There is much that needs forgiving in the Russo brothers’ gargantuan final chapter(?) of this particular book of the Marvel Superhero Chronicles, and not just easy stuff like the 160-minute runtime or the overabundance of overlong punch-ups (now with extra energy bolts!) No, there’s also the frequent and annoying matter of Variable Power, i.e. when your bad guy opens the film by beating The Hulk into unconsciousness, pretty much any punch he lands on anyone else from there on out should be lethal. But no, because punching is crucial. And when he possesses a gauntlet outfitted with a stone that lets him alter reality at will, he really shouldn’t have to do any more fighting. (Massive heart attacks all ‘round, and that’s that!) But no, because energy bolts are crucial. (Really, the most interesting conflict comes once our heroes go after his soul.) More seriously, there’s the more frequent problem of undermining dramatic moment after dramatic moment with a patented Marvel-brand quip or gag. Mighty blacksmith to Thor: “You’re about to take the full force of a star. It will kill you.” Thor: “Only if I die!” Smith: “Yes…that’s what ‘killing you’ means.” Hyuck! Let’s get on with the heroic self-sacrifice! But maybe the quips and the punch-ups are there because they have to be, what with the film’s steady parade of failure and even death, right from the outset. Plans fail. Character fails. (Alpha dog Tony Stark squares off with his spiritual bastards, Snarky Doc Strange and Cocky Star Lord, and can’t be super pleased with what he hath wrought. Small wonder the perpetually defeated Bruce Banner has trouble summoning his raging green alter ego, what with all of the other ego on display.) Sometimes, even sacrifices fail. It’s not exactly refreshing, but it is bracing, and even gratifying. And while we’ve heard this bad guy’s patter before — overpopulation is a problem, and what’s needed is someone with the power and will to do something about it — Josh Brolin manages to give Thanos’ evil plan a mad, sad air of nobility. So perhaps forgiveness is possible. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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