Like a school of salmon competing in the Tour de France, initial critical responses to Avengers: Endgame are quasi-impossible and rather useless. Pinky-sworn to avoid spoilers, our substantive discussion is limited to vague implications and general overviews. Is it good? It is! Does it have issues? A few, yeah. Is it ultimately a satisfying capstone to a decade of uniquely interwoven, long-form narrative fiction? Yep! Good talk.

The consensus of reasonable spoilerphobes is that we can at least talk about what is shown in the trailers. In the wake of Thanos (Josh Brolin) snap-crackling half of the universe’s pops, the surviving Avengers are seeking a way to undiddly-do the mass extinction that he done did. Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Ant Man (Paul Rudd), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Rocket Raccoon (Bradely Cooper), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and, of course, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) embark on a wholly expected plan enacted in somewhat unexpected fashion.

The inevitable impermanence of Avengers: Infinity War was infinitely frustrating. Mourning fictional characters is a good thing; it’s proof that modern life hasn’t euthanized your empathy. However, knowing Avengers: The Quest for the Undo Button was forthcoming made that grief feel more like a prank. Thankfully, the emotional juke doesn’t ruin the impact of Endgame’s final act. Its conclusion is as commendable a blend of fan service and thoughtful storytelling as can be expected from a film that would have done a billion dollars opening weekend, even if it ended with Thanos’s death via whoopee cushion.

The first hour is basically a slim 20 minutes of worthwhile content stuffed inside an XXXL emo band shirt; however, once the Avengers get to avengin’, the remainder is chockful of a cleverness largely absent from Infinity War. The conceit allows directors Anthony and Joe Russo to pay explicit homage to a decade-worth of superhero cinema. Weaponized nostalgia renders viewers powerless to its charms, which include full-on running gags instead of just one-liners or RDJ and Rudd riffs.

The most irksome pop foul lands in spoiler territory, so it won’t be criticized in detail here. It is a lazy, repetitive, reductive plot point that falls under an umbrella of comic book storytelling’s most loathsome trope. As irritating as it is when it initially happens, the final moments pick the scab and re-expose the wound. That being spoiler-free-said, The Russos get far more right than wrong. Blissful inside jokes to loyal Marvel zombies mix with cheeseball “insert applause here” moments that all land on fists and knees, superhero style.

Some naysayers have suggested that the Marvel dominance of this cinematic age will feel goofy years from now. That opinion is wholly insane. A generation has grown up with these films as their major cultural spinal column. They will no more outgrow them than our bodies shed vertebrae. Even the harshest critique must acknowledge that a studio managed to tell a coherent story reliant on a connection to characters introduced across nearly two dozen films. You don’t have to like it, but that is a pop art masterpiece of unparalleled sophistication.

Grade = A-

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