The Avengers are dead. Long live the Avengers. For the millions who watched half the Marvel universe vaporize onscreen in the final moments of 2018’s Infinity War — whole standalone franchises reduced to swirling ash with a sweep of ubervillain Thanos’ meaty paw — there had to be one last sequel to set it right.
Nearly a year to the day, Endgame returns with the promise of many things: revenge, redemption, a runtime that defies the limits of most streetside parking meters. And the movie largely delivers, splashing its ambitious three-hour narrative across a sprawling canvas of characters, eras, and not-quite-insurmountable challenges.
As the story opens, though, Infinity’s surviving superheroes hardly seem up to the task. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has cocooned himself in a remote country cabin; Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is staring into space and eating sad peanut butter sandwiches; Thor (Chris Hemsworth) spends his days drinking, a beer-gutted agoraphobe in a bathrobe.
Even Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) has other galaxies to worry about. But there is an Ant-Man with a plan: Paul Rudd’s ageless, shrinkable Scott Lang may have the seeds of a time machine that would allow the crew to go back and gather the Infinity Stones that triggered the original, terrible snap.
That means one more chance to see Chris Evans’ Captain America and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye do the things they do with shields and arrows and thousand-yard stares. But also to witness a Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) who has learned to own his oversize power (he willingly takes group selfies and wears shawl-collared cardigans now!); to follow along as Stark and Thor make some kind of peace with their pasts; to bask in the banter of bounty-hunting space raccoons and dry-witted billionaires.
Thanos, voiced by Josh Brolin, is still a formidable antihero, with his ominous proclamations — “I. Am. Inevitable,” he intones more than once — and a chin furrowed like wide-wale corduroy. And oh, the cameos; sibling directors Joe and Anthony Russo, veterans of the MCU, max out their Rolodex in nearly every scene, though half of the A-list appearances are over before the audience’s happy gasp of surprise even fades.
With nothing less than the fate of the free world (or at least approximately 50% of it) at stake, there’s an expected urgency to it all, but an underlying melancholy too — not just for everything that’s been lost, but for what won’t be coming back. After 11 years, 22 films, and uncountable post-credit Easter eggs, the endgame of an era has finally come. B+