Avengers: Endgame

 

            Bad news and good news.  First, the bad news:  it's way too long.  Yes, I know, they had a lot of story to tell, and a bunch of characters sharing screen time, but any movie that lasts three hours either needs an intermission or a better editor.

            It also takes a while to get going.  The first part is sad to the point of morose, and the characters act like they're all depressed, which they are, but that doesn't make them any fun to be around.  And it sure doesn't make them superheroes.  It seems the bad guy, Thanos (a hulking caricature of Josh Brolin), got the better of them, and they all seem kind of de-energized back in the clubhouse.  It doesn't even help to get their revenge on Thanos, because, true to his name (Greek for “death”), he's managed to kill off half the world's population, in the hopes that the other half could then have the room to thrive and prosper.

            But the ensuing chaos and devastation and grief have proven that theory entirely wrong.  The gathered good guys finally get an idea how to go forward---by traveling back in time.  Yes, we all know that time travel scenarios are fraught with logical difficulty.  They even make reference to that here, in previous films that have featured time travel, and supposedly gotten it wrong.  But these guys are going to get it right because they need a do-over so they can save literally half the world.  Besides, they have reinforcements this time that they didn't have before, in the personas of superheroes who have premiered on the big screen since then (proving that the comic book culture is cumulative, and enduring).

            There are many A-list actors who've bet their reputations on this very popular brand of pulp fantasy, but the good news is that they somehow make their personas believable, even with the funky costumes and the mind-bending abilities.  We get just enough introduction to them all to keep them (mostly) straight for the climactic battle scene at the end, which alternates between resembling a medieval melee with magic and CGI sci-fi technology, but don't worry, parents, there isn't a lot of blood and gore.  It's really more about guts and teamwork, because it takes all the superheroes working together to finally bring down Thanos, and fittingly, the mortal blow is a self-sacrificial one, which almost gives it religious overtones.

            Yes, there's still some happily ever after here, but things will never quite be the same in subsequent comic book movie venues, because we now have one or two fewer characters inhabiting the pantheon.  But judging by the un-self-conscious cheering from the audience on opening night, this movie will do well at the box office, despite its many insider subplots.  Fantasy is alive and well on the big screen.  And it's making big bucks for the movie industry, which means, you guessed it, “Endgame” is not the last word, but is instead the closing of one chapter in order to to begin another.  Which superhero would you rather be?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association