Warning: Spoilers abound.
Having successfully erased half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers in the last installment, the mad, puffy, purple space tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin) cockily stares down his powerful, assembled enemies and insists that no matter how hard they try to stop him, his ultimate victory is “inevitable.” Equally inescapable is the commercial and creative might of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a relentless juggernaut that has come to dominate the movie-going experience — for good and ill — for a decade, and has grown so gigantic that attempting to critique any individual entry feels a bit like hurling spitballs at the Himalayas.
Serving as the culmination of an 11-year, 22-film odyssey, Avengers: Endgame carries the mammoth burden of wrapping up multiple storylines and juggling dozens of characters, all while offering catharsis to the faithful Marvel Zombies that invested all those hours and dollars in following the saga. The result is a movie that sometimes races, and more often lurches and creaks toward its cataclysmic grand finale.
At this film’s opening, we see what’s left of the Earth’s mightiest superhero team struggling to cope with their heavy losses and their fractured new reality, each in their own way. Ever-helpful Captain America (Chris Evans) consoles a support group who lost partners, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) has retreated to domestic bliss with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) in an idyllic lake house, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has found inner peace with his hulking alter-ego. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has retreated from the public eye, and is mostly focusing on beer and Xbox. Others, like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are simply not processing their grief that well. Eventually, after a fairly interminable stretch of rumination and moping that makes this epic blockbuster feel like a comic book version of Manchester by the Sea, the Avengers finally decide to live up to their name and get some revenge against the big bad guy, and a plan is formed to do major surgery on the cosmos’s gaping wounds, and hopefully restore order and make things right.
It’s nigh impossible to avoid spoilers in such a densely plotted magnum opus, but the perpetually goofy Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) provides a sneaky back door through space and time, which, in classic comic book fashion, then allows the crew to split into smaller units and scatters them on separate missions to hunt once again for the magical Infinity Stones. This amounts to a greatest hits package of moments from the entire series, providing loads of fan service, and years of fodder for YouTube conspiracy theorists to obsessively sort the timeline and details out.
Through all of the chaos and mega-action set pieces, the movie somehow maintains suspense in the fates of heroes that all the smart fans know have solo movies already on the release calendar, a testament to the charm and ability of the core cast. Almost everyone gets a moment of glory, or a bit of emotional closure, including flashy newcomer Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), whose solo debut is still playing on some screens. This also pads the runtime to a kidney-threatening three hours, not all of which feels vital, with perhaps too many of the characters revisiting their parental issues in order to understand what compels them to use their vast powers for good (and sometimes, evil).
If there is a bit of a dour, elegiac theme running through Avengers: Endgame, there’s also a lot of laughs and a celebratory note of reveling in this modern heroic pantheon, and the risky experiment of tying them all together so closely — and what the deep love of this big, noisy, juvenile myth says about our culture. The mechanics of dimension-hopping and time manipulation are always tricky, which the directing team of Anthony and Joe Russo call attention to with jokes about time travel movies from outside the Marvel-sphere. There are of course a few giant plot holes that can’t be closed, and if you allow yourself the head space to worry about them, then you probably weren’t a true believer after all.
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