Avengers: Endgame

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Good news for humanity, and for the significant fraction of it that’s been following the exploits of the Avengers and their allies in twenty-one Marvel movies over the course of the past 11 years. The people of this planet have a brightening future, even after the stunning setback they suffered a year ago. That came at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” when the peerlessly evil Thanos turned half of them—half of us—to dust with a snap of his fingers. Better news still, the climactic episode, “Avengers: Endgame”, succeeds at its daunting task: summing up an epic struggle with bedazzling action; a style that progresses, with a few lapses, from the elegiac through the episodic to the symphonic, and with more humor, zest and feeling—the real, heartfelt stuff—than you’d dare to expect from what is, after all, an immense industrial enterprise. A strong sense of loss dominates the early scenes. Thanos did what he threatened to do and the Avengers failed to stop him. And they lost cherished friends in the process—dust to dust goes for comic book heroes too. These Marvel movies have been so much about friendship, and friends coming together into a vast extended family, that the personal stakes seem as urgent as the planetary stakes, which are not exactly trivial. It’s easy to share that feeling of family because the debuts of its most prominent members remain vivid to this day: Robert Downey Jr.’s startlingly smart Tony Stark, aka Iron Man; Chris Evans’s effortlessly likable Steve Rogers/Captain America, the team’s natural leader, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, endearing despite some ragged material and the actor’s seemingly limited dramatic range. (Good news on that count too; he’s gotten a lot better.) Now they and their teammates have come together for one last effort, and the consequences are entirely satisfying, occasionally surprising and never—well, hardly ever—less than interesting, even though the film, in exchange for its favors, requires three hours plus an extra minute of your life. These are difficult times for big-screen entertainment. As the medium declines, authentic spectacles threaten too become a thing of the fabled past. All the more reason, then, to cherish what Marvel has achieved. They’ve kept the faith by smartening up most of their films, not dumbing them down, though befuddling stumbles have occurred; by banking on, and raking in profits from, the audience’s appetite for surprise, its capacity for complexity. When the final battle comes at the end of “Avengers: Endgame”, it’s certainly unwieldy—every Marvel character you can think of from the past decade shows up for one more assault on cosmic evil—but thrilling all the same, and followed by a delicate coda. So many stories. So many adventures. So much to sort out before the next cycle starts.