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Does Avengers Endgames Time Travel Make Sense

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
If you think too much about it, the timeline of Avengers: Endgame might be confusing. But fear not, because we're going to explain it to you right now. So if you're wondering what's going on with the Time Stone, the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Pym Particles and other Marvel shenanigans, we got you covered.
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Sure, Back to the Future might be a bunch of BS, but Back to the Future 2 still makes sense, right guys? Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be discussing whether or not Avengers: Endgame’s time travel makes sense. For the 1% of audiences who haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t let us spoil the Endgame for you!

When Thanos dusted half of all life in the universe, viewers everywhere contemplated how the snap might be reversed. Two theories, in particular, gained a lot of traction amongst the fan community: A) All the snapped victims are still alive in the Soul Stone or B) Everyone will come back via time travel. The latter theory seemed like the most probable, especially after “Ant-Man and the Wasp” delved deeper into the quantum realm.

The Soul Stone theory was shattered at the beginning of “Avengers: Endgame,” as Thanos reveals he destroyed the Infinity Stones. So, if half of all living things in the universe did end up inside the Soul Stone, they certainly weren’t in there anymore. Five years later, Scott Lang returns from the quantum realm, bringing the time travel theory into fruition. Once Tony Stark cracks the time travel formula, the endgame is set in motion. Our heroes will travel back to three separate time periods, fetch all the Infinity Stones before Thanos, assemble them in the year 2023, and snap the dusted back into existence. As is the case with any movie about time travel, there are several holes that can be poked in the time heist.

For starters, why not just grab the Time Stone instead of going after all the stones? The Avengers could’ve just traveled back to Wakanda in 2018 and had Thor aim for Thanos’ head. Rhodey even suggests going back and killing Thanos as a baby. Well, according to Bruce Banner, “Terminator,” “Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure,” “Hot Tub Time Machine,” and, of course, “Back to the Future” aren’t exactly accurate representations of time travel. Apparently, neither is “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Time is linear in the MCU, meaning if you travel to the past, that destination becomes your future. In due course, the former present is now the past and can’t be altered by your new future. Sound confusing? This is actually very close to how time travel works in Marvel Comics: you can travel back through time, but you can’t travel back to your own past - that’s where alternate timelines come into play.

If they could change the present by adjusting the past, the previous five years could get eradicated in the process. Morgan Stark might not have been born, which Tony never would’ve allowed. So, it makes sense that our heroes would need all six Infinity Stones to keep everything intact. Still, if Doctor Strange had just used the Time Stone a long time ago, this whole mess could’ve been avoided. Of course, the MCU would get pretty dull and repetitive if Strange solved every problem with time travel.

But wait, by removing the Infinity Stones in the past, won’t several new timelines be created? As Banner explains to the Ancient One in 2012 New York, the plan is to put every stone back in its rightful place after reversing the snap. Thus, time will be kept on the straight and narrow. If all the Infinity Stones are returned to their original points in time, though, Thanos will still destroy them in 2018. According to the Ancient One, “The Infinity Stones create what you experience as the flow of time.” Destroying the stones doesn’t seem to have the dire consequences the Ancient One implies, as five years pass without any major problems.

Captain America ultimately makes another trip back in time, returning all the stones and Mjolnir. As far as we know, however, not everything has been corrected. When our heroes revisited 2012, Loki retrieves the Tesseract and disappears through a portal. Although Tony and Steve are able to nab the Tesseract in 1970, it appears Loki is running amuck in an alternate reality. Unless, of course, that alternate timeline is erased once Cap returns all the Stones at the end of the film… more on that later.

Having caught wind of the Avengers’ plan, the 2014 version of Thanos travels to 2023 with his army. Nebula’s 2014 counterpart is killed in a standoff, although since time is linear, this doesn’t cause the present Nebula to vanish. Think about it, if it never happened in your past, why would killing an alternate version of your past self lead to your death? Thanos is inevitably defeated along with his army, but what about Gamora? Her 2014 counterpart also ventures nine years into the future and we never see her go back in time. Does that mean 2014 Gamora can exist in the year 2023 without disturbing the timeline? We see Quill searching for her using his ship’s computer terminal: could this play out in the third “Guardians” movie?

Finally - and here’s where a lot of people seem to think the timeline falls apart - Steve takes a detour while returning the Infinity Stones, choosing to stay in the past with Peggy Carter. As heartwarming as that is, it does raise a few more questions. From what we know about Agent Carter, she eventually settled down with a retired Allied soldier and had two children. Does this mean Steve is that solider and he has a couple of kids out there? Also, did Steve’s relationship with Sharon Carter make things awkward between him and Peggy? “Hey, Peg, just so you know I kind of kissed your great niece in the future.” Yeah, he likely tried to forget about that just like the rest of us.

Here’s the thing: when Cap travels to the 70s and sees Peggy in her office, that’s the moment he decides to go back and spend his life with her if and when they manage to reverse the Snap. When he sneaks into Hank Pym’s office, he steals four vials of Pym Particles, but he and Tony only need one vial each to return home. So why did he take the two extra vials? One was to travel to another timeline to live his life with Peggy, the other was to travel back to his own timeline. But then why didn’t he appear in the Quantum time travel machine like he was supposed to? Well, maybe he simply chose not to: the gadget Tony built allows them to travel through space and time and set coordinates on the fly - that’s how they were able to travel to New Jersey in the 70s while they were still in New York in 2012. So, maybe he thought it would be better to transport himself to that bench instead? It certainly led a more dramatic moment that if he had appeared as an old man on the platform.

But why doesn’t this affect the current timeline? Because - just like every previous scene that takes place in the past - Cap’s sweet dance with Peggy that closes out the film takes place in an alternate timeline - one where Peggy doesn’t marry that soldier, and the two live a full and happy life together.

Could the movie have done a little bit more legwork to explain all of this? Sure, but it would have undercut an otherwise touching finale for Cap to have him explain how and why he did what he did, and, more importantly, the movie is already three hours long. Did we really need another expository time travel speech?

Although time travel can get a little convoluted in “Endgame,” there are numerous projects in the works that might help fill in blanks. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” will likely answer if and how 2014 Gamora fits into the MCU now. The “Loki” series debuting on Disney+ could either be a prequel or follow the God of Mischief as he traverses through space and time. Now that Disney officially owns Fox, perhaps we’ll even get a movie where Deadpool and Cable clean up the timelines. Whatever the future holds, at least “Endgame’s” time travel makes more sense than spinning the world backward.
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