Oh yes indeed. “Avengers: Endgame” brought it.
This film had an insanely difficult job to do — to gracefully and tidily wrap up a 22-movie Marvel Comics cycle with a cast list bigger than the Hulk, and to do so with both poignancy and hold-your-breath action — and it delivers. Three hours evaporated, like … wait, can we talk about the “Avengers: Infinity War” ending now, and those eerily floating ashes? Let’s just say that much was lost by the end of that film, and “Endgame” is about trying desperately to get it back again, by whatever means necessary.
Stop right here (or come back after you’ve seen it) if you don’t want to know anything more about “Endgame” for now; I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers, but I think everyone should, if they can, see the movie as I did: on an enormous screen (Seattle Cinerama, you can avenge me anytime), and with no idea what might happen, or even who it might be happening to.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pull off something tricky here: This movie is both enormous and very, very small. (Maybe it’s the slightly longer running time, but “Endgame” feels less overstuffed than “Infinity War”; it’s got a little more room to move.) The enormous part is the action sequences, which have a roller-coaster zip and whip-fast editing; you don’t always know quite where to look, but it doesn’t really matter. The final 45 minutes, in which the everything-was-leading-up-to-this showdown occurs, are stunning, all the more so because we’ve come to know these characters so well, making this battle anything but faceless.
And the small part is the connections between these characters; these beautiful movie-star superheroes who can, within the mayhem and sleek machinery of this movie, create moments of genuine emotion. There’s a sequence toward the very end when all goes uncannily silent, as if no one could bear to even breathe; something heartbreaking happens and you sense that everyone around you, on screen and off, is holding perfectly still, hoping against hope that maybe this isn’t happening, that we’ll get to exhale.
But while “Endgame” will definitely get the tear ducts working (there was loud sniffling at the press preview I attended, and I’ll admit to getting a tad misty myself), it also thoroughly delivers on the most important comic-book component: fun. This crew is, as always, a kick to hang with: Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, who’s let himself go a bit since we last saw him, wanders through the movie scratching his belly and stealing every scene. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk remains cheerfully dorky. Robert Downey Jr., whose Tony Stark briefly turns into a homebody in a dad cardigan before being drawn back into Avenger-ing, is a sly joy. And a scene in which a handful of superheroes discuss — and dismiss — time-travel movies is pure pleasure.
As is inevitable with a cast of characters this big, a few seem to get short shrift. (I would happily watch an entire movie of just Taika Waititi’s cheerfully lumbering Korg, but I will put my dream away. For now.) But much of “Endgame’s” fun is the brief appearances of favorite characters from movies past — the “oh look, it’s him!” moments. And there’s a long, elegiac shot near the end that’s extraordinarily moving; a sort of slow roll call of the characters, each lost in thought. It’s a reminder of the journey they, and we, have been on together; a quiet send-off for each of them.
“That’s the hero gig,” a beloved character wisely tells us. “Part of the journey is the end.”
★★★½ “Avengers: Endgame,” with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Brie Larson, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Brolin, Jon Favreau, Benedict Wong, Tessa Thompson. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, from a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. 182 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language. Opens April 25 at multiple theaters.