Tom’s Take: Avengers: Endgame

By definition, a love letter is a means by which one person expresses feelings of love or appreciation to another person.

Love letters can take a variety of iterations, but are most usually written. They can be delivered by hand, by mail, by email or text, left in a secret location, or heck, even shot out of a cannon, and can range from being short and simple to lengthy and loquacious, depending on the author.

After 22 movies in the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe, the latest installment, “Avengers: Endgame” is as much the culmination of everything that has come before it as it is a love letter to the fans.

When last we saw the Avengers, they were part of the “lucky” half of the universe that had not been wiped out of existence when Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his fingers after assembling the various Infinity Stones. While it was presumed that much of the damage done to the MCU during “Infinity War” would be undone in “Endgame,” the big question wasn’t “if” but “how,” and after MUCH online speculation, the “how” is finally revealed here, and it doesn’t so much involve Thanos as it does the Infinity Stones themselves.

After the (near) non-stop action of “Infinity War,” “Endgame” wisely slows down the pace during the first act, dealing with the aftermath of half the population being gone. Things are dark, somber, and the world struggles to recover from the loss.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), bitterly reminds everyone that his idea putting a figurative “suit of armor” around the Earth (“in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) would have prevented this. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), aka Hawkeye, has gone on a personal mission of vengeance. Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), aka Black Widow, is trying to maintain order, overseeing and coordinating operations with the remaining Avengers, including newcomer Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) — who’s helping out on other planets, too — and with Okoye (Danai Gurira), Wakanda’s remaining leader. Capt. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads a support group for mourners. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) blames himself, and because of this is seen here …I’ll say, not at his best, while Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has managed to find a balance between himself and the Hulk.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who was so small that he entered the Quantum Realm when the Thanos snap happened, returns, and after learning what’s happened while he was away, has an idea: Time works differently in the Quantum Realm than it does the rest of the universe – five years have passed for everyone else, but only five hours have passed for him — so maybe it would be possible to re-enter the realm and use it as a portal to travel through time and prevent the snap, or find the Infinity Stones and use them to correct the devastation done by Thanos.

While the other heroes initially scoff at the idea of a “time machine” as the stuff of science-fiction, they come around to the idea that it could be their only hope. Besides, it’s not that far-fetched. “I get emails from a raccoon,” Natasha says. “Nothing is crazy anymore.”

After a few time travel trials (one of which, involving Ant-Man, is particularly funny), the Avengers (and when I say Avengers, I mean Tony Stark) create a “time travel GPS” to help them navigate through the Quantum Realm to exit at various points in time, where they hope to find and collect the Infinity Stones to return to the present to undo the Thanos snap – a “time heist,” if you will. It’s here that the movie’s action, and fun, truly begins in earnest, as the Avengers revisit events and scenes from previous MCU movies and see them from slightly different points of view.

To say any more than that would be spoiling a lot of the surprises wrapped into narrative, but suffice it to say, there’s a LOT of movie in this movie, which runs nearly three hours without credits and has appearances by darn near everyone from previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

Kudos to directors Anthony and Joe Russo just for keeping things organized, let alone coherent, which they also manage to do. Nearly everyone with dialogue gets a good character beat or two, and each of the core players has the types of interactions we’ve come to expect and enjoy. There are unexpected complications in the story, and the way that the film incorporates scenes, images, and characters from past MCU adventures is ingeniously creative. They managed to have a plausible (narrative) reason to basically go everywhere and see everyone, all the while, reminding the central characters that time really only goes forward and that they must accept themselves as they are.

To say more than this would be doing a disservice to people who’ve yet to see the movie, but it’s no secret that, although there will be future MCU movies, this is the final “chapter” of this particular story, which means that some of the key characters’ stories will be coming to an end – in the most heartfelt – and in some cases, unexpected – ways possible. If you’re remotely invested in these characters, and this universe, “Endgame” is hands-down one of the most emotionally devastating and satisfying movies in the franchise.

Does it feel too long? Well, yes. Is that a surprise? Not really, especially considering how many story threads need to be wrapped up, but there’s very little wheel-spinning in this grand, epic-sized story, and the Russos use its massiveness to impress the scope of it all upon us: Billions of people died on Earth alone, trillions across the universe. Against all odds, these last two Avengers movies manage to show the weight and finality of death, while highlighting what we love most about these films: the thrill of seeing multiple heroes we love working together to defeat an enemy.

As I’ve said, this isn’t the end of the franchise, but it’s a fitting place to stop and reflect on all the stories that have been told so far, and to appreciate and marvel at just how large this universe has become.

Do I love it? I do. I love it 3,000.

“Avengers: Endgame” is rated PG-13 for scattered mild profanity, fantasy violence, and gratuitous – and final – Stan Lee cameo. Nuff said.