(Note: I’m going out of my way not to “spoil” anything here, including things that happen within the first 20-30 minutes that would normally be fair game in a review. You’re welcome, nerds.)
When we last saw the Avengers, they were part of the lucky half of the universe that had not been wiped out of existence when Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his fingers. (And what a fortunate coincidence that the random culling didn’t include any of the six core Avengers, not even the archery guy nobody cares about.) We assumed all or most of the damage done in Infinity War would be undone in Endgame — the only question was how, exactly — and I’m pleased to report that the “how” is something that hadn’t occurred to me (not that I spent a lot of time speculating). After all, Thanos himself isn’t the problem. Getting rid of him doesn’t solve anything. It’s the Infinity Stones that matter.
Things are somber in the aftermath. Half the population is gone, and the world is in turmoil. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) bitterly reminds everyone that his idea of protecting the Earth with a big shield would have prevented this. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), aka Hawkeye, has gone on a personal mission of vengeance that the movie doesn’t bother to show us (poor Clint). Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), aka Black Widow, is trying to maintain order, coordinating with Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) — who’s helping out on other planets, too — and with Okoye (Danai Gurira), Wakanda’s remaining leader. Capt. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads a support group for mourners. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lets himself go in comical ways, while Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) finds a peaceful balance between himself and Hulk.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who was very, very tiny in the “quantum realm” when the Thanos snap happened, pops out of it and has an idea. Time works differently down there, so maybe you could slap some science together and, like, change time. Travel through it, even. The others heroes scoff at the idea of a “time machine” as the stuff of science-fiction (a glowing green rock that can manipulate time when a wizard uses it, THAT makes sense), but it’s their only hope. Besides, it’s not that far-fetched. “I get emails from a raccoon,” Natasha says. “Nothing is crazy anymore.”
There’s a lot of movie in this movie, which runs nearly three hours without credits and has appearances by more than 50 people from previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Kudos to directors Anthony and Joe Russo just for keeping things organized, let alone coherent, which they also manage. Nearly everyone with dialogue gets a good character beat or two, and the core players have the types of interactions we’ve come to expect and enjoy (Tony Stark calling Rocket a “Build-a-Bear” and referring to bearded, disheveled Thor as “Lebowski”; several comments about Captain America’s butt). There are complications in the story (written by MCU regulars Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) that feel arbitrary — time travel is fictional, guys! You can make up any “rules” you want! — but the way the film incorporates scenes and images from past MCU adventures is ingeniously satisfying. Somehow they found an excuse to go everywhere and see everyone, all while reminding the central characters that time really only goes forward and that they must accept themselves as they are.
Does it feel too long? Yes. Is that a surprise? No, especially considering how many story threads need to be wrapped up (think of the last Lord of the Rings). But there’s not much wheel-spinning in the epic-sized story, and the Russos use its massiveness to impress the scope of it all upon us: Billions of people died on Earth alone, trillions across the universe. Against all odds, these last two Avengers movies really do show the weight and finality of death (final under certain circumstances, anyway, and weighty if it’s people we know) while spotlighting what we love most about these crossover events: the thrill of seeing multiple heroes work together to defeat an enemy. This isn’t the end, of course, merely the season finale after the customary 22 episodes, but it’s an appropriate place to stop and reflect on the fun we’ve had, or what we remember of it.