The internets are alive with hot takes from Friday morning’s somewhat surprise drop of the Avengers: Endgame trailer. One of the most talked about and already theorized plot points to come out of the trailer is how Tony Stark is “rescued” from being adrift in space, seemingly only a few hours away from death by lack of oxygen.
A popular theory being bandied about is that Tony’s farewell message to Pepper is received, and she comes to Tony’s “rescue” as Rescue, the ironed-up version of her Marvel Comics toyed around with a few years back.
There is undeniable logic to the theory. Tony makes it clear he’s solely focused on her during what he thinks are his last hours, uttering the word “rescue” quite explicitly, and there was that image of Paltrow that surfaced on social media a few months back wearing what appears to be armor on what we now know was the Endgame set.
So no ifs, ands or buts about it, it could really be that simple.
But there are also a few holes in that theory.
Check out the trailer again and look out Tony's cockpit window - the nebula in front of him seems to suggest he’s nowhere near the Milky Way galaxy, and while Pepper is very resourceful, after all rising from the position of Executive Assistant to CEO of Stark Enterprises in one jump, she’s no technological genius. Nobody at Stark Enterprises has that sort of know how, as 2008's Iron Man makes clear.
Even with the help of Happy Hogan and Rhodey, is she in the position to solve the lightspeed puzzle that seems to have eluded the entire scientific community of Earth... even Wakanda … up until now? Even if Tony left Earth having already built the Rescue armor, did he solve the warp problem himself?
That’d be awfully convenient.
Of course, Rocket was last seen in Wakanda and there is seemingly a ton of Black Order tech left on Earth post-invasion. But salvaging together a ship to save Tony is a stretch, not even mentioning incorporating it into the Rescue armor.
And that's not even accounting for how Tony's message would even travel to Earth in just a few hours time anyway. It was just six years ago his mobile call to Pepper broke up when he flew the nuke through the portal above Stark Tower. C’mon, we don’t even have 5G yet.
Seeing Pepper fly off into the vast reaches of deep space in Rescue armor navigating lightspeed and/or wormholes and locating Tony billions of miles away from Earth seems to stretch the bounds of credibility even in the context of the MCU…aaaaand it's also a little trite, her finding and saving him just before he breathes his last breath.
So we thought some more.
We toyed with (and haven’t fully discounted) the idea of Nebula finding him, but that theory got caught up in a rabbit hole of questions and doubts about which Guardians ship Tony was on and which Guardians ship Nebula is seen aboard in the trailer, and the fact she and he apparently went their separate ways when the two were the last heroes standing on Titan at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.
That said, perhaps more than anyone in the known Universe, she would have some sense of where he might be or could conceivably know how to locate the ship he left Titan in, but they'd have to come up with a reason for such a quick reunion when they were together already.
Then there is Captain Marvel. If she could receive Nick Fury’s page, maybe she could also tune in to Tony’s message and pick him up on her way home. Space is hella big though.
But then a somewhat wilder theory occurred, steeped in a couple of plot points Endgame seems to need to hit, and would be consistent with a very particular Marvel Studios storytelling style.
Indulge us a moment…
That’s right, Tony dies.
Still with us?
Now if there is anything Marvel Studios likes more than a hero’s death is a hero’s fake death and this would be kind of in-between.
And remember, they can't telegraph the means of his rescue before it happens. I'll likely be a surprise, or at least intended to be. So however it occurs it'll have to come with some expository dialogue or action. Some elaborate Earth-based technological rescue led by Pepper explained to Tony after the fact seems too clunky to consider.
So imagine in the first act Tony poignantly passes on… and his 11-year-old story arc reaches a tragic conclusion to the shock of audiences.
Until he’s found, by … wait for it ... Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, performing her Asgardian duty to take fallen heroes to Valhalla.
Tony saying he'll dream of Pepper as he drifts away in the trailer would set up a classic snarky Tony-take if another beautiful woman showed up at the moment of his death instead.
While Tony is not Asgardian, of course, Odin should be aware of who he is and his heroics as he kept watch over Thor’s activities on Earth and could make a special exception to bring him to the realm of fallen heroes.
This accomplishes a couple of things:
For one, it brings Valkyrie back into the mix. Everyone was surprised Thompson didn’t make an appearance in Infinity War, and all signs point to her and her character still being a part of the MCU, including in Endgame. Thompson herself has claimed she is in the film.
It could be explained that she escaped Thanos and the Black Order’s notice at the beginning of Infinity War because she re-embraced her duty to escort fallen Asgardians to Valhalla due to the events of Ragnarok and Infinity War, which we’d see in flashback.
Secondly, It would also serve as means for a last goodbye to Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and perhaps Rene Russo as Frigga, plus Heimdall, the Warriors Three et al. We’ve always imagined Endgame (rumored to be clocking in at 3 hours) would have lots of full-circle fan service callbacks to earlier films, and this would be the way for the Asgardian cast of the Thor franchise (all dead save for Sif) to have their moment.
Tony has met the Guardians. Audiences love seeing Tony interact with other MCU characters. Tony meeting the alien gods would be a treat.
And Odin is always two things - he’s always gruff and he’s always seemingly one step ahead of the game. Imagine the crusty Odin barking at Tony “You don’t belong here!” seemingly expelling the Midgardian from the Asgardian afterlife realm but slyly actually giving him a means to get back to the fight (and life).
Odin chastises Valkyrie for bringing Tony there and orders her to expel him, which is really his backhanded way of helping Tony return to Earth with Valkyrie as his escort so she too can join the fray and help save the nine realms.
Now of course someone else from the MCU has to return to the land of the living too, to star in his own Disney streaming service TV show - Loki.
We don’t know if Loki managed to fake his own death … again … in Infinity War. It might have been relatively ‘real’ that time. And remember, he wasn’t snapped away, which the Avengers will almost certainly reverse in Endgame. If he was really killed it was before that and he has to come back via other means.
Maybe his actions at the beginning of Infinity War were the distraction that helped Valkyrie escort fallen Asgardians to Valhalla, or even rescue still living ones, which again is why she isn’t seen in the opening sequence. Due to his heroic turn Loki is granted passage to Valhalla despite all his past misdeeds and Odin orders an of course very reluctant Loki to accompany them as well, to further atone for his sins.
Yes, this is granting Odin the power over life and death to some degree, but we haven’t worked out all the finer details (and that’s not outside of the comic book scope of his power).
In Infinity War, the screenwriters and directors Joe and Anthony Russo demonstrated they like interesting character team-ups as a way to break-up the enormous cast, and wouldn’t a team-up of Tony, Loki and Valkyrie be all kinds of MCU interesting?
So we’re putting this one out there. It may not be as likely as a former Executive Assistant transforming into a one-woman U.S.S. Enterprise, but we like it well enough.