Despite the epic backdrop, Avengers Endgame matures its core heroes as it provides intimate stakes and emotional payoffs in route to a spectacular culmination to the entire MCU franchise.

Comic book movie fans are familiar with massive CGI armies and sky beams of destruction, so Endgame faced the challenge of providing an epic scaled movie that did not simply repeat familiar tropes on an exponentially larger scale. Endgame manages to move beyond the genre’s tropes by focusing on real character development and emotionally payoffs throughout.

Time travel allows the movie to show you the character development of the main characters, as they literally come face to face with their younger, less mature selves. Tony Stark learns what it means to be a dad, in time to be able to appreciate meeting his deceased father. In becoming a father, Tony moves from a self-centered man to someone willing to make a sacrifice for the greater good of others. Steve Rogers, on the other hand, moves from always seeking a way to sacrifice himself to now seeking a good life for himself after glimpsing his lost opportunity for love. Thor wrestles with his self-worth despite his failures, as evidenced by his drinking habits and the change to his physique. Thor is still grieving over the loss of his family, world, and people when he must travel back in time to his home world and family in its splendor. Despite Endgame’s massive ensemble cast, the focus was limited to the original core Avengers team in order to provide big character developments that both feel fitting and earned.

Perhaps one would expect Endgame to conclude with more casualties to our heroes. Naysayers felt unmoved by Avengers Infinity War’s attempt to act like heroes were truly eliminated when the audience knows that sequel films for those characters were already greenlit. Endgame responds with a shocking 5 year time jump to begin the movie. Even if fans know most of the characters will return, the characters who survived suffered massive loss for 5 years. Endgame ultimately decides against massive casualties from our heroes. Instead, the movie focuses on limited deaths, making them more intimate and painful. Deaths are also framed as chosen sacrifices, allowing more agency and heroism attached to the loss. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the reduced scale of loss actually feels like a greater emotional loss in the end.

Endgame is not a perfect movie. Some major character changes are underdeveloped, like Bruce Banner’s hulk sized off-screen transformation into Professor Hulk, a balanced version of himself with Banner’s intelligence and Hulk’s strength. Banner’s character development is reduced to a time indicator for the audience; yes, it really has been 5 years. In addition, the introduction of time travel and alternate timelines will affect storytelling in future movies. How will future movies maintain their stakes knowing that the Avengers are able to time travel at any point to fix their problems or save their lost heroes? That’s a problem left for future writers.

Endgame is directed by Joe and Anthony Russo and written by Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus. The direction and writing deserve massive celebration for sticking the MCU landing in the face of huge expectations. They will certainly receive their reward due to Endgame breaking the all time box office record with nearly $2.8 billion. Endgame is somehow worth that money, not because of how much it made or how many characters it crammed into the film, but because the ones it focuses on and develops were worth the journey that began 11 years earlier with Iron Man.