In the aftermath of 'Avengers: Infinity War', Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) must wrestle with the knowledge that they failed to stop Thanos (Josh Brolin) from carrying out his plan to wipe out half the universe. However, when an unexpected turn of events gives them a second chance, the Avengers are called back to action.
With 22 movies tying together 'Avengers: Endgame', it might seem appropriate that it goes on for three hours. After all, there's a decade of story to unravel and bind together in a convincing, emotional way that will draw to a close - for now, at least - one of the most successful movie franchises in history. More than that, how do you talk about it without divulging huge swathes of the plot in the process?
If 'Avengers: Infinity War' was action beyond action, and constant momentum on plot, 'Avengers: Endgame' attempts to couch itself in an emotional context. Large swathes of Robert Downey Jr.'s screentime are devoted to his character resolving a long-running personal conflict. Chris Evans, meanwhile, utilises that warmth and compassion in his performance in both dramatic and action-packed moments. Likewise, the other characters - Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye - are all adapting to the reality that half of all life has been wiped out, and the toll that takes on a person. For some, they slump into failure. Others take action in extreme ways. The point is that the runtime allows this character development to happen, rather than skip over it for the sake of pacing.
If there's a complaint to 'Avengers: Endgame', it's in that very thing - that it takes its sweet time getting to the action. After a blast of excitement in the opening twenty minutes, it promptly shifts gears and becomes a character study about grief, before it shifts again into what can only be described as a screwball heist, before it shifts again into something else, and so on and so on. Because of its runtime, the change in tone from act to act never feels too jarring, but you do get the sense that it could possibly lose twenty minutes and maybe be the better for it. The question is where would the axe fall? And would the action and the ending have the same impact if it didn't have them? Maybe. Maybe not.
It's not all just brooding, however. There's plenty of humour to be found throughout 'Avengers: Endgame', especially in how the characters have adapted to the world after 'Avengers: Infinity War'. Anthony and Joe Russo can gleam a laugh from the most innocuous of moments, but it's the individual actors - and how well worn their performances are - that they can handle some ridiculous moments. "I get e-mails from a racoon now," says one character with a straight face. If you didn't have 22 movies to get to that joke, it wouldn't make sense. Likewise, there's a few scenes that are clearly dropped in as fan service, but again, they feel earned because the story has been a decade in the telling.
'Avengers: Endgame' brings to a close a grand experiment in cinema - the idea that a full story arc could be told over multiple movies, each interconnected with one another and given their own disparate tones, coalesce into an ending that rewarded those on the journey. By all metrics, 'Avengers: Endgame' does that. When the characters we've followed for so long depart from the story and the screen, we know there's nothing more we can draw from them. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's script leans into the knowledge that this is it for them, and so it does them justice.