With an all-star cast and ties to every other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie from the so-called “Infinity Saga,” Avengers: Endgame is arguably the franchise’s most ambitious project ever. And cinemas are still echoing with fans’ triumphant cheers as their favorite heroes get their share of iconic big-screen moments. But that being said, the unidentified character in the film’s tear-jerking close has left many movie-goers baffled.
So if you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet, be warned: spoilers are ahead. For those of you who have already watched the movie, though, read on. And with that formality aside, grab your tissues too – because we’re going to revisit the flick’s most emotional sequences.
We knew, of course, that there’d be consequences when the heroes failed to defeat the supervillain Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. After all, actors’ contracts were coming to an end, character arcs were closing and the baddie – also known as The Mad Titan – was still at large. So Endgame sees the superhero team regroup one last time to finally put a stop to Thanos. But this heroic act results in the losses of some of the franchise’s key characters.
Among those losses are MCU original Avengers Black Widow and Tony Stark. Yet even after the on-screen deaths of these characters, some fans refused to believe that they were truly gone. After all, these are two beloved heroes that audiences are significantly invested in. Scarlett Johansson had played Natasha Romanoff for nine years, in fact, and Robert Downey Jr. was Stark for 11.
So perhaps their deaths put distraught fans on the back foot when Stark’s funeral came around at the close of Avengers: Endgame. Yet there’s a lot to take in during the emotional scene, including a clip that pans across all of the mourners. And it’s in this shot when teared-up viewers noticed an unnamed character standing among the recurring heroes. This then raised understandable questions about the young man’s identity.
But perhaps a look at the long history of Thanos and Stark will help shed some light. You see, the prune-chinned galactic conqueror actually debuted in the February 1973 edition of The Invincible Iron Man comic book. And since then, he’s grown as both a character and a threat before ultimately appearing as the MCU’s supervillain.
Thanos therefore ranks among Marvel’s most powerful bad guys – but he’s not alone. In the MCU, in fact, the Mad Titan has got dedicated generals, an army of aliens and, since Avengers: Infinity War, the Infinity Stones to help him. And these made him almost unbeatable – as some of the galaxy’s most powerful defenders found out the hard way.
Yes, in Infinity War, Thanos assembled the Infinity Stones into a gauntlet, clicked his fingers and turned half the universe’s lifeforms to dust. And with that, the majority of the MCU cast – including Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) – vanished. Fans commonly refer to the event as “The Snap,” and it seemingly left the Avengers short-handed for their inevitable rematch in Endgame.
Yet in Avengers: Endgame, the remaining Avengers manage to pull off a time heist and restore the gauntlet. To do this, however, Black Widow pays the ultimate price to retrieve one of the missing Infinity Stones. But thanks to her sacrifice, Banner-Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) manages to bring those dusted back to life – culminating in a clash with an angry version of Thanos from the past.
As a result, the Avengers live up to their name when they meet Thanos’ forces on the battlefield. And although the Mad Titan pursues a recombined Infinity Gauntlet tenaciously, the heroes don’t make it easy for him. In fact, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and a Mjolnir-wielding Captain America (Chris Evans) intercept his progress.
Nevertheless, at one point it looks as if history is doomed to repeat itself when Thanos claims the gauntlet once again. And after a clash with Stark, the would-be conqueror clicks his fingers once more – but nothing happens. That’s because Stark pulls a sleight-of-hand, taking the stones for himself. According to Dr. Strange, you see, this was the only chance of victory in over 14 million possible timelines.
So, with the words “I am Iron Man,” Stark initiates his own Snap – and dusts Thanos and all of his army. But Stark’s Iron Man suit can’t contain the consequential power. His life is therefore forfeited, and he dies as a hero. He leaves behind daughter Morgan and wife Pepper Potts.
Stark’s subsequent heart-wrenching funeral scene naturally features many familiar faces from MCU movies past and present. The camera in fact pans slowly across the mourners – revealing their somber reactions to the fallen legend that was Iron Man. Actually, there’s so much to take in here that you might not have noticed some attendees in the crowd.
Founding MCU Avengers such as Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Hulk are there, of course. And they are joined by relative newcomers including Black Panther, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), along with Captain Marvel, Dr. Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong). Peter Parker, Stark’s surrogate son of sorts, also stands alongside his aunt May (Marisa Tomei) to pay his respects.
Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier, a.k.a. Bucky Barnes, is there too, despite the fact that he was previously revealed to have killed Stark’s parents. Several military personnel are also in the crowd – some with a more personal connection to Stark than others. For example, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are unsurprisingly present, standing with the slightly less obvious Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt).
But it was none of these characters who got MCU fans talking. Instead, their attention was on a figure standing alone slightly away from all of the Avengers and supporting characters. No one speaks or interacts with that person, and the camera only focuses on them briefly. But they are important enough to warrant an appearance, apparently.
The character in question is a young teenage male, and it’s unclear who he really is. And after Avengers: Endgame hit the cinemas, social media was awash with people asking for the boy’s identity. One Reddit user even started a thread about the issue on the website in April 2019, asking, “Can somebody tell me who the new age kid standing by himself at the funeral was?”
“I was so goddamn confused, and they kept the camera on him way too long for him to not be relevant,” the poster elaborated. Another Reddit user added, “I had no clue and was wondering who… he was supposed to be.” However, some dedicated MCU fans recognized him from a previous movie.
It turns out that part of the reason the teenager is hard to recognize is because a few years have passed since his last appearance. So imagine the young man six years younger, and you might remember him… If not, cast your mind back to 2013 when Iron Man 3 first hit cinemas. Does his face bring back any memories now?
Well, the youth is none other than Ty Simpkins, who played Harley Keener in the third Iron Man instalment. Keener is instrumental in helping Stark locate that film’s antagonist, the Mandarin, and the characters share several emotional scenes together.
You see, after Stark’s near-death experience in space during 2012’s The Avengers, the character is understandably left with debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So in Iron Man 3 Keener brings his ally out the other side of an anxiety attack by giving him another focus. The boy in fact tells Stark to follow his mechanic’s instincts and build something to overcome his problems.
And with Keener’s help, Stark manages his PTSD and confronts the movie’s true enemy, Aldrich Killian. Stark then bequeaths his young sidekick with a memento of their time together: a plethora of high-tech equipment. In addition, Stark leaves a note from “The Mechanic,” confirming himself as Keener’s generous benefactor.
The role was the opportunity of a lifetime for Simpkins, as he told the comic book website The White Space in 2013. The young actor said, “I was so excited to have an Iron Man audition. I had been asking my agent to get me in on a super hero movie because I just really love comic books and action sci-fi stuff…”
Simpkins continued, “So when Iron Man 3 came up I was so excited.” Yet he revealed it wasn’t an experience he could share with just anyone at first. He added, “It was all top secret, and we couldn’t see the audition lines until just before we auditioned. But I went in and thought I did pretty good.”
In retrospect, Simpkins evidently did a good job at the audition; he got cast as Keener, after all. First, though, he had to get through another hurdle of the casting process. Specifically, the actor had to test his on-screen connection with Robert Downey Jr. And he wasn’t alone: there were three other young applicants vying for the part, too.
But the prospect of meeting a star of Downey Jr.’s stature excited Simpkins immensely. He explained in his interview with The White Space, “I was just really confident and knew I was going to get it. At that audition, I was so excited to meet Robert.”
So did Iron Man himself live up to Simpkins’ expectations? When he was asked what Downey Jr. was like, the actor responded, “Robert is more than awesome. He is my favorite person in the world. He just let me try different stuff, in different ways, and made being on set really, really fun.”
Simpkins elaborated, “He helped me a lot. We got really close, and he actually shared with me a secret that I won’t tell. But it just makes everything so easy!” So it seems like the connection that Keener and Stark had in the movie was partly a product of the bond the actors shared.
In fact, in 2013 Downey Jr. conducted an interview with Comingsoon.net, and there the star confirmed his fondness for Simpkins. He said, “Ty Simpkins is great, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot of him.” The actor also attributed some of the humanizing elements of Iron Man 3 to his scenes with Simpkins. Furthermore, he explained that the film’s director cooked up the concept.
“[Director] Shane Black had this idea of this kind of Capra-esque departure,” Downey Jr. described. “I think we all knew we were taking risks [with a lot of things in Iron Man 3]. And we were kind of out of what would have been the familiar territory.” So Simpkins played a big role in this cinematic vision.
Downey Jr. continued, “And [Black’s] idea of a superhero running into a little kid in the heartland of America, I think wound up being a wise choice and kind of a calculated risk.” Indeed, many critics applauded the scenes that the actor shared with Simpkins as some of the movie’s most memorable moments.
Newsday’s Rafer Guzman, for instance, referred to Stark in Iron Man 3 as “the anti-Batman, all zip and zingers. Some of the movie’s best moments are shared by Stark and latchkey kid [Keener], who mock their budding father-son relationship while acting it out.” So what happened to Simpkins’ character, Keener, after the movie came out?
Well, we haven’t seen Keener return in any movies after Iron Man 3 – but considering that he’s standing alongside Stark’s other allies in Avengers: Endgame, perhaps the pair kept in touch. Fans have even speculated that his presence hints that there’s more to come from Keener in the future.
Yes, many on social media believe that Keener’s character may be due a comeback in the MCU franchise. One Reddit user posted in May 2019, “Now, why he showed up to the funeral and they spent a moment showing him is the real question. This kid is gonna be more important than we know right now.”
And perhaps they’re right. According to his Wikipedia bio page, for instance, Simpkins has a three-movie contract with MCU. And assuming his cameo in Avengers: Endgame counts as movie number two, there’s still one more appearance from Keener to come. But whether the MCU has bigger plans for the young character or not remains to be seen.
In the meantime, some fans on social media have questioned the time gap between Keener’s appearances in Iron Man 3 and Avengers: Endgame. One Reddit user asked, “That’s weird that he spent like, one weekend with [Stark] ten years prior but is still invited to the very small and private funeral.” Another posited, “Oh. Well that’s a reach… Why include him?”
Mind you, you may also recognize Simpkins from another movie series that he starred in prior to his performance in Iron Man 3. He also appeared in the Insidious movies, you see. There, he played Dalton, the son of the Lambert family, whose nightmare begins after they move into a haunted house.
Simpkins also reprised the role of Dalton Lambert in the 2013 sequel, Insidious: Chapter 2. And the actor has another claim to fame that you might not be suspecting: he starred in 2015’s Jurassic World.
Jurassic World was the second-highest grossing film of 2015 and the most financially successful instalment of the franchise. Additionally, it broke box-office records as the first flick to earn over $500 million in its debut weekend. For his part in the film, Simpkins starred alongside fellow MCU star Chris Pratt as young Gray Mitchell – nephew to Jurassic World’s operations manager Claire Dearing.
Yet the last movie that Simpkins starred in before Avengers: Endgame was 2016’s The Nice Guys, with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Hopefully, then, this will not be the last we’ll see of the budding actor. And perhaps Avengers: Endgame isn’t even the final appearance of his MCU character, Keener – but only time will tell.