It may be early days, but Avengers: Endgame has already made a strong play for the title of the best of the MCU. If you haven’t actually yet seen Endgame then stop reading this, and go over to my non spoiler review here, because we’re going to go deep on the numerous spoilers from the film.

And boy did Endgame take some twists. Right from the off it went to some incredibly unexpected directions with the remaining Avengers locating Thanos only to discover he had already destroyed the Infinity Stones. From there Thor killing Thanos told us that Endgame wasn’t going to be the film we expected going in. The five year time jump that happens next really helped to ensure that the snap is going to have had a lasting impact upon the MCU. Even though it is eventually undone there is 5 years of time that half of the universe had to live through without so many of their loved ones. For the rest it feels as though no time has passed, and they will now have to fit back into this changed world.

One thing that was far more expected was the fact that the surviving Avengers would be using the quantum realm in order to travel back in time. This was probably the prominent theory about how the snap would be reversed, but I didn’t expect how they would use the time travel. Diving back into several of the older films (The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1) is an absolute masterstroke for a couple of reasons. Firstly is the fact that it really rewards long time fans of the franchise, and it does this by bringing back a number of older characters who are no longer alive or part of the story and even gave us the first film appearance of James D’Arcy as Jarvis (who had previously only appeared in Agent Carter. It also reworks so many classic moments in clever and hilarious ways, particularly with the Captain America lift scene.

But the decision to have a minimal amount of action scene in the past really pays off with some great character moments. Sure we get to see Steve fighting the older version of himself, but the stand out moments are having Tony meeting his father, Steve getting to see Peggy again, Nebula and the older Gamora making amends, and Hawkeye and Black Widow’s scene on Vormir collecting the Soul Stone. These are beautiful and powerful character moments that service the film’s epic finally so much more than big action sequences would do.

Nowhere is that truer than with the ultimate fates of Tony and Steve, both of whom have almost certainly come to the end of their MCU journeys. Strangely I thought that their ultimate fates would be reversed before the film, but coming out it both got fitting ends. The huge death at the finale of the film is Tony, Robert Downey Jr is going to be a huge loss to the MCU, he’s always incredible and Endgame is no different. And his ultimate death and funeral were heartbreaking scenes, with the kid from Iron Man 3 even bring brought back. His journey through the film is really a farewell one, particularly getting to have that final moment with his father.

As for Captain America, he isn’t a character I expected to retire. But having revisited a number of the older films I now believe that it is actually the perfect ending to his story, with there having been so many references to his inability to have a life throughout his appearances in the films. It’s the moment when he gets to see Peggy in 1970 that definitely motivated his choice to return to his time and spend his life with her. One of the only moments that wasn’t great in the film was Chris Evans’ performance through the old man makeup as he passes off the Captain America mantel to Falcon at the end. Whilst Evans has been perfect as the stoic Cap in the franchise I feel as though being just a more regular Steve Rogers isn’t quite in his wheelhouse.

As for some of the other original Avengers, Hulk and Thor feel more like comedy performers in this film, although both still get some great moments. Having the Banner/Hulk hybrid felt a little weird to me during the film, although Ruffalo did a great job, and it really needed to happen in order to have the Hulk be the one to reverse the snap with the newly formed Infinity Gauntlet. If they continue forward with this more cohabiting Hulk, I would love to see them explore some of the Hulk’s other comic book personalities, although that could get weird. Thor is really the one who brings a lot of the humour in the film (along with Rocket and Ant-Man), but that humour masks the incredible pain and sadness in Hemsworth’s performance as someone clearly suffering from depression after his perceived failure in Infinity War. At the end I liked his decision to follow his own path after getting to have a heart to heart with Frigga, and I’m excited about potential future collaborations with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Speaking of, the key member of the Guardians in this film was really Nebula. She is pushed right to the forefront in Endgame, and Karen Gillan does an incredible job. Having Nebula coming into contact with her past self who is still loyal to Thanos (out of fear) was a brilliant way of highlighting how far she has come. Gillan as the Nebula from our timeline gives a brilliant and vulnerable performance, particularly in her scenes with the Gamora from the past. And the time travel was a very clever way of bringing Gamora back. Hopefully this brings a completely new dynamic to Star-Lord and Gamora’s relationship, as she knows that her future self fell in love with him, but hasn’t gone through that herself.

But (the original) Gamora wasn’t the only character we lost to the Soul Stone, and the scene on Vormir between Black Widow and Hawkeye was one of the most emotional moments of the film. In fact their entire story really was powerful in Endgame. The opening scene where we see Hawkeye losing his family to the snap meant the film got off to a heartbreaking opening, as is the five year time jump where he turns to someone so brutal and cold. I love that Jeremy Renner is getting pushed more to the forefront of this film, and really allowed to show of his acting chops. But returning to Vormir, and we all knew once these two were going to collect the Soul Stone that one would have to die, but I’m sure many, as I did, would have thought it would be Hawkeye. It seemed as though his actions since the snap made him irredimible. However as Black Widow says to Steve nearer the start being a member of this team has made her a good person and a hero, and that started with Hawkeye giving her the chance of redemption when he brought her into SHIELD, and so she sacrifices herself in order to give Clint the same redemption he gave her from their past. Both Renner and Johansson are brilliant in the scene, and it is completely heartbreaking.

Now I have talked about many of these beautiful and emotional smaller moments that the film gave us, but the final climactic battle at the end of the film between The Avengers and Thanos’ army is truly epic. The first fight with Tony, Cap, and Thor against Thanos is cool, and culminates in the moment where Cap wields Mjolnir. Unsurprisingly that got an incredible cheer in the screening and I’m sure it is going to be a huge crowd favourite moment for a long time. But even more special was the moment where Dr Strange brings back everyone he can as backup to help them face Thanos’ army. Even as I’m writing this I’m getting chills thinking about that moment. It is incredible and made me sob ugly tears of joy. The other moment that really got me was when the women of the MCU united behind Captain Marvel, in something truly special.

But it ends where the MCU truly began. With Tony Stark, and his declaration of “I am Iron Man”. Tony’s final sacrifice and line were really the perfect way to show just how far he has come since the original Iron Man. Where the line then came from a place of ego and arrogance, now it comes from a someone who has settled down, with his wife and daughter and is willing to put the greater good above his own self interests. Having to leave them is in the end the only way to save everyone, and so Strange’s line at the end of Infinity War where he apologises to Tony saying it’s the only way are all more heartbreaking. Truly this was the perfect send off not just to Tony Stark, but to the Infinity Saga and first 11 years of the MCU.