‘Avengers: Endgame’ is very entertaining, but a challenge for filmmakers to make great

PG-13:  Sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.
Playing at: Alamo Drafthouse, Premiere Cinemas (includes IMAX and D-Box auditoriums), Tinseltown 17 (includes XD auditorium), Movies 16 (includes XD auditorium) and Stars & Stripes Dive-In.
Credits: Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely; based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the comic book by Jim Starlin. Original music by Alan Silvestri. Cinematography by Trent Opaloch. Edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt. Production design by Charles Wood. Set direction by Leslie Pope. Costumes designed by Judianna Makovsky.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man; Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America; Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk; Chris Hemsworth as Thor;  Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow;  Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye/Ronin; Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine; Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant Man; Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange; Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther; Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel; Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man; Karen Gillan as Nebula; Zoe Saldana as Gamora; Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne/The Wasp; Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie; Rene Russo as Frigga; Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch; Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon; Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier; Tom Hiddleston as Loki; Danai Gurira as Okoye; Benedict Wong as Wong; Pom Klementieff as Mantis; Dave Bautista as Drax; Leticia Wright as Shuri; John Slattery as Howard Stark; Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One; Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter; Vin Diesel as Groot (voice); Bradley Cooper as Rocket (voice); Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts; Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star Lord; Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury; and Josh Brolin as Thanos.

Bill’s rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite expectations, “Avengers: Endgame” is not the very best within the 22-film series kicked off by the release of “Iron Man” in May 2008. Although sure, there was every reason for fans to want directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and of course screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, to deliver a more perfect movie.

Then again, consider the challenges they all faced.

Possessing the infinity stones which were referenced at points throughout the first chapters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), villain Thanos  – just last year in “Avengers: Infinity War” – was able to wipe out half of all of Earth’s life forms with a finger snap.

Shocked Marvel fans could not stop tears from flowing as favorite characters slowly were reduced to dust in the wind. Some of those characters already have sequels (for sure, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “Black Panther II”) with release dates, so the natural assumption is the few surviving Avengers will somehow figure out a way to reverse Thanos’ verdict.

But how?

The writers not only needed to generate the possibility of a miracle, but also make it believable. No easy feat.

Even with a running time of three hours and 58 seconds – which happily zips by in a flash – how could these filmmakers bring back every Marvel hero without clogging up the pacing, destroying any flow?

And in short, what methods would filmmakers take that could provide a sense of closure for many characters sharing a bond in the 22-film MCU, while at the same time letting fans know the door remains open for further Marvel adventures and characters?

The writers and directors also have come to both know and care about these characters, meaning they also accept sacrifices all would be willing to accept.

Still, that’s a lot to keep in mind before writing even the first draft for “Avengers: Endgame.”

To their credit, producer Kevin Feige and his filmmakers pull it off with a closing sequel that balances action with conversation and tears with huge smiles.

The desire to keep my review as spoiler-free as possible is the only reason I am not more specific about how characters in “Endgame” make references to the dialogue, people and happenings in the prior 21 films.

Yet perhaps the most important achievements by the Russo brothers are not those leading to, and including, another immense battle between good and evil, the latter being seemingly unstoppable forces of Thanos. Rather, not enough can be said about the time devoted to certain, not all,  superheroes, as human beings.

Consider an expression of fear and feelings as one is able to talk with a mother, while another can only express a broken heart by staring, silently and unseen, through a window at a still living memory.

Think, too, of “Infinity War” survivor Tony Stark not as Iron Man, but rather a dad recognizing his second chance when he tucks his little girl in for the night and she startles him by saying, “I love you 3,000.”

That may be the best line in a movie with many terrific one-liners.

Robert Downey Jr. never has been better as a man torn between commitment to family – to the world – and to friends, unwilling to put on the suit again unless he can be promised the present. Who could blame him? Keep in mind he also looks upon Peter Parker’s Spider Man (Tom Holland) as one would a son.

Any plan also must be preceded by olive branches, by angry friends making up, with trust aiding healing.

Marvel opened itself up to story revelations when Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd), who spent the Infinity War apparently lost within the Cosmic Realm, shows up in one of the film’s trailers.

Lang – whose name is on the list of The Vanished – is knocking on the door of the Avengers’ outpost years after the finger snap. It appears obvious he must play a major role in the “whatever it takes” plan to right wrongs, and that’s no spoiler.

But he’s going to need help from at least a couple Avengers with brighter minds, scientists Tony Stark/Iron Man and Bruce Banner/Hulk.

Mind you, in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Hulk suffered an early beating by Thanos and thereafter cried out, “No,” each time he was asked to re-join the fight.

Years have passed since the lethal finger snap. Has Thanos hidden, or worse, destroyed the all-important infinity stones? For that matter, where the is Thanos? How can survivors locate him and the stones?

With Lang returning from the Quantum Realm, it seems likely someone may question whether the Realm can be re-entered with the intention of finding the stones.

The problem is there never has been a time-travel movie that could not be picked apart by logic. In fact, one of the funnier moments finds several Avengers mentioning all the time-travel movies they’ve seen and another stating, “So you’re saying that ‘Back to the Future’ was (BS)?”

Just hilarious.

There are plot holes Markus and McFeely cannot possibly explain in “Avengers: Endgame.” Such holes, or questions, often walk hand-in-hand in fantasy films, whether good or bad. Often, the holes in the story are so glaring that entertainment value suffers.

But producer Feige and hand-picked directors Joe and Anthony Russo skillfully set multiple scenes via relationships maintained by this Avengers family. They reveal how characters deal with survivor’s guilt – one reduced to beer and video games, another satisfied to pose for selfies, one urging people in small meetings to accept their losses and move on and another evening the perceived score by killing scores of murderers in other lands.

But things change and even the latter is frightened that a friend might offer him hope.

Of course, Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) – summoned at the last possible second by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and given a background movie of her own – reminds the Avengers of a big difference in their new plan. As she put it, “You didn’t have me last time.”

One has to admire Larson’s confidence throughout. Bradley Cooper also has some funny bits as the voice of Rocket.

A pair of Avengers trying to recover the Soul Stone will touch viewers deeply when competing for the privilege. Evans impresses in his more serious moments, but comic relief revolving around Captain America’s rear end really pays no dividends. On the other hand, there is a wonderful dramatic moment when a character tells Thanos, “You took everything from me” – while Thanos, preparing to take another life, replies. “I don’t even know who you are.”

Josh Brolin is absolutely excellent as Thanos, taking rank as one of cinema’s ultimate villains.

An extended battle sequence, while hardly the equal of CGI-heavy sequences in “The Lord of the Rings,” is bound to please MCU fans as a family of familiar characters once again step forward and defy odds – with no guarantees. Those who have followed the Marvel Comic Universe have grown used to victory balanced by loss and yet, after all this time, may also witness the passing of more than one crown.

“Avengers: Endgame” delivers surprises, sadness and laughter and a necessary sense of closure. Filmmakers juggle all these aspects, while making fans set aside any possible plot questions.

So while this is not the best “Avengers” movie, it quite likely is the best possible “Endgame” that fans could have hoped to receive.

At the same time, they will remain excited about seeing characters in future projects from the MCU, which, let’s face it, is not going anywhere.

Gage’s rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since “Iron Man” arrived in 2008, Marvel set a new course for superhero movies and raised the bar for quality. True, it’s bittersweet to watch “Avengers: Endgane” and see much of the saga end.

But parts of the film are disappointing.

The movie is three hours long, but does not feel like it. This is in no small part due to the many fun action sequences providing smiles throughout. In fact, I loved the film’s ability to express humor.

The acting, for the most part, is great, especially Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth reprising roles as Iron Man/Tony Stark, Captain America/Steve Rogers and Thor, respectively. They play their parts so well, continuing the characters introduced in years past.

Almost the entire cast shines, even the newest character, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel.

The aforementioned characters revealed the most thought; they were consistently entertaining, with the best dialogues. Hawkeye/Clint Barton, played by Jeremy Renner, and Natasha Romanov/Black Widow, played by Scarlet Johansson, also displayed powerful moments.

That said, I was disappointed in the Hulk/Bruce Banner. This really had nothing to do with Mark Ruffalo’s acting. But the Hulk was only good for a couple of laughs.

The plot, while intriguing, has flaws. Without spoiling the movie, I feel the story introduced a strong concept, but was not consistently executed. Most will not understand certain aspects of the story; even as the film ends, there are too many unanswered questions.

Plus, I found the final half hour disappointing. The ending contradicted much that preceded it. As a result, too much felt forced. I was hoping for much more from the ending of “Avengers: Endgame.”

Longtime fans of the 22 Marvel Comic Universe movies are going to love “Avengers: Endgame” with all of their collective hearts. I’ve no problem with that.

While I cannot say for certain what happens next for the MCU, I’m glad I was able to take this 11-year, 22-movie ride offered by Marvel.