Okay, it’s been three and a half weeks or so since the release of AVENGERS: ENDGAME, and if you haven’t seen it by now, I’m sorry, but it’s on you. So, since spoilers can safely be dispensed with, we can talk about something I’ve been wanting to discuss since opening night:
The Top 10 Biggest Surprises in AVENGERS: ENDGAME
Why dust off the dusty old Top 10 format, you may ask? Because this movie was so full of genuinely exciting, fun and unexpected moments that I’m forcing myself to stop at 10. So let’s count ‘em down!
10. The debut of “Professor Hulk.” The evolution of the Banner/Hulk relationship makes perfect sense when you realize how the groundwork was laid for it as far back as AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. I’ve always loved this version of the character as originally conceived by Peter David, and it works great cinematically, keeping Hulk on camera while giving us even more of Mark Ruffalo’s performance. I’m sure they’ll switch him back eventually, but let’s hope it’s not for a while.
9. “Big Lebowski” Thor. Another unexpected bit of characterization that makes perfect sense, as Thor blames himself for the deaths of half the universe by not killing Thanos when he could have. And what I really liked was that Thor stayed that way throughout the film, and when he magically transforms to be ready for battle at the film’s finale, he remained the bearded, big-bellied version he’d become, but was no less competent for it.
8. Thanos loses his head. Speaking of killing Thanos, Thor lopping Thanos’s head off only 15 minutes into the film absolutely shocked me, making it very clear what the stakes were and that the Avengers’ loss was something they would have to live with. Made even more clear by…
7. “FIVE YEARS LATER.” My jaw dropped at this, when the title faded on screen. Even more so than Thanos’ head rolling across the floor, this let you know that there would be no easy fix to Thanos’ “snap.” A bold storytelling move, and one that made it possible for big leaps forward in character like those for Hulk and Thor.
6. Robert Redford! I never thought I’d see Redford again in a Marvel movie, even with the possibility of time travel as a storytelling device. Throwing him in the lobby of Stark Tower (along with fellow Hydra scoundrels Jasper Sitwell and Brock Rumlow) was a small detail that really helped sell the notion of the Avengers being back in time.
5. Sometimes you just need to talk to your mom. The other big unexpected return (not counting Natalie Portman’s cameo, which utilized unused footage from THOR: THE DARK WORLD) was that of Rene Russo as Frigga, Thor’s mother, who had perished in the second Thor film. Russo was always very underrated and underutilized in the role, and the emotional pep talk she gives the still traumatized Thor felt very authentic and honest. It’s one of the quieter moments in ENDGAME, and one of my favorite.
4. Pepper to the Rescue. Even though it had happened in the comics, I never actually expected to see Gwyneth Paltrow fully suited up for a big superhero fight, and yet when her helmet visor popped open for the first time, I gotta admit: it felt like she belonged there. Although if you had told me eleven years ago that one day I’d be cheering for Pepper Potts fighting Thanos, I’d have said you were crazy.
3. Who invited the duck? Yes, it’s completely a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but Howard the Duck does show up in the final battle with Thanos’ forces, arriving alongside the Ravagers, just behind the returning Wasp. Go ahead, go check, you’ll see him.
2. “Avengers Assemble!” I love that it took four Avengers films and 11 years before they had the nerve to have Cap yell the Avengers battle cry. It’s almost as if they knew it’s kinda goofy and you can only do it once, so you’ve gotta save it for when it really counted. And they did.
1. Cap picks up Thor’s hammer. Come on. Could #1 be anything else? The biggest moment in the movie, guaranteed to make the audience leap out of their seats cheering. Or at least they did in my theatre. Aside from making perfect sense from a character standpoint, giving Cap Mjolnir allowed him to go toe-to-toe against Thanos alongside Iron Man and Thor in a way that otherwise wouldn’t really have been possible.
And we never even talked about Tony Stark…