SPOILERS: Do not read any further if you have not seen Avengers: Endgame yet.
Avengers: Endgame is nothing short of a movie miracle. Not only is it a heist film, a time travel movie and an epic culmination of over a decade’s worth of blockbuster comic book movies, it’s also a three-hour ode and delivery system for callbacks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Marcus, have designed a narrative that pays off beats, scenes, and/or characters set up in previous Marvel movies (especially 2012’s The Avengers). Some payoffs that we didn’t even know we needed resonate thanks to their perfectly-timed, effortless execution; others occur largely for fan-service but without distracting from the emotional story the characters of Endgame find themselves on. As fans watch and rewatch Marvel’s latest like it’s the Zapruder film, here’s a handy breakdown of some key callbacks Endgame makes to the MCU.
1. Aim For The Head
Early in Endgame‘s first act, Thor, Captain Marvel, Rocket, and a few other Avengers find Thanos at his garden. Thor chops off his arm, then removes his head, with his ax, Stormbreaker. When Rocket asks in horror “What did you do?!”, Thor replies: “I went for the head.” This is a callback to Thanos and Thor’s first encounter in Infinity War, when Thanos tells Thor he “should have gone for the head” with his ax instead of impaling it into the Mad Titan’s chest.
2. A Suit Of Armor Around The World
When a sickly Tony Stark returns to Earth and goes on the mend at Avengers HQ in New York, he takes out on Cap his guilt and frustrations over the losses suffered in Infinity War. Here, Stark makes reference to his desire in Avengers: Age of Ultron to “put a suit of armor around the world.”
3. Budapest Reference!
Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) and Ronin/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) pilot the Benatar to Vormir, the planet home to the Soul Stone and a floating Red Skull. While en route at faster-than-light speed, Clint Barton turns to Natasha and says something to the effect of “this is nothing like Budapest.” He is referencing an exchange they had in The Avengers, during the Battle of New York. Here it is:
4. Widow’s Bite
Speaking of Vormir, while Black Widow and Hawkeye literally fight each other for the “honor” of being the one to sacrifice themselves for the Soul Stone, Nat uses one of her taser discs from Captain America: The Winter Soldier to incapacitate her friend and colleague.
5. Loki Turns Into Cap
When the Avengers travel back in time to The Avengers — specifically halfway into the Battle of New York — they pull a Marty McFly in Back to the Future Part II and interact with and watch events unfold from a new, behind-the-scenes perspective. Here, we see what happened after Loki surrendered and before the Avengers split up at the end of the film. Loki, mocking Cap, turns into Cap — just like he did (er, would do) in Thor: The Dark World.
6. “I Can Do This All Day”
Future Steve Rogers encounters his Avengers 2012 self, the latter wearing his helmet in order for audiences to tell the two apart. Cap Prime and Avengers 2012 Cap fight each other, with his past self commenting during brawl “I can do this all day.” This is obviously a callback to Steve’s line from The First Avenger, which was referenced again in Civil War.
7. So Much Glass Shattering
Soon, the two Caps’ battle spills down a few floors and crashing into several panes of glass. This may be a nod to how Cap was frequently smashing through/leaping out of and into glass in Winter Soldier. We’ll pretend it is.
8. Elevator Scene
In a call back to his a-mah-zing elevator brawl in Winter Soldier, Cap once again finds himself in an elevator with SHIELD operatives that are really Hydra — this time, Agent Sitwell joins Frank Grillo’s Rumlow as the two are charged with securing Loki’s scepter after the Battle of New York. Instead of exchanging blows, Cap uses his knowledge of the future and makes off with the scepter by whispering two words to Sitwell: “Hail, Hydra.”
9. The OG Jarvis Appears
This next one isn’t a nod to the movies, but rather to the ABC series Agent Carter — the first time the MCU has acknowledged continuity on the big screen with a Marvel TV series. After their plan to secure the Tesseract in 2012 fails, Cap and Stark travel back in time to 1970 New Jersey — to the military barracks home to SHIELD and where Captain America was created. There, Tony interacts with his father, Howard, and — before Howard gets in his car — he talks with his driver and butler, Jarvis, played by Agent Carter‘s James D’Arcy.
10. “On Your Left”
Before the final battle between all of the Avengers and Thanos’ legion, a battered Captain America picks up a garbled communication on his earpiece. It’s Sam (AKA Falcon), who says to Steve: “On your left.” That’s a callback to the first thing Steve ever said to Sam in The Winter Soldier. And, sure enough, over Cap’s left shoulder — one of Dr. Strange’s magic orange portals swirls open and Black Panther steps through.
11. Cap Is Finally Worthy
During the epic battle against Thanos and his horde, Cap — in one of Endgame‘s many applause-worthy moments — wields Thor’s hammer. This pays off the beat from the party in Age of Ultron where Cap was able to move Thor’s hammer a tiny bit because he was worthy.
12. Fighting Side By Side
Just like in Joss Whedon’s first Avengers movie, Cap and Thor find themselves once again standing side-by-side in the middle of battle. Only this time, Thor gives Cap his hammer in exchange for the ax Stormbreaker.
13. Chitauri Leviathan
The climactic battle against Thanos features the return of Thanos’ space eels known as Leviathans from The Avengers. During this mega conflict, Ant-Man/Giant-Man pulls a Hulk in the Battle of New York and knocks out one of these flying creatures with just one punch.
14. “I Am Iron Man”
After Tony secures the Infinity Stones to the glove of his Iron Man suit — but before he snaps his fingers to make Thanos and his army turn to dust — Tony stares down Thanos and proclaims “I.. am… Iron Man.” This is the same line Tony spoke at the end of Iron Man, revealing his secret identity and shocking the world.
15. Tony Stark’s Heart
It’s fitting that Tony’s funeral (sniffle, tear) makes a visual reference to his first movie. Tony’s first Arc Reactor unit for his chest in Iron Man, the one he gave to Pepper with “Proof That Tony Stark Has a Heart” engraved upon it, is sent floating on a lake near Tony’s log cabin.
16. A Teenage Harley Appears
Every member of the Avengers — and their extended family, like Maria Hill and Thunderbolt Ross — stand somber in a staggered formation at Tony’s funeral. Standing in front of Hill and Ross is Harley (Ty Simpkins), the little boy who helped Tony in Iron Man 3.
17. Cheeseburger In Paradise
Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) has a quiet moment with Tony’s sad daughter during her dad’s funeral. He asks her if she is hungry and what she wants to eat. Her response? “Cheeseburgers.” The reason why Happy chokes up at her choice is because that’s the same food Tony asked Happy for after he returned to the U.S. from the attack he survived in Afghanistan in Iron Man.
18. Cap Finally Gets That Dance
The final shot of Steve finally getting to dance with his best girl — and now future wife — Peggy, echoes the dance he promised Peggy they would have more than 70 years ago at the end of First Avenger.
19. Tony Hammering His Mark I Suit
Endgame does not feature an end credits scene. Instead, audiences leave the theater hearing the metal sounds of Tony in the cave from Iron Man, forging his Mark I suit.
Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now. Grab your tickets here.