WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME
Before we get down to this, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Avengers Endgame was an epic masterpiece meticulously crafted to bring an emotional conclusion to 21 previous titles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Endgame was a 3 hour roller coaster of smiles and tears, if you looked closely enough, the Russo’s as well as screenwriters Christopher Markes and Stephen McFeely, might not have spent enough time to address some of the glaring plot holes in movie.
Almost all MCU movies have plot holes – this is unavoidable considering most of these movies happens in a fictional universe and trying to tie together 21 films into one final all encapsulating movie is no easy feat – but unlike most of the previous movies, there are just one too many plot holes in Endgame that leaves that lingering bitterness at the back of your mind as you walk out of the hall.
The flawed concept of Time Travel in Avengers: Endgame
Before we get into the plot holes, lets first establish some basics of Time Travel, and how it works differently in Endgame. Time Travel in movies is a tricky subject to master and very few movies have managed to convey the theories across successfully.
In the aftermath of 2018’s Infinity War, one of the most popular theories across the web was that in the sequel, the Avengers would time travel back to the past to prevent Thanos from snapping half the known universe out of existence. We covered that in depth in our dissection of Infinity War last year. While the underlying story line of Endgame did involve traveling back in time, the mechanics, as well as the understanding of how time travel works did differ a lot from theories that are considered the norm in many previous big screen movies.
In Endgame, Professor Hulk, Rhodey, Lang, Clint and Nebula specifically distinguish how time travel works in the MCU compared to time travel in movies like Star Trek, Terminator, Time Cop, Time After Time, Quantum Leap, A Wrinkle in Time, Somewhere In Time, Hot Tub Time Machine, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. That list of movies, was explicitly mentioned in Endgame by Rhodey (War Machine) – who it would seem seems is a bigger movie buff than Peter Parker.
If you were to recall all of the above movies, they all utilize two popular theories of time travel – the Grandfather Paradox, as well as the Butterfly Effect. Both these theories point to one thing in common – that there is only one ultimate timeline, and changing the past will directly change or influence the future. Steven Spielberg’s Back to the Future trilogy made use of most if not all of these theories to great effect – including the introduction of a split timeline when the past is changed – something which was also referenced to by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in a graphic representation to Professor Hulk in Endgame when they travel back to 2012.
Time travel in Endgame happens through the Quantum Realm and involves multiple timelines – which makes it even more complicated than the single timeline theory. In essence, we are made to believe that there are multiple timelines, and each of these timelines does not overlap with each other and items (infinity stones, Mjolnir, etc) and beings (Thanos, Nebula, Gamora etc) from these alternative timelines are able to co-exist in either timeline without changing the future of each of this timelines. This theory in itself makes the whole MCU idea of time travel not only complicated but also opens it up to the numerous plot holes that we’ll break down in detail later in this article.
Ideally, this concept of time travel should blend in perfectly with the Multiverse concept of the MCU, something which formed the basis of the 2018 animated Spiderman hit – Into the Spiderverse. The only problem here is, the concept of a Multiverse is that each timeline is distinctly different from each other with characters all having their own different storyline – something which was not the case in Endgame.
The Quantum Realm Time Travel Machine
The first major plot hole we’re going to look at is the time travel machine that Professor Hulk built and Tony Stark perfected (overnight at that). The theory, as explained by Scott Lang, was that since Ant Man was able to jump forward 5 years, to 2023 in what felt like 5 minutes to him in the Quantum Realm, they should be able to work on manipulating time in the same way and travel to the past. Sound logic here.
Our heroes then hatch a plan – instead of going back and stopping the snap (because according to the MCU time travel theory, this will not change their future – so going back and killing baby Thanos will not solve anything), they decide to go back and get all six Infinity Stones from alternate timelines, to undo the snap, and preserve the current timeline – with all the emotional baggage of losing all the people they love for 5 years – just so that Tony Stark can preserve his daughters life. They break up into teams, to go back to different points in time that they remember to retrieve the 6 infinity stones, long before Thanos gets his hands on it.
Captain America, Iron Man, Professor Hulk and Ant-Man travel back to the battle of New York 2012 to get the Mind and Space Stone from Loki, as well as the Time Stone from the Sanctum Sanctorum. They get two of the three as Loki escapes with the Tesseract, so Captain America and Iron Man travel even further back in time to 1970 to steal it from Howard Stark.
Now here comes the first big plot hole. While our first four heroes travel back in time on Earth, Thor (Chris Hemsworth with a beer belly) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) travel to Asgard in 2013 to get the Reality Stone from Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Nebula (Karen Gillian) and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) travel to Morag in 2014 to get the Power Stone from Quill (Chris Pratt). Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner who has now morphed to Ronin) travel to Vormir to pick up the Soul Stone.
Plot Hole #1 – How is it that a Quantum Realm Time Machine is able to send our heroes not only back in time, but millions of miles across the galaxy at the same time? Did Tony Stark solve time travel as well as space travel overnight?
One important details to note with regards to the Quantum Realm time travel machine is a number of critical components are required in order to make it work for the time traveling Avengers. The special protection suits, the time and space GPS (isn’t GPS supposed to mean Global Positioning Satellites?) as well as most importantly the Pym particles which they have just enough for one trip to and back each (maybe if they all got jumped into the Benatar, they would just need one container of Pym particles for each trip? They should have asked Thanos).
The Avengers manage to collect all stones from the different timelines (with some personal sacrifices along the way), but the Nebula that returned was not the same Nebula from 2023, but the Thanos fearing Nebula from 2014 – using the one Pym particle which she retrieved from 2023 Nebula. 2014 Nebula will then bring Thanos’ entire 2014 army to 2023 for the final battle – on Thanos’ big ass spaceship none the less!
Plot Hole #2 – How did Nebula manage to bring through 2014 Thanos and his entire army through the Quantum Realm time machine? It can be argued that Thanos did manage to replicate the particles in the 2014 timeline to get his army to 2023, but that would mean that Thanos would have also gained the ability to time travel himself and acquire the Infinity Stones much faster in 2014 – without ever needing to confront the Avengers in 2023 – but maybe Thanos did not have Tony Stark!
The Infinity Stones
Now lets talk about the infinity stones that were retrieved from these alternate timelines. The first and most obvious one will be the Power Stone – which was taken somewhat easily from Quill on Morag.
But, as we learnt from the first Guardians of the Galaxy Movie, the Power Stone is immensely powerful, and it took one half celestial (Quill), and the rest of the Guardians to wield it. We also saw, in the same movie how Ronan the Accuser, as well as others who attempted to touch the stone struggle to handle its raw power.
Both the Space Stone, which was ultimately retrieved from 1970 from Howard Stark, as well as the Reality Stone, which was retrieved from Jane Foster in Asgard were still in their Aether and Tesseract form when brought back to 2023.
The Soul Stone is one of the hardest stones to retrieve. In Infinity War, the only person who knew its exact location was Gamora – who as we all know became Thanos’s ultimate sacrifice to retrieve the stone. While 2023 Nebula is aware of the location, its strange that she would not have divulged the fact that a sacrifice would be needed to retrieve the stone. We’re not even going to get into how exactly does Clint-Natasha fighting to sacrifice their own self actually justify the soul for a soul required to obtain the Soul Stone.
Plot Hole #3 – How did Tony Stark, or any of the remaining Avengers manage to control the power stone, or manipulate the form of the Aether and Tesseract. Captain Marvel was not around, and Thor, was never able to manipulate either the Aether or Tesseract when he was confronted with it in Dark World and Ragnarok.
In order to wield all six infinity stones, and undo Thanos snap, the Avengers will need a gauntlet, similar to the one wielded by Thanos in Infinity War. We are made to understand that they did not retrieve the broken gauntlet when they slaughtered Thanos earlier in the movie. Thanos went a long way to get his Gauntlet built by the Dwarves on Nidavellir (even 2014 Thanos that came back for the final battle did not have his own Gauntlet) – the same Dwarves who built Mjolnir and Storm Breaker from the power of a blazing neutron star.
Plot Hole #4 – In Endgame, Tony Stark fashions out a similar gauntlet, again probably overnight, presumably using nano-tech. How does nano-tech, which was so ineffective against Thanos in the battle on Titan in Infinity War be able to not only harness the power of six infinity stones but also survive Professor Hulk’s snap?
During the final 2023 battle, Thanos will eventually get his hands on the Stark-Gauntlet with all the stones in it. This is the same Gauntlet that Professor Hulk used earlier to undo the snap that dusted half the known universe. Tony Stark, in a quick moment of ‘genius’ gets to Thanos, and without him knowing, steals all the 6 infinity stones from Thanos and proceeds to snap Thanos and his army either back to their own timeline, or just to oblivion.
Plot Hole #5 – Tony Stark only stole the infinity stones while the Stark-Gauntlet still remained with Thanos – he tries to snap only to realize the Infinity Stones were all gone. Did Tony Stark already anticipate the arrival of Thanos and make a second Stark-Gauntlet? Or is his nano-tech suit so advance that its capable of replicating a third Gauntlet capable of holding 6 Infinity Stones?
The Final Battle – The Thanos Paradox
In 2018’s Infinity War, we see how Thanos goes head to head with Iron Man, The Guardians, Spider Man and Dr Strange on Titan. In this battle, Thanos had the Infinity Gauntlet, as well as 4 Infinity Stones, including the Power Stone. While he did eventually prevail and escape with the Time Stone, it was not an easy battle by any means.
When Thanos arrived on Earth after the battle at Wakanda, with 5 infinity stones at his disposal, he did not exactly have it all his way either. Thor single-handedly drove Storm Breaker through the Mad Titan after he had snapped the Gauntlet.
What we’re getting at here is this – Thanos derived most of his powers in Infinity War from the stones he had gathered – the first being the Power Stone from Xandar which allowed him to defeat Thor, Loki and Hulk and slaughter half of Asgard. But without any of the stones Thanos would have been, in theory not been able to stand up to the Avengers.
But in the final battle in Endgame, Thanos somehow manages to hold his own against all the Avengers. Lets recap here for a moment. On the Avengers side, we have Captain Marvel – who by herself takes down spaceships including the uber powerful one Thanos brought along with him, Wanda Maximoff who is capable of destroying an Infinity Stone all by herself, Thor the Asgardian God who defeated (and later beheaded) Thanos while he had all six stones, and even the all knowing Dr Strange who somehow saw it fit to be holding back water with while everybody else was busy battling the Mad Titan.
Plot Hole #6 2014 Thanos which came for the final battle in Endgame wielded way too much power compared to the 2018 Infinity Gauntlet wielding Thanos in Infinity War. Granted he had his army and the Children of Thanos with him – it makes no sense that none of the power wielding Avengers (Captain Marvel, Wanda Maximoff, Thor, Dr Strange) were not able to subdue him. Super sized Ant Man could have probably stepped on him as well.
Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist
Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you. Those words were uttered to Tony Stark by Steve Rogers in Avengers 2012, before the battle of New York. While 2023 Tony Stark has evolved a lot more to be less of all that, Tony Stark remains just that – a mere mortal in a suit of armor.
As we have seen throughout a number of MCU movies involving the Infinity Stones, most mortals who do come into direct contact with even a single stone are either consumed by the powers or struggle to handle its power. In Guardians of the Galaxy particularly, we learn that the Power Stone contains in it great cosmic power, and is highly likely to kill any organic beings that come in contact with it. Both Ronan the Accuser, as well as Quill (a half celestial) struggled to handle the Power Stone on their own.
Professor Hulk explained earlier in the movie that Hulk, due to his gamma radiation, he will be able to wield the Stark-Gauntlet to undo the snap – which he did (Thor would have probably volunteered if he was not being fat shamed all throughout the movie). But how does Tony Stark, a mortal with a suit of armor suddenly gain the ability to not only wield all six stones, but also to wield it long enough to snap Thanos and his army out of existence.
Plot Hole #7 – How is it possible for Tony Stark, a mere mortal with a suit of armor, to wield all six infinity stones and not be immediately obliterated. Granted it was only the snap that killed him (the Snap also injured Professor Hulk and even Thanos greatly), are we to believe anyone else wearing Tony Stark’s suit of armor would have been able to do the same? Pepper Potts had a suit on as well, could she have wielded all six stones and scarified herself instead?
Captain America back in time
After all the dust had settled down, Captain America was tasked to go back in time to return all the items (infinity stones, Mjolnir) that they had “borrowed” back to their original time lines – here we are made to believe this should restore all the timelines back to its original state.
What happens next however goes against that very concept of restoring the timelines. Captain America – Gods righteous man, decides to go against everything he stands for and stays back in the past – to be with Peggy Carter.
Now here is where it gets somewhat complicated, so stay with me. Firstly, it was established earlier in the movie that there are alternate timelines, which don’t overlap with each other. If Captain America did decide to stay in the past – he would not appear back on the current timeline as an older version of himself. Another fact to ponder on is, if he did indeed go back to 1940, or 1970 to spend the rest of his life with Peggy Carter, there wouldn’t there have been two Captain America’s on that particular time line.
There is also once again that question of how does Captain America, while travelling back in time, manage to also travel to Asgard, Morag, as well as Vormir to return the stones. And how exactly does one return the Soul Stone to Red Skull? Does returning the Soul Stone reverse Natasha’s sacrifice?
Plot Hole #8 – Captain America, travelling back in time, and appearing back on the same timeline as an older version of himself makes no sense whatsoever – based on the earlier established logic of time travel and multiple timelines in the MCU. Also, how does Captain America travel to all those far away galaxies to return the items they borrowed? Finally, by appearing back in the present, as an older version of himself, does that mean that there is also a younger version of the Captain America running around after waking up from his coma in the current timeline?
Multiple Timelines Madness
Now, aside from Captain America’s somewhat questionable decisions, another pressing question is whether returning all the items to their respective timelines restore these timelines to its actual state? Possible, but it will also mean that they would need to be returned to before things were changed, for example when they went back to the Battle of New York, they would need to ensure that Loki does not escape as this would inadvertently throw that whole timeline into chaos and it would splinter into a different path.
But is that enough? What about the people who were removed from their own timelines? Thanos and his army was removed from their 2014 timeline, and snapped out of existence. It can be argued here that Tony Stark merely snapped them back into their own timeline – but this was never explicitly mentioned in the Endgame. 2014 Nebula was killed by 2023 Nebula. What would that do to the 2014 timeline?
On Asgard, the Aether was removed from Jane Foster’s body. How exactly would this be returned to her considering the Aether was now in the form of the Reality Stone. The Tesseract is also now the Power Stone, so it will be a little odd to be returning a briefcase to 2012 with a Infinity Stone instead of a glowing blue cube.
Plot Hole #9 – Are there alternate timelines out there now, where Loki is still alive, or one where Thanos and his Army cease to exist after 2014? How does returning the Infinity Stones in different forms back to their original timelines not mess with that particular timeline?
Rat, or Mouse maybe?
At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, one number stood out beyond everything else. 14,000,605. Dr Strange, on Titan, before the battle with Thanos told Tony Stark and the Guardians that he only saw one possible way that they would win against Thanos.
Fast forward one year later, and we are made to believe that this one specific chain of events out of 14 million or so possible outcomes hinged on a rat accidentally rescuing Scott Lang from the quantum realm that he was stuck in. Yes a Rat!
Did Dr Strange actually go through all possible outcomes, or did he just stop at the first one that he felt might work?
Plot Hole #10 – Dr Strange surrendered the Time Stone to Thanos in exchange for Tony Stark’s life. Without Tony Stark, that one possible outcome would not have been possible. What if Goose the Cat decided to have that rat for dinner? Or was it a mouse from Disney who saved the day, you know where i’m going with this.
The end credits of Avengers: Infinity War gave us the first signs of hope for Endgame – Nick Fury’s last ditch message to Captain Marvel. The Captain Marvel movie that premiered a month before Avengers: Endgame was a box-office hit for one reason and one reason only. We wanted to know how Captain Marvel is going to return and lead the Avengers to battle against Thanos.
What transpired however was a Captain Marvel who looked half interested in Earth or the Avengers. How she discovered the location of the Benatar in deep space in record time is one of the questions we will never get an answer to. A quick trip to slaughter Thanos and she was gone – only to return at the end for the battle with a Thanos who did not posses any of the Infinity Stones.
We’re not even going to call this a plot hole simply because, Captain Marvel herself would have probably been able to single handedly defeated 2014 Thanos who did not command any of the Infinity Stones. Or she could have easily wielded the Stark-Gauntlet, snapped Thanos and his Army out of existence, without breaking a sweat.
For one reason or another, Captain Marvel’s involvement in Endgame was downplayed to that of a sidekick – the Russo’s probably didn’t expect her solo movie to be that big of a hit.
Infinity War vs Endgame
Five years down the road, when 2023 comes along, during the next phase of the MCU, if there was a comparison being made between which movie did it better – Infinity War is going to win hands down. While Endgame did provide an emotional closure to a number of our most loved characters in the franchise, it also undid a lot of the good that was built up until Infinity War.
Captain America’s selfish decision to stay back in the past – to be with Peggy, that could have thrown the future into chaos, Tony Stark’s decision to preserve a flawed timeline for the sake of his daughter, Natasha’s avoidable sacrifice, Tony’s avoidable sacrifice, Wanda Maximoff and living with the brutal death of Vision, Hawkeye rotting in jail for all his atrocities as Ronin, Thor’s decision to hand off the task of rebuilding Asgard for his people – the list goes on and on.
Was this the best possible ending – NO. Granted it was filled with emotion and sad goodbyes, it left a lot of questions unanswered – especially in relation to time travel and alternate timelines. Even with half the universe dusted – Infinity War ended with hope. Endgame unfortunately ended on an even bleaker note then how it started – maybe Thanos was right after all.
One thing that is set in stone, however, is this. The Russo’s are leaving the MCU (yes we just found out that this will be their last involvement with the MCU for the forseeable future) with one big mess to fix after they leave the franchise. Kind of reminds me of that messed up ending in Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand.