10 years. 22 films. 1 epic fanfare. The Russo Brothers, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and producer/MCU godfather Kevin Feige have achieved the impossible: tying together threads from all over the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to not just satisfy, but overwhelm fans who have pledged loyalty to this royal series. Like flipping through a memory album with those close family members that’ll truly appreciate it, witnessing Avengers: Endgame with a crowd of fellow followers of the franchise is an experience unlike any other.

No plot details are to be unveiled here, in spite of its release. Because Endgame can only be relished if blindfolded: like taste testing a new food, with all of its hidden ingredients exploding on your palette, Endgame is an explosion of emotional call-backs and character-specific moments that require a certain ‘here and now’ mindset. As the Avengers face uncertainty, it’s best if you go in as uncertain. Because the pure, golden optimism that glimmers through the screen as you watch, like an ironic, metaphorical twist on Thanos’ stare into the sunset at the end of Infinity War, needs to be embraced without expectation, like a natural trust in these characters to do what they promised they would do all the way back in their first team-up feature: avenge the world they lost.

That world is a broken one. As the dust settles – literally and figuratively – the heroes we’ve come to cinematically rely on to pick themselves up and ‘do it all day’, call it exactly the opposite. It’s admirable, yet necessary, that the Russo Brothers take the time to flesh out the survivors, wracked with guilt, dragging their once superheroic feet behind them. Without direct reference to events, particular care and attention is paid to Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Missing out on the last party and coming in on the hangover the morning after, seems like it could come across as heavy-handed. But the emotional fallout from what’s happened, particularly for these two characters, builds stakes sharp enough to plunge into the heart of a vampire.

In fact, the performances across the board honour the work of the actors over the years, as well as the audience’s dedication to the heroes and their journeys. The list is too long to cover in much detail. But highlights include Scarlett Johansson’s strong spy supplementing her subdued role with surprising sentimental weight, Chris Hemsworth’s comedic charm finally hammering Thor home as more than just a drafted Shakespearean copy and, of course, Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr.’s aging, emotionally drained heroes. The civil war may be over but the interpersonal, ideological contrasts still fuel their earlier conversations. Yet the ultimate fire is the friendship that Endgame returns to, linking Cap and Iron Man together as they fight for the greater good. It’s expertly written and respects these flawed heroes as they embrace the challenge ahead.

The structure is certainly simple and perhaps a little episodic as a result. But a serialised show this is not. The Russo Brothers speed along at a rate that’d encourage Usain Bolt to keep an eye on his left. Sometimes that speed sacrifices a little subtlety, but the exposition doesn’t take the audience for simpletons: there’s a lot of context to cover here and writers Markus and McFeely manage to organise it and tie it together like an advanced supercomputer.

But while the structure is noticeable, the runtime will disappear into the background, as though it were shrunken with the help of a Pym particle or two. Endgame skips ahead with a lot of energetic affection for the characters and stories we’ve identified with for such a long time. The actors bring their A game (pun absolutely assembled with that intention). The writers respect our time and attention. And the Russo Brothers light the candles on the delicious MCU cake that has filled us up so gluttonously, over its 10 year production process. Phase 3 comes to an end and Kevin Feige deserves to take a bow: excelsior, the man has delivered an ambitious project that ends with a fanfare of epically emotional proportions.

Dir: Joe and Anthony Russo

Prd: Kevin Feige

Scr: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin, Don Cheadle, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Brie Larson, Danai Gurira

DOP: Trent Opaloch

Music: Alan Silvestri

Runtime: 182 minutes