Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benedict Cumberpatch, Benedict Wong, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Tom Hiddleston, Evangeline Lily, Robert Redford, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rene Russo, Tilda Swinton, Angela Bassett, Marisa Tomei, William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Based on “The Avengers” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Cinematography by Trent Opaloch

Edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt

Music by Alan Silvestri

“Avengers: Endgame: is big, epic, sweeping, emotional, dramatic, enjoyable, funny at times, and an overall entertaining movie—but the film comes with a catch, a downfall, some notable negative aspects, and some decidedly downer and depressing elements that, in the endgame, bring down the overall film.

Scores of big-budget line items, actors, characters, plot lines, story lines, crew, character developments, visual effects and nostalgic nods to the past lift up “Endgame,” but those consistently nagging depressing, downer, negative elements do contribute to bring the film down quite a few notches from what it could have been. Those negative story, plot and script elements cannot be revealed because they would be spoilers, but they do need to be mentioned in general–because they do bring down the overall enjoyment aspects of the film.

“Endgame” shows once again that despite loading up a movie with big levels of, well, everything, some questionable and flat-out unnecessary parts of the basic script, story, plot and character development can just simply end up negating all of the surrounding bigness. All it took to fix this movie to make it truly great–which it isn’t, in several respects–was a few changes to the story and the plot in the main script with a pen or pencil–that’s all it would have taken.

Folks should still head out and go see “Endgame” in the theaters, for sure—the movie is recommended–but people should also go into the theaters knowing that it’s not the great, epic, classic game-ender that most Marvel, comic book, super hero, fantasy and science fiction fans were hoping for with this particular movie, in this particular context. There will be many satisfactory moments–but, as noted, there will also be quite a few notable unsatisfactory moments, too.

This situation can only provide some hope that the next Marvel movie will be another better, stronger, more happy, more positive and more fulfilling comic book super hero, fantasy and science fiction film, and the entire series will get back on track yet again.

“Endgame” suffers from the same downer depressing elements that kept down its predecessor and immediate storyline plot movie, 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” And “Infinity War’s” downer elements were nothing less than a movie ending with the villain, Thanos, finally collecting all six of the infinity stones, snapping his fingers—and immediately killing half of the living things on planet Earth—including many of Marvel’s most beloved superhero characters. Now, no one, of course, thought that these characters—and half of the world’s population—would remain dead, but even with that in the back of everyone’s minds, it was still quite the dark, somber, morbid—and depressing—way to end a comic book superhero movie.

You’d think the comic book and superhero movie world would have gotten over the comic book realm’s Dark Ages with Christopher Nolan’s beautifully-made—but still depressingly dark and depressing—Batman trilogy (yes, yes, that’s DC, not Marvel—we know!) or even after Tim Burton’s crazily dark Batman movies years ago. But for some reason, filmmakers—producers, directors and writers—continue to drench their comic book and superhero movies with darkness—and it simply doesn’t have to be that way. These are, more than anything, comic book characters, comic book movies, and a comic book realm, or, as Marvel and Disney arrogantly pegged their whopping twenty-two comic book movies since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They should, all of them, be light, optimistic, positive, and full of forward-thinking, upbeat messages. Why, one asks? Is it being Pollyanna-ish or viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, being sentimental, being sensitive, being overly optimistic, or being naïve to want positivity and happy endings with comic book movies? No—it’s none of those things. It’s the fact that these are comics, characters, stories and heroes who are, essentially, in their purest forms, meant to be heroes to children, young-at-heart adults, and to everyone else. Heroes. Yes, the point’s well taken that even heroes and superheroes have their dark sides—yes, we know that. And there’s nothing wrong with showing everyone’s dark sides. The problem is when the dark side takes over the bright side and overwhelms everything in its path—that darkness, again, just doesn’t fit with what are, simply and in the end, comic book movies.

This is why the best movies in the twenty-two-film Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, which started with “Iron Man” in 2008, have been the lightest and brightest, movies such as the excellent, instantly-classic “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Ant-Man,” “Doctor Strange,” Thor: Ragnarok,” “Captain America: Civil War” and “Captain Marvel.” These films maintained their collective senses of humor and worked against succumbing to the dark side. Humor and rousing moments and likeable characters and a general, welcome atmosphere of true comic book fun lifted up these particular films. Meanwhile, several others in the MCU canon were indeed too dark, or too somber, and audiences generally agreed—while every one of these twenty-two films have been a hit at the box office, there were indeed complaints from fans that perhaps some of the filmmakers were somewhat losing track of what these movies should be or should register to filmgoers.

Well, for some reason the officials at Marvel and Disney, which owns Marvel, didn’t listen too closely with “Infinity War” and now “Endgame.” While both are big and sprawling and worth seeing up on the screen, there is that over-riding darkness casting literal clouds of doom over everything. Again, this is fine to a degree in all comic book and superhero movies, but things tend to get too dark—well, once again, the films drift away from their core essence.

“Endgame” tells a story that picks up soon after Thanos has destroyed half of the universe—the real universe. It seems that Thanos, in all his devious, psycho, crazed glory of achieving what he and his armies of darkness see as a “correction” to the path of the universe—that crazed correction being destroying, or killing, half the world’s population—has retreated in the wake of his victory and escaped to a secluded lair. The remaining living Avengers—still a generally likeable bunch after all these years—that is, when they’re not squabbling and bickering amongst each other like little kids or like jealous, pseudo-macho numbskulls—are tasked with tracking down Thanos, retrieving the infinity stones, and, possibly, hopefully, reversing what Thanos has done and getting half of the world’s population back to the land of the living.

That’s the general storyline, and it’s a good one. The general idea of wondering just how the remaining Avengers would save the universe and possibly reverse and correct what Thanos has done has been, of course, a much-discussed topic during all of the past year, with theories floated from the absurd, but hilarious, to some that were pretty good and well-thought-out. As it turns out, thanks to some James Bond-like espionage and cover-up tactics from the producers, directors and writers—which apparently, according to some stories, included keeping entire batches of the screenplay from most of the cast—not too many have actually found out “Endgame’s” actual story and plot lines before the scheduled release date of Friday, April 26, 2019. And that’s a good thing—and nothing regarding what specifically occurs in the movie will be revealed here. Spoiling the movie-going experience is not a good thing.

The basic story and plot lines are good regarding just how the Avengers go about their business of defeating Thanos. It’s clever, it’s fun, it’s suspenseful, and the basic over-arching storyline keeps the movie going at a good, quick pace—despite the movie’s three-hour running time. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo are indeed able to move “Endgame” along for most of those three hours at a well-timed, well-paced, well-edited and well-directed high level of energy. No matter what the movie, to keep audiences engaged for three hours is a movie-going victory, and the Russos have succeeded in keeping “Endgame” interesting and engaging for those three thrill-filled hours.

However, it’s what writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely did with several scenes that brings down the overall film, and it’s a shame. In the end of the game, there was really no reason for what they did with these story and plot points. Characters seem to be chastised or punished for—what? Being happy? Being a hero? Winning? Being victorious? A negative message is sent when characters appear to be punished for, well, doing good, enjoying life or being victorious.

But, meanwhile, in the rest of the movie, audiences will enjoy watching the main remaining living Avengers go about their main task of trying to retrieve those damned infinity stones and trying to restore things to the way that they were before, meaning, bring back to life half of the world’s population—and many of Marvel’s most well-loved characters, to boot. Markus, McFeely and the Russos succeed on many levels with giving the audiences what they want and need—humor—a generous amount of humor; funny banter—a staple of these films, and there’s plenty of that between the Avengers, although, as noted, the snipping and bickering between Robert Downey’s Tony Stark and Chris Evans’ Captain America is a bit tiresome; fights—tons of fights, of course; action and adventure—although a huge end fight somehow falls flat, seems rushed and doesn’t quite register as it should; in-jokes—some quite good ones here and there; self-loathing—the superheroes are able to make fun of themselves and their colleagues; satire—actually, some great satire that riffs on the entire superhero milieu in a clever manner; some actual scenes of actual heartfelt and mature drama—and several of these scenes are actually quite touching and emotional; and a super-charged collection of over-arching, inter-connecting and over-lapping stories and plots and sub-stories and sub-plots that, well, do end up being a bit too much, a bit too cluttered, and a bit too overdone for even this movie. Some of the plot lines could have indeed been cut, and, easily, likely twenty minutes could have been edited out of the script and the movie’s final run-time. A shorter, more streamlined and less cluttered “Endgame” would have been a much better overall film.

The cast in “Avengers: Endgame” is equally huge—and equally cluttered. Every single Marvel character—no offense to the real-life actors—did not have to appear in one movie, so-called endgame or not. There’s simply too many people, too many lines, too many overlapping people and characters and storylines. Some folks just simply could have been cut in those needed extra twenty minutes of film that could have been cut.

However, the cast members are consistently excellent—and what a cast this is. For most of the film, moviegoers get to enjoy a rare all-star cast (rare even for Marvel movies, which are generally stacked full of talented leading actors) that includes Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man; Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America; Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/The Hulk; Chris Hemsworth’s Thor; Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow; Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye; Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes/War Machine; Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang/Ant-Man; Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel; Karen Gillan’s Nebula; and Bradley Cooper’s always-hilarious, consistently-scene-stealing Rocket. All are acting at the top of their game—some in some quite interesting challenging ways. Downey displays a range of emotions in a particularly emotional performance that truly makes Tony Stark the most human, the most down-to-earth and the most likeable he’s ever been—really. Cooper, as noted, regularly steals scenes with some of the movie’s best lines. And, yes, Rocket has a heart and even he can be emotional at times. Ruffalo has a wonderfully inventive and creative turn as Bruce Banner—and that turn and how Ruffalo handles it is yet another highlight of the movie. Hemsworth has been given an wonderful thespian acting theater movie gift in “Endgame” and it’s hilarious, enjoyable, insightful, emotional and full of meaning and analysis—but you’ll have to see the movie to find out just what he has been gifted with in regards to his characterization of Thor in this film. It’s just absolutely hilarious—and, again, insightful and emotional on several levels. And Paul Rudd, much like Cooper’s Rocket, gets loads of scenes of comic relief—much as he was given in the two “Ant-Man” movies—and funny lines, and Rudd runs away with them to great degrees of success. All others turn in fine performances, and, at times, that’s all that needs to be required for superhero characters—that the actors portray these characters believably in the context of the fantastical, fantasy and science fiction parameters that their characters reside within. This is a great cast—of course—and all shine as they should in these roles in “Endgame.”

And, as always, the scores of visual effects companies and the literally hundreds of visual effects artists who worked on this movie deserve much credit, kudos, praise and admiration for the thousands of visual effects that populate “Endgame” from start to finish. There are, throughout the movie, scenes of color, or darkness, in various settings through various parts of the universe, that are just dazzling and breathtaking. There are, of course, superheroes flying through the air, or being thrown through the air, super-sized fights and chases, various monsters and creatures and scary things, fires, explosions, gunfights, sword fights, fistfights, sweeping battles filled with all manners of creatures good and bad, scenes in outer space, supernatural beings, mysterious realms and areas of the universe, and numerous other scenes requiring dazzling—and believable—special effects. The very presence of Rocket and The Hulk and Thanos in many scenes requires constant visual effects artistry that become so commonplace, some viewers may take the effects for granted. But Rocket, The Hulk, Thanos and other recurring characters that require visual effects are always believable, always great to look at, and simply a constant achievement in visual effects.

With all of this, though, in the end of this particular phase and era of the movie-going Marvel Cinematic Universe movie game, those nagging questions about why certain story elements needed to be included in “Avengers: Endgame” still hang over the entire film and its respective universe. “Endgame,” in the end, would have been so much better, would have been so much more enjoyable, and would have been that great, classic comic book super hero fantasy science fiction movie without these certain story aspects. Moviegoers will leave wondering, “What’s wrong, exactly, with an overall enjoyable, positive, happy ending?” And with comic book super hero fantasy science fiction movies, those are good, strong, needed questions. Because this world—and the movie world—simply needs more happy endings in movies, and in these types of movies in particular. Perhaps going forward, the next era of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and filmmakers can find that needed balance of dark and light during their films, but can also remember, at the end game, to please include a happy ending to send moviegoers back out into the real world with a smile on their faces.

John Hanshaw

John Hanshaw

founded WFI in the Fall of 2007. He has worked in film and television for over ten years at such institutions as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), PBS and most recently National Geographic. He has degrees from Amherst College, Cambridge University, and GW Law.