It’s finally here – Avengers: Endgame. This long journey, which began with 2008’s Iron Man, has grown immensely, winning the hearts of viewers the world over. This is an epic undertaking, maybe the biggest in all of cinema, and has a $400 million price tag to expose that fact. Endgame, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the final part of a two-part movie event. Part one is 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, which left audiences reeling from a shocking cliffhanger.

The year between the two parts couldn’t have yielded a longer wait – audiences have been aching for the conclusion since the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his Infinity-Stone-laden-fingers. With that in mind, the Russos have directed a sprawling 3-hour event that wraps up many long-gestating storylines and creates new ones along the way. Without knowing what to expect (and what will happen to whom), will audiences accept the consequences bestowed upon our favorite superheroes? As always, the answer will differ depending on whom you ask, especially with this being the end of an era within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Outside of Endgame’s finality, the Russos downshifted in comparison with Infinity War. Infinity War moves at a frenetic pace, with our heroes broken up into small groups at various locations to fight the same insurmountable war against Thanos. Endgame’s prologue covers three places - Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) at home with his family; the remaining Avengers back at HQ, sulking after their massive defeat; and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) stranded deep in space. From there, Endgame uses the first act to wade in the deep within the troubling waters of Thanos’ victory. That pain and suffering motivates Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and with the help of the just-returned Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the surviving Avengers seek to correct the undesired path Thanos chose for the entire universe. The stakes are sky high and the risk is monumental, but the Avengers are willing to do “whatever it takes” in order to bring back all who vanished.

That’s as far as I’ll go with Endgame’s main story – this remains one of the most secretive film productions in history, and I don’t want to inadvertently spoil something. What I can say is Endgame mostly delivers upon hefty expectations. With Endgame being the 22nd MCU entry, expectations have built upon each release. It goes without saying that the expectation “cup runneth over” and it would be difficult to satisfy everyone. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely knew this coming in, and they did their best to keep the majority happy.

In order to appease the fans, plenty of fan service was incorporated, along with plenty of humor. Superhero films are not true superhero films without fan service, and Endgame delivers by providing callbacks to its litany of film and comic sources. Much of it revolves around Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, which makes total sense with Iron Man and Captain America having been around since the beginning. Much of it works, yet there are some choices which miss the mark and instead provide a disservice to the character(s) Markus and McFeely address.

If you’re wondering, fan service includes callbacks, so be prepared to take a trip down Marvel’s memory lane with cameos and host of Easter eggs

And since many MCU films inject a modicum of humor with many of its entries, it’s interesting to see Hemsworth go all in with the laughs. The Thor films have inched closer to comedy with each successive solo Thor title, but Endgame provides a bumbling version to the God of Thunder. Hemsworth is up to task since he’s proven he can be funny, but his total immersion here may have gone too far.

There is a portion of the story which I don’t want to reveal, but I must comment on it because Endgame uses it as a punchline while reveling in it. You’ll know what I’m referring to when you see it (Endgame looks like a combination of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Ocean’s Eleven), but it’s worth mentioning since it’s always been the MCU’s M.O. to poke fun of themselves by embracing exactly the thing they’re mocking. Mostly it works, mainly because certain characters refer to popular real-life films to support/refute their claims. It’s part of what gives MCU films their charm and it’s certain it will remain a part of future Marvel releases.

One interesting drawback is the action. Despite a 181-minute running time the action isn’t as plentiful. In my opinion, that is a good thing, although the action itself is not. There remain hard-to-follow sequences, and the CGI overload during the final act looks like a slightly improved version of Ready Player One’s epic final battle. We’re more invested, so I can forgive its shortcomings, but the action could’ve been better.

Endgame is the culmination of all things Marvel and I can’t help but marvel at what they’ve accomplished. There is plenty to admire since the Russos were able to meet some incredibly lofty expectations. But there’s something missing. I’m not sure what it is – maybe the runtime is too long (the slower pace meant you felt every minute tick away); or maybe the stark contrast from an action heavy part 1 to a methodical part 2 was too unexpected. I feel, though, there are some shoehorned storylines and endings which didn’t work, and clearly there are scenes which exist solely to excite viewers. That’s frustrating because after 11 years I expect things to happen more organically. But with it being a conclusion film I simply came in with unfair expectations because, honestly, I care about these characters.

So regardless of the ending, Endgame has the feeling of a break-up you knew was coming. It’s still going to sting despite knowing it’s for the best, but you have trouble accepting it.

I’m going to have a tough time accepting a lot of what went down in Endgame, but I’ll get over it. It’s still a fantastic and entertaining film but it doesn’t best Infinity War and all its beautiful chaos. But the Russos gave our heroes back their character, and that’s something I can appreciate.

Excelsior, Marvel. This end is bittersweet.

4 stars out of 5

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