Warning: This post contains medium-level spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.
By my calculations, there are over 60 named characters who pop up in Avengers: Endgame. Since the movie is 182 minutes long, that means each character, on average, gets three minutes of screen time. But despite how amusing the image of a PowerPoint presentation of rotating Marvel heroes would be, in practice the movie is not quite so evenhanded. Some characters get to be in it more or less the whole thing, while others merely pop up for a second or two.
So, as the internet explodes in Endgame content, we can set aside Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow for a moment. This post is dedicated to the unsung heroes of the movie, those actors who showed up on set, strapped on their comic-book wigs, and squeezed into their old costumes one last time, all for a few seconds of screen time. Who did the most, for the least?
Brie Larson (Captain Marvel)
March’s Captain Marvel was a setup for Carol Danvers to play a major role in Endgame, they said. She’s the new Iron Man, they said. The next stage of the MCU will be built around her, they said. That last one may still be true, but Captain Marvel is not quite the centerpiece we all assumed. The movie is far more interested in looking backward than forward, which relegates Danvers to a minor role, making periodic appearances on Earth in between what I’m sure are equally important missions elsewhere in the galaxy. Still, she comes through in the end, and I’m glad to see that “destroy a spaceship by flying through its innards” remains her show-stopping move.
John Slattery (Howard Stark)
To play the early-’70s incarnation of Tony Stark’s father, Slattery glues back on the first iconic mustache he’s worn in his career and submits himself to what’s become the obligatory MCU de-aging process. It’s a lot, but as thanks, the script gives him some hefty emotional scenes to work with.
Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One)
After the whitewashing controversy around this character, you might have thought Marvel would keep the Ancient One safely locked away in the vault. But nope! Balda Swinton is back, baby, and she, too, gets an actual scene, with actual beats to play. Heck, she’s in this movie more than Doctor Strange is.
Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce)
Wanna know why Robert Redford always seems to have a twinkle in his eye? It’s because he spent last fall telling everybody that the charming indie The Old Man & the Gun would be his final film role, only to show up a few months later in one of the biggest blockbusters of the decade. For a surprise Endgame cameo, Redford’s shady Secretary of Defense actually gets a fair bit of screen time, linking up with 2012-era Tony Stark for the Great Robert Summit we never knew we needed.
Natalie Portman (Jane Foster)
Redford isn’t the only Oscar winner who deigned to return to a franchise we all assumed they were done with. However, in this case, Portman barely had to work at all: Jane’s appearance in Endgame is leftover material from Thor: The Dark World; Portman’s only new contribution was an ADR’d line or two. There were no horses, no soldiers, and definitely no cameras. What a legend.
Michael Douglas (Hank Pym)
Douglas kicked off the MCU’s de-aging schtick in Ant-Man, and he undergoes it again in Endgame’s 1970 sequence, which sees Douglas in full blush of Summertime-era youth. However, the scene unintentionally reveals the limits of this technology — in his one line, young Douglas still speaks with the throaty rasp of a man decades older.
The Funeral Crew
At least Douglas got a line. Endgame’s closing sequence includes a funeral for [NAME REDACTED], which sees a cavalcade of characters show up in their most respectful superhero attire. Besides the main characters and this random teen, this scene also includes Angela Bassett, William Hurt, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Marisa Tomei, who collectively have 11 Oscar nominations between them. They get zero total lines here. But, on the plus side, their costuming and makeup is fairly low-maintenance.
Winston Duke (M’Baku)
Let’s just say when we scheduled our big profile of Winston Duke to go up the week of Endgame’s release, we slightly overestimated how much he would be in this movie. In the final battle, M’Baku pops up for … one second? Maybe two? And screams? And for that, Duke got all ripped again. That’s the kind of commitment you can expect from a Yale Drama grad.