The consequences of Avengers: Infinity War were devastating to the Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes fans have come to know and love. What else do our protagonists have to live for when they’ve all lost so much? That’s where we begin Avengers: Endgame, with half the world and half the assembled Avengers destroyed in the Snap, leaving the rest of the team in grief, struggling to survive both the emotional and physical aftermath. But the question lingering in our minds is not “will the universe be saved?” or “what does this mean for the future of Marvel?” or even “who will live and who will die?” but, honestly, “What songs will the gang jam to this time around?” That’s because the MCU has a knack for musical needle drops bursting with energy (the late Chris Cornell’s “Live to Rise” in The Avengers) and sometimes swelling with nostalgia (Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2).
The MCU may be well known for their weaving of complex storylines across a catalogue of characters and timelines, but the franchise’s relationship to music has rooted the films to a recognizable world, if not exactly the one we live in. Over a decade ago, Iron Man kicked off the MCU with AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, a prophetic testament to Tony Stark’s hard edged irony and seemingly phoenix-like ability to be reborn. Taika Waititi has spoken in interviews how Thor: Ragnorok was almost single handedly shaped by Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which is used in the film’s final battle, completing a truly epic, artful sequence that few films in the MCU can compete with. Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel are perhaps most beholden to their own attachment to music and ephemera of the past, prompting a release of not a soundtrack, but a mixtape (called Awesome Mix, Vol. 1). With songs by Blue Swede and David Bowie, Guardians is the film in the MCU that takes the most pleasure in musical cues, but that doesn’t mean Endgame can’t have some fun, too.
First and foremost (and yeah, some spoilers ahead): Thor (Chris Hemsworth) comes back somewhat paunchier this time around (who can relate), but ready to take back the universe as he struts into the hanger where Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Captain America (Chris Evans), and the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are preparing their time machine to the sounds of the Rolling Stones. As a killer hook and Mick Jagger’s shredding vocals echo throughout the room, the Stones’ frontman, as if channeling Thor himself, asks, “What’s it all about? I guess it just reflects my mood.” The song—“Doom and Gloom,” the Stones’ jaunty single off their 2012 greatest hits compilation GRRR! —has a rollicking, dark sense of humor, complementing Thor’s own devil may care attitude. Weighed down and haunted by failure and the results of Infinity War, Thor sports sweats, grizzled hair, a beard, and sunglasses that hide his perpetual, depression-fueled hangover.
The title “Doom and Gloom” is apt for the film more broadly speaking; Avengers: Endgame is fundamentally a movie about itself and about its own history, or at least the history of its cinematic universe. Its use of time travel, of timelines, is less bound up in complicated exposition and more in a recollection of memories and scenes from the franchise, as if it were diving in and out of the specific scenes from previous films and playing with the idea that they have, themselves, become a part of cinema history that could be lost. The future of the Avengers is uncertain, which forces everyone to dive into the past.
That includes the gang landing on Morag in 2014, where Nebula and War Machine bump into Chris Pratt’s always-excellent Quill as he dances around to Redbone’s seminal “Come and Get Your Love,” originally used to excellent effect in Guardians of the Galaxy. Off of the band’s 1973 album Wovoka (and originally titled “Hail”), the iconic song feels kind of like a homecoming (though the scene in which it appears is far cheekier, and even—believe it or not—full of suspense). Endgame is a big finale for Marvel, so the call to “come and get your love” feels like an invitation to fans and audiences to revel in the spectacle of action and emotion that the film has to offer.
Endgame plunges its characters into the past, letting us see history from a different vantage point. The fate of the universe lies partly here, in something remembered and re-lived, as if the key to survival is understanding the past itself. Changing it is, of course, the danger. As the scene is itself lifted from Guardians of the Galaxy, and the song from the ‘70s, it becomes the past about the past, a loopy time warp of emotions and sonic recall.
Being preoccupied with time makes sense: the Marvel Cinematic Universe has covered eleven years and, including Avengers: Endgame, 22 films, which have spanned many decades of their own in-universe (e.g. Captain America: The First Avenger starts out in 1942; Endgame leaps into 2024). Much has changed in over a decade: in the Marvel universe, and in ours, too. The MCU has irrevocably changed cinema history and the film industry in that short span of time. With multi-billion dollar mergers with Disney—and subsequently Fox—and spinoffs and ancillary titles on Netflix, Hulu, and ABC, almost everything in Hollywood, for better or worse, revolves around the MCU. And since this film is fixated on the past and its possibilities and inevitabilities, it only makes sense that the film closes out with a song popularized during the World War II era.
Written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” was released in November 1945. Harry James plays the trumpet, and Kitty Kalen’s smooth voice sings, mesmerized that she’s able to hold onto the moment of kissing her spouse after they’ve come home from the war:“Never thought that you would be / Standing here so close to me / There's so much I feel that I should say / But words can wait until some other day.” The track was previously used in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and, without spoiling the film’s ending, it serves as a bittersweet but perfectly cued needle drop, one that suggests, in spite of the movie’s massive explosions and battle pageantry, something else matters here. It explains the numerous silent looks of agreement, determination, affection, and alliance. Because at their cores, movies and memories are all really about the small intimate moments of connection. Even Avengers: Endgame.