Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo Screenwriter: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Running Time: 181 min. MPAA: PG-13

After all the chaos and confusion in the universe-shaking Infinity War, along comes Avengers: Endgame to, yes, bring about the final battle of Avengers versus Thanos but also reflect on just how far the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come. After 21 films and 11 years of superhero films that spanned everything from spy thrillers to space operas, it all comes together and ends here. And it’s one of the most glorious ends to an enduring and admirable movie franchise that has reshaped the cinema landscape for superhero epics.

At three hours, directors Anthony and Joe Russo have enough room to give the heroes a break from the frantic fights they’ve already lost. After Thanos snapped his fingers and wiped out half the universe, the remaining Avengers take the time to lick their wounds and found themselves. Many still have some faults left to conquer past the gaping gashes Thanos left. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) feels uneasily justified in his irrational fears from Thanos’ snap that he bitterly embraces his told-you-so nature and distances himself further. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) continues to soldier on as he always does but the ghosts of the past still haven’t left him, still making him question how essential he is to a world that needs him. They’ve got to work together along with the remaining Avengers to undo the damage of Thanos and it won’t be easy, especially when nearly every option seems exhausted.

Endgame paints a much different picture of the heroes we’ve seen for numerous films in more ways than one. The familiar lot of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) all respond differently in the fallout. Some of them push forward to better themselves and the world(s) they have left to defend. Others buckle under the pressure and find themselves delving into darker aspects of their personality when they realize how much they’ve lost. And others only have time for a haircut or new suit as part of their shift. Hey, there’s over twenty heroes in this picture. Not all of them can have as compelling arcs as Tony and Steve.

The Russo brothers continue their mounting ambitions with every Marvel film that always adds in more characters and always feels surprisingly balanced. It’s a little easier this time with a three-hour running time as there’s plenty of room to explore a few of these characters before the climactic final battle and bring an end to a handful of arcs. The central story of trying to restore the universe takes these arcs into account while doing a brilliant job at wrapping together the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those of you who have been studying up for the past eleven years will be greatly rewarded as the second act soon ties together the entire history of this superhero universe.

But if you’re worried the film will be overly talky in delving deeper into the characters, that it’ll shirk the showdown you’ve come to expect from the conclusion to Infinity War, put those fears away. The Russos once more deliver an astonishingly grand and epic final battle worthy of any fantastical trilogy closer akin to Return of the Jedi or Return of the King. Even when you can sense what the fourth act has in store when the battleground is set, you’re still not ready for greatest fight of the MCU in terms of scale.

Without giving anything else away, Endgame more than meets the expectations of bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a boldly beautiful end. Yes, I know this is only the end of Phase 3 and that there are indeed more Marvel movies in the pipeline, even when looking at the progression of characters in this film. But this is clearly the end of an era in more ways than just the resolve of the central characters or the end of a looming tyrant. It’s a final chapter in one of the most stunning movie franchises in history and does so on a level never seen before in a superhero ensemble.

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