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Is there any way to grade Avengers: Endgame except on a curve? Nothing on the Avengers franchise’s scale—21 films featuring a rotating cast of dozens of interconnected main characters—had ever been attempted before. So the only fair way to judge the finale is how well it merges all the highways, byways, and weird alleyways (ahem, Thor: Ragnarok) before reaching its ultimate destination. On that score you’d have to say it succeeds wildly.
Certainly, the scheme the survivors from Infinity War cook up to reverse what the uber-environmentalist Thanos wrought in wiping out half the universe’s population is undeniably clichéd and convoluted. Nonetheless, it allows everything—and everyone—that has come before to count for something.
The biggest box Endgame needed to check was to do justice to the array of personalities that audiences have come to love. Even given the three-hour runtime, its success in giving all of them their due is no mean feat. Half the fun is seeing how the studio has managed to discover and sharpen the unique appeal of superheroes such as Thor and the Hulk over time.
While the newcomers play a role, it’s the old guard and the feuds and friendships they’ve built over the past 11 years that count the most. It’s no secret fans are going to be saying goodbye to some old friends here, and they’re allowed to do so in ways that are unexpected yet perfectly appropriate.
If there’s one big disappointment (besides a fair amount of PG-13 language and a slight amount of identity politicking), it’s that after debating so many big ideas throughout the films—such as isolationism vs. national interests (Black Panther) and freedom vs. security (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Endgame doesn’t make much effort at offering a comprehensive theme for the entire Avengers arc. But then again, maybe seeing the characters that argued over those ideas come together and sacrifice for something greater is a big enough idea for this final send-off.