Major, major spoilers ahead, obviously.
“Let’s start,” complained an unnamed film critic sitting behind me at Tuesday morning’s 10 a.m. advance screening of Avengers: Endgame. It was 10:07. “I’ve only waited 22 movies for this,” he continued.
As we all know by now, Endgame itself marks the 22nd film in Marvel’s cinematic universe, which first began over a decade ago with 2008’s Iron Man. The film, as you may be well aware from its omnipresent marketing and that ominous subtitle, also marks the end of the “Infinity Saga,” which consists of the first 22 films in the MCU. In layman's terms: contracts are up, anyone can die, and shit is going down.
When we last left the Avengers, big bad Thanos, a large purple alien with a very distinctive chin played by Josh Brolin, had successfully collected all six infinity stones, making him far and away the most powerful being in the Universe, and snapped his fingers, successfully eliminating half of all living beings—including some of our very own heroes, like Black Panther and Spider-man. Needless to say, at the beginning of Endgame, our remaining Avengers have their work cut out for them if they plan to bring back the disappeared (and they are Avengers, so, they do).
Luckily, they soon hatch a plan to go back in time to some of their most iconic battles to retrieve the infinity stones before Thanos can ever get to them in the first place. There, they have the knowledge of their own past and 21 previous movies of tertiary characters we’ve forgotten about to rely on—what’s the final film in a series without a few nostalgic callbacks and surprising cameos, after all? Here, a guide to all of Avengers: Endgame’s unexpected appearances (disappeared superheroes not included because, come on, Black Panther was obviously coming back).
Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One
Returning to one of the most memorable final showdowns in Avengers lore , the Battle for New York in The Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Ant-Man return to 2012 New York, where the Hulk heads over to Doctor Strange’s townhouse to retrieve the Time Stone. Benedict Cumberbatch is nowhere to be found, but upon arrival Hulk upon is greeted by none other than a bald Tilda Swinton, aka the Ancient One, swathed in a chartreuse silk robe (tbh, very Swinton). The two have a fairly enjoyable tête-à-tête that ends in some fairly easy conflict resolution.
Rene Russo as Frigga
Bring out the tissues for this one. When Thor travels back to Asgard circa Thor 2 to retrieve the Reality Stone, our God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) runs into his mother Frigga, played by Rene Russo, who dies in that film. Thor, who has, let’s say, lost his way a bit post-snap, gets the kind of pep talk that only a mother can deliver; it serves as his motivation for the final half of Endgame.
Natalie Portman as Jane Foster
Also in Asgard of the past is Academy Award winner Natalie Portman, who left the franchise following the second Thor movie. Unlike Russo, who gets a meaty monologue, we only get a brief two-second shot of Portman (we don’t even find out how Rocket got the Reality Stone from her possession)—makes one wonder if she really filmed something new or this was just recut old material. However, Portman is credited in the credits and made an appearance at the premiere, so maybe she’s just really busy.
Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Tom Hiddleston as Loki
As the two central Avengers characters who actually died (i.e. didn’t just disintegrate into dust), it was a crapshoot if we’d ever see these two again. Well, surprise! Thanks to time travel, we get to go back to when we first met them—Gamora, still loyal to dad Thonas, and Loki, stealing the Tesseract in New York. What we don't see is where they end up, leaving plenty of room for Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and Loki’s Disney+ show.
John Slattery as Howard Stark, Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym
Post-New York, Iron Man and Captain America travel even further back to the 1970s, where we’re met with an onslaught of cameos from the duo’s past. For Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, that means an encounter with his late father Howard Stark (lest you forget Iron Man has Daddy Issues) that really is quite moving, There, we also get some time with Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, who we first saw in Captain America: Winter Soldier (marking the actor’s final role pre-retirement), and Michael Douglas sporting a very ‘70s hairstyle.
James D’Arcy as Jarvis
A special mention goes to Agents of Shield actor James D’Arcy as Jarvis, who appears as Howard Stark’s driver, marking the first time we see the actor in the flesh in the cinematic universe, and the first time a character introduced in an MCU television series appears in an MCU film.
Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter
What, you thought there was going to be a final Avengers movie without the love of Captain America’s life, Peggy Carter? While at first we merely get the hint of Agent Carter in the past, we finally get the rom-com ending that Steve Rogers deserves by the end of the film.
In the late Marvel creator’s final cameo, Lee appears as a bawdy ‘70s driver who speeds past Cap and Iron Man. It’s a fittingly random and gleeful goodbye for the king of cameos.
Marisa Tomei as Aunt May and Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne
As our Avengers gather for Iron Man’s funeral, we get a quick glimpse of two of the Marvel Universe’s most-celebrated (and underused) actresses: Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, comforting a grieving Peter Parker, and a white-haired Janet van Dyne, played by newly minted perfumer Michelle Pfeiffer, who is at last reunited once again with her daughter played by Evangeline Lily.
Ty Simpkins as Harley Keener
Confused as to who that teenage boy standing alone at Tony Stark’s funeral was? This one was a deep cut for the real Marvel-heads out there. It’s Ty Simpkins, the same actor who portrayed Stark’s child sidekick Harley Keener in Iron Man 3. We haven’t seen him since, making his grieving appearance a deep Easter Egg.
Perhaps the most joyful comeback of them all: Thor’s OG Hammer, Mjolnir, which was previously destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok. After all that he’s been through, Thor deserves a little happiness in the form of material goods.