It’s been 2 weeks since Endgame was out and it’s currently the number two at the global office just $300 million away from the reigning champ, Avatar. I myself have watched it about 5 times.
I have written a pretty detailed account of everything that I felt about the movie in my previous post, but I deliberately left out one key aspect of the movie. Endgame is a three-hour long superhero movie with barely any action set pieces in the first two hours, a great deviation from the MCU format. Most non-origin-story movies in MCU open with a fight sequence, introduce conflict, expand on conflict with another fight sequence that the hero(es) lose either partially or completely, devise a plan/ make an inspirational comeback and a climax fight sequence where the hero(es) win. Nearly every second and third movie in all the MCU trilogies follows this pattern except for Endgame. Even Infinity War fits this mould if you consider it Thanos’ movie. Endgame finally gave our Avengers a chance to do something other than punch their way out of problems. It was different and engaging, as well as necessary because these character interactions lead to the conclusion of our heroes’ arcs. Fights never give you closure, talking does. How did it give them this chance? Time Travel.
As with any movie dealing with time travel, Endgame sets down its own rules for how it all works with some heavy name-dropping of actual science dealing with time travel. It also heavily burns the logic of Back to the Future because it was very much necessary to make sense of how time travel works in this movie. Even on my 5th viewing, there was a guy in the theatre who loudly asked his friend how did future-Nebula not vanish as soon as she killed past-Nebula. The Russos have also mentioned in an interview that the repeated stressing on “Back to the Future is bullshit” was precisely due to this very reason after they screened it for test audience.
The time travel, while giving us one final look back at how far we’ve come before the story ends, also allowed us different viewpoints on existing MCU lore tying up some loose ends neatly. We see that the New York Sanctum was indeed functional and helping out during the Chitauri Invasion. She was also well aware of Strange’s existence with her time hopping abilities. We are shown that Shield’s Hydra infestation was not a sudden plot device for Winter Soldier. That’s always been the case and is exactly how the mind stone ended up with Strucker. Personally, that always bugged me whenever I watched Age of Ultron. Natasha was holding the staff and posing with the rest towards the end of Avengers and I just assumed it went to Asgard with the Tesseract when Loki and Thor did. We see how exactly Spiderman’s instant-kill mode comes handy. They even worked in the shawarma scene as Thor goes, “A bit of lunch and then Asgard”. However, as with all time travel, it is quite complex and needs to be understood.
While words like Eigenvalues and EPR Paradox and thrown in to make the dialogues relate to mathematics and quantum mechanics, it was the presence of a Morbius strip that first made me think if this movie was going to go the usual route of – “Time is a loop. Everything that’s about to happen has already happened leading to right now”. Right now, we’ve lost. That’d be pointless, right? Thankfully, it turned out the strip was for mere decoration as well. Stark also mentions the Deutsch proposition. While there is no specific “Deutsch proposition”, there does exists a paper by a physicist called David Deutsch from 1991 which provides a workaround to prevent the Grandfather paradox, wherein you go back in time and kill your grandfather thus preventing your own birth thus leaving nobody to kill the grandfather thus resulting in you being born and going back in time to kill your grandfather. However, Deutsch used the probabilistic nature of everything according to Quantum mechanics to propose a ‘solution’ to this paradox. The movie uses the completely different, yet just as plausible “Many-worlds interpretation” of uncertainties in a quantum mechanical system. In the most rudimentary terms, this interpretation tells us that every time a particle chooses to spin a particular way or you choose what to have for dinner tonight, the universe splits into many parallel universes wherein each of the possible choices took place one at a time. This is just one of the interpretations, but seem to be the favourite of most time travel movies dealing with “split timelines”.
Sidenote – literally any time travel movie comes undone the more it is subject to scrutiny. As the directors Joe and Anthony Russo stated in a recent interview, talking about time travel is like talking about God. We don’t know if it exists or how it exists, so any discussion is ultimately speculation and not fact. The movie knows this and is totally in on the joke, with Banner and Lang repeatedly poking fun at the absurdity of time travel and time travel movies.
Nevertheless, we are still going to attempt to dissect this movie’s logic as much as possible and see how it holds up. But firstly, I want to bring certain key lines of dialogue that basically dictate to the audience about how the multiverse works –
From the interview –
Anthony Russo : “But to be honest, talking about time travel is very similar to talking about god. Everyone’s going to have a different understanding of what it is.”
Joe Russo: “At the end of the day, any thinking about time travel breaks down. What we tried to do was make sure the rules we were playing with [in regard to] time travel were honored by the plot of the movie.”
From Infinity War –
Strange – We’re in the Endgame now. This was the only way.
From Endgame –
Banner – It’s time travel. Either it’s all a joke or none of it is. If you travel to the past, that past becomes your future and your former-present becomes your past which can’t now be changed by your new future.
Ancient one [explaining to Banner] – The six infinity stones create what you experience as reality. Remove one stone and this reality splits into an alternate timeline.
Banner [to The Ancient One]: Not if once we win, we return the infinity stones to their original reality thus erasing the alternate timelines.
Banner [to Cap in the end]: You have to return each infinity stone to the precise moment it was taken or else it’ll lead to a bunch of nasty alternate realities.
They are peppered in different parts of the movie but listening to them back to back should clear stuff up, I guess. Essentially, if you change an event, then the timeline branches out following these new set of events. So you cannot go back and change your own timeline. Everything that’s happened to you is set in stone. You could, however, change an event, cause an alternate timeline and choose to live in that timeline enjoying the effects of your changes but there will now exist two “you”s in this timeline. Each timeline requires all 6 infinity stones intact. While the Ancient One did explain that the stones create what we experience as the flow of time, I don’t think she means they are needed for a timeline to exist. They are just needed because they are the “chief weapons and source of power in their fight against evil forces”. Basically, if a stone was removed, it’d become too hard for the heroes to push back against evil and that timeline is doomed is what she means. That’s why it’s very much necessary for Banner to return the stones to their original timelines. Technically, had their mission gone clean, without them interacting with anyone much and being super discreet, it is totally possible for these alternate realities to have never existed at all. But they did. So even when Cap returns them, they’d still lead to some very different and interesting futures. This image I found on Imgur comes close to how I understood this movie to work –
Most of the divergent timelines are intact with minor changes except for three – the one where only time stone was taken now has Loki running free and Hydra thinking the Captain is on their side. The ancient one probably had the Hulk disappear with the time stone only to have Captain reappear with it a few seconds later. She would probably say, “Thank you, Steve Rogers, now let me just take care of this Loki problem” and proceed to use the time stone to keep him from ever escaping at all; the one where Peter Quill wakes up in Morag with a bump on his head and proceeds to take the power stone while cautiously looking out for whoever punched him but now his timeline has no Thanos, Gamora or Nebula to cause problems; the one Captain marries Peggy will now technically have two Captains in the same timeline with our Cap having to quietly stay on the sidelines and let their Cap deal with all the Avenging. But will he be able to do that? Will he go and try to stop Hydra from taking Bucky? He knows a lot and he is Steve Rogers, so it is hard to believe that he will truly just stay with his best girl and not at least “accidentally” tip or assist the Avengers of his timeline. The other timelines stay rather intact and will probably end up having their own Infinity wars and perhaps they fall in the other fourteen million possibilities where they lose. Jane Foster would’ve been freaked out by a racoon pulling the aether out of her and running away only to have Captain America in a white suit, holding the Mjolnir inject it right back into her and vanish. Thor would’ve rushed to her and they dismiss it as some delusion or dream or a weird side effect of the aether. This timeline’s Frigga would probably have a slightly more peaceful death. Hank Pym would’ve rushed back to his lab and freaked out over the missing vials of Pym particles but probably pushed it under the rug and went on with his days. This timeline’s Howard Stark would have probably been a much better father to Tony Stark. Might be interesting to see how that Tony turned out to be. I wouldn’t really mind a whole movie of Captain just visiting each person to return the stone and Mjolnir. I would love to see his reaction to Asgard and Vormir, especially as he runs into Red Skull.
Essentially as long as every timeline in existence in the multiverse has its own set of 6 infinity stones intact, there is no problem. Whatever “problems” were caused will be taken care of by that timeline’s Avengers. It is a multiverse with infinite dimensions, who’s to say there aren’t already timelines where the Avengers were never formed or Tony died in that cave or Loki won the battle of New York? Does the creation of a few more really matter? I’m just glad they found a way not to retcon everything that’s happened in the MCU so far. Whatever problems you have with the plot of Endgame, the movie has one ultimate plot armour to snap them all away – “This was the only way”.
The one grievance is regarding the purpose of a quantum tunnel. The movie seemed to imply that Tony’s space-time GPS could be used to jump between different point of space-time once they were in the past, but to return to the prime timeline in the present, they need the quantum tunnel. Even Thanos’ ship emerges through it. So if Captain ending up with Peggy happens in an alternate timeline, shouldn’t he have emerged out of the quantum tunnel only? Him appearing on a bench suddenly was beautifully shot but seemed to counter the film’s own logic. I initially assumed that since he just seemed to have walked over to that bench, he’s been married to Peggy all along in this prime timeline itself. After all, they seemed to deliberately hide her husband’s identity in Winter Soldier. But then the Russos went ahead and said it’s an alternate reality. When questioned about the point of the quantum tunnel, they had a rather vague, “There’s probably a story there. What a life he must have lived. Maybe we’ll see more of it in future instalments”. When Sam says the shield felt like it was someone else’s and Cap says that it isn’t. It seemed to hint that in that reality, Sam Wilson had been Captain America all along. But then the writers totally contradicted it in a different interview where they said that Peggy’s husband being Steve Rogers was always the plan since Winter Soldier and they deliberately left out the husband’s photo or names just in case they get an opportunity like this one. They went as far as to suggest that this would mean there are two kids out there with super-soldier DNA! Clearly, there’s been some miscommunication. We can only wait and see.
It would be interesting to see the consequences of a few of these changed timelines in maybe the next Strange or Antman movie as they go dimension hopping. The only question that I do have is, while it has been made sure that every reality that a stone was removed from is now corrected, what about the prime reality where Thanos destroyed the stones? Is it dangerous only if they are removed entirely from existence and not a big deal as long as they exist “reduced to atoms”? Are they now just floating in the wind across the universe and can be recollected by any superior being in the universe? As much as I would love these questions to be addressed, it’d actually be better if the future of the MCU was not centred around these stones as well.
Far From Home now has a new synopsis which calls it “an extended epilogue” catching up on events following minutes after Endgame. A multiverse has been mentioned but then it was from Mysterio, so take that with a pinch of salt. Zendaya also posted a blurry, “shocked” photo of herself on her Instagram captioned “[my reaction] on watching endgame and knowing what I know about FFH!!!” So I guess the final instalment of Phase 3 will come with added tears and goodbyes. I shall keep my tissues ready. Onwards to phase four.