Marvel Studios kept it no secret that Carol Danvers would be the most powerful character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In interviews and promotional copy, she has been touted as the next face of the MCU, a role she'll now step into in the wake of Robert Downey Jr.'s exit as Iron Man.
With her powers tied to the Tesseract (Space Stone), she has been established as a cosmic, godlike entity, something of a living, breathing Infinity Stone. However, as much as she had been billed the equalizer to Thanos for Avengers: Endgame, by the time the movie wraps, it's the Mad Titan who stands revealed as the most powerful being around.
In the film's first act, when the New Avengers go after Thanos at his galactic retirement home, it takes the entire lineup of of heavy-hitters to subdue him. Fans assumed Carol would engage him one-on-one, but she actually needs help to wrangle the tyrant inside his hut. Carol locks him up, while War Machine, Nebula and Rocket Raccoon join in to help pin him down.
Granted, most of the heavy lifting -- or in this case, the holding -- comes from Carol, but it's still a team effort and not the one-on-one match we envisioned. And before we get a chance to see the pair go head to head, an enraged Thor beheads the villain. At this point, it does seem like Carol had the slight edge as the better warrior, but you have to take into account the fact that Thanos was limping and hurt, as the toll two snaps took on his body left him weakened and vulnerable.
However, we get a rematch in the final act when Thanos from 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy timeline comes to the present via Tony Stark's time machine. There, the Mad Titan's in his prime, wielding his double-edged blade and waiting for the ultimate challenge. He warms up by defeating a Mjolnir-wielding Captain America and Iron Man, who uses every bit of repulsor technology at his disposal. He then pummels an out of shape Thor (who was armed with both his hammer and Stormbreaker axe) to a bloody pulp.
After the fall of the Trinity, Scarlet Witch, whose powers originate from the Mind Stone, gives Thanos a run for his money. Her telekinetic abilities come close to crushing him, ripping his armor off and making him grimace. Thanos resorts to desperate measures, calling for his ship to bomb the battlefield in a move that ultimately grants him another victory over an Infinity Stone-powered being. And, taking into consideration this is a Thanos without any Stones boosting him, these are no easy feats.
All of this sets up the finale where Carol enters the fray from outer space and starts brawling with Thanos after he's donned the Infinity Gauntlet. It's a straight-up slugfest, and as the pair unleash hell on each other, we see them simply absorbing whatever whatever the other dishes out. Carol comes off like a champion, absorbing Thanos' headbutt without flinching, but as Thanos kept striking her, it's obvious even she can't withstand his full might. The crowning moment comes when she tries to hold his hand open so he can't snap -- it may seem like a low blow for Thanos to power his free hand up and knock Carol out, hey, it's a battle to the death, and he's perfectly within his rights to use everything at his disposal.
With triumph close in sight, though, Tony scuppers Thanos' plans not through strength, but subterfuge, stealing the Stones and snapping Thanos away. Though Thanos is reduced to ash, this battle reiterates that only he could lay claim to the mantle of "the strongest there is." Like it or not, Thanos was the most powerful being in the MCU -- the fact that it took every Avenger alive to stop him says it all.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Avengers: Endgame stars Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Don Cheadle as War Machine, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Danai Gurira as Okoye and Bradley Cooper as Rocket, with Gwyneth Paltrow Pepper Potts, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, Benedict Wong as Wong, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Josh Brolin as Thanos. The film is in theaters now.