It’s called “Avengers: Endgame” but a more descriptive subtitle would be “Superheroes Cry It Out.”
With the exception of Captain Marvel — who announces at the outset, “You may not see me for a long while” and, unfortunately, makes good on that threat — the caped crusaders do a lot of boohooing in the smartly executed “Endgame.”
Mostly, that’s a holdover from last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” in which bad guy Thanos wiped out half the world’s living creatures. Just about all our heroes grieve for their dead buddies-in-tights. Always a mite whiny, War Machine has given into full-on moping. Iron Man feels sorry for himself as well as, you know, humanity. And Captain America leads what appears to be a support group for sad people.
All of that makes the first half-hour of the movie funereal, but the vibe shifts again and again. In fact, this may represent the movies achieving complete Netflixization, since the three-hour “Endgame” feels less like a movie than binge-watching a miniseries. That’s because there are so many characters — including deep cuts from previous films in the Marvelverse — and the filmmakers strain to find stuff for them to do.
The key conflict involves Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., whose light touch remains crucial to the success of these murky-looking films), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) trying to reverse the destruction wrought by Josh Brolin’s Thanos, who is possibly the least charismatic supervillain in history.
Their methods involve a logic-straining time machine that’s something like kimchi: The people who are on board with it will embrace all of its quirks, while the rest of us wish it would never be mentioned again.
It’s an episodic movie, so it shines in parts, rather than as a whole, but there are plenty of good parts. I’d start with the surprise MVP: Rene Russo, bringing warmth, humanity and poignancy to her scenes as Thor’s wise mother. Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is an invaluable presence because, unlike some of his co-stars, he can do two things at once: deep pain and welcome humor.
Brie Larson’s larky Captain Marvel remains the brightest hope for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And the ending is a moving capper to the 22-film series, circling all the way back to 2008’s “Iron Man.”
Actually, I should say the first ending is perfect. There are several more endings, all of which feel appropriate for the characters but begin to wear on a viewer whose bladder is ready to say “uncle.”
To be fair, “Endgame” probably needs those endings to feel satisfying, and the title does warn that it’s all about conclusions. Overall, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have done a splendid job of giving this series of superhero vignettes a shape, something that really hits home when late-arriving crimefighters up the ante in the thrilling climax, much like Beethoven pours it on by adding human voices at the end of his Ninth Symphony.
Overstuffed though it may be, “Endgame” is guided by a sure sense of what audiences want, including clever callbacks to previous movies, surprising character combinations and loopy bits like Evans, confronted with a Captain America doppelgänger, admiring his own spectacular butt. And when it gets to the final finale of this supposedly final “Avengers” movie, there’s a smart little joke waiting for fans, who have been taught to wait through credit sequences for a hint of what’s to come in the next Marvel movie.
There are more Marvels on the way, but “Endgame” concludes with no post-credits sequence, offering hope that those future movies will take off in bold, surprising, new directions.
★★★ out of 4 stars
Rating: PG-13 for violence and strong language.