In a way, it’s difficult to think of Avengers: Endgame as just one movie, because each of its superhero characters is fulfilling at least two storylines. One, of course, is the action-driven plot point: How do we defeat Thanos and restore order (and half of the population) to the universe? The other storylines are all driven by emotional arcs — some starting as recently as the infamous snap at the end of “Infinity War,” others that delve deep into the characters’ personal histories, as seen in their stand-alone films.

On both levels, the movie delivers.

As for the first part: It comes as no surprise that the Avengers would surmise the best way to undo the damage done by Thanos would be another snap of the Infinity Stone-laden glove. But the team is in for a surprise when they learn that Thanos has anticipated such a move and destroyed the stones himself. And the audience is in for a big surprise when — well, we’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum here.

There’s been plenty of speculation as to how the more recent additions to the Avengers team — Ant-Man and Captain Marvel — would fit into the story arc. Captain Marvel, who certainly looks to be the franchise’s next breakout star, is used sparingly but effectively, showing a knack for appearing exactly when and where she’s needed the most. But it’s Ant-Man who fuels the movie’s storyline — literally, since his discovery that Pym juice can send him traveling into a time-bending quantum vortex provides the remaining Avengers with the idea they need to get the infinity stones back. Yes, they’re going to do some time traveling.

Whenever time travel is involved, there’s always the potential for disaster in the script and the shots. But the writers and producers of Endgame — infinitely aware of that — defuse the timey-wimey cheesiness of such a device with a few well-placed Back to the Future jokes and, more importantly, by stocking the characters’ journeys with plenty of emotional heft. Some of them encounter family members, some encounter long-lost loves, and some even encounter their earlier selves. By and large, the detours in time deliver big payoffs for both of the movie’s levels. Again, in the interest of staying spoiler-free, we won’t give any specifics. But we will say that Tony Stark’s trip to 1970 packs one of the movie’s biggest emotional punches.

Will the Avengers be successful in their time-traveling quest for the stones? In true Marvel fashion, of course they will, but with plenty of twists, turns, and complications along the way. And there’s still the biggest question of all: Even after they acquire all of the stones, will they be able to undo all that’s been done? (Again, it would be a huge spoiler to answer that question.)

By the end, you’ll see creative decisions and performances that may make you smile or may make you cry, sometimes simultaneously. There are some who might be upset by some of the story’s choices, too. But give the filmmakers credit for not choosing the typical Hollywood happy ending. Some lives are changed for the worse by the events of the movie, and others for the better. It’s just the way life works. And isn’t the whole idea of the movie about restoring the balance of life to the universe?

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Posted by: Ari Coine