Top 10 Best Emotional Moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Part 2 (#5-1)
If you missed Part 1 of this list, where we went through entries 10 through 6, just head to this link. Also, as a quick disclaimer, this list was written prior to this writer seeing Avengers: Endgame… SO NO SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET!!!
- THE DEATH OF MEREDITH QUILL– GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
The fact that my top emotional moment from Guardians of the Galaxy (AKA my third-favorite MCU film to date) is only at the Number 5 spot on this list is truly a testament to how great the MCU is when it comes to its big emotional moments. And believe me, there were quite a few options to choose from when it came to writer/director James Gunn’s vibrant sci-fi adventure. There’s the scene where Groot sacrifices himself to protect the Guardians from a crashing ship, complete with the touching moment where Groot lays a branch on Rocket’s cheek to wipe his tears and proclaims that “We are Groot”. And while it’s not necessarily a ‘tear-jerker’ scene, the scene where the Guardians unite to control the volatile energy of the Power Stone and use it to defeat Ronan is another scene that delivers on the feels thanks to Tyler Bates’ epic score (i.e. the track ‘Black Tears’) and a pivotal flashback to a tragic moment from Star-Lord’s past. Ultimately, though, I decided to go with ‘that’ scene as this film’s best emotional moment as it’s the one that ultimately gets the ball rolling on the Guardians films’ strong emotional depth. As I’ve stated plenty of times before, Guardians of the Galaxy is a highly entertaining and visually stunning intergalactic superhero tale with some of the best humor in any MCU film. However, its opening sequence is anything but hilarious as it sees the main protagonist Peter Quill endure the devastating tragedy that is the death of his mother Meredith due to cancer. It’s a moment that hits so hard that it ends up playing a pivotal part in not only this film but also its immediate sequel.
It’s bad enough that a young Peter Quill was forced to be right by his mother’s side as she dies. It also didn’t help that Peter didn’t end up having a lot of time to process this as he almost immediately ends up getting abducted by Yondu and the Ravagers. But perhaps the biggest gut-punch of them all is that, in his grief, he was unable to take his mother’s hand one last time before her passing. Thus, this sets up Peter’s main arc in this film as he’s spent the last 26 years without any chance to truly move on from his mother’s death, which includes never opening the present that she gave him right before she died. It isn’t until he meets Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot that he begins to form a new family and finally finds the strength to move on from the most traumatic moment of his childhood. And, of course, it all comes back into play during the finale while he’s withstanding the might of the Power Stone. As Gamora yells for him to take her hand, he turns to her and initially sees his mom holding out her hand once again. But this time, as the image of his mom turns back into Gamora, he’s able to take her hand so that they can share the burden of the stone’s power with Drax and Rocket not far behind. Thus, after Peter and the Guardians manage to use the Power Stone to defeat Ronan, the film ends with him finally opening his mom’s present and reading the accompanying letter that she wrote.
In the letter, Meredith assures her son that she’ll always be with him and that she’s going “to a better place”. The letter then ends with her proclaiming that he’s “the light of her life… her precious son… her little Star-Lord”. And with that, we learn exactly why Peter Quill calls himself Star-Lord… it was his way of keeping his mother’s memory alive. Peter then proceeds to open her present, which is revealed to be the second of the two ‘Awesome Mix’ mixtapes that she made for him featuring all her favorite songs. And what is the first song of Awesome Mix Vol. 2* (even though the film’s soundtrack technically has it listed in ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 1’)? “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, which plays over the final scene in another excellent example of how the Guardians films’ soundtracks are perfectly tuned to onscreen events. But as I noted earlier, this isn’t the last that we hear about Peter Quill’s mom. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Peter finally meets his long-lost father, the Celestial being known as Ego. And in a pivotal moment, Peter learns the devastating truth that Ego was directly responsible for his mother’s death. Peter’s mom also gets brought up again in Avengers: Infinity War when Gamora asks Peter to be the one who kills her so that Thanos won’t force her to reveal the location of the Soul Stone, even going as far as to make him swear on his mother first before he agrees to do it. In short, the Guardians of the Galaxy films have been some of the most emotionally-driven installments of the MCU. And if you want to talk about one of the franchise’s best opening sequences, that honor goes to the first film’s opening scene as it effectively gets the ball rolling on all the emotional drama that’s about to unfold.
- CAP’S SACRIFICE – CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Captain America arguably has the best trilogy of solo films when compared to any other character in the MCU. But while most usually tend to focus more on his second and third films, Winter Soldier and Civil War, 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger is arguably just as phenomenal as its two follow-ups. Under the solid direction of veteran filmmaker Joe Johnston, the first Captain America film is a highly entertaining World War II action flick that blends an old-school narrative with the MCU’s modern bag of tricks. It also shines thanks to its excellent handling of Steve Rogers’ transformation into the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan, Captain America, thanks in large part to Chris Evans’ excellent performance in the title role. As crazy as it may seem nowadays, Evans initially faced some skepticism when he was cast in the role due to the fact that his previous turn in the genre saw him as a more immature and comical superhero when he played the Human Torch in the 2005 Fantastic Four film and its 2007 sequel. And to put it simply, while Cap has certainly gone on to be the source of many of the MCU’s best running gags (e.g. everything from “Language!” to “Fondue?”), his overall characterization is a lot more dramatic in execution when compared to the Human Torch. But, of course, Evans ended up killing it in the role as he very much succeeded in endearing us to Steve Rogers, even before he was transformed into Captain America. When scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine asks him why he wants to partake in World War II despite his various health problems, Steve responds that it’s not because he wants to “kill Nazis” but because “he doesn’t like bullies”. This, along with further examples of his nobility, is what ultimately convinces Erskine to have Rogers be subjected to a serum that would turn him into a genetically-enhanced soldier as he recognizes that Rogers wouldn’t take his newfound strength for granted. In other words, he would continue to maintain his heroic morals, thus making him “not a perfect soldier, but a good man”.
This especially comes into play during the film’s emotionally devastating finale, where Cap fights HYDRA leader Johann Schmidt AKA the Red Skull onboard his airship, the Valkyrie. Their fight ultimately culminates in Schmidt seemingly being destroyed by the mystical power source known as the Tesseract (emphasis on ‘seemingly’, as we eventually found out in Avengers: Infinity War). Unfortunately, Steve then discovers that the ship’s landing controls have been damaged, and to make matters worse, it’s on a direct course to New York full of pilotable atomic bombs. With no feasible way of safely landing the ship, Steve decides to crash it into the Arctic to prevent the loss of millions of lives, even if it means that it’d come at the cost of his own. Thus, he ends up sharing one last conversation with his key ally and love interest Peggy Carter over the radio as he directs the Valkyrie away from New York. To call Steve’s goodbye to his ‘best girl’ gut-wrenching would be a massive understatement, especially with Steve admitting to her that he’s “gonna need a rain check” on the planned date that they had to go dancing together. As she fights back tears, Peggy gives him a time and date later that week at the Stork Club, resulting in Steve remarking that he still doesn’t know how to dance and that he’d hate to step on her feet… and it is during that last comment that his radio cuts out, signifying that the ship has crashed. After a scene where the ship is seen sinking into the ocean, the film then cuts to a montage of people around the world celebrating the end of the war. But in the context of this story, it’s ultimately a bittersweet moment as Cap’s various allies mourn his loss. Howard Stark manages to find the Tesseract (due to it falling from the Valkyrie prior to the crash) and implores his men to “just keep looking” for the Captain despite no signs of any wreckage in the area. Cap’s combat unit, the Howling Commandos, share a toast in his honor and Peggy is given Steve’s old file, complete with a photo of him prior to his transformation.
But, of course, this ultimately wasn’t the end for Captain America, as the crash only results in him being ‘frozen in time’ until he’s found by a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in the present day. When Steve finally wakes up from his decades-long slumber, he finds himself in a hospital room that attempts to convince him that he’s still in the 1940s. However, he quickly realizes that something’s not right after listening to the radio in his room broadcasting an old Brooklyn Dodgers game… that he just so happened to be at. Steve then proceeds to break out of his ‘room’, located in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s New York headquarters, and eventually ends up in the middle of Times Square. There, he’s approached by Nick Fury, who informs him that he’d been asleep for nearly 70 years. Thus, as Steve begins to grasp his current predicament and the fact that most of his old allies are now dead, he proceeds to state the film’s most devastating line when he tells Fury that “he had a date”. In short, The First Avenger brilliantly handles Cap’s heroic sacrifice that results in him being transported into modern times, where he quickly becomes the leader of the Avengers. And this really is saying a lot considering that Cap’s time spent frozen in ice has always been one of his most definitive character arcs from the comics, meaning that most folks going into this probably already knew that this would end up happening to him by the end of the film. But in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the transformation from Captain America, the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan, into Captain America, the Man Out of Time, provides a genuinely heartbreaking finale to one of the most underrated installments of the franchise because it occurs to a character who we’ve become fully endeared to.
- A FRACTURED FRIENDSHIP – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Captain America: Civil War finds the Avengers conflicted over the Sokovia Accords, which are put into motion by the United Nations to regulate their activity in the wake of recent ‘disasters’ that they’ve been connected to. Most specifically, Captain America opposes the Accords due to how much it would hinder their efforts to save people while Iron Man supports them because of the survivor’s guilt that he’s begun to develop, especially after everything that happened when he created Ultron. And if that wasn’t enough, the group is then torn apart further by a terrorist plot masterminded by Helmut Zemo, a man who lost his family during the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron’s finale. Cap and Iron Man do manage to settle their differences long enough to go after him… but then Zemo unleashes his ace in the hole in the form of a mission report from December 16th, 1991 that he has repeatedly asked for the entire film. Said mission report involves an incident in which the Winter Soldier intercepted a case of super-soldier serum from a crashed car. And as it turns out, that car was being driven… by Howard Stark, who the Winter Soldier promptly kills before doing the same to Howard’s wife Maria. Thus, when Tony promptly lashes out at Bucky for killing his parents, he’s held back by Cap and realizes the devastating truth that his long-time ally knew about it all along. This, of course, leads to the film’s final action sequence in which Cap and Bucky find themselves facing a vengeful Tony.
It goes without saying that this is truly one of the most devastating moments in the history of the MCU. Just when you think that it will all be okay and that Cap and Tony will overcome their conflict, one pivotal reveal changes everything and permanently impacts the friendship between the MCU’s top two leads. Now with that said, some will surely point out how these two have always been at each other’s throats in the Avengers films (e.g. the argument between them in the first Avengers that culminates in Cap suggesting that they “go a few rounds”), thus making the idea of calling them ‘friends’ rather questionable. And yet, over the course of these films, you could still sense a general respect that they have for each other despite their differences, with Civil War’s big reveal clearly putting a dent in all that, namely from Tony’s perspective. Just look at the part where Cap stands by Bucky, proclaiming that “he’s his friend”, as Tony coldly responds, “So was I…”. It also helps that the film presents its overall conflict in a far more balanced manner than the Civil War storyline from the comics that it’s partially inspired by. Whereas the comic went a bit overboard with Iron Man’s support of the Superhero Registration Act (as it’s known there) to the point where he arguably becomes a villain, the film allows for both Tony and Cap’s stances on the matter to have their own legitimate points to stand on even though the film does technically focus more on Cap. Case in point, this sequence presents a situation where, even if you’ve been on Cap’s side during this whole debate, you do sympathize with Tony because of what the reveal means to him personally while also showing that even someone as noble as Captain America can make a mistake in human judgment. Plus, it also establishes Zemo as one of the MCU’s best villains, because despite his admittedly limited role in what some have referred to as Avengers 2.5, he does manage to succeed in his plot to tear the Avengers apart. As he points out during a conversation with T’Challa, he knew that he couldn’t kill them himself because men who were more powerful than him had already tried to do so. Thus, he figured that the best way to defeat the Avengers was to have them kill each other.
The big fight between Tony, Cap, and Bucky is one of the MCU’s best finales. Instead of a more traditional finale where the Avengers fight off the bad guy and his cronies in a city, this film pulls a major bait-and-switch by seemingly setting up a final battle between the three and a group of assassins who, like Bucky, were turned into HYDRA’s ‘Winter Soldiers’. But when the trio arrives at the HYDRA base in Siberia where Zemo has escaped to, they discover that he’s killed the other Winter Soldiers, proving that they weren’t even remotely tied to his plan in the first place. As for the fight itself, both Cap and Bucky endure the full force of Tony’s anger, even though he primarily goes after the latter. It all culminates at the point where Tony has finally managed to gain the upper hand against Cap, knocking him to the ground and demanding that he ‘stay down’. But in a pivotal callback to a sequence in The First Avenger when Steve was dealing with a bully prior to his transformation into Captain America, he gets back up and boldly states, “I can do this all day”. This then leads to, ironically, another callback to that scene from First Avenger as Bucky then proceeds to ‘save’ Steve by distracting Tony long enough for Cap to regain the upper hand, and the fight ends with him lodging his shield into Tony’s arc reactor to disable his suit. As Steve proceeds to leave with Bucky, Tony yells that the shield doesn’t belong to him because his father made it, resulting in Steve promptly dropping his iconic weapon. In conclusion, while the film does end with Zemo being placed in prison, it’s made perfectly clear that his plan of tearing the Avengers apart from the inside ultimately succeeded. In other words, the one who ultimately gave the Avengers their first ‘loss’ wasn’t a power-hungry Asgardian or a sentient A.I. system hellbent on destroying humanity. Instead, it was just an average man who proved that their heroic endeavors can often result in some unfortunate consequences.
- THE FINALE – GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
The best emotional moment in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the superior follow-up to the first Guardians film, isn’t just one singular moment. Instead, it’s basically everything that happens after one specific point during the final battle between the Guardians and Peter Quill’s deranged Celestial father, Ego. It all begins when Ego manages to gain the upper hand as he proceeds to extract Peter’s Celestial energy for his plan of assimilating the entire galaxy, which begins to take effect across various worlds as the seedlings that he planted years ago grow into giant blobs that destroy everything in their path. All seems lost until Yondu yells out to Peter that he doesn’t use his head to guide his arrow, which results in Peter remembering the good times with his friends and family in a pitch-perfect silent montage that includes everything from listening to music with his mom to flying around on jetpacks with Rocket and Groot. This allows Peter’s Celestial powers to truly develop as he starts to fight back against his father, a moment that’s perfectly tuned with ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac, which had previously been played during a part of the film where the Guardians’ bond was starting to break. Meanwhile, the other Guardians finish setting up the bomb that Rocket built to destroy Ego’s core. But before they evacuate the planet, Yondu opts to stay behind to save Peter, even though the group only has one space suit left. Proclaiming that he’s done “nothing right his whole damn life”, Yondu takes the group’s last Aero-Rig and says goodbye to Rocket and Groot, with the latter welcoming him to the fricking’ Guardians of the Galaxy (“Only he didn’t use fricking!”). Thus, when Rocket returns to their ship, he proceeds to subdue Gamora before she can head out to find Peter, stating that he can’t afford to lose more than one friend, and tells Kraglin to depart despite Drax yelling at him over the intercom, demanding to know if Peter made it back alright.
As the bomb’s timer gets closer to 0, Ego pleads with Peter to stop it and warns him that if he dies, he’ll lose his Celestial powers and become just like everyone else, to which Peter simply responds, “What’s so wrong with that?”. The bomb explodes, and Ego disintegrates in front of his son. As Peter’s Celestial powers are extinguished, he is saved by Yondu as the planet self-destructs all around them. Yondu tells Peter that Ego “may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy”, apologizing for never doing anything right but proclaiming that he’s “damn lucky you’re my boy” as he gives Peter the space suit. Thus, as they escape from the planet’s destruction, Peter can only watch in horror as Yondu succumbs to the airless vacuum of space. After he’s rescued by the other Guardians, they all proceed to give their fallen comrade a proper Ravager funeral, with Peter having now realized that Yondu was the father figure that he’d thought he never had his entire life, hence why he was so keen on connecting with Ego prior to learning about his sinister plot and the fact that he was responsible for his mother’s death. Kraglin then proceeds to give Peter a Zune player that Yondu had come across in a junk shop to replace his old Walkman that Ego had destroyed earlier in the film. In return, Quill gives Yondu’s loyal second-in-command his famous whistle-controlled arrow. Meanwhile, Nebula heads off to confront her and Gamora’s adoptive father, Thanos, as revenge for all the pain that he’s dealt her over the years. And while Gamora is unable to convince her to stay with the Guardians, she hugs Nebula goodbye and assures her that she will always be her sister. All in all, it’s a nice conclusion to their big arc in this film, where Gamora re-evaluated her relationship with Nebula when she realized that her sister just wanted someone to support her whenever Thanos tortured her instead of just simply trying to survive the Mad Titan’s wrath herself. And while Guardians 2 is primarily focused on the concept of father-son relationships, it also spends plenty of time exploring the ups and downs of a relationship between two sisters.
And then we come to the film’s big, emotional final sequence. As Peter listens to the first song that he picks from the Zune’s music library, Cat Stevens’ ‘Father and Son’, Groot climbs up onto his knee and the former shares one of his earbuds with the latter so that they can listen to the song together. Rocket then notices the arrival of several Ravager clans, whom he had called earlier and relayed to them everything surrounding Yondu’s heroic sacrifice. The Ravagers then proceed to release their ‘colors’, as per Ravager code, to complete the Ravager funeral and honor Yondu after he had previously been excommunicated from the group for the deal that he had made with Ego to deliver his offspring to him. As the Guardians witness this spectacular visual display, Rocket gets to conclude his big arc in the film that revolved around his fear of losing his loved ones due to his abrasive personality. Realizing that the Ravagers never fully gave up on Yondu, “even though he yelled at them”, Rocket recognizes that Yondu was right in saying that the two of them were alike and finally accepts responsibility for stealing batteries from the Sovereign, which was what caused this whole debacle in the first place. Really, I could go on for quite some time about why this finale was quite arguably the best thing that the MCU had ever done up to that point. From the gorgeous visuals that practically adorn every single shot to the outstanding music, whether it’s Tyler Bates’ excellent score (e.g. “Dad”, which plays during Yondu’s big sacrifice) or Cat Stevens’ emotional melody, this is the very definition of a perfect finale. And because of this, I can safely say that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does manage to outshine its equally outstanding predecessor thanks to all that it does to expand upon the first film’s fantastic sense of emotional depth to further endear us to its main characters.
- THE DECIMATION – AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Admit it… you knew that this one was coming. While I almost decided to have the Guardians 2 finale be my Number 1 pick because of everything that I just mentioned about it, there’s no denying the impact that Avengers: Infinity War’s devastating finale has had on the franchise’s legacy. Simply put, despite the Avengers’ best efforts to stop him, Thanos the Mad Titan successfully collects all 6 Infinity Stones and uses them to wipe out half the universe. And instead of this just resulting in the loss of nameless civilians, major heroes like Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Doctor Strange, and even Spider-Man end up falling victim to Thanos’ big power play. In other words, this is easily the biggest loss that the Avengers have ever endured, and while it’s clear that several parts of this finale will most likely get reversed in Avengers: Endgame, that doesn’t take away from the fact that what Marvel Studios has now titled ‘The Decimation’ is a practically flawless sequence from a filmmaking perspective. While the film features one of the franchise’s best scores courtesy of Alan Silvestri, the wise decision to have no music playing during this part of the film helps to elevate the shock of what’s currently happening. And because of how emotionally attached we’ve become to these characters thanks to the previous films, these losses are truly devastating sights to behold. How about Okoye having to witness the death of her king, T’Challa, for the second time in just two films? Or how about Groot desperately seeking comfort from his father figure, Rocket, which was made even more heartbreaking thanks to James Gunn’s confirmation that his last “I Am Groot” translates out to “Dad”. And yet, Peter Parker’s disintegration is arguably the most gut-wrenching of them all, as he fearfully hugs his father figure, Tony Stark, and repeats the phrase “I don’t want to go”.
The way I see it, this finale was, whether intentional or not, Joe and Anthony Russo’s way of responding to a criticism towards the MCU that claims that these films have always been lacking in terms of emotional stakes. And while the past nine entries of this list have hopefully proved that this claim isn’t exactly true, ‘The Decimation’ can quite frankly disprove that theory all on its own. Yes, it’s true that most of the MCU films tend to end on a positive note, with the heroes managing to overcome their current predicaments to save the day. However, as evident from the likes of Captain America: Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, some endings have been a bit more bittersweet than others. Thus, we now have Infinity War, the first MCU film that truly ends on a downer note. And as I’ve said numerous times before, this wouldn’t have worked as well as it did if Marvel Studios hadn’t taken their time when it came to them building their expansive universe and filling it with a wide array of well-layered characters that we truly care about. With all that in mind, all eyes are on Avengers: Endgame, where the Avengers find themselves in “the fight of their lives” as they try to do “whatever it takes” to reverse the effects of Thanos’ snap. And despite what I said before about how Endgame will probably culminate in the success of this mission, it’s also clear that this won’t be an easy task. Ultimately, though, I believe that we’re about to witness a grand finale for the ages that will deliver on both epic highlights and emotionally poignant drama. After all, the MCU’s quite good at that sort of thing.
And that concludes this epic list that covers my picks for the Top 10 Best Emotional Moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As always, thanks for following along and be sure to sound off in the comments below with some of your favorite emotional moments from this legendary franchise. 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.