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'Avengers: Endgame': 3-Hour Superhero Smorgasbord

It's packed with more stars than there are in heaven, and each gets one big scene

Rating: PG-13

Run time: 3 hours 1 minute

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Brie Larson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Brolin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

The tone of the latest Marvel superhero extravaganza — No. 22 in the Marvel film hit parade — is elegiac. Avengers: Endgame is a panoramic adventure that starts out wearing black crepe and assumes its worshipful audience is familiar with the many specially abled characters that will fly, shrink and time-travel over its overstuffed three hours.

As Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr., 54, casts the biggest shadow over an immense cast that would have intimidated Barnum & Bailey. The action begins with Iron Man floating in space like a tin can, a Major Tom left adrift and presumed dead after the apocalypse that ended the previous film.

Lost in space, Downey is emaciated, scarred and showing his age, reflecting on his life choices. The degree to which he is a failure or a hero weighs on him, light-years away from his true love, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, 46), who he has again left to cure the compost while he battles the universe.

Iron Man survives this opening salvo, though his dance with near death causes him to swiftly leave the superhero business and start a family with Potts.

But then — just when he seems most likely to settle down — he gets pulled into the heroic vortex. Again.

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The plot involves the recovery of the six infinity stones ceded to the evil Thanos (Josh Brolin, 51) last time around. If only the surviving Avengers could travel back in time, grab the magic rocks and thwart the villain. Then there'd be hope they could revive their lost comrades plus half of Earth's population.

Working against them are a lot of moving parts. With a feeling that recalls 1963's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, dozens of famous fighters reunite — Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Chris Pratt's Star-Lord. (And that's just the Chris cast!) Bring on Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, Brie Larson's Captain Marvel, Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther and Mark Ruffalo's Hulk. Blink and you'll miss eye-patched Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, 70).

And so, thanks to a vast script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and direction from brothers Anthony and Joseph Russo, the movie navigates its slim line of plot like an overloaded balloon. Every major player gets a scene — all undergoing crises of faith and offering moments of extreme heroism.

It's fun to see all these character threads unravel, and knit up, as the movie waddles toward its big but indifferent climax of Avengers versus Thanos. As Iron Man achieves a belated gravity and a beer-bellied Hemsworth steals his scenes as a disillusioned Thor, the movie ends up being more hectic than impactful, more smorgasbord than feast.