“I am Iron Man” By Abby Gross (’26)

“The truth is… I am Iron Man.”

This is the iconic phrase that almost any film watcher recognizes as both the start and the end of an era. Many can recognize this phrase as the one spoken by Tony Stark at the end of ‘Iron Man’. This 2008 film kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe and shows Tony Stark taking on the role of the weapons creator for the Avengers and moving on to his journey to becoming a true hero:

This phrase has had a significant impact on the film industry as it marked the true beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The resounding success of this movie and the ones that follow within the MCU helped to establish a well-known formula for successful superhero movies. It usually focuses on a main character’s development and how they become a ‘hero’ by traversing through several difficult obstacles. Many can also recognize this phrase as spoken by Tony Stark once more in Avengers: Endgame. Tony repeats the phrase to reaffirm his identity as he sacrifices himself for the universe in the Avenger’s quest to defeat Thanos, a megalomaniac hell-bent on killing half of the universe. This repetition of one of the most iconic lines in superhero film history is based on the usage of the bookends trope, which is what I will be concentrating on today. 

The bookends trope refers to how the beginning and end of a story are used to frame and contextualize the story’s events. I will be specifically focusing on the use of contrasting events or phrases used at the beginning and end of Avengers’ Endgame, even branching into past movies in the MCU, to create a sense of resolution or closure. I am interested in this element of the bookends trope because it is a common technique used by authors and creators to bring their stories to a satisfying conclusion that is pleasing to their audience. It has been used throughout history in all sorts of creative works, films, poetry, advertisements, and more. And it is used several times more in “Avengers: Endgame”. Famously directed by the Russo brothers, Avengers: Endgame amazingly surpassed more than $2.19 billion in worldwide ticket sales in just 11 days in theaters after the release date. The film follows the Avengers as they attempt to undo the events of “Avengers: Infinity War” and bring back their fallen friends and family, those taken from them by Thanos after his usage of the Infinity Stones. The themes, questions, or concerns that are addressed with this tradition/trope include the significance of resolution in storytelling, and how authors/media creators use the beginning and end of a story to influence how the audience interprets the events that take place in the middle. The bookends tradition is important because it is a component of all sorts of narrative storytelling, and it can have a pretty significant impact on the reader’s experience and perception of the story. 

The bookends trope is used at the beginning and end of a story to contextualize the story’s events and create a more satisfying conclusion for audiences. More specifically, a general use of this trope results in the same event, image, phrase, or some sort of parallel being used at the beginning and end of a story to highlight the changes in a character’s journey. It brings focus to the changes in their development/story, while also allowing the audience to remember where they [the character] started. This framing device is used in several forms of storytelling; whether it be film, poetry, or other forms of literature. This can be film shots mirroring each other, a line being repeated at the start and end of a story, or even something as simple as similar outfits being worn at the start and end of a character’s journey to pay homage to where they started. 

In this article, Dramatica: Mad Libs or Madly Accurate, the idea of a main character’s resolve is touched upon. A main character’s resolve determines whether or not a character changes their approach to solving problems. A common technique used to prove said resolve is to utilize the bookends trope, and drops a character into two similar scenes, one happening at the beginning of the story and one at the end. If a character reacts differently in the latter scene, trying a different way to solve the problem, then because of the use of the bookends trope, we can see how the character changed their thought process. An example of this technique being used is Neo in the Matrix trilogy. In the first Matrix movie, Neo only cares about himself. When he is offered the choice between taking the red pill and learning the truth about the Matrix, or taking the blue pill and remaining in the illusion, Neo chooses the blue pill due to his fear. However, after being rescued by Trinity and Morpheous and learning more about the truth of the Matrix, Neo experiences character development that allows him to choose the red pill when offered the choice one more at the end of the movie. This shows a change in Neo’s behavior and is a clear illustration of character development that is shown by the use of the bookends technique.

The bookends trope isn’t always used like the examples given. In literature, the trope can be used in unique ways that aren’t just a visual mirroring scene. Instead, the mirroring can function within words or phrases. Tvtropes.org, an entire website dedicated to tropes in storytelling, notes that in the Harry Potter series, written by JK Rowling, there are several examples of the bookends trope being used, even in this way. Dobby, a house elf loyal to the main protagonist Harry Potter, had both his first and last words of the series be “Harry Potter.” He introduces himself with excitement and later on claims how happy he was to be with his friend, Harry Potter, as he passes. This writing choice was made to further the surprise and sadness that the readers would be feeling at the time, and it is effective. 

In Avengers: Endgame, the bookends trope appears in so many different ways. 

One way the trope was used is with the introduction of a new character, Morgan. Being the daughter of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, Morgan is a rambunctious five-year-old that is introduced during the film. Originally, Morgan’s presence– existence– caused Tony to feel reluctant to try and fix the problems of Infinity War. He didn’t want to lose what he finally had and wanted for his entire life– a family. When Morgan is put to bed in the film, she and Tony exchange a really fun conversation. “I love you tons,” Tony says. Morgan replies “I love you 3000.” This exchange is mentioned to Pepper, as he jokes that Morgan loves him more than tons. Finally, it’s mentioned again near the end of the film in a recorded hologram that Tony left in case of his death. After talking about his hope that families are reunited and how he knows everything is going to work out the way it is meant to, he says one last phrase – “I love you 3000.” This is huge. Not only are these the very last words of the man who kickstarted the entire MCU, but they pay homage to the person he cares about most in his life, his daughter. This is a wonderful use of the bookends trope as it not only demonstrates Tony’s character development, from being a warmonger who only cares about himself, to now being willing to sacrifice his own life for the safety of the universe and his daughter, but it also shows us how close he and Morgan are to each other even though she was only just introduced. 

The trope appears multiple times in the usage of sound and music throughout the film. As this movie ended the character arcs of arguably two of the most important characters in the franchise, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, there had to be some throwbacks to their other movies and past moments included. One of the more obvious ones is the usage of the song “It’s Been a Long, Long, Time”. This song was used in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers’ first Marvel directing project. It has an emotional significance to the audience, especially as it is easily recognizable. This song plays in the final scene of Endgame, where the film shows Steve dancing with his lost love, Peggy. This moment also helps develop a satisfying narrative structure by highlighting Steve Rogers’s character development through the story by creating a special moment at the end of the film, in order to throwback to his beginning. 

In the opening sequence of Endgame, Rogers is seen struggling with the loss of those he considered family and the weight of the responsibilities he feels as a leader. He continues to try and help others but feels at a loss on how to do so. At the end of the film, Rogers is seen with a sense of closure as he passes the mantle of Captain America on to Sam Wilson (The Falcon). He was able to do this because he traveled to the past to live out his life with his longtime love, Peggy Carter, who he had left in the past during his stint of being frozen in the North Atlantic Ocean for 70 years. This song wraps up Steve’s story in a lovely way. 

Another usage of sound that struck the heart of audiences everywhere is a bit more subtle but still engaging. Tony Stark’s story of becoming Iron Man started in Afghanistan, after being kidnapped by a terrorist group known as the Ten Rings. During his time with his captors, he’s able to make his first Iron Man suit and escape. He had to build a weapon-equipped suit right under his kidnappers’ noses and the clanging of him banging metal is heard several times. This exact sound is played after the credits of Endgame and pays homage to Tony Stark, his death, and where both he and the MCU started. 

One way the tradition of the bookends trope is reimagined in “Avengers: Endgame” is with the use of time travel as a plot device. In the film, the Avengers use time travel to reverse the events of the Snap and prevent Thanos from ever acquiring the Infinity Stones. This use of time travel is different from the more traditional usage of the bookends trope, which usually involves a character looking at past events and choosing to act differently, or is simply some sort of parallel. In Endgame, the Avengers have the chance to change their past and create a new and according to them, a better future. Not everybody ends up agreeing with this choice, and this viewpoint is depicted in one of Marvel’s first Disney+ shows, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”

This use of time travel also highlights how storytellers can use the beginning and end of a story to influence the audience’s interpretation of events that take place in the middle of the story. For example, an emotional moment in Endgame is when Tony must travel back in time to steal more Pym Particles, the particles that allow the Avengers to travel to the past. When stealing them, he runs into someone he has had a very rough relationship with – his father. As much as Tony resented his father, he still cared for him in some ways. Howard Stark, his father, recognizes similar qualities of himself in Tony, who at the time panicky called himself “Howard Potts”. During their conversation, Stark mentions how he is nervous about the arrival of his son (this being Tony Stark), and how he is worried that he will not be up for the job. This gives the audience a different perspective of their past interactions that we have seen through Tony’s point of view. 

In terms of the future of the bookends trope, I think it can be difficult to predict where it might be going. It is ultimately up to individual content creators to decide whether they are to continue to use this trope as it has been used in the past or try to explore new and innovative ways of telling stories. In terms of the roles that the trope has played in reinforcing messages, I think there can be both positive and negative effects. The use of the trope can help to reinforce cultural values and messages by providing a clear framework for the story they are producing and highlighting important aspects of the narrative, as described above. However, I think the trope can also be seen as limiting, as it can constrain the story in certain ways and prevent creators from exploring more creative ideas.

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