** Spoilers Ahead **
This is quite the year for fans of television and film. Between Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have to say goodbye to characters that many of us have grown up watching. As someone who started watching superhero movies with my beloved Fantastic 4 when I was about six years old, and who left the movie theater after The Winter Soldier wondering how I would handle Steve Rogers’ inevitable departure from the universe, I went into Endgame knowing I was going to spend the movie blubbering. Marvel is part of my soul and identity; my childhood, and now my adulthood, has been crafted around these amazing stories. Many of my friendships are built upon a shared love for Marvel Comics; so, I want to devote this article to the end of a certain friendship and relationship.
Steve Rogers & Bucky Barnes
We all strive to have a friendship that is stronger than even the most admirable familial bonds. One where we would sacrifice ourselves without hesitation. An infinite, everlasting connection that transcends time and space. Steve and Bucky quite literally have been tested by time and space, and their friendship has become stronger because of it.
As The Winter Soldier reports during a short museum clip, Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers have been friends since childhood. Although they lost each other multiple times throughout the years, the moment that there is an inclination that the other has returned, they blindly and ferociously fight to save one another. Each time they reunite, they are changed. Bucky has been through intense mental and emotional trauma, while Steve has been forced to spend a life without those he loves. Yet, when they reunite, their friendship transcends any change; it’s stronger than the forces of this world.
So when Steve prepares to return the Infinity Stones after the events of Endgame, the tension between Bucky and Steve is heartbreaking. Bucky knows that Steve probably won’t come back; he knows how much Steve has been hurt and how deserving he is of a life. As Peggy told Steve in The Winter Soldier, “I have lived a life. But my only regret is that you didn’t get to live yours.” Steve insinuates a farewell when he tells Bucky, “Don’t do anything stupid when I’m gone.” Bucky acknowledges that Steve won’t be coming back -- or if he comes back, that he will not be the same -- when he replies, “How can I? You’re taking all the stupid with you.”
This moment is so much more than a goodbye. It’s a recognition of their friendship, the strength of their bond, and the past that they share. It’s Steve thanking Bucky for being there for him, and Bucky doing the same. Most importantly, Bucky’s response confirms that he remembers every moment they spent together, even though HYDRA tried to erase his memory.
I was a bit upset when I realized that Bucky was not going to speak to Steve when he returns as an old man. I fully support Sam’s assumption of Captain America -- he has been a devoted friend to Steve and deserves the title. However, it would have given Bucky, and the viewers (i.e. me) some closure to see the two sitting on the bench together. It’s important to remember that we have spent a decade watching these two fight to help each other and rebuild their friendship. Bucky seems to be in a better mental and emotional place, and Steve can finally live the life he deserves. I suppose Bucky’s final, “I’ll miss you,” indicated that we won’t see the two speak again. And if Bucky had wanted to speak to Steve, he could have easily walked over. But I think that Steve’s departure punctuates the fact that Bucky has moved on, and so has Steve. While they will forever be friends, as Steve tells Natasha in the beginning of Endgame, “It’s time for us to get a life.” I hope we get a chance to see what that means for Bucky.
Tony Stark & Pepper Potts
I’d be lying if I said that this was a popular relationship with fans. Many see Pepper’s wavering acceptance of Tony’s life as an unnecessary obstacle. Sure, Tony hasn’t been the best partner. It’s interesting that his father mentions his own struggles with putting the needs of others above his own selfishness while they’re walking through the New Jersey SHIELD station, because that has been Tony’s struggle all along -- or, at least, what Tony thinks his struggle has been.
But while we might have been introduced to Tony as a selfish, brazen billionaire, we learn that he’s not the man he projects. Truly, he is a selfless man. How could we call him selfish if he risked his life in Avengers when he redirected the missile into outer space, or fought to relinquish his personal freedoms so that the world would feel safer in Civil War? His compassion manifests fully when he takes on the Infinity Gauntlet and sacrifices himself for the death-reversing snap.
As he lies on the ground, half of his body completely charred by the impossible power of the Infinity Stones, we realize just how much of a good man Tony Stark is. Time and time again he’s tried to prove to himself that he isn’t his father -- even though we learn that his father, just like Tony, is just trying to do what is right.
When Pepper crawls up to Tony and tells him that he can finally rest, that they -- herself, Morgan, Peter Parker, the world -- will be okay, the weight finally lifts from his shoulders. The battle he has waged against his demons has been conquered; not only has he redeemed himself, but he has affirmed that he is one of the most honorable men in existence. Most importantly, he feels worthy of the love that others give him.
Without Pepper, Tony would have no reason to try to be a good person. Sure, he might have tried to erase his father’s programming, but he ultimately would have wandered about the world doing some questionable things until… well, probably until he either self-destructed or found someone like Steve to redirect his path. But because of Pepper, Tony can do two things: he can be the man he’s supposed to be, and he can learn how to love.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With Phase 4 wrapping up with the loss of two of our most beloved heroes, Marvel has truly opened space for development of some of our favorite new characters. Of course, I’m forlorn that we had to lose Iron Man and Captain America in order to usher in a new era of superheroes. But not only is this consistent with many of the comic book series, but it is also a simple fact of life. The end has loomed over Cap and Stark since their introduction a decade ago; like them, we will have to move forward, and dig deeper into the comics for new story arcs.
The question of what happens next has been weighing on me since the striking of the anvil that sounded as we exited the theater. We have Spider-Man: Far From Home coming in only a few months (July 5), a Doctor Strange movie coming out in 2021, and a Black Widow movie being released God knows when. Apart from these developments, though, I’m not sure where Marvel will go next. What will happen to Steve -- will we get to see him again, or will he simply live quietly in that adorable cottage? Will Bucky work with Sam or take on a new role, maybe associated with Wakanda? Will Tony’s daughter follow in her father’s footsteps and take on the mantle of Iron Man? And, most importantly, would Marvel please make a Silver Surfer movie! As always, I think we can trust Marvel to select the best stories to gift us with next. Though it is sad to see these characters go, I’m thankful to have been given the opportunity to grow up alongside them.