(CNN) - Having set up a formidable task and then some with the finish of "Infinity War," "Avengers: Endgame" rises to the challenge, delivering an epic finale that proves immensely satisfying. Without being too grandiose, it also feels like the culmination of everything Marvel has built in conquering the pop-culture universe.
"Endgame" is a massive undertaking in more ways than one, in part because "Infinity War" essentially constructed a giant jigsaw puzzle, then left it unfinished.
Running just over three hours (in a manner that mildly tests patience in the first hour, and bladders in the third), the sequel has more on its mind than just completing that story. Somehow, the film manages to set up Marvel's future while nostalgically embracing its past, bringing a sense of cohesion to the decade-plus roster of movies that have led (remarkably, if you think back to "Iron Man" in 2008) up to this point.
Give considerable credit to brother team Anthony and Joe Russo, who, coupled with their two "Captain America" movies and now this two-part epic, have directed roughly 10 hours of the most robust action that Marvel has conjured. They have done so, moreover, with as much attention to character in the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely as the pyrotechnics and heroic crowd-pleasing moments, although rest assured, there are plenty of both before "Endgame," well, ends.
The plot, without giving anything away, obviously involves seeking to somehow undo the carnage that Thanos (Josh Brolin) has wrought, with the universe (and not incidentally, a whole bunch of lucrative sequels featuring disappeared heroes) hanging in the balance.
The particulars of that get a bit tricky, not unexpectedly, but in a way that makes enough sense to support what follows. The exposition and set up does yield a somewhat labored stretch in the early going, but once the plan begins, it's essentially a full-throttle ride thereafter.
The overall journey not only produces several genuine surprises -- no small feat in this context -- but plenty of humor, with an assortment of lighter moments to augment the stirring and, yes, emotional ones.
The film also benefits, in some respects, from the casualties in "Infinity War," creating a more tightly focused story. Not incidentally, those grappling with what to do next include the core members of the original "Avengers" movie: Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), only a small reminder of the assiduous work done since then.
Even with the interlocking nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Endgame" feels like a triumph of narrative engineering -- weaving in enough callbacks to earlier movies to delight even the nerdiest patrons. The tone also underscores the extent to which the studio has preserved the comics' spirit, while translating them to the screen in a manner unimaginable when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created them.
It's a given that "Endgame" will be an enormous financial windfall to Marvel and its parent Disney, laying waste to box-office records with the kind of efficiency that Thanos would likely appreciate.
To Marvel's credit, though, the filmmakers have sought to reward movie-goers with a spectacle that's epic in every way. And if an unavoidable part of the "Endgame" story is how much loot the movie amasses, it's because the studio has brought all of its considerable resources to bear to give the audience its money's worth.
"Avengers: Endgame" officially premieres April 26 in the US. It's rated PG-13.