Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

As you brace for “Avengers: Endgame” to hit theaters, you’ve likely found your footing in one of two camps: Either you’re clenching your opening weekend tickets and hoping that the film lives up to the hype, or you’re a casual moviegoer wondering whether you should avoid the crowds and wait a few weeks to see the superhero phenomenon. I was definitely in the former camp, and can now sincerely say that “Endgame” is 100 percent worth the wait. Die-hard Marvel fans must watch as soon as humanly possible and others need to rush to theaters as well (after bingeing the prior 21 films, of course). “Endgame” is a surreal cinematic experience that beautifully wraps up this era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) while subtly hinting at an exciting future.

After half of all living beings in the universe vanished at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” the remaining Avengers are left reeling. Led by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Captain America (Chris Evans), our heroes take one last stand against Thanos (Josh Brolin) in hopes of reclaiming the six Infinity Stones and rescuing their fallen friends.

Some may criticize modern blockbusters for sacrificing character development for spectacle. Last year, I argued that “Infinity War” did just that, trading character arcs for breathtaking action set pieces. For a large chunk of its runtime, “Endgame” does exactly the opposite, placing massive emphasis on further developing the story arcs of the surviving Avengers — namely Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America, Black Widow, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). This core group of Avengers hasn’t assembled as a team since 2014’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but “Endgame” brings them back together smoothly. Fans care immensely about these original favorites, and the film doesn’t brush past this fact. We’re given time to appreciate these beloved characters, their relationships and how they’ve changed over the years.

A major reason we have time for this character development is the film’s lengthy runtime, which exceeds three hours. Though the length could turn audiences off, directors Joe and Anthony Russo make every moment worthwhile. Crucial character moments and interactions never feel rushed, and the film doesn’t have to rely solely on past storylines, allowing it to introduce new arcs and weave them into past ones.

This focus on character over spectacle doesn’t mean that “Endgame” lacks the bombast of past MCU entries. In fact, I would pit the stunning climactic battle of “Endgame” against any other superhero film battle, including the jaw-dropping airport sequence from “Captain America: Civil War.”

But “Endgame” is so much more than an action film. It’s heartbreaking, hilarious and heart-pounding, sometimes all at once. Few films have ever made me cry, but “Endgame” left me tearing up, sometimes unexpectedly. The film wraps up this era of the MCU elegantly; even when it sets up future entries, it does so in clever and subtle ways, never staying past its welcome.

Despite its heavy subject matter and intensity, “Endgame” doesn’t pass on opportunities for humor. It’s actually a hilarious film, considering that it follows the bleak ending of “Infinity War.” Though some punchlines don’t feel necessary, Tony Stark’s (Downey Jr.) one-liners land as strongly as ever, as do Ant-Man’s (Paul Rudd). Furthermore, the Russo brothers manage to integrate several incredible moments of fan service that never feel forced, realizing character team-ups and payoffs that fans have been theorizing about for years. This effort is guaranteed to garner hoots and hollers from audiences, making for an engaging theatrical experience.

With “Endgame,” the Russo brothers have done the impossible yet again. They’ve carefully crafted a film that honors the MCU’s past, respects and develops the iconic characters and sets up the universe for an intriguing future. Not only will this movie make a bazillion dollars, but it will also go down in history as a milestone in superhero filmmaking. In fact, you should stop reading this review and go buy your tickets now. We’re in the Endgame now, and it’s a sight to be seen.

Grade: A