Avengers: Endgame is the cataclysmic conclusion to 11 years and 22 Marvel movies, and the stakes have never been higher for Earth’s mightiest heroes as they make a desperate last stand against genocidal alien warlord Thanos (Josh Brolin).
Assembling Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), the movie smashed Australia’s first-day pre-sales records and will likely be the year’s biggest hit globally.
But does it actually stick the landing? Is it worth three hours of your life?
Neither the best nor the worst of times in the franchise, it’s a bit like a sugar rush. Endgame delivers both epics highs and a following crash that leaves you feeling oddly empty.
Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo again work from a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
They successfully navigated precursor Infinity War by tying the emotional bonds between superheroes like Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora while picking at the wound festering between Captain America and Iron Man.
This time, the Russos can’t quite get the balance right.
Endgame ticks a stack of boxes, from a mammoth battle to corny resolution, but doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts.
Set five years after the events of Infinity War, the movie sees the Earth in mournful ruin after the finger snap that killed half the planet and trillions more across the universe.
The first of three long hours focuses, by necessity, on what was lost.
An early scene with Captain America guiding a survivors’ support group resonates, but it’s the last time we get any sense of the impact on ordinary civilians.
Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye inexplicably sat out the last death match and paid the ultimate price, with his entire clan wiped. That this unhinges him and sparks a vigilante murder spree is an interesting moment for a dull character, but he unconvincingly snaps out of it pretty fast.
Hemsworth once again brings comedic gold, ably assisted by Tessa Thompson’s ass-kicking Valkyrie, but even he is a little muted by an extended joke that sees him far from match-fit, hitting the bottle and the couch to play Fortnite.
With nowhere near enough Asgardian/Guardians crossover, Karen Gillan’s Nebula has the most interesting arc as her tortured relationship with her abusive father Thanos and conflicted sister Gamora comes to a severed head.
Fans guesstimated countless ways to undo what Thanos wrought, and the second act finally allows the good guys to have a little fun.
But the goofy possibilities of a solution littered with geek movie references never quite hits the high notes.
Iron Man and Cap get a couple of cute beats, but after a while all the previous instalment nods are dizzying. Endgame requires major homework for casual viewers.
We’re so spoiled by the visceral grunt of TV behemoths like Game of Thrones that the final throw-down feels a little anticlimactic, but there is a show-stopping ‘Yass queens’ moment when Larson’s recently recruited Captain Marvel forms a mighty female phalanx with Valkyrie, Nebula, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and company.
Taking the fight direct to the big purple meanie’s dubious-looking chin and tendency to mansplain, it’s magnificent, but only serves to underline how poorly women have been served by Marvel.
So far, there’s been only one female-driven movie. Also sidelined in Endgame? The game-changing Black Panther brigade.
While Endgame pulls off a few neat surprises and exacts a heavy price, including leaving at least a couple of key players inexplicably dead given the slate of upcoming films and TV series, it’s not quite the grand hurrah the heroes deserved.
Hopefully clearing the slate a touch and introducing a next generation will make room for a more excitingly diverse future.