There is nothing more impermeable than time. It's fixed, constant. It may be a human construct, but it is one humanity has built atomic clocks to perfect; there is no stopping its ever-forward march. Except in sci-fi. And comic books. In those worlds, it's fluid. There are rules about not killing Hitler or betting on the World Series, but other than that, the structures of time can be bent.
This, more than anything, is the core of Avengers: Endgame. Yes, there is—as most fans expected—some time travel. (More on that later, in the spoiler-y paragraphs below.) But its deeper narrative follows a thread about the years people have devoted to Marvel heroes, the nostalgia those fans already have for them, and what the future will look like as they evolve. Luckily, in comic-book stories, the future is just as malleable as the past.
First, here's what you need to know: Avengers: Endgame picks up where Infinity War left off. Thanos has wiped out half of the universe's population, and the remaining heroes (Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Rocket Raccoon, and the newly recruited Captain Marvel) are trying to un-snap his fingers. The other thing to note: Avengers: Endgame is very good. No movie could have fully encompassed everything that happened in the preceding 10 years and 21 films, but it is the best possible effort at trying to achieve that goal. It's nearly three hours, and none of them feel wasted. More than that, it's exactly what fans need.
What Marvel fans, or anyone, needs in 2019 is a tricky proposition—one that plays out twofold in Endgame, with a double-helix of a plot that constantly works on two levels. First, there's the obvious: Everyone needs closure, needs to see if the Avengers can pull off saving the universe one more time. Second, they need to be rewarded for the decade-plus they've spent with these characters, the effort they've put into seeing every film.
Endgame achieves this using one of the oldest tricks in the cinematic playbook: time travel. As everyone who noticed that Doctor Strange, Wong, and Ant-Man were largely unaccounted for at the end of Infinity War predicted, there is only one way to press Undo on what Thanos did: pull a Cher and turn back time. Though, they don't just rewind what happened and stop it. Instead, they find a more permanent solution that involves going back to retrieve the Infinity Stones before Thanos got his big purple hands on them and using their power to reverse the damage.
This review won’t reveal if this plan succeeds at defeating Thanos, but it will say that it’s a wonderful ride and a narrative tool that provides a chance for the Avengers and their posse to revisit a large chunk of the movies in the franchise. It’s a trip that, in the best ways possible, feels like a band reuniting for a greatest-hits tour, one where the songs gets played by a frontman or frontwoman who wasn’t on the original track—some Traveling Wilburys covering a George Harrison track, Jay-Z and Nas ending their beef to perform “Dead Presidents,” and Beyoncé reuniting Destiny’s Child at Coachella all rolled into one. (In this case, it’s more like “Rocket goes to Asgard” and extended beats of Bruce Banner explaining science to The Ancient One.) It’s a service to every fan who remembers those early films fondly, and a final tug on the threads that have held the franchise together since the beginning.
This kind of nostalgia is delicate, though. It’s tempting to want to go back to the first arc in these heroes’ journeys, the origin stories when they were ascending. It might even be tempting to just go back to 2008, before Mueller reports and Harvey Weinstein investigations and Michael Jackson documentaries, when it seemed easier to believe in heroes in general. That’s impossible, and foolhardy. Longing for those days is akin to longing for a time of ignorance, a time when all the superhero movies were led by white dudes. Everything has changed, and while revisiting days of future past is fun, time (in our world) only moves forward, and the future is more important than what’s come before. Or, to borrow a phrase from Tony Stark, “That’s the hero game—part of the journey is the end.”
Acknowledging this reality is Endgame’s strongest suit. Because while it spends a fair amount of its second act playing to its base (with some excellent surprise cameos), it spends its final third establishing its new world order. In one of the film’s most telling moments, Captain Marvel—sporting a haircut sure to be the toast of Lesbian Twitter for months—charges into battle flanked by the franchise’s women heroes, the MCU’s version of a Time’s Up meeting (remember this?). Marvel’s Phase 4 is still fairly uncertain, but if Endgame has any takeaway it’s that the future is female. And less white. And at least a little bit queer.
Avengers: Endgame could become the biggest movie the world has ever seen: It may make nearly $1 billion in one weekend. Theaters are staying open around the clock to keep up with demand. It’s the culmination of 11 years and 21 films—an unprecedented feat that may never be repeated. The only thing that may come close is December’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which will be the ninth film in a nostalgia-filled franchise spanning more than four decades. That film, too, will see the reins handed over to a new generation of heroes, folks whose chance to lead is long overdue. Endgame is a beautiful, massive finale—and it paves the way for all the warriors to come. It’s about time.