A triumph of sorts. Not of acting: with some notable exceptions — a beer-bellied, tragicomic Chris Hemsworth as Thor among them — a feeling of exhaustion has crept in with a number of the principals over the 10 or so years since Iron Man set this gargantuan, quippy super-opera in motion. Nor of dialogue: not even Don Cheadle can deliver a line like “We are all about that superhero life,” and the little speeches tend to fall flat, to the point where the film gets self-conscious about them. Nor of direction: for the first hour or so, the Russo brothers rely heavily on your good will toward the superfolk who remain in the wake of “blue meanie” Thanos’ halving of the universe’s population, and the relentless stream of fan service in the two hours that follow may leave even the truest believer feeling milked. But a triumph of feeling: of itches scratched, of sorrows and angers eased, even of longings fulfilled. A triumph of theme: the team’s [SPOILER ALERT?] time-travel gambit hammers home the Why We Fight virtues of home and hearth, of Mom and Dad and the kids. And above all, a triumph of plotting: thread after narrative thread tied off in neat and sometimes unexpected (and unexpectedly satisfying) fashion. The MCU will go on and on, but this chapter — and the American pragmatism vs. American ideals bromance that drove it — have well and truly come to their “Excelsior! Nuff said!” moment. (2019) — Matthew Lickona
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