Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of 22 movies and approximately one television show that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This universe began in a cave with a box of scraps with the Iron Man trilogy; weaved its way through history and interpersonal and international politics in the Captain America trilogy; crashed through the nine realms in the Thor trilogy; expanded our imaginations in Guardians of the Galaxy (Volumes 1 and 2) and Dr. Strange; and had some damn fun in Queens and San Francisco. And boy, did it culminate.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. IF YOU’RE ONE OF THE 18 PEOPLE LEFT WHO HAVEN’T SEEN ENDGAME, WHAT IS UP, YO?
Time is malleable. Wait… wrong universe. Time is actually NOT malleable in the MCU, according to Endgame. Time and different realities have been dabbled with in Dr. Strange and Ant-Man, but this was the first real big foray into time travel in the MCU, aside from Agents of SHIELD, but I’ll get to that in a little bit. Before Endgame, the rules of MCU time travel were not very well known: The Time Stone could affect time on a localized (or somewhat larger level), which we see in Dr. Strange and Infinity War with the Apple and Hong Kong and Vision. However, messing with the flow of time is one of the things that sent Baron Mordo over the edge. The Ancient One was also able to use dark magic from the Dark Dimension to see into her own future, but was only able to see as far as her own death. Also in Dr. Strange, we learned that there were multiple realities (nay, unlimited dimensions), thanks to the trip the Ancient One sent Dr. Strange on.
These rules are confirmed in Endgame, and more context is provided. Here are the rules we know so far:
- The Time Stone can affect time in a localized setting or, with help from other stones, on a universal scale;
- The Time Stone can be used to see into the future (and other possible futures), but this limit is unknown because technically Dr. Strange was dusted and presumably “dead,” but he was able to see a future beyond his dusting (death?) where the Avengers beat Thanos;
- Magic can be used to see into the future, but only to the viewer’s death;
- Back to the Future is bullshit. If someone travels through time, they cannot change the past. All they can do is create a new timeline (simply by being there creates a new timeline). As explained in the movie, if you travel back in time, your past becomes your future, and your past-self’s future becomes your past;
- You are able to kill your past self and continue to exist, because you have already experienced your past, and time traveling creates a new timeline (reality), so you are creating a new future for your past self and your-self at the same time;
- With the help of a time GPS and the quantum realm, traveling Back to the Future (bullshit) means you travel back to your original timeline;
- If you don’t have some type of GPS to keep you grounded in time, time will flow through you as opposed to you flowing through it. That’s why Ant-Man aged and de-aged and someone peed his pants; and
- Either it’s all a joke or none of it is.
So those are the basic ground rules for time travel in the MCU. When the team goes back to 2012 New York to retrieve the Time, Space, and Mind Stones, The Ancient One provides some more context to Professor Hulk. By traveling back in time, a new timeline has been created. This new timeline is a new, separate reality. The Ancient One’s biggest concern was her new reality being affected by Hulk trying to preserve his reality by using her reality’s Time Stone. The kickass diagram The Ancient One uses explains this: She wasn’t worried about Hulk’s reality, she was worried that he wouldn’t return the Time Stone to her reality, where she would need it in the future for Dr. Strange. The “darkness” that took over her reality/timeline when the Time Stone was removed wasn’t timeline fuckery, but rather the forces of darkness being unimpeded because of the lack of an Infinity Stone. Hulk promised to return the Time Stone to moments after it was taken by him, so that her timeline would not be without an Infinity Stone. However, this new reality/timeline has already been created. Hulk promising to return the Time Stone was simply him doing that timeline a solid.
So how many timelines were created in Endgame? I’d say at least 7, and possibly 11:
1. The Prime Timeline, where the MCU has taken place since Iron Man;
2. Hawkeye’s test run to his farm in an unspecified time;
3. The trip from 2023 to 2012 and the Battle of New York for the Time, Space, and Mind Stones;
4. The trip from 2023 to 2013 and Asgard for the Reality Sludge;
5. The trip from 2023 to 2014 and Morag for the Power Stone;
6. The trip from 2012 to 1970 and New Jersey to get the Time Stone from SHIELD; and
7. Steve Rogers’ trip back to approximately 1946 – 1950 to live with Peggy.
I think these are the timelines that were created in Endgame. I said possibly 11, because it’s unclear if each trip Steve Rogers took into the past to return the Infinity Stones created additional, new timelines, or simply restored the stones to those newly-minted timelines. Based on The Ancient One’s diagram, by replacing the stones at the moment they were taken, those new timelines seem to be preserved.
There is a lot of speculation here, but I think these new timelines will be the basis for alternative stories for the Disney+ streaming service. For instance, in 2012, Hydra thinks Captain America is Hydra, and Loki got away with the Tesseract after the Battle of New York. In 2013, The Reality Sludge was removed from Jane Foster, so the Dark Elves have no reason to attack Asgard other than for spite and revenge. In 2014, Peter Quill got knocked the fuck out, and Thanos, Nebula, and Gamora are gone, so the Guardians never form. In 1970, Howard Stark just might be a really good father. Finally, in the 1950s, Peggy settles down with Steve Rogers, potentially affecting SHIELD, Hydra, and the rest of history.
Where did Steve Rogers Go? More time traveling shenanigans. At the end of the movie, Steve Rogers goes back in time to put the Infinity Stones back where they got them. Professor Hulk mentions that Steve overshot his return, but he doesn’t reappear on the platform in front of them. Instead, Bucky and Sam notice an old man sitting on a bench, and it’s Steve Rogers, all aged and shit, waiting for Sam.
Like I asked, where did Steve Rogers go? Mr. Rogers went back to finally have a life with his love, Peggy. But my question to you is this: Was he always Peggy’s husband in the Prime Timeline, or did he create a new timeline, spend his life with Peggy there, and then after she died, return to the Prime Timeline?
Based on the rules of time travel in the MCU, and what we know about Steve Rogers as a character and person, I believe he went back and spent his life in an alternate timeline with Peggy. When she passed away, he used his time GPS to return to his Prime Timeline, and simply hung out until the time was right. Here’s my reasoning: The rules establish that you cannot go back in time to change your own past. It already happened. In the Prime Timeline, Rogers was stuck in the ice for 70 years, and Peggy got married to a guy he saved in WWII sometime in the 1950s. Peggy was a founding member of SHIELD, Hydra infiltrated it, and everything we saw happen in the movies happened, leading to Endgame.
So, going back in time creates a new timeline. Steve can’t affect anything that already happened in the Prime Timeline. Therefore, when Steve stayed back, he lived his life in an alternate timeline. In this timeline, he married Peggy. Other than that, we don’t really know what happened, other than his insinuating to Sam that he got to finally live his own life. Steve got his happy ending (phrasing!) But how did he come back to the Prime Timeline?
Remember, every time someone travelled back in time with the Time GPS from the Prime Timeline, they return to the platform. Even though Steve and Tony went from 2012 New York to 1970 New Jersey, when they returned to the Prime Timeline, they were on the platform. Also remember that Professor Hulk said that Steve would take as long as he needed to replace the stones, but for them it would only be about ten seconds. When trying to get Steve back, he remarked that he “overshot his timestamp.” This tells me that he did return to the platform, but at a time no one was watching it.
Think about it: While the team was trying out the Stark Gauntlet, Nebula(2014) was at the platform summoning Thanos(2014), Gamora(2014), and Sanctuary II(2014). What if Steve returned to the platform while the team was getting the Stones ready but before Nebula(2014) absconded away to call in reinforcements? Therefore, Steve simply lives his life in an alternative timeline, and once he was content with his life and after Peggy passed away, he returned to his Prime Timeline.
Steve Rogers’ Ending Makes Sense. As we saw in Age of Ultron, Captain America’s greatest fear was what came after the fight. There was always a fight to be fought, and Captain America could not back away from a fight or let some injustice go unresolved. He sacrificed himself to save the East coast in The First Avenger. He would had to take down Hydra in The Winter Soldier. He could not give up on Bucky or his principles in Civil War. Hell, after Civil War, he kept fighting in the shadows knowing he was a fugitive from the United Nations and the Sokovia Accords. He didn’t want to back away from the fight because he was scared of what came after.
By the end of Endgame, Steve Rogers was ready to be done with the fight. He was no longer afraid of the future, and was able to put the shield down and move on. The world would be okay. Some people do not like this outcome, but I think it is fitting. Captain America can’t turn down a fight. Steve Rogers can. He finally go over himself and his duty, and was able to rest.
Mjolnir. I believe this is why he was ultimately able to wield Mjolnir. Back in Thor, Odin placed an enchantment on Mjolnir: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” At the time, Thor was cocky and always looking for a fight and someone’s ass to kick. Odin tried to tell him that being a King was more than waging war, but knowing when not to. The purpose of the enchantment was to force Thor to step up and learn what it meant to be a king. When Thor ultimately realized that he should sacrifice himself to save others and that putting up a fight wasn’t always the answer, he became worthy.
In Age of Ultron, Captain America was able to budge Mjolnir, but not lift it. Thor recognized something in Captain America at that moment. However, Captain America could not lift Mjolnir, because he wasn’t quite worthy: He was still looking for a fight. His fear was what came after, and until he got over that fear, he would not be worthy. By the end of Endgame, Steve Rogers overcame his fear and was ready to stop fighting. This finally made him worthy to wield Mjolnir, and Thor was happy that he knew it all along. Steve Rogers’ arc over the movies was a longer-form version of the arc Thor went through in Thor.
Also, Captain America wielding Mjolnir and the Shield? GOD DAMN THAT WAS MAGNIFICENT.
Tony Stark’s Ending Makes Sense. Tony’s arc was somewhat the opposite of Captain America’s. In the beginning, Tony always looked for an easy way out to avoid the ultimate conflict. He wanted to find a way to be as safe as possible while getting what he wanted. Every time Tony faced some type of hardship, his next suit was designed with that contingency. When he had an icing problem, he fixed it. When Whiplash fried his circuits, his next suit in Avengers allowed him to be charged by Thor’s energy surge. When he almost froze in the ice in the Midwest, he put a heater in Spider-Man’s suit. When Rhodes fell from the sky, he put a parachute in Spider-Man’s Iron Spider armor. And so on.
Tony could never rest until his world was safe. It took him finally beating Thanos, the bane of his existence these last eleven years, to finally be able to rest. Instead of learning not to fight, Tony had to learn that sometimes the fight cannot be avoided, and sacrifices had to be made.
Tony also got his happy ending between 2018 and 2023. He got married, moved to a farm, and got his daughter, Morgan. Only his happy ending didn’t come exactly at the end.
Also, Iron Man wielding the Infinity Stones? GOD DAMN THAT WAS MAGNIFICENT.
Humor. Something that sets the MCU apart is the constant humor. Despite the high stakes and somber setting, the characters still manage to crack jokes and be in funny situations. Dad-Bod Thor was hilarious. Thor and Korg pwning n00bs on Fortnight was a delight. Ant-Man. Come on now. Asgardians of the Galaxy? YES. Even though the stakes were high, this movie was still a great time. It’s going to have legs.
Where Do We Go From Here? There were a few hints as to the future of the MCU in Endgame. I will not be able to go into all of them because I only saw this movie once (so far), so I’m sure I missed some.
On the cosmic side of things, Earth was the epicenter of three of the four largest energy signatures ever recorded in the Universe. First, Thanos snapped half of all life. Then, Hulk reversed it. Then, Tony snapped away all of Thanos’ forces. If there are any abstract or large cosmic beings out there, they will be taking notice.
On the mystic side of things, Mordo is still out there, pissed that time was fucked with. Now he had to watch as many sorcerers were involved in messing with the fabric of the universe and use of the Infinity Stones. Now he has more targets.
On the Wakanda side of things, Okoye was dealing with “undersea tremors” by not dealing with them. In my mind, this was not a throw-away line, but rather, a hint of Atlantis and Namor. Namor is in the same legal limbo as Hulk, where Marvel can’t make a solo film without including Universal, but they are free to use them as supporting characters. I think Black Panther 2 will involve Wakanda v. Atlantis, which is an absolutely great story line from the comics. I can’t wait.
On the Friendly Neighborhood side of things, Peter Parker and many (most?) of his pals appear to have been snapped, and returned five years later. They are going to be fish out of water in their own neighborhoods, and it’ll be interesting to see how the time-skip is handled.
Agents of SHIELD. Welp. Last season, we got a primer on time travel in the MCU. The Agents were transported through a Monolith to the future, and were taken at a specific time so the jump could be made. Based on Endgame, the Monolith appears to have been some type of natural(?) or Kree attempt at a Quantum GPS device. During Agents of SHIELD, the team dealt with closed time loops and attempts to get out of them.
Based on the rules established in Endgame, the team could not change their past, only create/affect new timelines. However, FitzSimmons created a time machine to travel back in time. Did their time machine have a Quantum GPS? Or did it simply transport them through the new timeline? I think the act of bringing the Agents to the future created a new timeline, where the Earth was destroyed. By going back in time, they returned to their original timeline (the Prime Timeline), where the Earth was never destroyed. They cannot affect their past, remember?
Which brings me to the trailers for the new season of Agents of SHIELD: There is a “Coulson” who has no idea what “SHIELD” is. I think this “Coulson” is from another reality created either by the Agents’ own time shenanigans or one created by the Avengers in Endgame. Since Coulson joined SHIELD in approximately 1994, right out of high school, I would presume that he comes from either the 1970 timeline created by Tony and Steve, or the 1945-1950 timeline created by Steve when he lived with Peggy.
Think about it: If Steve went back in time and told Peggy about all the shit that was going to go down, Hydra would be rooted out, the Tesseract sent with Captain Marvel in 1995 into space, and the Battle of New York prevented. If so, there would be no reason for anyone to know what SHIELD was. SHIELD wasn’t common knowledge until the Battle of New York. Maybe Coulson was never recruited out of high school.
Every season, Agents of SHIELD deals with and expands on ideas mentioned in the MCU, as a way to dip our toes into the concepts before the movies tackle them. Season 1 was Hydra. Season 2 and 3 was Inhumans. Season 4 was artificial intelligence, other dimensions, and Ghost Rider. Season 5 was time travel and the Kree. Season 6 appears to be dealing with alternative realities. OH THE PLACES WE’LL GO!
Agent Carter. Congratulations! Agent Carter is officially the first show to be represented in the movies explicitly. When Tony and Steve travel to 1970, they see Peggy (duh) but also MOTHER FUCKING JARVIS. Jarvis is the first character that originated in the shows to be featured in a MCU movie. I love it.
What do you think? Let’s break it down together. DO THE READING!
I love you.