“Avengers: Endgame” is the 22nd entry in the long-running Marvel Studios superhero saga. It’s also the last of the “Avengers” movies, and you can tell because, if you wait through the voluminous end credits, you will notice that the movie just ... ends. No teaser for a sequel.
It’s been well publicized that “Endgame” is the last of the line, so I’m not spoiling anything here. But writing at any length about this 181-minute movie without detonating a minefield of spoiler alerts is beyond my capabilities, plus I wouldn’t want to do that anyway. So I’ll just sketch the premise outlined in its first 15 minutes or so.
At the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” Mad Titan Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) acquired the six Infinity Stones that allowed him to wipe out half the universe, including a swath of Avengers. (Their rapid dissolution into dust heaps was the movie’s most memorable visual effect.) Five years later, the surviving squad is a somnolent bunch licking their wounds until Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) rouses the troops to take a last stand against Thanos, who is fond of saying things like “I am inevitable.”
It was inevitable, of course, that this movie, which is projected to make more than a billion dollars worldwide, would get made. Given the fact that it’s essentially a large-scale contraption for Marvel fanatics, it does the job well enough. But Marvel veterans Joe and Anthony Russo, who co-directed, and their screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, are not especially dynamic crasftsmen. Even though there are moments when the emotional connections between the Avengers hit home, for the most part the film is a moderately well-paced action comic saga with a sluggish third act. All the talk about these Marvel movies being the modern-day equivalent of Homeric epics and Greek mythology may indeed be true, but I don’t think “Avengers: Endgame” will ever be compared to “The Iliad.”
Despite all the whiz-bang CGI effects, some more special than others, the moments I most appreciated in “Endgame” were the small-scale comic touches: a dumpy-looking Thor (Chris Hemsworth) trying to shake his sloth and return to glory; Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) being antsy; Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) trying to be kinder and gentler. Best of all is Robert Downey Jr. Amid all the hardware, he alone in the Marvel series has consistently given top-notch performances. His work in “Endgame” is extraordinarily moving and makes me wish yet again that this great actor would on occasion see fit to be great in a movie that doesn’t require him to fill out a franchise. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.)