Avengers: Endgame ★★½

The first scene is a shocker: genuinely moving, actually thoughtful and, for once, serene. And there are a bunch more of these throughout the film, where the filmmaking is really insightful, and manages to peel back the overarticulated world building to some kind of authentic emotional core.

But these moments are repeatedly and wrecklessly undermined—even betrayed, you could say—by clumsy histrionics, numbingly apocalyptic battles, tediously explicated time travel rules, and interludes of leavening humor that have by now become tiresomely formulaic, even robotic.

Most of all, there’s a dedication to fan service here that is so devout that, for a seemingly interminable stretch, this movie actually takes us on a tour of movies we’ve already watched before. It’s sort of like the most ambitious clip episode ever (more on that in a minute) but it’s also what Disney has come to mistake on a grand scale for storytelling: the idea that we all just want to keep buying remakes—not just the recycling of content, but literally the re-enactment of things we bought before (see the live action fairy tales remakes, see “The Force Awakens,” see the new “Lion King.”).

In the end, nothing that happens here is unexpected, which is the clearest evidence yet that the whole twenty-two installment Marvel Cinematic Universe amounts to little more than just the most elaborate TV show of all time—a painfully protracted series of cliffhangers that just led us to where we would’ve wound up anyway after two or three of these, had the producers been interested in actually telling stories instead of getting us to tune in again next time. That’s fine, I guess, for an era in which all of our expectations have been progressively ratcheted down to their lowest possible settings. Just don’t call it “cinematic.”