Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Chadwick Boseman, Brie Larson, Tom Holland, Karen Gillan, Zoe Saldana, Evangeline Lilly, Tessa Thompson, Rene Russo, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Letitia Wright, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Jon Favreau, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Marisa Tomei, Taika Waititi (voice), Angela Bassett, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Sean Gunn, Winston Duke, Linda Cardellini, Maximiliano Hernández, Frank Grillo, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, James D'Arcy, Jacob Batalon, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Redford, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Samuel L. Jackson
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language
Running Time: 181
Date: 04/25/2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Game of Stones

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday in theaters everywhere, Avengers: Endgame directly follows last year's Avengers: Infinity War as well as Ant-Man and the Wasp and this year's Captain Marvel, and 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. And, given that the story involves time travel, Marvel Cinematic Universe fans will want to go back and brush up on certain past titles, specifically 2012's The Avengers, 2013's Thor: The Dark World, and 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy.

But despite all this detail and a head-spinning number of major characters, the new movie by directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely manages to tell a story that's deeply felt and effortlessly clear.

The twenty-second film in the MCU series, the movie uses its three-hour running time well, picking up after what has come to be known as "The Snap," or Thanos (Josh Brolin) using the six Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all living beings in the universe.

Thanos's 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 here 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 very long drinking binge, and Nat dully mans the phones at Avengers headquarters.

Thanks to a happy accident, Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is released from the Quantum Realm and contacts the Avengers with an idea that could set things right again.

This humble description is barely a fraction of what actually happens, and many surprises are in store. The film's flaws are few, chief among them some unfortunate, distracting hairstyle choices, but also a couple of small stumbles in timing, characters lingering offscreen a few beats too long.

It's surprising how long the movie goes on before any big fights take place (aside from a relatively brief early one). 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 some essential items, and both run into very important people from their pasts.

When the big showdown does happen, it does so in the best way, unexpectedly, and on a spectacular scale. And while the Russo brothers began working in the Marvel Universe as camera-shakers, they are now moving with the swift, fluid smoothness that Joss Whedon demonstrated on The Avengers.

The climactic war is more than just a CGI-laden smash-fest. Every little corner of the chaos, every little maneuver and turn, is an important moment in the lives of the characters.

"Lives" is an important word here, as, over the course of twenty-two films in eleven years, and an estimated 50 hours of screen time (minus those lengthy rolls of credits), the Avengers series is like a grand TV show, and the characters have become something more.

They offer us the chance to identify with their flaws but also to find hope in their choices, to understand the secret, best sides of ourselves.

As the MCU looks ahead to more regular-sized, single-character pieces, the colossal, complex yarn that is Avengers: Endgame — and all the pieces that led up to it — could stand among the greatest examples of monumental, marvelous cinematic storytelling.

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