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'I don't feel so good': The Marvel Cinematic Universe's 9 saddest moments
Spider-Man may have had "No Way Home," but we had no way to stop the tears.
The almost 30 movies and an increasing number of TV shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have given fans a lot of everything. Epic battles, major surprises, incredible heroes and villains. There have been quantum adventures, incredible technology, duels between mighty gods, and deep space voyages. But, in addition to all this action and adventure, the MCU has featured lots of emotional moments, too. There have certainly been plenty of happy tears, but the characters and events in the saga have also broken our hearts in so many surprising ways. Like, who knew a walking piece of bark could make us feel so much? Or that an endearing teenager in spandex would prove to be such an effective weapon of war against our emotional fortitude? If you love the MCU, then there’s a good chance you’ve wept at least a couple of times over something that meant something particular to you.
SYFY WIRE is with you in that fight to sniffle quietly, and with some dignity, in the dark of a sold out theater. And because we’ve all been there and we like forced emotional catharsis, here are nine times the MCU made us ugly-cry.
Please be warned! This story contains spoilers for all of the currently released MCU movies, including Spider-Man: No Way Home.
1. Tony’s “I Am Iron Man” Goodbye (Avengers: Endgame)
This was the culmination of 22 movies building to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark making the ultimate sacrifice to finally dust Thanos. His “I am Iron Man” proclamation — an echo of his final line in the movie that kicked off the MCU — is heroic in every regard. The waterworks really start as Tony lies shattered and his friends come to him, including Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland), who says “We won, Mr. Stark.” But, it’s Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow), tearful but resolute, “You can rest now” that really seals the moment. You feel all of the history and weight of their long relationship from Iron Man to this moment in her face and that tiny kiss goodbye. Followed up perhaps only by little Morgan Stark at the subsequent funeral innocently talking to Happy (Jon Favreau) about getting cheeseburgers. I’d love 3,000 tissues, please.
2. Peter Parker Getting Turned to Ashes (Avengers: Infinity War)
Every loss in the aftermath of the snap in Avengers: Infinity War is like watching a slow moving car crash, with hero after hero disintegrating in front of our uncomprehending eyes. In theaters, it was the moment audiences gasped uncontrollably, yet quietly. Then the aftermath follows on to Titan, as Tony Stark is made to watch each of his allies fall to dust. It’s bleak but when Peter Parker quietly says, in his vulnerable teenage voice, “I don’t feel so good” and stumbles into Tony’s arms, desperately begging, “I don’t want to go,” it’s like ice in everyone’s veins. His terribly, tiny, “I’m sorry” to Tony might as well have been a direct spigot turned on full blast to our cumulative tear ducts. It’s the scene that brings instant tears to so many to this day because of the perfect rendering by Holland and RDJ.
3. Natasha’s Goodbye and Jump (Avengers: Endgame)
Once Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) arrive in Vormir to retrieve the Soul Stone, they discover that they must make the ultimate sacrifice, prompting the the two flawed friends to battle it out to be the one to give their life to save everyone. As they grapple, and then hang over the edge, Natasha’s quiet “It’s ok” to Clint is the culmination of the character’s endless attempt to clear her ledger of past sins. Alan Silvestri’s dramatic cue and Barton’s anguish come together for a sobering ending. Even if you aren’t happy with the Avenger who made the sacrifice, you can’t take away the immensity of that moment. And then later at Tony’s funeral, audiences got an extra moment of quiet, devastating loss which was shared so specifically by Barton and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen).
4. Cap Saying Goodbye to Peggy (Captain America: The First Avenger)
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a hero even to the very end in Captain America: The First Avenger. As he pilots the plane with the weapons of mass destruction in its hull, he knows the only end is to crash the plane and its terrible cargo into the sea. When he tells Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) that it’s his choice, the pain of what could have been between them settles on both of their faces. As she tearfully demands a dance in a week’s time and he promises, then his transmission cuts and Peggy’s soft pleading is the punch to the gut. Even Tommy Lee Jones’s gruff Colonel Chester Phillips looks actually sad. And, then that bleak wide shot of Peggy weeping alone sums up how awful we feel for those star-crossed lovers. (Addendum: The emotional bookend to this scene comes at the very end of Avengers: Endgame when the two finally get that dance. Sobbing ensues.)
5. Peter Parker Saying Goodbye to Aunt May (Spider-Man: No Way Home)
In her appearances in the MCU as May Parker, Marisa Tomei gave audiences the most youthful iteration of the comic book character in any recent screen adaptation. Hip and funny, she was less about giving out the parental vibes and more about being the compassionate, cool aunt to Peter Parker (Tom Holland). Whether she was giving it right back to Tony Stark (Rober Downey Jr.) or trying to let down Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) easily, May could hold her own in the streets of Queens and still be there for others, an ethos which she instilled in Peter. That's why her unexpected death in Spider-Man: No Way Home was a particular gut punch for Peter and audiences alike. Her advocacy for the deeply troubled Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) made her an exploitable target — and the Goblin did indeed diabolically abuse May to provoke Peter. Having her goodness used against her felt particularly unjust and painful to watch, but she remained kind to the end. Peter held her as she slowly and painfully perished from the wounds inflicted by Osborn's Goblin Glider and we felt every second she tried to hold on for him. And, just try watching Holland cry and not follow along with him.
6. Yondu Saving Quill (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
After spending much of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 referencing fathers, good and bad, it’s in the last act that Yondu (Michael Rooker) ends up proving that for all his flaws, he was the best “daddy” he could be to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). The proof comes when Quill’s time looks to be up in the wake of Ego’s destruction. But the blue Ravager swoops in at the last second, and jet packs them both into the stratosphere where he gives his only shield to his boy & freezes to death in the blackness of space. Quill’s desperate realization and Yondu’s empty-eyed soft pat to his face is a face-soaker, but then you add Cat Stevens' “Father and Son” playing over the funeral at the end of the movie, and it’s amped up to waterworks central.
7. Killmonger’s Final Sunset (Black Panther)
At the end of Black Panther, after an especially brutal melee between T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Killmonger (Michael B. Johnson), T'Challa mortally wounds his cousin, Erik. In a final gift of empathy by the King to his cousin, they emerge from below to witness the Wakandan sunrise. In a brutally frank conversation, Killmonger asks to be buried at sea with his ancestors because “they knew death was better than bondage,” and then pulls the weapon from his own body in his final act of defiance. The weight of generations of pain was felt in that moment — a moment heavier than most people expected could come from a Marvel movie.
8. Doctor Strange Breaking Time for Christine Palmer (What If...?)
"What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?" gave us the most emotionally engrossing episode of the animated Disney+ show's first season. In this heartbreaking alternate reality, Stephen Strange always knew how much he loved Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and he literally breaks the rules of time and turns himself into a monster to keep her from dying in a fatal car accident. Every one of her deaths in the episode is gutting to watch, but there's plenty of pain in observing him embark on such a destructive and obsessive path to change time and her destiny. In the end, as he watches her dissipate into the ether as she whispers, "What have you done?" the weight of his choices feel so stark. It almost feels like the darkest tale the MCU has attempted to date.
9. Groot’s Sacrifice (Guardians of the Galaxy)
In just the span of three acts, Groot, the trisyllabic Flora colossus and BFF of Rocket Racoon, made audiences love him and then mourn him. As the quiet sidekick to chatty Rocket, Groot sold his old soul vibe well in Guardians of the Galaxy. So much so, that when he quietly assessed the inevitably of his newfound family being squashed like bugs in Ronan’s immobilized spaceship, it made all the sense in the world for him to wrap his friends tightly within his branches and bear all of the impact. Then he went and swapped his signature, “I am Groot” for a last “We are Groot” which undid everyone. The gang waking unharmed was sobering, but then Rocket kneeling in the aftermath of his friend's remains was the extra sobbing on the cake.