Paying off virtually everything that was set up in the last 11 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame truly feels like the culmination of the 21 films that preceded it. The filmmaking team achieves this by tying up tiny stories, calling back movies they released years ago, and confirming lots of fan theories. And then Marvel execs took it one step further by including basically everyone who’s ever starred in an MCU movie and giving them a role in Endgame.
Case in point: That mysterious kid at the end of the film that everyone is bending over backwards to remember.
Warning: We’re now entering spoiler county!
After the Avengers faced off against Thanos and won, they assembled once more for a heartbreaking reason: to attend the funeral of Tony Stark, who sacrificed himself by snatching the Infinity Stones away from the purple-faced despot, then snapping his own fingers in order to blast Thanos and his alien minions into oblivion.
The funeral scene begins with the heroes gathered around Tony’s beloved Pepper Potts and watching a hologram message Tony recorded the day before the Avengers traveled back in time to collect the Stones. It ends with a solemn sweeping shot of Tony’s closest friends watching his original arc reactor float across the lake.
But a genuine pop-culture mystery has arisen from all this melancholy.
Audience members are having a hard time remembering the brunette-haired teenage boy standing completely alone at the funeral. Who is he and how did he know Tony?
We have the answer for you: The character was just a precocious young boy when he last popped up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe… way back in Iron Man 3. He’s Harley Keener, portrayed by actor Ty Simpkins. You may also recognize the actor from his 2015 appearance in Jurassic World.
If you can’t recall, here’s how Harley and Tony first met: Searching for food, shelter, and a place to recharge his suit, Tony breaks into the garage of Harley’s home in Rose Hill, Tennessee. The two characters form an unlikely but incredibly sweet bond in the film. Throughout his friendship with Harley, Tony softens and reveals his fatherly side — a side we also saw when he mentored Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
When Iron Man 3 opened in theaters in 2013, Simpkins was just 11 years old. Now, he’s 17, which explains why he looks virtually unrecognizable in Avengers: Endgame.
Those who keep a finger on the pulse of all things Marvel might not have been entirely shocked to see Harley Keener make an appearance in the film: Simpkins’ casting was confirmed way back in October of 2017. Simpkins’ physical appearance came as a bit of a surprise though, since he’s now a teenager and not the tiny lad in Iron Man 3, but it was never a secret that he was going figure into Avengers: Endgame somehow
When news of Simpkins joining Avengers: Endgame went public, fans wondered if Harley would play a substantial role in the movie. After Spider-Man disintegrated in Avengers: Infinity War, some folks wondered if Keener would step into his shoes and become Tony’s latest protege. But others hit the nail on the head and predicted exactly what ended up happening: Harley was also a victim of the Decimation, and his involvement in Endgame consisted solely of a brief, somewhat confusing cameo.
Maybe he only had a few seconds of screen time and no lines to deliver, but Harley’s appearance at Tony’s funeral still made quite an impact. The MCU began with Iron Man over a decade ago in 2008, and with the character’s passing in Avengers: Endgame, the superhero franchise as we know it has come to an end. It only makes sense that everyone who admired Tony would attend his funeral to say goodbye… even the young boy he met all those years ago. As much as Tony tried to resist friendship and intimacy earlier in his life, he was clearly loved by many.