Final Fight

The Marvel Universe completes its cycle in sprawling fashion

Like many others at the end of a life of violence, the would-be demiurge Thanos has retired to the country. His new planet looks like upcountry Maui. Dissolving half of all life was a tough job, but now he’s hung up his armor to rust, a scarecrow in his vegetable garden. Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) is boiling himself a meal of outer-space taro root, when suddenly, through his roof bursts a living blast of light that was once known as Carol Danvers.

In the early scenes of Avengers: Endgame—indeed, throughout the entire movie—you get what was ordered: Thanos, embodying every granny-starving politician who ever moaned about austerity, gets barbecued and body-slammed by several of Earth’s mightiest heroes. The ingenuity here is that this attack comes at the beginning of the film, not the end. The problem of the so-called ‘Infinity Stones’ proves to be a difficult anti-rapture, whose first step is triggered by the paws of a storage-room rat scuttling across the dashboard of an abandoned van.

This massive cycle is a feat of cinematic engineering for which there is no parallel. Completing it, the Russo Brothers use their three hours not just for the usual battle royales, last stands and self-sacrifice, but also to capture the mood of a grieving Earth. As Ant-Man, the least respected member of the team, Paul Rudd does the great old Ebenezer Scrooge at the graveside scene, seeing his name on a cenotaph to “the Vanished” in Golden Gate Park. Survivors have moved on—Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has also resettled in the country with wife Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and child; Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, no longer bifurcated, but a scholarly Hulk with glasses, signs autographs for the kids who tug his sleeve.

In heading off Thanos at the pass, Stark gets to see his father one last time. Thor—who reacted to the extermination of half the universe by becoming a beer-bellied seaside town slouch—visits his mother on Asgard once more. (Sizing up her son’s Dude Lubowski look, Rene Russo’s Frigga says, “The future hasn’t been kind.”) Intriguing, this question of kindness mirrors whether noble yet mild Captain America (Chris Evans) regards our present in the same way we film watchers regard the past: as a nice place to visit, but maybe not a nice place to live.

Avengers: Endgame didn’t seem a moment too long, and there wasn’t an awkward performance among its cast. The comedy comes from the wonderfully sarcastic Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper). As the end approaches, Thanos shows the signs of ultimate defeat by using the villainous exclamation point when he talks. (“The Avengers! Unruly wretches!”)

Avengers: Endgame has as much faith in quietness as in the noise of mile-long spaceships. For something that ends up nigh-Armageddon, there are a lot of scenes around lakes, scenes of fathers and daughters, quiet tearful farewells and the trilling of birds.

‘Avengers: Endgame’ is playing everywhere.

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