After more than a decade of outstanding cinematic outings, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will finally reach the pinnacle of its current run this weekend with the release of Avengers: Endgame. And after the devastating finale of the previous Avengers film, Infinity War, one can only imagine the emotional gut-punches that we’ll be experiencing in this film, including the fact that this may be the final curtain call for some of our favorite heroes. Thus, as you might have guessed, today’s post will be delving into one of the most important aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has made it the juggernaut of a franchise that it currently is, its strong sense of emotional poignancy. If there’s one argument against the MCU that I’ve just simply never gotten, it’s the claim that these films are nothing more than a bunch of comedies with flashy visuals. Now, yes, it’s true that the MCU films primarily tend to be light-hearted adventures complete with tons of hilarious moments that usually stem from the main characters bantering with each other. Heck, there are so many great hilarious moments in these films that one could literally do a Top 20 or even a Top 30 list of the funniest moments in the MCU. But these films are much more than that. They’re very much character-driven stories that have taken the time to properly develop their various protagonists, and because of this, it makes moments like the finale of Infinity War even more devastating than they already are. Without all this, it’s doubtful that these films would’ve worked as well as they have. With that in mind, today I’ll be listing 10 of the best emotional moments to come from this franchise, and to further prove my point about how effective the MCU is at this sort of thing, I’m only including one moment per film. And so, without further ado, these are my personal Top 10 best emotional moments in the MCU.
- FRIGGA’S FUNERAL – THOR: THE DARK WORLD
To start things off, we have a moment from Thor: The Dark World which, admittedly, is usually considered to be one of the weaker installments of the MCU. And to be perfectly fair, it’s easy to see why, in some cases, as everything that happens in this film makes it feel like an incredibly minor affair when compared to other films in the franchise. To put this into perspective, the next MCU film to come out, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, featured one hell of a game-changer with its big twist that revealed that HYDRA had overtaken SHIELD, which ended up impacting several parts of the franchise for years to come. By comparison, Thor: The Dark World’s big twist, where it’s revealed that Loki had managed to assume control of Asgard, was literally left unattended for nearly half a decade until Thor: Ragnarök. In other words, a lot of people felt that Thor: The Dark World played things a bit too safe. But to the film’s credit, it does have its standout moments, which mainly stem from the scenes involving Thor and Loki after the former breaks the latter out of prison. It also has a very effective emotional moment about halfway in with the tragic death of Thor and Loki’s mother, Queen Frigga. This occurs during the sequence where the Dark Elves invade Asgard to collect the Aether, a cosmic power source that has currently infected Thor’s girlfriend Jane Foster. And despite Frigga proving to be a formidable warrior in her own right during a sword fight with Malekith, she is fatally stabbed by his second-in-command, Kurse, before Thor manages to ward the two off.
The Viking funeral that she’s given immediately after is an incredibly well-done sequence. It’s visually stunning with a lot of neat little touches, including the moment where the people of Asgard release their orb-like lights into the night sky in remembrance of their queen. And it’s also backed by one of the best tracks of Brian Tyler’s score, ‘Into Eternity’, which perfectly matches the somber tone of the scene itself while still maintaining the grand nature of the rest of the score. But perhaps the best aspect about this whole sequence is how one certain figure reacts to it, and that character happens to be none other… than Loki. Because this takes place after the events of The Avengers, Loki has now fully embraced his villainous status while also being incredibly dismissive towards his family having now learned the truth about him being Odin’s ‘adopted’ son, thus explaining why he seemed destined to never become the ruler of Asgard. And yet, after being told by a guard about Frigga’s death, what does he do? He trashes his cell in a silent bit of rage, proving that he did still have positive feelings towards his adoptive mother who, in earlier parts of the film, was shown to be the only one who genuinely expressed any bit of sympathy towards him. It’s also worth noting that Loki inadvertently played a part in Frigga’s death by giving Kurse directions towards her location, thus making it emotionally cathartic when he’s ultimately the one to kill Kurse on Svartalfheim. In short, while it may take place in one of the weakest MCU films and revolves around the death of a character who admittedly had a very minor role in the first Thor due to several of her scenes getting cut, Frigga’s funeral is still a very well-handled sequence that’s easily one of Thor: The Dark World’s better moments.
- THE FATE OF JANET VAN DYNE – ANT-MAN
The first Ant-Man presents a serious conflict between the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne. While it’s established that Hope could easily don the Ant-Man suit to accomplish their planned heist on Darren Cross’ Yellowjacket technology due to her extensive knowledge of Cross’ company and the fact that she’s already combat-trained, Hank vigilantly opposes the idea, saying that it’s ‘too dangerous’. The tension between them also stems from his handling of the loss of his wife Janet, who’s said to have died in a plane crash, which led to him sending Hope off to boarding school instead of simply being there for his daughter during this traumatic time. However, during the extensive training sessions that Scott Lang goes through to become the new Ant-Man, Hank finally reveals the truth about what happened to Janet. Back in the ’80s when Hank was Ant-Man, Janet worked alongside him as ‘the Wasp’. Their last mission together in 1987 involved them stopping a Soviet missile that was being launched at the U.S. With no way of disabling it from the outside, Hank recognized that the only way to stop it was to go subatomic, even if it meant being trapped within the mysterious Quantum Realm with no clear way to return. And because his suit ends up getting damaged, Janet willingly does the job for him, disabling the missile at the cost of disappearing into the Quantum Realm. Thus, at that moment, it’s made perfectly clear as to why Hank didn’t want Hope to don the Ant-Man suit; he didn’t want to lose her the same way that he lost Janet. It isn’t until Scott goes subatomic himself and yet manages to return from the Quantum Realm that Hank begins to wonder if Janet could still be alive, thus leading to Hope finally getting a shrinking suit of her own as the new Wasp.
The scene where Hank reveals the truth to Hope manages to accomplish two things. For Hank, it’s an extremely humbling moment that allows him a chance to recognize his mistakes, and it also helps that the MCU thankfully avoids replicating some of the character’s infamous moments from the comics (e.g. that time he struck Janet). And as for Hope, it becomes a major bit of emotional catharsis as she finally understands why her father has been so distant all these years due to him trying to find a way to bring her mother back. All this, of course, carries over to the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, where the main plot directly revolves around Hank, Hope, and Scott’s efforts to rescue Janet from the Quantum Realm. But while this does give that film its own unique bits of emotional poignancy (e.g. Hank and Hope’s respective reunions with Janet), I decided to focus more on the first film’s reveal of Janet’s fate as it’s the one that ultimately gets the ball rolling on this plotline. Now with all this said, one other thing to note about this scene is that it ends with a comedic punchline courtesy of Scott, who comments on how Hank and Hope are finally ‘breaking down walls’ and ‘healing’… before realizing that he totally ruined the moment. The only reason why I bring this up is that this ties into one of the key criticisms that those who consider these films to be nothing more than comedies often bring up when making that argument. To them, these films are so abundant with humor that they usually end up undercutting their emotional moments whenever one occurs. And yet, that has never really been the case with these films. When a serious moment does occur in an MCU film, it’s almost always given the proper attention that it deserves and is treated in a respectable manner, and this scene from Ant-Man is a prime example of that thanks in large part to the excellent emotional performances by Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly. Thus, the initial reveal of Janet Van Dyne’s fate lands at the Number 9 spot for its efforts to fix the strained relationship between a father and his daughter while also setting up even more great emotional moments down the road.
- THOR AND LOKI’S CONVERSATION IN THE ELEVATOR – THOR: RAGNAROK
If Thor: The Dark World is generally considered to be one of the weakest MCU films, its sequel, Thor: Ragnarök, tends to be regarded as one of the best MCU films. Under the excellent direction of Taika Waititi, Ragnarök embraces its cosmic setting more than either of the previous two Thor films to produce a highly entertaining ‘sci-fi buddy comedy’ starring Thor and the Hulk. However, there were some who were rather disappointed by the film being one of the more overtly comedic entries in the MCU considering some of the gravely serious events of the Ragnarök story arc from the comics (in which Asgard is destroyed and several prominent characters are killed off) that the film is partially inspired by. As always, though, it must be stressed that this is more than just a silly space comedy, as Ragnarök does feature some incredibly effective emotional moments. One that just missed the cut is the scene where Thor and Loki share one last moment with Odin before he dies, a quiet but powerful moment that even sees Odin properly acknowledge Loki, his adopted child… as his son. But for this list, I’ll be focusing on a scene that occurs later in the film during Thor, Loki, Bruce, and Valkyrie’s plan to escape from the planet of Sakaar. At one point, Thor and Loki enter an elevator to head to the Grandmaster’s spacecraft hanger to steal one of his ships. During the ride up, Loki admits that he plans on staying on Sakaar, and to his surprise, Thor agrees with him for once.
When Loki asks if Thor truly thinks so little of him, Thor responds by telling Loki that he once thought the world of him and that he believed that they would be fighting side-by-side forever… that is until Loki revealed his true colors. And while Thor notes that there may still be some good in him, their paths diverged a long time ago. How does Loki react to this? Instead of his usual sarcastic quip, he only stares solemnly as Thor says all this before remarking that it’s probably for the best that they never see each other again in a tone that implies that he was genuinely taken aback by this comment. It goes without saying that Loki’s been through quite a lot in these films, and this is quite arguably the definitive moment of his transition from one of the franchise’s main antagonists to a tragic anti-hero. And thanks to Tom Hiddleston’s excellent performance in the role (especially during this scene), it’s easy to see why Loki continues to be one of the most popular characters in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, just like the previous entry, this scene does culminate with a humorous bit courtesy of Thor and Loki’s infamous ‘Get Help’ routine. However, just like before, the comedic punch-line does not take anything away from the emotional pathos of this serious conversation between the sons of Asgard. Simply put, this scene is one of many that serve as a prime example of why Thor: Ragnarök is easily one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s finest outings.
- “CAUSE I’M WITH YOU TO THE END OF THE LINE” – CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers finds himself struggling to adapt to the modern landscape that he now resides in, where his old-fashioned wartime beliefs don’t exactly gel with the morally grey attitudes of the current age. Because of this, he’s dealt with quite a few shocking revelations in this film, and easily the biggest of them all is the discovery that his best friend Bucky Barnes survived his apparent death when he fell from a HYDRA train during the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. The only problem, though, is that HYDRA was responsible for him being kept alive, as they proceeded to brainwash him into becoming their deadly assassin, the Winter Soldier. Thus, when Steve first learns of the Winter Soldier’s identity during their confrontation in Washington D.C., his exclamation of “Bucky?” is greeted with the cold response of “Who the hell’s Bucky?”. As it turns out, though, this did manage to break through some of his brainwashing as, during a conversation with HYDRA leader Alexander Pierce, Bucky remarks that despite the amnesia that he sustained from his fall, he somehow knew the man he’d just recently fought. This then results in him being forcefully subjected to further brainwashing to ensure that this will not affect him during HYDRA’s world domination plan, Project Insight. Thus, Cap’s efforts to save his friend from his current fate effectively sets up the secondary conflict of the film’s finale, in which Cap and company seek to stop HYDRA from unleashing three highly-advanced S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarriers upon their enemies.
Sure enough, Cap eventually finds himself face-to-face with Bucky within a Helicarrier control center. And while their ensuing fight results in Cap getting severely wounded due to multiple gunshots, he manages to successfully alter the Helicarrier’s targeting system so that the three Helicarriers will destroy themselves. As their wrecked Helicarrier falls, Cap continues to try and break through to Bucky to the point where he refuses to fight him. And as Bucky begins to give him a savage beatdown, proclaiming that it’s his mission to kill him, Cap tells him to “finish it… cause I’m with you to the end of the line”. This is what ultimately stops Bucky in his tracks as it serves as a callback to a pivotal moment involving the two of them in 1936 when Bucky walked Steve back to his home following his mother’s funeral. Despite Bucky offering to let Steve stay at his place, Steve insists that he can take care of himself, to which Bucky responds that it won’t have to be that way because he’ll be with him “to the end of the line”. Back in the present day, this helps Bucky to finally begin to overcome his HYDRA brainwashing, and because of this, he ends up rescuing Cap from the Potomac River after the latter fell from the Helicarrier before heading off to try and remember more about his past. Thus, there’s not much else that I can say about this scene as it’s simply a highly effective and emotionally powerful moment that solidifies the unbreakable friendship of these two individuals. Plus, as we’ll find out in a later entry on this list, Steve will even risk his friendships with some of his fellow Avengers just to protect Bucky.
- T’CHALLA AND ERIK KILLMONGER’S VISITS TO THE ANCESTRAL PLANE – BLACK PANTHER
Okay, I’m cheating a bit here with my pick from Black Panther as it involves three separate sequences instead of just one. But because all three involve a character traveling to the spiritual realm known as the Ancestral Plane to reunite with their deceased loved ones, I decided to pair them all together as they all play an equal part in this film having some of the best emotional poignancy of any installment in the MCU. In the film, T’Challa and Erik Killmonger visit the Ancestral Plane after consuming the mystical Heart Shaped Herb that grants them the powers of the Black Panther. In T’Challa’s case, his two visits to the Ancestral Plane result in him reuniting with his father, King T’Chaka, who tragically died during the events of Captain America: Civil War at the hands of Helmut Zemo. T’Challa first visits the realm after being coronated as Wakanda’s new king, and after a quick flashback of T’Chaka’s death, he awakens in the Ancestral Plane, resulting in an emotional reunion with his recently deceased father. As T’Challa admits that he feels unprepared to take his father’s place as king, T’Chaka assures his son that, although “it is hard for a good man to be king”, he will be ready to rule Wakanda because he’s prepared for this all his life. Their conversation takes on a different tone, however, during T’Challa’s second visit to the Ancestral Plane after his near-death encounter with Killmonger. Having now learned about his cousin’s tragic past due to him being abandoned by T’Chaka after he killed his brother N’Jobu, Erik’s father, T’Challa has come to realize that his father isn’t the perfect ruler he once thought he was. Thus, while T’Chaka claims that he only did it to protect Wakanda, T’Challa furiously lashes out at his father and the other ancestors, proclaiming that they were wrong to abandon Erik and the rest of the world. And before he comes back to life, he promises them that he will do away with their kingdom’s stance on remaining hidden from the rest of the world to share Wakanda’s resources and technology with their brothers and sisters.
But when it comes to arguably the best scene set within the Ancestral Plane, it’s the one involving Killmonger and his father N’Jobu. After defeating T’Challa and becoming the new king of Wakanda, Erik consumes the Heart-Shaped Herb and finds himself transported back to the Oakland apartment that he and his father lived in back in 1992. Following a flashback of a young Erik coming across the dead body of his father, adult Erik enters the apartment and collects his father’s Wakandan Royal Ring. He’s then confronted by the spirit of his father, who proceeds to talk to Erik’s younger self about how he has finally returned to Wakanda despite N’Jobu’s fears that he won’t be accepted there due to his status as an outsider. N’Jobu then proceeds to ask why Erik isn’t shedding any tears for him, to which the young Erik responds by saying that “everyone dies”. But after N’Jobu laments on how his actions have led to both him and Erik being abandoned by Wakanda, thus making them ‘lost’, the film cuts back to adult Erik and we see that he does shed some tears before stating that Wakanda’s the one who’s truly lost. Simply put, it’s a powerful sequence bolstered by excellent performances from Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger and Sterling K. Brown as N’Jobu that helps to establish the former as one of the MCU’s greatest villains. And yes, the same applies to the Ancestral Plane scenes between T’Challa and T’Chaka with equally excellent performances by Chadwick Boseman and John Kani, respectively. In short, Black Panther’s three visits to the Ancestral Plane prove to be major contributors to the film’s strong emotional depth and its Shakespearean plot where one pivotal moment between the Royal Sons of Wakanda heavily impacts the future of their kingdom.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this list, which will go through entries 5 through 1. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheDisInsider) to stay up to date on our content, which regularly provides you folks with Disney news, reviews, lists, and everything in between.