“AVENGERS: ENDGAME” — 4 stars — Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Brie Larson, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Rudd, voice of Josh Brolin; PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language); in general release; running time: 181 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — With an epic finale that somehow manages to put last year’s “Infinity War” showdown to shame, “Avengers: Endgame” puts a thrilling exclamation point on more than a decade of story-building.
Wow. This is the kind of movie that reminds you why it’s still worth going out to the movies.
Directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, “Endgame” is Part 2 of the story that opened with “Infinity War,” and the capstone of a saga that arcs back several films before that. As the credits rolled last year, intergalactic purple bad guy Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) had wiped out half the universe's population, including a good portion of the superhero team assembled to stop him.
As “Endgame” begins, the survivors are picking up whatever pieces haven’t been turned to interstellar ash. For the most part, the team left over is the same team that kicked off phase one of the modern Marvel run: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
With a little help from timely newcomers like Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), the squad is able to track down Thanos, who has relocated to a remote planet to retire and reflect on a job well done. But the team's hopes of setting things right are dashed when they discover Thanos has already destroyed the Infinity Stones — the same weapons he used to wipe out half the universe the first time around.
Unfortunately, Earth is anything but the population-controlled paradise Thanos predicted. The Avengers in particular are haunted by their failure, so when Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) shows up with some crazy ideas about time travel, it isn’t long before a last-ditch plan to save the fallen billions falls in place. And as you can imagine, it gets even more enjoyable once it all goes to pot.
To say more would be to say too much. “Endgame” is a fun, pull-out-the-stops kind of film that feels like the cinematic equivalent to dumping out all your toys on the floor and playing with all of them at once (or all the Marvel ones, anyway). The difference being that, like with “Infinity War,” the Russo brothers have somehow found a way to weave all those character threads into a coherent and engaging story that combines plenty of nods to the fans with spectacle for the newcomers.
For a three-hour movie, “Endgame” is anything but bloated, with a wealth of poetic and pleasing moments. It truly represents the best of the Marvel effort — from well-developed characters to exciting action sequences to a fun sense of humor that actually blends a bit better this time around than in “Infinity War,” even though this new film still has its somber moments.
Not everything makes complete sense, and audiences unfamiliar with the mythology should brush up on a half-dozen films beforehand (Megaplex Theatres is helping people out with this by hosting a 59-hour, 22-movie marathon). But a few minor shortcomings don’t change the fact that, especially when paired with “Infinity War,” what the Russo brothers have produced is an achievement we’re unlikely to ever see again. If anything, the biggest problem now is wondering where Marvel could possibly take things from here.
Rating explained: “Avengers: Endgame” is rated PG-13 for considerable CGI-driven action violence, as well as a touch more profanity than the other films.