before returning at the end. I get it.

I understand the movie is overstuffed and the ending reflects more on the legacy of Tony Stark and the Avengers than it does on Fury and Carol. However, those characters hadn't seen each other for more than two decades. Couldn't they have shared a hug or something?

Some missed cameos. This isn't a complaint at all, I swear! I will say I thought maybe we'd get a moment from Odin, Korath the Pursuer (they were right there on Morag!), Pietro Maximoff (the timelines chosen for the movie didn't allow for it--and with Scarlet Witch snapped, it wouldn't have had an impact on anyone except Hawkeye), Arnim Zola (the 1970s scene), or the Warriors Three and Lady Sif (seriously, where the heck is Sif?!).

Well, that's about all for Avengers: Endgame for now. It's an incredible movie, especially if you're invested in the 21 previous entries in the MCU. All the characters you love have big moments, there are huge payoffs for story beats that began in 2008, and it's immensely fun and satisfying.