Time Travel is Awesome
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the concept of time travel and watching it unfold in movies. To this day, Back to the Future is still one of my favorite movies. I also enjoy reading about time travel as well, whether it’s in a fantasy like Artemis Fowl’s Time Paradox or a sci fi classic Time Machine.
I had a hunch that Avengers: Endgame was going to involve time travel with the after-credits scene in Ant Man & the Wasp where Hope’s mom warned Scott about time traveling portals in the quantum realm. Combined with Dr. Strange’s using his future-sight to try and predict the outcome, it seemed clear time travel was going to be a key part of Endgame.
And I’m excited it was. The going-back-in-time high jinks like Tony Stark meeting his dad and such were awesome. Captain America fighting himself. Getting to see the Ancient One again. It had everything going for it to be an awesome time travel movie.
But then they mucked it up.
The Rules for Time Travel
There’s three major strings of thought when it comes to how time travel operates.
- Going back in time and interacting in the past creates a new future (butterfly effect).
- Going back in time changes nothing and your influence is already set in stone.
Avengers: Endgame took a combined route, stating that Back to the Future was nonsense and that you can’t change your own past, however, interfering with the past can create alternate timelines. This is essentially the “multi-verse” theory that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse explored.
And that’s totally fine. It’s explained very well when the Hulk and the Ancient One are discussing how removing the infinity stones from the past would create a new timeline.
The concept of the mutiverse theory gets a little complicated to think about. Essentially, you can’t change your own past. When you go into the past, the present you left behind is now your past, so it cannot be changed because you changed something in the past you traveled to.
Did that sink in? Basically, any changes you make are going to be the consequences of some other time line and not your own (isn’t that not holding you accountable).
Where Endgame Falls Apart
Here’s where Endgame changes it’s own rules. The biggest and most glaring contradiction occurs at the end of the movie when Captain America goes back in time to restore the infinity stones, only to not return. We find him old and retired, having gone back to the past to live out his life with the love of his life.
So if you can’t go back and change the past, how did he go back and change the past? He married a woman who had married someone else and had kids, thereby erasing that life. He very clearly changed the past.
Now, some fans speculate that it was Steve himself that she married and events unfolded under the #2 time travel rule above. He was always her husband because he time traveled to do it. However, under that theory, there should be no way that he grew old and ended up in the Endgame timeline. Going back in the past and living his life there would have created a new timeline, one different from the one he left.
I discussed this glaring oversight with a colleague and she argued that once his wife died he had no reason to stay in that alternate timeline anymore, so he used the quantum realm to return to his original timeline. But, if that were true, he should appeared in the time travel machine, which he did not.
Messing More with Time
There’s also no way that alternate timelines weren’t created, even if the stones were returned. Two stones – space and reality, respectfully- were not returned in the form they had been taken in. The space stone had been in Loki’s spear, and the reality stone was all molten inside of Jane. And yet, they were returned as simply stones.
Not to mention how the consequences of time travel probably meant that the Guardians of the Galaxy never formed. They stopped Peter from getting the orb (power stone), which would have stopped him been wanted, which means Rocket/Groot would have never hunted him, and Gamora would have never tried to steal the orb back. Without the Guardians to save the galaxy, untold damage could be done to the universe.
And as epic as the final conclusion to the movie was, with the epic magic portals bringing everyone to battle, it still begs the question of the consequences. We probably aren’t going to see any of these consequences in action.
We might think that pulling Thanos from 2014 and defeating him was a good idea, but what if it wasn’t? What consequences will arise from setting Loki free in 2012?
Endgame, in short, takes no responsibility for the consequences of it’s actions, removing heroes and setting loose villains on unsuspecting timelines. It contradicts it’s own rules on time travel.
It was still a pretty cool time travel movie, though.