A big part of what makes Avengers: Endgame such a satisfying conclusion to the first decade of the MCU is how it rewards your investment in the franchise. The movie’s emotional payoff increased the more time and energy you gave to the Marvel Cinematic Universe before. As we go back through the previous films with the knowledge of where the journey ended, the worth of those decisions will become more evident. Re-watches will reveal other meaningful payoffs we didn’t pick up on the first time. It already happened; I realized an early scene in Endgame was a callback to a brief moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
After revisiting the beginning of Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers’ friendship, I have an even greater appreciation of two beautiful moments in Avengers: Endgame, first when Steve Rogers paid tribute to his fallen friend, and then when Captain America finally took advice Falcon had given him long ago.
Five years after the Snap Steve Rogers is hosting a support group for survivors. The meeting is raw and emotional, and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen Captain America do before. He’s a soldier, more at ease throwing punches than talking about his feelings. But he can’t help but be helpful, so he’s helping others move on even if he can’t. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen him at a group therapy session though, it’s just the first time he’s been an active part of one.
In The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers went to talk to new acquaintance Sam Wilson. Cap found him leading a group counseling meeting for fellow veterans struggling to adjust to life after war. “Caught the last few minutes. It’s pretty intense,” said Cap after it ended.
“Yeah, brother, we all got the same problems – guilt, regret,” said Sam. Seeing the truth behind his answer, Captain America asked if he lost someone while fighting. Sam had lost his friend and wingman. “Nothing I could do. It was like I was up there just to watch.”
That’s what Captain America experienced at the end if Infinity War; he watched his own friends turn to dust, helpless to save them. That same guilt and regret drives him in Endgame to do anything he can to bring them back. Prior to Scott Lang’s arrival, Steve’s compelled to do what Sam did when he was in his position. He sits in a room with people feeling the same pain he lives with, letting them bare their own feelings of loss so they don’t have to carry them alone. It’s Captain America at his best. A touching way to honor a loved one and live up to the best of who they were.
I was overwhelmed when I realized what Steve was doing and why. It’s a deep and meaningful connection to the past, resonating with emotional depth and all tied to Captain America’s experiences, both good and bad. But it’s not Endgame‘s only connection with that scene from Winter Soldier though.
Sam recognized Cap had come to see him that day because he was struggling with something, and he asked Steve if he was thinking about leaving the military. “No. I don’t know,” said Steve, “To be honest I don’t know what I would do with myself if I did.”
After a joke Sam told him, “Seriously, you can do whatever you want to do. What makes you happy?”
“I don’t know,” answered Cap.
It’s only in the final moments of Endgame when Steve finally takes Sam’s advice to walk away and does whatever he wants for himself. Steve figures out what makes him happy – being with Peggy. He might have taken Tony’s suggestion to get a life, but Captain America was taking the wise counsel of his friend Sam all of those years ago. Just like he took up his friend’s mantle by hosting those group therapy meetings.
That one brief scene from Winter Soldier was already great, but Endgame made it better. Now it’s central to the conclusion of Captain America’s story. The movie rewarded Steve Rogers for a lifetime of bravery, selflessness, and service with the life he sacrificed for everyone.