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For quite some time now, it has seemed that Avengers: Endgame would be a very long movie, possibly the longest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Before we saw the first trailer or knew the full title, co-director Joe Russo said that the running time was at three hours, but he didn’t know if it would stay there.
Around a month after that, Joe Russo said again that there was a high probability Avengers: Endgame will clock in at around a three-hour runtime. Finally, just last week in an interview, the Russo Brothers affirmed that the film was still at the three-hour mark. So after a few months of editing (there is still a lot to do), the runtime hasn’t really budged. and it is looking increasingly likely that Avengers: Endgame is probably going to be a lengthy 180 minutes, give or take.
I think the overwhelming sentiment among MCU fans at this potentially bladder-straining runtime is "Bring it on, I’m ready." It’s a natural reaction because when we love something, we always want more of it. But there is also an admittedly smaller segment of people that are naysaying this runtime with worries about the film being bloated and how it could hurt Avengers: Endgame’s box office.
So how long is too long? Is three hours just too much? What’s the right length for Avengers: Endgame? The answer is that Avengers: Endgame should be exactly as long as it needs to be. If that’s three hours, so be it.
The one thing the Russo Brothers have said each time they’ve talked about the potential three-hour runtime is that Avengers: Endgame is a big movie with a lot of story to tell. If we consider everything this film needs to do story-wise, that claim certainly rings true. Avengers: Endgame is both a sequel and the second half of a two-parter. It is the closing chapter in a story and the culmination of an even longer one.
On the most obvious level, Endgame will act as a sequel to Avengers: Infinity War and will need to resolve the plot threads of that film. Presumably that means it will show the aftermath of The Decimation, the Avengers coming up with a plan to fix things, the execution of that plan, the defeat of Thanos and the resurrection of those snapped out of existence. That’s a decent amount of material, but far from unmanageable.
But acting as the second half of Avengers: Infinity War isn’t all Endgame has to do. Bigger than that, it is also the concluding chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 3. Endgame has frequently been described as a ‘culmination’ because on top of everything, it is also the climax of the MCU’s entire existence, which has spanned a decade and 22 movies (including Captain Marvel and Endgame). It’s all built to this. And we don’t know for sure, but Endgame may or may not also provide setup for the next stage of the MCU.
Beyond many of those macro considerations about the MCU overall is the fact that Endgame has a huge cast with a ton of characters it has to service. It’s not that we need three hours worth of battles, it’s about doing right by the characters in this film and delivering emotional payoff for their respective arcs.
When talking about the runtime, the Russo Brothers have cited the desire to have strong emotional moments with those characters. Giving everyone his or her moment takes time. Endgame will likely also act as a swan song some specific Avengers and the actors that play them, whose contracts are up and will be ending their time in the MCU with this film. We don’t want those sendoffs rushed because the movie has to hit a market-friendly runtime.
A three-hour epic seems appropriate and potentially necessary for a film that has to operate on all those levels.
Truth be told, if this were an indie movie or the buzziest flick out of Sundance or a Scorsese film, we probably wouldn’t be talking about the runtime at all. We’d simply remark ‘three hours, hmm, that’s long’ and move on. But because this is a comic book blockbuster and the biggest movie of the year, it is judged differently and has different expectations placed on it due to the nature of the genre.
As a four-quadrant comic book blockbuster, Avengers: Endgame is expected to fill auditoriums and bring in money. The shorter the runtime, the more showings a theater can pack in per day, meaning more money for the studio. This is also a movie people will see with their families, and a three-hour runtime isn’t necessarily family friendly for moviegoers with children who need to sit still for that long or have to get up for bathroom breaks. That’s part of why studios don’t usually make three-hour blockbusters.
As movie fans, we often complain about and lament the business realities that influence art, when studio notes or financial concerns negatively affect a filmmaker’s vision. Not that long ago, it was reported that a studio mandated another superhero team up film come in under two hours. Now here with Avengers: Endgame, we have a situation where the Russo's have said that Disney is down with whatever runtime results in the best story. Story is being given priority and that’s commendable.
Now having said all of that, it is entirely possible that we could walk out of the theater on April 26 thinking that Avengers: Endgame is way too long and could have been a half an hour shorter and been just as good or better. If that’s the case and the film is bloated, it should be called so. Avengers: Endgame has to earn and justify its runtime.
Right now, the Russo Brothers seem to think that this story takes three hours to tell, and according to them, Avengers: Endgame is getting great responses from test audiences and people aren’t even getting up to go to the bathroom. So if Avengers: Endgame does clock in at three hours, there is no need for this rumored intermission. It might be neat to make this feel even more like an event, but it’s ultimately unnecessary if the three hour and 21 minute-long Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King didn’t have one.
It should also be said that if Avengers: Endgame is edited down and comes in under three hours, MCU fans should not feel disappointed or like they are being shortchanged if that is what the Russos think is best for the film.
For a cinematic event like this, The Russo Brothers should be given whatever time they need to tell their story, fully and completely in a way that makes for the best possible film. Whether that’s two, three or four hours, Avengers: Endgame should be exactly as long as it needs to be.
Avengers: Endgame opens on April 26. Check out our 2019 release schedule for all the biggest movies coming this year and let us know what you think about a three-hour runtime in the poll and comments below.
Without having seen it, is a three-hour runtime too long for Avengers: Endgame?