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The Avengers: Endgame ending explained

With a running time clocking in at over three hours, it might be easier to explain what doesn't happen in Avengers: Endgame instead of what does. For instance, fans don't get bored. Fans don't get up to use the bathroom. And fans don't ever want it to end. 

But with a title like Endgame, well, it was inevitable that the film — and the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole — would come to some sort of an ending. So was it the final act we all wanted? Did our favorite heroes get the conclusions to their stories that they deserved? Or was it the ending we really didn't need right now?

So settle in and hug your loved ones a little bit closer tonight, because we're about to take a deep dive into the ending of Avengers: Endgame to explain just what it all means for fans, for your favorite characters, and for the future of the MCU

The reverse snap

After returning from their various missions to different past moments in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Avengers grouped back up with the six Infinity Stones in tow, ready to snap all the dead folks from Avengers: Infinity War back into existence.

And it mostly worked. Only mostly, though. One member of the team didn't return from the past, as Black Widow sacrificed herself in order to secure the Soul Stone. The new and improved Professor Hulk (who, as in the comics, combined the might of the Hulk with the intellect of Bruce Banner) used the gauntlet to bring back the dead. But only the dead who were killed by Thanos's snap — he also tried to bring back Black Widow, but for some reason, it didn't work. 

The team didn't have time to mourn her loss, though, because unbeknownst to them, one of their other teammates also never made it back. And that nearly doomed the universe to complete extinction.

Timey Wimey Wibbly Wobbly

And then things got really weird.

On their trip back to 2014 to get the stone shown at the beginning of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Nebula was intercepted by her father, Thanos, who then replaced her with the 2014 version of Nebula — who was still a villain. So when the Avengers returned, they had a secret, evil alternative universe mole among them, who promptly used the Avengers' time machine to summon Thanos from 2014 along with all of his armies and minions and stuff. And that means that for awhile, there were two Nebulas running around. The evil one eventually got ahold of the new Infinity Gauntlet (in a callback to the original comic book story), only for the current Nebula to shoot her stone dead.

This seemed to have no effect on current Nebula, verifying the time travel mumbo jumbo from earlier in the film when they said that just killing Thanos in the past wouldn't do anything. Except, presumably, create an entire new alternate universe timeline in which events diverged from our version of the MCU… but we'll apparently worry about that in Phase 4.  

Avengers Assemble!

With the Infinity Gauntlet once again in play, the Avengers fought Thanos to a standstill, including an absolutely epic sequence in which Captain America wielded the mystic hammer Mjonir — returned to action by Thor, who pilfered it during his own trip to the past — to deliver a massive whooping. Still, Thanos eventually called in the cavalry — by which we mean an intergalactic horde of murderous monsters hellbent on razing Earth.

Luckily, there's that reverse snap we mentioned earlier. Remember when the Hulk returned all of Thanos' victims from Avengers: Infinity War to life? Well, that means that all those awesome heroes who died were suddenly returned to the land of the living. And thanks to the intervention of Doctor Strange, Wong, and a bunch of other nice wizard people, all our favorite dead heroes were able to walk through giant mystic portals and arrive in the nick of time.

This allowed Captain America to finally deliver the team's signature catchphrase from the comics, "Avengers Assemble!," something fans have been waiting to hear for years. Marvel teased fans with a fakeout "Avengers Assemble" at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, but this time it was the real deal, allowing hardcore fans to rejoice even as things really hit the fan in the final battle against Thanos.

Tony's sacrifice

After the arrival of the undead heroes, the next several minutes were a gratifying blur of action and emotional reunions. But when everything was said and done, it came down, of course, to Tony Stark vs. Thanos with the fate of the universe at stake — something that has been foreshadowed since way back in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Luckily, Tony was clued in to his big chance because Doctor Strange was there to give him the finger. No, not that finger — just an index finger to note that this was the one chance in 14 million for victory that he had foreseen in Avengers: Infinity War.

And Stark didn't disappoint. He had a leg up in the fight, but that leg up was actually a hand, as the new Infinity Gauntlet was made from one of his Iron Man suits of armor. So Tony manipulated it somehow to switch gauntlets during the fight, leaving Thanos wearing a regular old armored glove and Tony wearing the Infinity Gauntlet.

Sadly, it was too much for his human body to bear. We learned in Guardians of the Galaxy that mortals cannot contain the power of the Infinity Stones, and even the Hulk and Thanos himself had suffered serious injury using it. So even with his suit of armor, the power surge was too much for Tony to take. He died a hero. 

Cap's last dance

Following Tony's funeral, Captain America is tasked with bringing all the Infinity Stones back to their proper points in time in order to prevent any bad alternate timelines from springing up. Which is a real concern, considering they already created at least two alternate timelines: a nice one where Thanos and all his armies no longer exist as of 2014, and a not-so-nice one where the evil Loki from 2012 suddenly is free again and in possession of the Tesseract.

But in a big twist, Cap decides not to come back from his time travel jaunt. Instead, he returns to the 1940s so he can finally have that dance he promised Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger. And then he stays there, apparently marrying her and living a long and full life.

So Steve Rogers, at least, got a happy ending. And so did his buddy Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon. Not only was he brought back to life, but Old Man Steve also gave him Captain America's nearly indestructible shield and charged Sam with using it as the new Captain America — a development that also took place in the comics. 

Thor's choice and the Guardians' search

With Tony dead and Steve living the geriatric life, it seemed like we might see the end of the Big Three. But not so fast! After wallowing in fat jokes throughout the film, Thor finally sort of got his act together at the very end and decided to head into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy, leaving Valkyrie behind as the new leader of the Asgardians.

That was a little weird, considering the entire point of Thor: Ragnarok was Thor finally coming to terms with his responsibilities as the ruler of Asgard. Still, it's nice that we're apparently going to get more Thor in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. In fact, he even dropped a potential title, calling the team the Asgardians of the Galaxy, which not so coincidentally is the name of a comic book series Marvel launched in 2018, well after these scenes were filmed. It's almost like they have some sort of plan!

And we also have some idea what Thor's new adventures with the Guardians might look like, as their scene showed Peter Quill trying to find the location of Gamora. Not our normal version of Gamora, mind you, who is still dead after being killed by Thanos in Infinity War, but rather the Gamora from 2014, who came through the time portal along with evil Nebula. So chances are tracking her down and helping her learn why they are her family may be part of the third Guardians film (sort of like Star Trek III: The Search for Spock). 

Hey, like we said, this alternate universe time travel stuff is going to take a long time to sort through. Speaking of which…

What does it mean for the future of the MCU?

So what does all of this mean for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Well, the first thing is that every character has a heck of a lot to deal with. The risen dead return to a very different world, to people who in many cases have mourned for them and moved on. How does this affect people? We're likely to see the first after effects in Spider-Man: Far From Home as Peter deals with the loss of his mentor, Tony Stark. 

He's not the only one, though. Loki got a second chance at life that seems likely to be explored in the upcoming Loki series on Disney's new streaming service, Disney+. And remember, this is evil Loki from before he spent the last several films bonding with Thor, so who knows what shenanigans he'll get up to with an Infinity Stone in his mitts. Likewise, Hawkeye has his family back, which is likely to be explored in the upcoming Hawkeye TV series streaming via Disney+. Not to mention Black Widow, who has a solo film in development even though she's dead. Will she maybe return in an alternate timeline? Hmm!

And then there's Wakanda, which suddenly has a king back. That's probably one king too many, though, because whoever has been running the show for the last five years in T'Challa's absence — M'Baku maybe? — isn't likely to just hand the throne back over.

All told, the Avengers saved a lot of lives and won the day. but that was the easy part. Picking up the pieces is likely to be the hard part. And we can't wait for Phase 4 to begin so we can see how they do it.