This contains spoilers to a movie that just about everyone has seen, but still: this is your warning if you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet.
I was sitting by the main stage at the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con, waiting for George Perez’s panel to begin. To pass the time, they were piping in Alan Silvestri’s wonderful score from Avengers: Endgame into our ears. “Portals” began to play. I recognized it instantly. In my mind’s eye, I could see the portals open and characters walk through them. I’ve seen Endgame “only” four times as of writing this (a fifth one is likely coming; damn you, Kevin Feige! I said my goodbyes!), yet I can recall every second of this scene just by hearing the music associated with it. The music kept building until it hit that momentary pause. “Assemble,” I whispered, timed perfectly as the familiar Avengers theme came roaring in as I envisioned the beginnings of the climactic battle.
I became emotional, which won’t be a surprise to some of you who know what a crybaby I am when it comes to movies. Nothing major, just a bit misty-eyed. This is normal behavior for me while watching a movie, yet I wasn’t watching it at the time. I was sitting at a comic book convention just thinking about a film I had seen before. What was going on here? I started to think about the times I had seen it in the theater. One of the big talking points about Avengers: Infinity War was the characters who were “dusted” were ones we all knew would be coming back somehow. That’s fair, especially if you aren’t even half as engrossed with these characters as I am. But then why did every audience I saw Endgame with react with cheers when the portals opened and the dusted characters returned in groups? What made us all forget the “Oh, they’re just going to come back anyway” critique from the year prior?
Our own expectations for one character in particular: Steve Rogers.
To be completely forthright, I’m a huge Captain America fan and, despite some hesitation on hearing of his casting, I love how Chris Evans has portrayed the character from the beginning. That said, I assumed he was going to die. My circle of friends assumed he was going to die. I would bet that most people thought he was going to die. Hell, I thought he was going to die in Infinity War for crying out loud! It just seemed like the logical conclusion. Afterall, this is the man who kept standing up to disrespectful fat-heads only to get knocked down over and over again due to his small stature (“I can do this all day.”); the man who, pre-super soldier serum, jumped on what he thought was a live grenade to protect everyone around, even those who mocked him; the man who crashed a plane into the Arctic ice to save millions of lives, assuming he would be killing himself in the process; the man who took on HYDRA after the world he was trying so hard to understand began to crumble around him; the man who momentarily caught the Infinity Gauntlet as Thanos stormed through Wakanda. It just made sense that Cap would make the sacrifice play, as he challenged Tony Stark in The Avengers, and finish his story.
When now move ahead to Endgame. The remaining Avengers have seemingly succeeded in their time heist mission and reversed Thanos’ snap from Infinity War. There is no time to celebrate as Thanos returns from the past (just go with it) and decimates the Avengers Compound, trapping most of the team underneath the rubble. All but three: Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. They do battle with a very irritated and vindictive Mad Titan. In Infinity War, Thanos saw himself as a peacebringer, a savior for the entire universe. Now, from his point of view, the Avengers has shown him the error of his thought process; now he’s a destroyer, bringer of death. The original three (in terms of solo MCU films) work together and get their shots in, including a crowd pleasing moment were Captain America proves his worth and wields Mjolnir. None of that is enough, of course. Thanos, for the most part, is in control of this battle and gets the best of the heroes. Iron Man and Thor lay unconscious. Thanos chooses now to bring down the bulk of his army down to the planet. Cap is not out of the fight just yet. He straps in his broken shield, the shield representing who knows how many broken bones in his body. He warily stands up and walks toward the army, ready to fight every last one of them by himself if he has to. He can do this all day.
This is it. Cap (and the entire universe’s, for that matter) back is against the wall and we have no idea how he’s going to get out of it. In fact, we don’t believe he will. This is the moment we’ve all come to expect and dread all at the same time. This is when Captain America is going to lay down his life yet again to save the world. He is the ultimate leader and team player (rift from Captain America: Civil War notwithstanding), yet when it comes down to it, he forces the burden all onto himself. He’s the only one who can. He’ll find a way. He’s Steve Rogers. Whatever it takes.
And that’s when it happens. We hear Sam Wilson, the man who had been by Cap’s side through thick and thin, over a static radio connection. Sam announces, “on your left,” in a great callback to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the portals begin to open. The calvary is on the way. Steve doesn’t need to do it by himself this time. He never really did, but now he and all of us realize it. He has friends; friends who will fight and die by his side. And those friends just keep coming. With the call to assemble realized, the Avengers, their allies, and we the viewers embark on a grand spectacle, like a comic book come to life.
In the middle of it all, leading the way, is Captain America: the man who we all knew would fall to the forces of Thanos. Yet, it would be left to Tony Stark to do the honors, losing his life in order to save the day for his wife, his daughter, his friends, the world, the universe. It was the one and only way. Instead, Steve gets to dance into the sunset with Peggy Carter. After all, if anyone deserves the opportunity to live life after all he gave up for country and humankind, it’s Cap. And it’s all so very satisfying. But it was our expectations of another end for this character which allowed us to be sucked into the story so much so that the obvious answer we all knew for an entire year didn’t cross our minds when the moment came.
We were just happy to be wrong in this case.
We were happy for Steve Rogers.
And even if he somehow unknowingly screwed up the multiverse in the process, I’ll give him a pass. He earned it.