WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME! DO NOT CONTINUE UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN IT!
Avengers: Endgame opened in cinemas worldwide last night, and it is the comic book blockbuster event of the decade. There really is no way to overstate that as the 22nd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the exclamation point on what many would have considered an impossible dream 11 years ago. And yet, here we are. And we have some things to say about it.
Tracy has already written a completely spoiler-free review of Endgame earlier this week. This won’t be a review and it most definitely will not be spoiler-free. So let this serve as the final SPOILER WARNING as I’m about to do a dissection of several major plot points and the serious head-scratching this seminal superhero spectacle inspired in me. Scroll past the poster to continue.
As so often is the case, it was wibbly wobbly time travel stuff that caused said head-scratching. For while Endgame offers a very emotionally satisfying conclusion to the entire MCU up to the point, it often tossed logic straight out the window when it came to the Avengers’ plan to undo Thanos’ actions from Infinity War. It started out simple enough: After their original plan fails the heroes split up into teams and use the Quantum Realm to travel back in time to the various points in their personal history where they’ve encountered the individual Infinity Stones. Besides for giving us a literal trip down memory lane as we revisit the events from The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.1, Infinity War and more, the team will steal the various Stones and then return to their own time to forge a new Infinity Gauntlet that they can use to snap everybody back into existence.
Bruce Banner – in his new Professor Hulk form – even explained how they weren’t going to change the timeline, as that would be impossible since the past has and always will have happened and any changes would just create branching alternate universe timelines while not fixing their own. Instead, they would change their present using the Stones, and then return them to the exact moment they took them from, ensuring that time flowed exactly as it always has and nobody was the wiser.
Except that things go awry in multiple places, pretty quickly. For example, instead of being captured and taken to Asgard at the end of the events of The Avengers, Loki escapes with the Tesseract (and probably right into his Disney+ solo series which is rumoured to feature time travel). Also while visiting Asgard in 2014, Thor collects his original hammer, Mjolnir, which Hela would destroy years later in Thor: Ragnarok.
Most importantly though, thanks to some unintentional cybernetic mind-melding between the Nebula from 2019 (well, 2023 if you want to get specific and include the 5-year jump after Infinity War) and the Nebula from 2014, the Thanos of that time learns of the Avengers’ plans before he ever even got his hands on his first Infinity Stone. Using this knowledge, Thanos follows the Avengers back to their present. He’s not quick enough to stop Bruce from using a newly constructed Infinity Gauntlet made out of Tony’s armour and bringing back everybody that had been snapped out of existence, but Thanos immediately rains down destruction on the heroes.
Cue an epic battle unlike anything we’ve ever seen before as a resurrected Doctor Strange rallies an army of other heroes to support the other Avengers who are on the edge of defeat at Thanos’ hands again. There are huge fan service beats (CAP USING MJOLNIR!) and we get an incredibly emotional farewell as Tony gives his life to use the new Infinity Gauntlet to snap Thanos and his forces out of existence. After the dust settles, the Avengers do what they promised and Cap goes back in time with the Stones to return them to the same times and places they were taken. He decides to not return though, and instead meets up again with the love of his life, Peggy Carter, in the 1940s to live out his life until 2023 when he shows up as an old man to hand over his Captain America shield and title to Falcon. It’s all poignant and fitting and makes no damn sense at all.
If the Thanos from 2014 dies in 2023, skipping over the intervening years, how could he have been around to gain the Stones and do the Snap in 2018? We also see the modern Nebula kill her 2014 self, but then shouldn’t that mean that she won’t exist anymore? Also, the Gamora from 2014 is now running around somewhere out there, even though her death in 2018 at Thanos’ hand to acquire the Soul Stone is a critical and immutable event on the timeline.
It may do your brain in trying to noodle out these out, and this is especially frustrating because a simple answer to this problem is right there in front of us. If Tony had used the Gauntlet to not snap Thanos and co out of existence but rather sent them back to their original time with no memory of future events (which he easily had the power to do) there would be no paradoxes. There would be no Gamora lost in the present either (which I’m guessing will factor into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3) but there are other ways around that. Tony didn’t send them back though and instead wiped them from the timeline before they were supposed to perform the actions that created this future in the first place.
And then we have the problem of Captain America who returned to the 1940s after dropping off the Stones and returning Thor’s hammer to Asgard (plugging one plot hole) and then spent his life with Peggy Carter. Him being around back then changes the timeline, but we can wave it off by guessing that he never interacted with anybody else for the rest of his life. It’s implausible, but not impossible. This would also mean though that Cap basically just stayed quiet and in hiding through all the horrific events he knew was going to happen before anybody else. That just doesn’t sound like him.
We could subscribe to the alternate timeline theory, that there are now at least two totally new timelines – one sans a Thanos, and other in which Steve Rogers grew old with his love – but the ending ruins that as Captain America is still around in the original timeline to pass on his legacy.
Granted this type of muddling confusion is often the case in time travel movies. It’s why ones that get the logical and scientific details 100% correct (see: Timecrimes, Primer, Predestination) are so highly regarded. And normally I overlook these things. Hell, Infinity War had its own fair share of logical plot holes as well (exactly how did Corvus Glaive get into Shuri’s lab to attack Vision, when Thanos’ entire army was still struggling to get through the Wakandan force fields?) but I chose to not focus on them for the sake of the overall narrative. The problem here though is that Endgame actually goes out of its way to establish its rather coherent rules about how time travel works in the MCU, even making fun of other famous time travel movies that get it wrong, and then promptly does the exact thing on a much bigger scale.
Of course, you may not even notice these paradoxes though, as I’ve seen and heard of plenty of folks who were so caught up in the thrilling action and touching character moments that the holes just didn’t register. And that’s perfectly okay too. Those action beats and character moments are some of the best in superhero movie history, and it makes sense to get swept up in them. For sticklers like me, I just wish the same level of meticulous care was given to the plot.
Last Updated: April 26, 2019