Spoiler alert! This column is nothing but spoilers! If you don’t want to read any spoilers about “Avengers: Endgame,” you shouldn’t even have made it to this sentence!
Tony Stark is stranded in space, looking like he’s on death’s doorstep, as he records a video message for his beloved Pepper.
“It’s been 21 — no, make it 22 days …” he says, since Thanos snapped his fingers and wiped out half the populations in the galaxies.
And off we go with the 21st — no, make that the 22nd — movie in the Marvel Universe.
As you’d expect, “Avengers: Endgame” is bursting with callbacks and Easter Eggs and in-jokes and clever pop culture references.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite moments, culled from viewing the film twice over the last week.
1. Early on, with the universe in mourning after Thanos’ shocking act of genocide, we hear Traffic’s “Dear Mister Fantasy” on the soundtrack, summing up the collective mood:
Dear Mister Fantasy, play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything, take us out of this gloom …
2. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, who throws around pop culture references more often than Captain America flings his shield, calls Nebula “the Blue Meanie,” a reference to the villains in the Beatles’ 1968 animated film “Yellow Submarine.”
3. The first time Tony hears Rocket Raccoon speaks, he says, “Until this exact moment I thought you were a Build-a-Bear.”
4. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has let himself go and has become a bloated, beer-guzzling loafer in sunglasses, tangled beard and a big sweater, prompting Tony to crack, “Move aside, Lebowski.”
5. When we catch up with party-mode Thor in his “Hoarders”-looking dump, his buddies Korg and Miek are playing the online game “Fortnite.” Korg is wearing a pineapple romper — famously sported by “Thor: Ragnorak” director Taika Waititi.
6. The time travel element in “Endgame” leads to multiple references to the “Back to the Future” movies, including a warning not to bet on sports, a la “Back to the Future 2.”
7. Upon learning how time travel would really work, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang says, “So ‘Back to the Future’ is a bunch of bull—-?’ ”
8. Other time-travel movies mentioned include “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Turns out some of the Avengers are big-time movie fans!
9. As Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) approach a temple, Rhodey worries they’re about to encounter “booby-trapped spikes,” a shout-out to “Raiders of The Lost Ark.”
10. As we approach New Asgard, we hear “Supersonic Rocket Ship” by the Kinks — a song about a trip to a world where “nobody has to be hip … nobody’s gonna travel second class, and there’ll be equality and no suppression of minorities …”
11. Tony Stark introduces Nebula to the old-school table-top game of “paper football,” in which a piece of paper is folded into a football-ish triangle, and you take turns trying to flick the “ball” through uprights created by your opponents’ hands.
Later, a miniaturized Ant-Man, perched on Tony’s body, says to Tony, “Flick me!”
12. Just before that, Ant-Man is crawling on Tony’s body and exclaims: “Is that Axe Body Spray?!”
Tony confirms he kept it in his desk at Stark Industries for emergencies.
13. The quest for an Infinity Stone takes Tony and Steve Rogers back to 1970 and the Camp Lehigh facility. The late great Stan Lee cameos as a peacenik hippie, as we hear “Hey Lawdy Mama” by Steppenwolf on the soundtrack — another perfect music choice, given Tony and Steve appear to be newcomers but actually know all about this place, but have only so much time before they’ll have to leave:
You’d like to show me all around
Thank you girl, I know this town.
Only thing that I can say is we’ll be here for just one day …
14. In the Camp Lehigh sequence, Yvette Nicole Brown plays a S.H.I.E.L.D. employee who alerts security about some suspicious characters. She says, “One of them had a hippie beard,” and is asked if the facial hair is more “Bee Gees or Mungo Jerry?”
“Definitely Mungo Jerry,” she replies, referencing the British musical act most famous for the infectious hit “In the Summertime.”
15. Brown’s appearance in “Endgame” is the latest MCU movie cameo by a former cast member from the TV show “Community,” which was executive produced by the Russo brothers, directors of “Endgame” (as well as “Infinity War,” “Captain America: Civil War” and “The Winter Soldier”).
“Endgame” also features Ken Jeong as a security guard. Jeong’s Ben Chang on “Community” was a teacher — but also had a stint as a security guard.
16. In “Civil War,” Tony Stark tells Pepper he had a dream in which they had a kid named Morgan, after her uncle Morgan.
In “Endgame,” Tony and Pepper have a daughter named Morgan.
17. Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan asks Morgan if she’s hungry, and she says she’d like to have cheeseburgers.
“Your dad liked cheeseburgers,” says Happy — a callback to the original “Iron Man,” when famous industrialist Tony Stark escapes his captors, returns home and has Happy stop at Burger King so he can get some burgers before his press conference.
(Robert Downey Jr. has also said in interviews he was so disgusted with himself while eating a Whopper after a binge in 2003, he threw his drugs away and vowed to get sober.)
18. Characters in “Endgame” repeat catchphrases, e.g., Captain America with “I could do this all day,” Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow sharing one last exchange about Budapest and Tony Stark once again saying, “Don’t post this on social media.”
19. Among all the MCU superstar attendees at a certain funeral, there’s a teenager standing alone. Who IS this kid?
Turns out it’s Harly Keener, the 10-year-old kid from “Iron Man 3.” (Actor Ty Simpkins, who played Harly in the 2013 film, returns for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.)
20. We see key talismans and keepsakes and pieces of equipment and photos in “Endgame,” from the ballet shoes Natasha has in her office to a prototype Ant-Man helmet on young Hank Pym’s desk to a pic of Tony Stark welcoming Peter Parker to an internship to a compass with a photo of Peggy Carter.
21. A scene with Thanos walking through a field, his hand grazing plant life, recalls Maximus walking through a field in “Gladiator,” his hand grazing the wheat.
22. When Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter finally get their dance together, they sway to “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” previously featured in “Captain America: Winter Soldier.”
This time around, the song is even more poignant.
“It’s Been a Long, Long Time” is about a couple reuniting after war. In November of 1945 — two months after the end of World War II — a version by Harry James and His Orchestra, with Kitty Kallen on vocals, reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
A couple of weeks later, Bing Crosby’s take on THE SAME SONG hit No. 1 — but the Harry James/Kitty Kallen version reclaimed the top spot to close out the year.
And that’s what we hear as Steve and Peggy dance in the living room at the close of “Endgame.”
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
What a lovely grace note to close out this epic chapter in the book of the Marvel Universe.