Three stars

Death is seldom a final farewell in the hallowed realms inhabited by spandex-clad superheroes. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Thor have all regenerated on the pages of well-thumbed and tear-stained comics.

Consequently, gobs should not be smacked if the 22nd film in the Marvel Comics cinematic universe chooses to resurrect some of the brave souls, who were reduced to ashes at the thrilling conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War when hulking villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) exterminated half of all living organisms with a snap of his digitally-rendered fingers.

“Part of the journey is the end,” philosophises one figure in Avengers: Endgame, sombrely reflecting on everything they have lost.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely confidently surf the ripple effect of Thanos’ radical approach to population control, cresting a wave of feverish anticipation that has been gathering momentum over the past 12 months.

The script’s reach occasionally exceeds its grasp and there’s a disappointing inevitability to some of the whirring cogs and gears of a slickly engineered plot that leans heavily on familiar science fiction paradoxes.

However, when planets align and pure emotion wells in the actors’ eyes, there’s no denying the primal power of pivotal scenes of self-sacrifice and redemption that will elicit saltwater downpours in darkened theatres across the land.

It’s a full-blooded odyssey of redemption that bristles with bold ambition and the studio’s trademark irreverent humour like when Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) calmly accepts one preposterous course of action because her reality has shifted on its axis.

“I get emails from a raccoon so nothing sounds crazy anymore,” she deadpans.

Thanos has devastated the overpopulated third rock from the sun, sounding a death knell for billions.

Before his demise, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) issued a distress call to Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and she arrives on a decimated earth to mourn her fallen mentor.

Her formidable abilities may tip the balance of power back in favour of grief-stricken and bewildered survivors including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ant Man (Paul Rudd) and Nebula (Karen Gillan).

However, hope and despair are star-crossed lovers, inextricably bound together. Where one ventures, the other must follow.

Avengers: Endgame is muscular, well-crafted blockbuster that nods reverentially to the past 11 years of Marvel Comics mayhem.

Mythologies unravel and hundreds of special effects artists flex their muscles to deliver a bombastic feast for the senses.

This is the end.

For now.

Four stars

Looking back over the battlefield of my schooldays from the safe distance of mellowing middle age, I’m reminded of tiny, beautiful victories in an exhausting war of attrition to fit in with peers, who always seemed to be smarter, funnier and cooler than me.

The most important lessons were shared by friends and relatives with sympathetic smiles, who bore the same scars as me and had survived a painful rite of passage that was propelling me, at dizzying speed, across the rubicon to adulthood.

Award-winning stand-up comedian Bo Burnham eloquently captures the anguish and insecurity of those so-called wonder years in his heartfelt and exquisite debut feature. Anchored by a mesmerising lead performance of unvarnished, naked emotion from Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade joins an elite class of cinematic coming of age stories which candidly reflect a pivotal moment when hormones rage, bodies develop at an alarming rate and every heartbreak is amplified beyond rational thought to the end of days.

Humour and uncomfortable self-reflection are best buddies in Burnham’s polished script, which doesn’t spare his central character any blushes as she fibs about her sexual experience to impress a boy or spars with her father over the dinner table.

Eighth Grade comes top of the class in every respect, from Burnham’s sensitive portrayal of the flawed protagonists and their tribal rituals to Fisher’s natural, unself-conscious and achingly funny performance.

Current obsessions with video sharing and online visibility are seamlessly woven into Kayla’s personal journey, ushering us back and forth between teary-eyed recognition and unbridled joy.

“It’s so easy to love you,” Kayla’s father tells her, bursting with pride that ripples off the screen. We know how he feels.

Two stars

Love blossoms in the sweltering heat of an unnamed South American country during a blood-spattered hostage crisis in director Paul Weitz’s slow-burning thriller.

Based on the novel by Ann Patchett, Bel Canto punctuates the stand-off between gun-toting rebels and an unflinching government with soaring arias performed by American soprano Renee Fleming, whose impeccable trills are lip-synced by Oscar winner Julianne Moore.

These operatic interludes strike a deep emotional chord but the melodrama enveloping them, adapted for the screen by Weitz and Anthony Weintraub, is frequently off-key and struggles to kidnap our undivided attention, especially in a pedestrian middle act that engineers carnal desire between guerrillas and their captives.

Moore catalyses polite screen chemistry with co-star Ken Watanabe that barely simmers and certainly never achieves boiling point, weakening a confidently staged and tragic finale fit for an opera, albeit in pyrotechnic-laden slow motion.

Underwritten subplots are unnecessary padding, including one rebel who harbours a secret ambition to sing opera and ends up hiding in a tree when culture-starved comrades poke fun at his vocal exertions.

In contrast, Weitz’s picture doesn’t get off the ground. Bel Canto is composed in broad, artful strokes which undermine the efforts of Moore and Watanabe to convince us of their characters’ amour fou.

Supporting characters aren’t fleshed out beyond their nationality and political leanings, and once the rebels have issued demands, there is a surprising absence of suspense and jeopardy considering most of the cast could be collateral damage if the government retaliates with force.