[This review will contain minor spoilers. Although I will avoid major spoilers, I will also mention a few early plot points. If you wish to go in completely cold, please stop reading this review, and come back after you’ve seen the movie.]
The only movie that could be bigger than Avengers: Infinity War is one that has to live with its repercussions. Avengers: Endgame isn’t just longer than Infinity War and it seems a disservice to simply call it “bigger”. It’s not really even a typical sequel. It’s the culmination of over ten years of movies—twenty-one films that have become worldwide sensations. While much has been written and will be written about how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has impacted the film industry, in Endgame, you feel a narrative impact. At this point, you’re either invested in these characters and their stories or you’re not. In Endgame, that investment pays massive dividends with an epic film that is at turns thrilling, hilarious, and powerful. Avengers: Endgame isn’t just everything we want from a blockbuster; it’s what only the Marvel Cinematic Universe could deliver.
Picking up 23 days after the events of Infinity War, those superheroes that remain continue to hunt Thanos (Josh Brolin). However, their hopes for a quick resolution to undo his devastating snap are thwarted, and the heroes are forced to accept a world where half the population has been dusted. Then Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reenters the picture and he has an idea—time travel. The Quantum Realm, properly manipulated, allows those who enter it to travel through time. The scattered heroes reassemble and plan a “time heist” where they will retrieve the Infinity Stones before Thanos does, and use them to undo the damage. However, as their fragile plan begins to fracture, Thanos sees an opportunity to remain victorious.
Leaving Infinity War, I couldn’t get past that it was half the story, and while I’ve re-watched the movie four or five times (it’s still very entertaining), that’s a tough hurdle. Your antagonist, Thanos, is basically your protagonist since he moves the action forward, and while it’s fun to mix and match superheroes, the cliffhanger ending ultimately makes the journey unfulfilling. In that way, Endgame is the payoff we’ve been waiting for while still creating stakes of its own. Even if you can see the broad outline of the movie before you even step into the theater, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have shown themselves to be masters of a propulsive narrative. Even though Endgame clocks in as the longest Marvel movie to date (and likely the longest for the foreseeable future), it never feels long.
The virtue of splitting up the characters and breaking them apart again—this time into different teams tasked with recovering the Infinity Stones from different time periods—provides not only fun dynamics, but also a story that never gets stagnant. Each scene feels like it’s accomplishing something, and while you can quibble with why certain scenes aren’t creating set pieces, set pieces are kind of secondary here until the climax of the movie. The Russos pride themselves on character-driven stories, and that’s why Endgame works so well. The movie opens not with planes falling out of the sky or massive explosions as the world is engulfed in flames. It opens with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) losing his family. The weight of that loss permeates the movie so that we never forget what our characters are fighting for.