In a universe as fleshed out and tangible as the MCU, it’s easy to get lost in the spectacle of larger-than-life comic book heroes and villain battling onscreen. The action and choreography mixed with fantastical power sets and (mostly) excellent CGI is a dream come true for many there to enjoy the visual representations of these characters. And while the visual spectacles are something to behold, they are not what captivates so many people across the world. It’s the downbeats, those moments of emotion where we get the depth behind these characters that truly give us lasting memories. As we head towards Endgame, a film that is the emotional capstone of the MCU thus far, what better way to prepare than to gather to most emotionally impactful moments in the MCU.
This should go without saying but…SPOILERS!!!
“Did you know?” (Captain America: Civil War): Despite the amazing action littered throughout Civil War, it’s the personal story that makes this such a remarkable film. No scene encompasses the emotional nature of Civil War as when Tony finds out that a mind-controlled Bucky killed his parents. That revelation would have been bad enough, but to find out Steve had known all along and deigned not to tell him was a betrayal far beyond anything we could imagine. Robert Downey Jr’s performance is second to none here as he hesitates to look Steve in the eye, afraid of the truth. The ensuing fight is built upon this emotion; it’s not pretty or complex, rather a brutal and inelegant battle of revenge and survival.
“Peter, take my hand.” (Guardians of the Galaxy): When a young Peter refuses to take his mother’s hand as she lay dying in the opening moments of the movie, we know that pain would be a defining part of the man he would become. So it should come as no surprise that, at his darkest hour, as the Power stone threatens to tear him apart, Peter hears Gamora call out to him with those same words. Accepting Gamora’s hand is a turning point for Peter (and the MCU). Not only does it win the day but, for Peter, it gives him closure to those final moments with his mother from 30 years ago and the realization that he’s no longer alone.
”What did it cost?” – “Everything” (Infinity War): There are probably a half dozen scenes I could have put here for this particular movie. But considering that Thanos is the protagonist and sacrifices the most, I had to include it. Using the Gauntlet thrusts him into the Soul Stone where he comes face-to-face with a younger Gamora who asks Thanos if he actually went through it all. The pain and heartbreak in the Mad Titan’s voice when he acknowledges this and how it cost “Everything” is an even clearer reminder that Infinity War was Thanos’s story and that, despite the insanity of his actions, there’s no denying the fact that he too lost what was dear to him.
“He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy.” (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2): Guardians 2 is one of those MCU films that, while entertaining, seemed too intent to make itself funnier and more expansive than its predecessor. Yet despite my issues with the movie, the way they handle Yondu’s character is nothing short of amazing. Watching this man give his life for Peter, his surrogate son, is as satisfying (yet heartbreaking) end to one of the most fleshed out supporting characters in the entire MCU.
“Everybody dies. It’s just life around here.” (Black Panther): After winning the kingship from T’Challa and then being given the heart-shaped herb, the villainous Eric ‘Killmonger’ takes a spiritual journey where he meets his father. When N’joku asks his son “no tears for me?”, Eric responds with this truthful yet cynical statement. Seven simple words that breathe life to Killmonger’s motivation. A child that lost a father wanting to help his people wishes nothing more than to do the same. Misguided as his actions may be, they are understandable and that understanding is what has made Eric Killmonger such an appreciated MCU villain.
“Well if I’m wrong then, what more could I lose?” (Infinity War): Taking into account his time in the MCU, no one has lost more than Thor. Aside from his family, he’s lost friends (Heimdal and the Warriors Three), his eye, his entire world, and half his people. This small conversation with Rocket reminds up just how much pain Thor has had to endure through his considerable lifetime and, despite the jovial, somewhat off-handed responses during this conversation, his “what more could I lose?” is the picture of a man who holds onto a single thread of hope: vengeance. Chris Hemsworth performance is astounding as he showcases an emotional complexity using such subtle grace, where the escape of a single tear shows us the depths of his pain.
“I just feel you.” (Infinity War): Similar to Peter’s “take my hand” moment, this is another one of those that, towards the end of Infinity War, is a call back to an earlier scene. Wanda says this to Vision early on, when he senses a disturbance within the Mind Stone. He repeats this to her at the end when, with no more time, she must destroy the stone before Thanos can complete the gauntlet. Elizabeth Olsen makes this moment, not just with her initial refusal but the strength to drive through her pain so that others would survive. Futile though her efforts end up being, there is no denying the emotional weight of her final moments with the man she loves.
So many emotionally impactful moments were left off this list. But these were the ones that, no matter how many times I see them, always leave me with a just-punched-in-the-gut feeling. With that said, I’d love to hear your thoughts.