Earth's Mightiest Heroes get the send off they richly deserve, but with one considerable caveat.

It’s the end of an era, and boy does the team behind “Avengers: Endgame” know it.

The fourth film in the saga and, most certainly, the last in its current form, plays like a Netflix series we’re forced to binge in one session.

  • Loose ends get neatly tied up.
  • Old friends get to say goodbye, in one form or another
  • Batons are passed, sometimes aggressively so

We even get a woke visual suggesting Marvel will soon embrace Identity Politics with the fervor of a Stan Lee cameo.

Not yet, at least. And thank goodness for that.

The action begins with our heroes licking their wounds, the kind time refuses to heal. Thanos snapped his fingers, and half the Earth’s population vanished. It’s a gruesome starting point, but “Endgame” handles the chore with surprising finesse.

Let’s toast screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Their sense of both the big picture and tiny details gives “Endgame” a depth other superhero films lack.

Our heroes refuse to let Thanos keep his victory, though. Finding a solution will take all their brain power and a robust sense of the saga’s back story.

More on that in a moment.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Suffice to say we won’t see the bang ’em up action of “Infinity War” for a while. These Avengers have to reassemble, first and foremost, and then set a delicate plot into motion.

Just know the plan will tie the MCU together in ways you wouldn’t think possible.

And yet the film’s midsection, while magnificent in its creativity, is also, well, dull. There’s so much fan service here, so many moments that leave you aghast at the mental gymnastics in play, that you don’t realize you’re bored.

Just wait. It’ll happen.

Thankfully, directors Anthony and Joseph Russo know what a franchise capper demands. It’s action, and not just any ordinary set piece. The film’s final third delivers precisely what you crave, and then some.

It still takes a while to process it all. That aforementioned slog is like a Netflix series where you wish they’d trim the storytelling fat. The film’s gargantuan length is part of the problem. At times you forget what’s at stake.

Oh, yeah, half of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes became dust in the last installment, along with half the universe.

That matters. but the running time can’t help but dilute that sense of purpose.

Josh Brolin’s Thanos isn’t used as forcefully as in “Infinity War,” but boy does he have his moments. The MCU gets rapped for its lackluster villains. Thanos is nothing of the kind. He’s the best … and it’ll be hard to replicate his greatness.

What’s surreal about both recent “Avengers” films is their humor. You’ll laugh more here than at any recent comedy. The jokes don’t interrupt the story’s flow. They humanize it. No other franchise blends comic relief with earth-shattering adventure like “The Avengers.”

That’s a formula audiences will deeply miss.

Not all the character beats take hold, though. Jeremy Renner returns as Hawkeye, but his embrace of a darker brand of super-heroing is shoved into the story without enough detail. Far better is the Iron Man/Pepper Potts romance, given scant screen time but making the most of every second.

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We’re reminded why these MCU movies thrive during these exchanges. This isn’t a gaggle of TV actors who hit the gym too hard. It’s Robert friggin’ Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson and so much more. It’s A-lister after A-lister, and each knows precisely how to play larger than life heroes.

Even Brie Larson, so hopelessly bland in “Captain Marvel,” shows some personality.

Some, mind you.

FAST FACT: The original “Avengers: Infinity War” generated $678 million in U.S. theaters last year, to go along with its $1.3 billion (with a “B”) international haul.

Need more?

What about Ruffalo’s new, “improved” Hulk persona (no spoilers here) Or the very funny way Chris Hemsworth’s Thor processed the devastation Thanos wrought?

Or Paul Rudd, whose comic timing prevails anew via his Ant Man alter ego? Is he the MCU’s stealth superstar, or what?

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“Avengers: Endgame” is an embarrassment of riches, which makes its bloated midsection such a stain on the big picture. We’ll even swallow a silly, “you go, girl” visual that reminds us of the MCU’s woke future.

It’s why you should sit back and enjoy the moment before the franchise embraced its cultural clout. It’s all about the superheroes in this series capper. That’s clear watching every frame of the film.

“Avengers: Endgame” offers some delirious pleasures, but it can’t top the giddy greatness of “Infinity War.”

What could?

HiT or Miss: “Avengers: Endgame” is a monumental ode to a film franchise unlike any other. It’s why we forgive the pedestrian mid-section. The ending is more than worth the wait.