[Note: My review of “Avengers: Endgame” picks up where my review of 2018′s “Avengers: Infinity War” leaves off, with this sentence already in progress: The end result is an emotional ride that will make Marvel fans laugh and cry, and deliver a cliffhanger that will — ]
— resolve itself only after three hours of the most anticipated moviemaking in years, as “Avengers: Endgame” delivers everything Marvel fans will enjoy and not much that they expect.
A reminder of where things were at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War”: The galactic bad guy Thanos (performed by Josh Brolin) gathered up six Infinity Stones to harness the powers of the universe — and, in a snap of his fingers, enacted his plan to eliminate half the life in the universe. That included a fair number of our Marvel characters, including Spider-Man, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, most of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Nick Fury.
The heroes Fury gathered are still around as “Endgame” begins. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner, aka Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Lt. Col. James Rhodes, aka War Machine (Don Cheadle), are at Avengers’ HQ trying to count up the human toll. Meanwhile, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), is drifting in space, accompanied by Nebula (Karen Gillan), the android warrior and rebellious daughter of Thanos.
The movie gives us an early glimpse of one Avenger who was out of action in “Infinity War,” combat veteran Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). It also, in the first few minutes, features someone only recently introduced to the narrative, superhuman galactic fighter Carol Danvers, alias Captain Marvel (Brie Larson).
OK, that’s the roll call, except for Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who shows up at a certain point — and who I’m mentioning only because he showed up in the marketing campaign months ago.
With “Avengers: Endgame,” building on 21 previous movies over the last 11 years, the set-up exercises that give critics room to describe a movie without spoilers are all done before the projector starts. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely — who also collaborated on “Infinity War,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Captain America: Civil War” — start the surprises in the first frames, even before the Marvel Studios logo, and drop a big bombshell in the first 15 minutes.
It’s not spoiling the movie to say, vaguely, that the movie is divided into three parts. The first is the “getting the band back together” part, establishing where everybody is and what motivates them to carry on after the big snap. The second is the mission, where the heroes devise and carry out a plan to undo the snap and restore what’s been lost. The third is the battle, where good and evil face off for all the marbles.
It’s also not spoiling the movie to say that, being a Marvel movie, there are a lot of callbacks. Even those who have been binge-watching all the previous installments, from 2008’s “Iron Man” forward, will be surprised by who shows up and why. The reveals will elicit laughs, gasps, cheers, fist pumps and a few tears, even from those who haven’t seen all 21 earlier installments.
Even with those thrills, there’s not an ounce of fat on this movie’s three-hour running time. The Russos keep the action and plot twists moving at a brisk pace, and the script’s narrative arc gives all the original Avengers — Downey, Evans, Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Johansson and Renner — their moments to shine.
“Avengers: Endgame” is the satisfying capper on an 11-year high-wire act that outdoes even Peter Jackson’s epic “The Lord of the Rings.” In 22 movies, a combined running time of 48 hours, the Russos and other Marvel directors — and producer Kevin Feige, the magician behind it all — have reinvented movie storytelling. They have combined the spectacle of Hollywood wizardry with the infinite narrative possibilities of serialized comic books, and shown there are no limits in time or space of what movies can do.
Earth’s mightiest heroes fulfill their promise, in an installment that takes a decade of superhero storytelling and ties it together into an astounding, emotional conclusion.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Friday, April 26 (with early screenings Thursday night, April 25).
Rated • PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.
Running time • 182 minutes.