“Avengers: Endgame, ” directly following 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and this year’s “Captain Marvel,” provides a fitting final chapter to an astonishing series.
Important elements from the latter two are essential to driving home the story begun in “Infinity War.” Given that it involves time travel, Marvel Cinematic Universe fans will want to brush up on past titles, specifically 2012’s “The Avengers,” 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World” and 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Despite the many details and head-spinning number of major characters, the new movie directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely tells a story that’s deeply felt and effortlessly clear.
The 22nd film in the MCU series uses its three-hour running time well, picking up after “The Snap,” or Thanos (Josh Brolin) using the six Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all living beings in the universe.
Thanos’ vision of a new paradise is replaced by a reality of sorrow, emptiness and loss. Captain America (Chris Evans) even leads a group therapy session to try to help.
Aside from Cap, the main roll call includes Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Nebula (Karen Gillan).
Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is here, too, sometimes. But she has an entire universe to look after.
Five years pass. Tony has a little girl, Barton rampages around the world, killing bad guys, Thor has gone on a long drinking binge, and Nat dully mans the phones at Avengers headquarters.
Thanks to a happy accident, Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), is released from the Quantum Realm and contacts the Avengers with an idea that could set things right again.
The above description is barely a fraction of what happens, and many surprises are in store. The film’s few flaws include some unfortunate, distracting hairstyle choices and small stumbles in timing, characters lingering a few beats too long.
Surprisingly, the movie has just one relatively brief big fight early, and goes on awhile before another. It allows characters time to adjust, grieve and react to the devastation.
Scott, for example, doesn’t dash straight to the Avengers. He takes a few scenes to get his head straight and to visit his now shockingly grown-up daughter.
Even more exciting scenes are built on character, as when Tony and Cap travel back in time to grab essential items and run into important people from their pasts.
When the big showdown does happen, it’s in the best way, unexpectedly and on a spectacular scale. The Russo brothers, who began working in the Marvel Universe as camera-shakers, are now moving with the swift smoothness Joss Whedon demonstrated on “The Avengers.”
The climactic war is more than just a CGI-laden smash-fest. Every corner of the chaos, every maneuver and turn, represent an important moment in the lives of the characters.
Over the course of 22 movies in 11 years, and an estimated 50 hours of screen time (minus lengthy credits), the Avengers series is like a grand TV show with beloved characters that not only offer us the chance to identify with their flaws, but to find hope in their choices — and to understand the secret, best sides of ourselves.
As the MCU looks ahead to more single-character pieces, the colossal, complex yarn that is “Avengers: Endgame” — and the pieces that led up to it— could stand among the greatest examples of monumental, marvelous cinematic storytelling.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Running time: 3 hours, 1 minute