It’s incredible that Avengers: Endgame was able to provide a satisfying conclusion to over a decade of storytelling despite how many characters were involved. Time travel not only allowed the Avengers to fix what Thanos did in Avengers: Infinity War, but it also put certain characters into contact with ghosts from their past. This enabled them to finally get closure on some unresolved issues and conclude character arcs for several of the original Avengers.
Forgiving the Sins of the Father
It’s established early on in the MCU that Howard Stark neglected his family in favor of his work. In fact, a central part of Iron Man 2 is Tony grappling with whole the world knowing his father better then he did. We also find out in Captain America: Civil War that the last time he saw his father they weren’t on the best of terms and it took his $611 million dollar research project B.A.R.F. to help process his traumatic memories. But one thing that Tony (nor the fans) could have predicted is that he’d be able to get closure on the tumultuous relationship with his father in person during his adventure back to the 1970’s in Avengers: Endgame.
Initially, the scene is played off for laughs with Tony being surprised and unable to come up with a convincing cover story. However, once they begin talking Howard opens up to Tony and tells him that he hopes his son doesn’t follow in his footsteps and make the same mistakes. On one had, this is a reminder for Tony that he’s prioritized Avenging over his relationship with Pepper just like his father would have. If this conversation occurred during Iron Man 3 Tony would’ve had a very different perspective since at that time he was being consumed by his work.
But now that Tony is a father he realizes that he’s succeeded where Howard failed. Tony has been in Morgan’s life every day for the last 5 years and has been more of a father to her than Howard ever was to him. The scene helps Tony come to terms with Howard’s failings because he now understands why his father was so distant. We also find out in the B.A.R.F. scene from Civil War that Tony wishes he told Howard that he loved him before his father’s unexpected death. And in Avengers: Endgame he finally got that chance. In an interview with Joe Russo he explained the importance of this scene, “Without seeing his father, I don’t know that he [Tony] would have been in a place to put on the gauntlet and kill himself.” So getting closure with Howard is potentially what enables Tony to make the ultimate sacrifice by the end of the film.
Like many of the Avengers, Nebula has a very painful past and it’s only been through Gamora’s help that she’s been able to come to terms with what Thanos has done to her. But seeing a younger version of herself is a reminder of both how far she’s come and just how broken she used to be. 2014 Nebula is a coldblooded murderer who’s blindly loyal to her abusive father. She has been hurt both physically and mentally and been molded to hate Gamora, the only person in the galaxy who actually cares for her. It’s taken a long time for her to overcome the scars that Thanos has left and she’s only been able to do so with Gamora’s help.
However, Avengers: Endgame reverses their roles and now it’s Nebula who has to convince Gamora that Thanos is evil and needs to be stopped. It says a lot about how much she’s grown as a character that Nebula is able to make this argument. And to make matters worse, 2014 Gamora is the one she hated the most. She’s a living reminder of all the times that Nebula had been defeated and the terrible hatred she had for her sister. But even though Nebula does get through and convince 2014 Gamora to trust her, it’s incredibly bittersweet because she knows that this isn’t the sister that helped her let go of her hatred and anger. That Gamora died and isn’t coming back. So while it’s nice for Nebula to reunite with the only other person who truly understands her, it’s not the same and she knows that she’ll never get back what’s been lost.
A Mother Knows Best
While certainly not its greatest accomplishment, it’s still impressive that Avengers: Endgame was able to improve upon Thor: The Dark World. They do this in several ways, but most importantly Thor is able to have a conversation with his mother and begin to get closure on wounds that still haven’t healed. Out of all the Avengers Thor has probably lost the most after the 5-year jump. His mother, father, and brother are dead; his home planet was destroyed and half of the remaining Asgardians were killed, his sister turned out to be a maniac who he had to kill, and he failed to stop Thanos from wiping out half the universe’s population cutting the Asgardian population in half again. The Dude has suffered. And instead of confronting these issues he’s bottled them up and dulled his pain with what I’m sure is the finest Asgardian ale he could find. That is until he gets a chance to talk to his mother.
Thor is initially hesitant to talk to her since he doesn’t want to disrupt the timeline, but he can’t help himself. While her funeral in Thor: The Dark World was beautiful, he never got to emotionally process the loss. So when he revisits Asgard he gets to tell his mother that he loves her one last time. Then when Thor tries to warn her about her imminent death Frigga tells him, “You’re here to repair your future, not mine. That’s none of my business” This is reassuring because it means that his mother is accepting of her fate and helps Thor come to terms with his failure to protect her.
Thor also finally has someone he can confide in who’ll understand what he’s going through. When Frigga recognizes that he’s from the future he immediately tells her about the emotional toll his failure against Thanos has caused. Frigga is the only person who truly understands him and Thor is comfortable being vulnerable in front of her. She helps him realize that what’s important is how he moves forward and shows him that, despite his failures, he’s still worthy of wielding Mjolnir.
Since he woke up in 2011 Steve hasn’t had the opportunity to get closure on the life he had in the 1940s. He may have acclimated to the 21st Century, but he’s always been a man out of time and returning to his old life has never been a possibility. So he tried to move on. And now that the world’s been so drastically changed by Thanos, Steve tires to help others move on as well. But he confides in Natasha that even though they have to help others accept what’s happened, it’s their responsibility as Avengers to try and fix what’s been done. Steve has never truly wanted to move on. That is, until he sees Peggy Carter in her office in 1970.
That moment is both a reminder of how much he’s lost and a kernel of hope for what he could gain if they’re victorious. In that instant he sees the embodiment of what he’s lost, not just Peggy, but what she represents: a normal life. Steve’s never had the opportunity to truly reflect on what he wanted because there’s always been another war for him to fight. So when he sees Peggy in 1970 he’s not only seeing the love of his life again, but he also realizes in that moment that it might be possible for him to have that normal life. According to Stephen McFeely, “He’s postponed a life in order to fulfill his duty. That’s why I didn’t think we were ever going to kill him. Because that’s not the arc. The arc is, I [Steve] finally get to put my shield down because I’ve earned that.”
So when Steve is facing down Thanos’ army he’s fighting for something more than just the greater good, he’s fighting for his life with Peggy. And when they’re victorious and the time comes to return the stones, Steve knows exactly what he’s going to do. And so does Bucky, his oldest friend and the man who knows Steve better than anyone. In his final scene, Steve is content to pass on the shield and retire after a life well lived. Steve finally got his dance. And that’s enough.