It's been 22 films over more than a decade in the making, but we've finally reached the culmination of the first phase of the Marvel Comics cinematic universe with "Avengers: Endgame."
It seems appropriate to have a film chock full of finality less than a year after the master mind behind it all Stan Lee passed away. This is a swan song that Lee would appreciate - full of bittersweet resolutions and optimistic hints at what lies ahead. It will surely satisfy the fan base in ways that blockbusters of this magnitude rarely do.
"Endgame" picks up shortly after the end of "Infinity War" with the survivors of the events of that film picking up the pieces after Thanos (Josh Brolin) has wiped out half of the universe.
Among the survivors are Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Captain America (Chris Evans). Some have moved on, ready to put their days of being super heroes behind, while others are still trying to find a way to reverse the damage done by Thanos' snap.
The opportunity to perhaps avenge the fallen arrives in the form of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), sending our heroes on a quest to right the wrongs of the past.
That's about as much as you need to know going in, with part of the joy of "Endgame" in the surprises that are revealed in Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's script. It's a story that is as ambitious and complex as any film in recent memory, incorporating the entire MCU library in a way that seems almost effortless.
This is the fourth film directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and their experience in the Marvel Universe goes a long way towards making that script work. "Endgame" has a delicate balance between some moments of high stakes drama and personal reflection with some flat out hilarious sequences that allow some much needed intermission from all of the serious proceedings.
What perhaps makes "Endgame" so special is that everyone involved, including the very talented cast seem to understand that this is the first time where the story feels more like a conclusion than a continuation - a destination on a road that fans took all the way back in the original "Iron Man."
Maybe that is why the performances are perhaps among the best in the franchise - with characters allowed more chances to reflect on how they got to this point. Downey Jr., Johansson, Hemsworth, and Evans are the standouts, but that doesn't mean the rest of the cast - which also includes Brie Larson as Captain Marvel and Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, isn't allowed the chance to shine as well.
That's part of the charm of "Endgame," it's a film that allows for curtain calls for practically every character we've seen before. It's the ultimate blockbuster, one that understands that there comes a time to wind things down.
This may be the end for this phase of the Marvel Universe, but boy is it a satisfying end. One that has me anxiously looking forward to phase two.