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Avengers: Endgame review -- Marvel's ultimate love letter to fans tops Infinity War

Spoiler free: The Russos' wholly satisfying superhero epic, a sequel to every MCU movie ever, doesn't waste a second.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Avengers: Infinity War's cliff-hanger ending left me fuming. The highly anticipated Avengers: Endgame, in theaters now, picks up the pieces of that story with a completely satisfying conclusion that winds down over a decade of movies.

Directors Anthony and Joseph Russo have made a three-hour epic that flies by, just like Infinity War did in 2 hours and 40 minutes. Yet Endgame multiplies the scale tenfold. Adding Captain Marvel to the lineup of familiar faces, it has way more heroes, way more destinations and way more complexity. (For a spoiler-filled take on the film, read my colleague Rich Trenholm's review.) 

Last year's Infinity War revolved around bad guy Thanos' quest to "balance" the universe by wiping out half of all life with the snap of his finger (aka The Snapture). Endgame brings the focus back to the surviving Avengers as they fight to resurrect the lost.

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The shift in focus brings a change in tone, marked by the camaraderie between Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the rest of the heroes who headlined 2012's The Avengers. The villain-focused Infinity War was dark and deadly. With the likes of Brie Larson's Captain Marvel and Paul Rudd's Ant-Man on board, this one goes lighter as it turns toward the heroes with plenty of humor and even some absurdity mixed in with the heartbreak and dizzying action sequences.  

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Endgame is the end of an era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it serves as a giant sequel to every MCU movie ever. Thankfully an in-depth knowledge of all 22 earlier films isn't essential. The plot does jump around at times, which might confuse casual viewers, but bottom line: This thrill ride kicks off big and never lets up. It's so much fun.

Now that half the cast is out of the picture, the core Avengers and other surviving characters get more room for character development. The film dives into each hero's motivations and history -- especially important since this could be the final adventure for some of the longer-serving actors.

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Standout Johansson dazzles, as Natasha Romanoff becomes a true leader who by Endgame sees Stark, Rogers and all the other heroes as a family she must protect. This Natasha is a far cry from the agent who feared the leak of her dark history in the past seven MCU films she's starred in. Endgame sets her up well for her highly rumored solo film.

Her stories get further amplified by the return of Jeremy Renner's Clint Barton, who embraces both his darker Ronin identity seen in recent trailers and his archer skills as Hawkeye. Barton didn't make an appearance in Infinity War, and his return here both evolves the desperation the heroes are facing while giving audiences a return to the close friendship Romanoff and Barton have shared since 2012's Avengers.

Downey Jr. and Evans also get arcs showcasing the evolution of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers -- fitting since the former kickstarted the MCU with 2008's Iron Man and the latter is the first Avenger. The movie wastes no time pairing the two back up despite Stark being last seen stranded in space, and gives audiences the chance to see how strong they are working as partners instead of rivals as established in 2016's Captain America: Civil War.

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Of the core characters, Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner take over the more absurd side of the story. In one way it's fitting, considering the more comedic take both characters have moved toward since 2017's Thor: Ragnarok. Yet of the arcs given to the original Avengers, theirs feels less epic due to their comic roles. Their antics are welcome, though at times their scenes feel a bit cringeworthy considering the overall effort to save lives.

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Every single action sequence here deserves to be seen on the largest screen possible. In Infinity War, the Russos demonstrated their ability to take action from Earth to space and back, and each of Endgame's locations provide plenty of epic clashes and gorgeous vistas to relish. Even the more basic settings, like the Avengers' headquarters somewhere in upstate New York, get made over into expansive environments.

If you've enjoyed previous Marvel movies, see Endgame as soon as you can. And stay away from any leaks until you do.

Originally published April 23.