We’re in the Marvel ENDGAME now. After eleven years and twenty movies, AVENGERS: ENDGAME is almost upon us. The long-awaited conclusion to INFINITY WAR and, more importantly, the end of an era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As someone who distinctly remembers watching IRON MAN back in 2008, I could never have predicted what would arise from its success. A fully interconnected film universe straight out of the comic panels, right down to the costumes, supervillains, and wacky plot devices.

It’s hard to fathom that most of the core cast members are leaving after ENDGAME. No one knows whether they’ll die or simply retire and let a new team of heroes take over. Of course, the latter is inevitable, with names like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man being groomed to replace the original six Avengers. But it will mean saying goodbye to characters that have grown and developed alongside their fans for more than a decade. And trust me, the trailers have been all about the nostalgia you feel for those early days of Phase One.

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Quite a Colorful Ensemble We’ve Got Here, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes from here is unknown. But before we take one last ride with the classic team, let’s look back fondly on their finest moments. A final retrospective of superhero fights, one-liners and game-changing moments that ingrained the MCU in the hearts of millions of fans around the globe. It’s the least we owe to this little franchise that somehow became the biggest blockbuster juggernaut in modern Hollywood. Engage the Marvel ENDGAME highlights.

Marvel ENDGAME Phase 1

Mark 3 Suit-Up (IRON MAN): When Robert Downey Jr. finally donned his iconic red and gold Iron Man suit, it marked a new era of superhero films. Narrative-wise, it provided Tony Stark retribution against the terrorists who fatally wounded him and used his weapons for evil. But seeing the suit’s effects brought to life finally gave superhero films the green light to expand their creative budget.

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New Age Begins, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Putting a Team Together (THE INCREDIBLE HULK): No one really remembers THE INCREDIBLE HULK. But seeing RDJ confront General Ross in the film’s final moments sent a clear message to the audience. This big shared universe idea- we’re actually going through with it. And it REALLY gets fans excited about who Marvel will adopt next.

The Star-Spangled Man (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER): Originally, Marvel faced skepticism for trying to adopt a superhero so… old fashioned. With a namesake like Captain America, he felt more like a propaganda symbol than a character. This scene lets the writers skirt those critiques by injecting Cap’s Golden Age nature directly into the narrative. It rationalizes Steve Roger’s goofy costume and shield, lets him “punch Hitler” and gives the character reason to prove himself beyond a PSA joke. Also, that patriotic theme…

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The First Group Shot, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The First Group Shot (THE AVENGERS): Everyone saw this clip in the trailers, but even in theaters it felt like the culmination of a fandom fantasy. Six B-list Marvel heroes against an alien invasion outnumbered but united, and ready to kick ass. A god, a super-soldier, two secret agents, a billionaire philanthropist in an iron suit and the Hulk. This one action shot convinced Marvel and comic book fans everywhere that their risky gamble paid off.

Marvel ENDGAME Phase 2

Christmas Party (IRON MAN 3): Early Phase 2 reflects the MCU’s sophomore slump, with IRON MAN 3 divisively polarizing fans over… updates made to the Mandarin. But the climax remains a highlight, with Tony Stark summoning his entire Iron Legion to fight an army of Extremist-enhanced soldiers. We get an epic line-up formation, tons of robot action, and see Stark thematically sacrifice his suit insecurities to become a better person.

Iron Legion Assemble, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The Price of Freedom (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER): Comparatively, this film remains one of the MCU’s most praised entries. Everyone’s made the 70’s spy thriller comparisons (complete with Robert Redford’s casting) and praised the hell out of that elevator fight. But Steve’s “price of freedom” speech really speaks to his “never-yield” characterization. He might be a man out of time, but Cap’s words still rally people to do the right thing and never compromise on their principles, no matter the odds.

You Can’t Forget About GUARDIANS & RAGNAROK

Dance-Off (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY): GUARDIANS should not have worked. It was too weird, too unknown, and featured a talking tree and raccoon! But by gosh it did work, and this take on the final battle shows us why. Peter Quill adopts the most unorthodox of distractions – an 80’s music dance off — to hold off Ronan’s planetary destruction. Then he and the other Guardians join hands and… Well, admit it, you too got emotional here.

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That was… Unconventional, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Lifting Thor’s Hammer (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON): In a movie bogged down by sequel-building, this scene stands out for its simplicity. The Avengers, chilling at a party, jokingly tried to lift Mjolnir. No one gets close, save for one instance with Captain America where Thor (understandably) gets worried. It’s this lighthearted comradery that make the group dynamics feel genuine. Gonna make the Marvel ENDGAME moments even more tragic.

Marvel ENDGAME Phase 3

Airport Fight (CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR): Until INFINITY WAR, this was the most ambitious superhero fight in the MCU. With the Avengers divided over the apprehending Bucky Barnes, an all-out brawl breaks out between Team Cap and Team Iron Man. There’s fan service galore, from Spider-Man showing up, to Ant-Man riding on one of Hawkeye’s arrows, to a freaking Giant-Man transformation. CIVIL WAR might be one of the franchise’s best, but this scene alone warrants replay value.

I’ve Come to Bargain (DOCTOR STRANGE): Admit it: you will never get tired of those Dormammu memes. In a clever final battle subversion, Doctor Strange “defeats” the Dark Dimension ruler Dormammu by trapping him in an endless time loop. Sure, it involves dying a lot, but where else do you see a god give up his conquest plans out of frustration? All hail the Sorcerer Supreme!

I’ve Come to Bargain, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

God of Thunder (THOR: RAGNAROK): There’s a lot of great moments in THOR: RAGNORAK, let alone its final battle. But the standout moment is when an eye-less Thor embraces his lightning powers without Mjolnir and single-handedly takes on Hela’s army on the Bifrost. Thor not only lands with a literal bang, but the fight is perfectly synced alongside Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ lyrics. Truly, this is where Thor became a top 5 MCU character.

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God Mode Engaged, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Welcome to Wakanda (BLACK PANTHER): As a worldbuilding introduction, BLACK PANTHER’s first glimpse of Wakanda remains breathtaking. Flying through the holographic jungle display, the film literally pulls back its curtains to reveal a marvel of Afrofuturistic architecture. It gave us a culture not just unlike anything in the MCU, but in mainstream filmmaking altogether. It’s one of many reasons this film defined the pop culture zeitgeist of 2018. Marvel ENDGAME approaching…

And Finally…

Everything about AVENGERS INFINITY WAR. Each scene of INFNITY WAR just screams “iconic.” Thanos killing Heimdall and Loki and singlehandedly beating up the Hulk. Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man fighting the Children of Thanos and Guardians of the Galaxy. Captain America is showing up in Edinburgh to save Scarlet Witch and Vision. And, of course, the epic team-up battles on Titian and in Wakanda.

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A New Challenger Approaches, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

But my favorite moment is a simple but satisfying entrance: Thor showing up in Wakanda. Blasting onto the battlefield via Bifrost with Stormbreaker, Rocket and Teenage Groot, not to mention a killer musical cue, Thor completely turned the tide of the fight. He goes full Kratos on Thanos’ forces and blasts an explosive crater with one axe swing. There wasn’t a single audience member short of cheers during this scene.

Oh, and for the most recent entry….

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Brie Larson Over 9000, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Captain Marvel Goes Super Saiyan: By removing the Kree implant and suppressing her powers, Carol Danvers finally unleashes her binary powers against Starforce. Not to mention half of Ronan’s Kree ships. Visually, it’s by far the best Dragonball adaptation I’ve ever seen, right down to the Skrulls resembling Namekians. Certainly better than THAT abomination that shall never, ever be mentioned.

Now, let the Marvel ENDGAME begin. Can’t wait for Friday.

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