This review contains spoilers – read at your own risk!

Well, here we are. After eleven years, twenty-one previous films and over $18 billion in worldwide box office receipts, the payoff for the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arrived. Avengers: Endgame has so much to live up to: telling a logical second-half to the story started in last year’s Infinity War, delivering satisfying arcs to well-loved characters, and wrapping up this decade of Marvel films. And while it’s not perfect, nobody could’ve foreseen the triumph that Endgame truly is.

(C) Marvel Studios

If Infinity War felt large-scale, Endgame ramps this up to a different stratosphere. While the Battle of Wakanda, which resulted in Thanos’ infamous snap, was a lengthy, ambitious battle with a plethora of heroes fighting together for the first time, the conclusion of Endgame is simply the stuff of dreams. Without going into too many specifics, the vastness of the climactic battle – the emotional stakes, moments of fan service and sheer adrenaline of knowing it all comes down to this – works perfectly. Seeing all these years of world-building culminate in such a sprawling battle, which has a superb blend of comedy, jaw-on-the-floor character moments, and sheer emotional devastation, is something that no other franchise has ever managed to do so well. The scale of Endgame‘s climax is up there with the greats of cinematic battles, purely through the amount that was riding on it. Every characters gets a moment to shine, and when the ultimate twist-of-the-knife moment arrives, it’s simply heartbreaking.

Underpinning the film is this looming sense of dread: anyone up-to-date with the contract side of the MCU’s top actors knows that stars such as Downey Jr. and Evans are nearing the end, and it becomes less of a question of if their journeys will end here, but rather how. And they’re handled splendidly: Stark’s death is utterly devastating, possibly the hardest-hitting moment of superhero cinema we’ve ever gotten. Downey Jr. plays it perfectly, and while Tony has been vilified in recent entries, particularly Age of Ultron and Civil War, he goes out like a hero. His death felt earned, and while a truly tear-jerking moment – a lot of my screening, myself included, shed a tear or two – it was the perfect way to wrap up this eleven-year arc.

(C) Marvel Studios

For a film nearing the three-hour mark, it’s very well-paced: while there are long stretches of the film without much action, it never feels slow. The screenwriters, Markus and McFeely, are to thank for this: action is used sparingly, which makes these moments much more intense, and when fists do start flying it’s never just to get people’s attention again, but for plot reasons. Some of the comedy here falls very flat: the entire representation of Thor, where he’s a slob living in seclusion following Infinity War, was very poorly-handled and dragged out. While the first few jokes of ‘look, Thor’s fat now!’ serve their purpose adequately, it becomes old very quickly. Considering how well his character has developed since 2017’s Ragnarok, it’s a shame that Chris Hemsworth’s (potentially) last outing as the Asgardian is somewhat restricted by this one-note, bland characterisation.

Other than this, though, the film rarely steps wrong: to pull off any time-travel plot without raising issues of continuity and paradoxes is near-impossible, and Endgame doesn’t get out unscathed, but rather opts to push away any concerns of the continuity becoming muddled. In a way, this is nice just so these issues can’t manifest themselves, but for a film this vast and with so much backstory, it could’ve been handled better. The time-travel sections are done very well: going back to 2012’s The Avengers to relive the Battle of New York was a treat, and something as simple as seeing these characters in their old suits again was a great bit of fan service. It harkens back to when this was all new, when even an Avengers 3 was years away, and shows just how far this franchise has come.

(C) Marvel Studios

But of course, the seemingly non-stop MCU train had to let some passengers off. The film is relentlessly intense and exciting, and although there’s so many characters here, it never feels crowded. Unlike Infinity War, which touched base with all MCU heroes, Endgame gives it to the original Avengers. It really makes it feel like a last hurrah for a lot of these characters, seeing them all together for one last time. Yet, it’s executed so masterfully, with so much attention to detail and sheer thrill throughout, that it doesn’t feel sombre. The level of fan service is unlike anything that’s come before it, and while films such as Infinity War have had that one moment which blows fans’ minds, Endgame has too many to list: it’s an ode to the fans who have made the series so successful, and an incredibly satisfying experience.

When the end credits wrap, it’s hard to fathom just what Endgame has achieved: tying up over a decade of continuity-driven storytelling, bidding farewell to fan favourites in such a powerful way, and delivering some of the best action we have ever witnessed. Endgame is a touching triumph that mixes intense, emotional character work with incredible set-pieces that will take a lot to be topped. It’ll be hard to say goodbye to this era of the MCU, but it also feels like a new beginning. Marvel have proven with Endgame that they’re unstoppable, and while we’ll always look back fondly on how beautifully this film was executed, it makes it hard not to be excited for the adventures to come.