Spoilers ahead for Avengers: Endgame.
Time travel is a bitch of a narrative device. Like a wild horse, it’ll buck off any and all comers, no matter how well they think they have the idea buttoned down. At first glance, such appears to be the case again in Avengers: Endgame. By the end of the story, too many things have gone wrong, too many moments in the past have been driven directly off the rails. There is no way the timeline is an intact Mobius Strip. This is no Kate And Leopold where the past and the future happen in tandem, meaning any time travel was supposed to happen and therefore no paradoxes can come into play due to the inertia of time itself. Then again, what if that wasn’t the goal? Instead of a Mobius Strip, it looks like the Russo Brothers may be utilizing another time travel staple: The Trousers of Time.
For those of you who aren’t fans of author Terry Pratchett (shame on you!), let me explain: the Trousers of Time is just a simple way to explain a multiverse. Trouser, or pants as I’ll be calling them from now on because I’m an American, begin as a single unit near but then split into two sleeves. The other portions can touch, they look identical, but they are two separate things. The best possible scenario for Endgame is the MCU is now functioning on two timelines. Worst case scenario is they just made Trousers of Time for an eldritch beast with 800 legs.
Let’s look at the rules established by the film. Changing something in the past doesn’t change the future. However, if the time travelers don’t put the Infinity Stones right back where they got them from, time will splinter into new offshoots. Tilda Swinton‘s Ancient One only gives BruceHulk (Mark Ruffalo) the Time Stone once she is certain he understands the danger. Did he though? Yes, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) took the Stones back to where they came from. But even if he also went back and undid a couple of fumbles during the Time Heist, the pants have already split.
First of all, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). During the initial attempt at grabbing the Tesseract, the Avengers’ plan goes south when the Asgardian Prince snatches the briefcase and teleports away. There is no putting that oopsie-daisy back in the bottle. Loki is long gone. Capturing him and sticking him back in the timeline is not within Captain America’s wheelhouse. And this is not the bittersweet, emotional growth Loki that MCU audiences have grown to love but the one still covered in a thick layer of villainy. Which might be a problem in and of itself, but let’s focus on how this new wrinkle in time ripples out into the greater narrative.
Loki escaping means he is never returned to Asgard. He is never imprisoned in the dungeons so he’s not there to “make mischief” when the Dark Elves break-in. Without that, Frigga (Rene Russo) might survive the assault. But it also means Thor (Chris Hemsworth) had no one easily on hand to help him reach the Dark Elves’ homeworld of Svartalfheim. There’s a possibility this timeline sees Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) succeeds in his mission to absorb the Aether and attacked Asgard.
But that time split is nothing compared to the big one: Thanos (Josh Brolin). In the final act of Avengers: Endgame, Nebula 2 (Karen Gillan) uses the Time Heist machine to bring her father and his army forward in time to fight. The villains disappear from the beginning of the first Guardians Of The Galaxy movie, prior to Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) obtaining the Power Stone. They never return. Thanos’ gambit does not pay off and his entire military might is dusted. His minions, his Generals, everyone. Perhaps the only survivor is Gamora 2 (Zoe Saldana) who is now trapped in the MCU Prime timeline. That is going to have massive reverberations.
On a small scale, it means Star-Lord 2 will never meet his Gamora. Without her, Rocket 2 (Bradley Cooper) and Groot 2 (Vin Diesel) simply collect the bounty on Star-Lord 2 and move on with their lives. Drax 2 (Dave Bautista) never enters the picture. Star-Lord probably escapes but he isn’t part of a new found family. The events of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 never happen, or if they do it is probably Star-Lord would simply choose to join his father, Ego the Living Planet 2. (Kurt Russell)
The overshadowing change though is the void left by Thanos 2. He is just gone from the universe. It’s possible Ronan (Lee Pace) survived since he was already on another mission, but a majority of the army is wiped out. Thanos never destroys Xandar to retrieve the Power Stone. He never wipes out most of the Asgardian refugees (and there most likely wouldn’t be any since Loki isn’t there in that timeline anyway to push events towards Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) death and Hela’s (Cate Blanchett) release). He never kills Heimdall (Idris Elba). Knowhere isn’t destroyed. The Soul Stone is never retrieved. The battle in Wakanda never takes place. The Avengers never make up after the Age Of Ultron in order to be strong enough to fight Thanos. The Snap never happens. If there’s no Thanos to defeat, there’s no reason for Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) to die. The consequences of killing Thanos 2 in the wrong pant leg of time has repercussions that reverberate up and down the timeline.
Comic books have never shied away from the concept of a multiverse and Into The Spider-Verse proved the MCU is willing to at least flirt with the concept. But it is the upcoming Disney+ Marvel shows that telegraph a split timeline is probably in the near future. Looking at the line-up all but confirms the television shows will be taking place in MCU2.
First there’s WandaVision starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany. Unless Bettany is only visible to Wanda through Infinity Stone magic or the show takes place in the short timeframe between the end of Ultron and the beginning of Infinity War, they are definitely in MCU2. The same for Loki starring Tom Hiddleston. Wherever Loki 2 absconded to when he stole the Tesseract is the likely suspect as the narrative jumping off point for his show. Hawkeye will see Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) passing the baton on to Kate Bishop, a story which could take place in either the MCU or MCU2. But if they want to use Matt Fraction’s amazing run as the show’s baseline, that works best in a reality where Clint isn’t a married father of three. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier could be a natural extension of Endgame‘s final moments, but not calling Anthony Mackie “Captain America” when he has both the shield and the blessing of the original superhero seems off. If this tale is indeed from the MCU2, the question of where Steve Rogers might be is a nail-biter.
Finally, Disney+ announced an animated series called Marvel’s What If…? which will delve into alternative histories, such as what would happen if Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) was given the super soldier serum instead of Steve. This could be entirely separate from the continuity of the films and live-action television shows. But with Endgame shaking out the way it did, there’s a distinct possibility all these loose time threads being explored were caused by the Time Heist.
What do you guys think? Did the Russo Brothers merely leave plot holes in their time travel narrative, or were these purposeful choices setting up the next phase of the MCU?
Note: This article was initially published at a prior date, but in advance of Avengers: Endgame’s release on Digital HD on July 30th, we’re highlighting our spoiler-filled Endgame content.