'Avengers: Endgame' Review: An Exhausting, Rewarding Epic Worth Celebrating

This Avengers: Endgame review will be as spoiler-free as humanly possible. That said, the marketing department for Endgame has done a great job keeping things secret, which makes nearly anything one has to say about the film a potential spoiler. You've been warned.

"Part of the journey is the end." So says Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame, the epic culmination of every Marvel Cinematic Universe entry that's come before. Do his words ring hollow? Can there ever truly be a sense of an ending in a film series we know will continue on for eternity? Endgame provides an answer, and that answer is yes. After a seemingly endless journey, Avengers: Endgame does the impossible: brings closure. This is the end. And at the same time, it's the beginning. The future is limitless. How refreshing and exciting is that?

Avengers: Infinity War concluded on a shocking, but oddly hollow note. Yes, half the universe – including many fan favorite characters – went up in smoke. But their loss failed to have a powerful impact, because we knew they'd come back. How could they not? Many of the evaporated characters already had sequels in the works. Thankfully, Endgame is here to deliver where Infinity War failed. What the previous film lacked in emotional heft Endgame makes up for, and then some. And by bringing this journey to a close, Endgame is simultaneously jump-starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The message is clear: do not grieve for what you've lost; rejoice for what you still have.

Moving through a shockingly speedy three-hour runtime, Avengers: Endgame finds the surviving characters from Infinity War scrambling to undo the devastation created by Thanos (Josh Brolin). After an action-packed prologue, the movie scatters the survivors to the winds, and then proceeds to bring them back together. If you were wondering how the hell Endgame would find room to fit so many characters together in one film, the answer is simple: it doesn't.

There's an invigorating back-to-basics set-up here, where only the core Avengers – droll, brilliant Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.); dashing, heroic Steve Rogers (Chris Evans); genius/Hulk Bruce (Mark Ruffalo); and former assassins Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) – are on the case. They have some assistance, of course, in the form of Tony's pal James Rhodes (Don Cheadle); the wise-cracking, forever out-of-his-depth Scott Lang (Paul Rudd); Nebula (Karen Gillan), one of Thanos's daughters gone rogue; and of course, mutant space raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper).

Hoping to spend time with the many other surviving MCU characters, like Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and more? Well, you should temper those expectations. Yes, nearly every single character in this universe gets a chance to shine, eventually. But for the bulk of Endgame, the story belongs to the main team.

Our heroes are facing an extremely uphill battle. After all, Thanos has already done what he planned to do. Could there be any possible way to undo it? Of course there can, or else we wouldn't have much of a movie. The characters formulate a plan so outrageously complex and borderline nonsensical that it's pointless to try to poke holes in it. "You think this is silly?" the movie seems to be saying. "Well, you ain't seen nothing yet."

The set-up is merely the framework that directors the Russo Brothers want to hang a big, bold, aesthetically pleasing tapestry on. My biggest complaint about the MCU of late is that for stories about such spectacular individuals, these movies have lacked a true sense of spectacle. In previous films, the Russos have displayed an unfortunately flat, bare-bones approach to filmmaking. Perhaps they were saving their energy, because the directing duo pulls out all the stops here, staging huge, sweeping set pieces shot in a rewardingly coherent manner. There are times where nearly every frame of the screen is filled with stuff, but it never becomes overbearing or incomprehensible.

The action is fun and energizing, particularly a climactic sequence that leans so heavily into fan service you have no choice but to throw up your hands and go along with it. But Endgame really shines when it foregoes the blockbuster moments for emotional punch. Because after ten years of following these characters, that emotion is earned.

It helps that (most of) the actors are skilled enough to carry that emotional weight. Downey Jr. can play this role on autopilot, and in some cases, he has. But he's bringing his A-game here, leaning hard into Tony's mental state instead of just relying on his own inner smarmy charm. Additionally, Evans does some of his best work in this role to date, playing Captain America as the eternal optimist, even when things seem hopeless. Hemsworth has inexplicably become the MVP of this franchise, able to balance big, broad comedy with soul-searching pathos. Rudd is also a treat, milking his comedic dialogue for all its worth, while also landing a few quiet, emotional moments to boot. The only true misstep, sadly, comes from Johansson, a normally talented performer who jut seems bored here. Perhaps she's biding her time at this point, waiting for that Black Widow solo movie.

Another misstep lies in the quip-heavy script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. At this point, comedy is a main staple of the MCU, and it can feel appropriate in films like Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok. In Endgame, it grows excessive. There's plenty of room for a sense of humor in a movie of this nature, but there's something tiresome about characters constantly tossing off wisecracks, no matter what terrible, depressing situation they're in. It brings a cold, detached irony to the proceedings, as if these characters are shrugging and saying, "Sure, this stuff is crazy, but who cares?" There's nothing wrong with solemn sincerity, even in a movie with a space raccoon.

Ultimately, Avengers: Endgame feels exhausting. That's not a knock against the movie, though. The exhaustion is well earned, because like Earth's Mightiest Heroes, we feel as if we've truly come to the end of a long, winding, confusing, but ultimately rewarding road. Tears will be shed, cheers will ring out, and we'll head home, tired but contented. Avengers: Endgame closes the book on the MCU as we know it. But there's a brand new book, shiny and untouched up on the shelf, waiting for fresh eyes. Part of the journey is the end, yes. But just imagine what comes next.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10