Nostalgia is a funny thing, it is different for everyone. Some get nostalgic for The Goonies and others The Princess Bride. But, the ability to be swept into a feeling of nostalgia is also directly linked to the age and circumstances you saw a film under.

Eleven years ago, the first film in the MCU debuted, Iron Man. I was there opening night. To look back on that movie is to see something quaint by comparison with Avengers: Endgame, the film that emotionally closes out this chapter in the saga. Over these years I have seen all of the films that lead up to this point, some a couple of times. The first three heroes to helm their own movies were some of the finest pieces of casting in the history of Hollywood. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor embody the very thought of these characters in our collective pop culture conscience. Now, over the course of this twenty-two film arc we have reached the point where the story comes to a finite end for certain characters.

The Russo Brothers have done something that sounded unthinkable, they wrangled this massive epic that transcends time and space only to appear on the other side with a thoughtful, elegiac film about loss, personal responsibility, and the weight of failing those you love. Something of this magnitude and scale has never been attempted, so even if the film was a moderate success Marvel would feel like they succeeded. Yet, Avengers: Endgame doesn’t just work, it concludes a story that seemed to have no satisfying conclusion with genuine humanity.

The film picks up almost exactly where the last film ended by dropping us into a haunting cold open. Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) snap has left the Avengers racing to undo his evil deeds to no avail. The first hour of the film is dealing with the aftermath of half the universe being erased. Captain America leads group therapy sessions, Tony has [REDACTED], Thor has… well, I’ll leave Thor’s reveal out of this… and Bruce Banner has [REDACTED] in a style that lets Mark Ruffalo have some real fun in the role. Black Widow seems to be the only remaining Avenger actually working as she [REDACTED] with Captain Marvel (Brie Larson,) Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper,) and War Machine (Don Cheadle.) Then Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reappears from the Quantum Realm and what follows is a type of heist that is part Ocean’s films and part Inception.

In terms of pure adventure cinema this is one of the most engaging pieces of entertainment to ever be released. There is a catch though: you have to have been on this train. I can’t be certain, but it would seem that every single film in the MCU is referenced at some point. Yes, even Thor: The Dark World. I do think that someone could walk into this with some knowledge of Avengers: Infinity War and get the gist of the action pretty quickly. But, what would the point be? This movie builds on over a decade of character development to bring about this conclusion.

This might be the most reflexive superhero film to date. The filmmakers seem to be in constant conversation with the previous films and the characters that inhabit this world. All of the heroes get their moments, but this really is a story anchored by the two most compelling characters from the first section of this story, Captain America and Iron Man. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark respectively, have lived a lifetime on screen. The weight of the world has been hoisted upon their shoulders and they haven’t blinked once to sacrifice themselves and their friendship to ensure this world is a more hopeful place to exist in.

Infinity War has cast a long shadow over this world and the filmmakers are content to let the audience deal with these dire consequences for a lot of the film’s runtime. This is a radical step off a cinematic cliff that Marvel didn’t ever seem to want to explore. For the first time this universe has extreme consequences. Decisions are met with a permanence beholden to their consequences. Characters aren’t exempt from struggle, regardless of how beloved they are.

Even at three hours, the story is mainly focused on those initial three heroes. Even characters with lots of screen time aren’t granted arcs that bring us closer to them. By the time the final battle comes about, the film has pulled off an incredible feat that truly pays off the die-hard fans of this franchise. There is nothing subtle about this story and we are thrust into the hurricane of emotions so effortlessly that even as story beats aren’t as satisfying as they should be, it is difficult to notice.

Endgame is supposedly the penultimate film in this story which is supposed to conclude with Spider-man: Far from Home, later this summer. That might be that case in Kevin Feige’s mind, but this defiantly divergent superhero film has cashed in on the success of over a decade of films to create something that no other studio is even capable of. The film broods towards an ending that is surprising while also being the necessary bow to the films that have come before.

As the final moments of this film played, I was left with an unnerving bit of nostalgia for characters that I had grown deceptively close to, particularly Iron Man and Captain America. Those characters are special for their similarities to us. They represent the very finest in humanity; their unending selflessness, their ability to stand up to evils, and their need to fight the fights that other people can’t. So, as we bow out, there is a deep sense of nostalgia running through this film. It comes from my love of these characters while also buoying itself to over ten years of entertainment. Avengers: Endgame might just be the finest film released under the MCU banner.           

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