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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has played with time in ways that films rarely get to. When it comes to characters aging significantly onscreen, there are sometimes time jumps, such as in the Star Wars and Blade Runner franchises. But few film characters are a constant presence over a long period of time like the Avengers have been, with multiple heroes aging and maturing together.
So it’s appropriate that time travel has been a rumored plot device for Avengers: Endgame. Time travel provides the opportunity to end the Avengers’ stories, and possibly their lives, in a way that will allow them to pass the baton to the next generation of heroes.
Each original Avenger has a tale of time that can grow through visiting their past — their triumphs, their mistakes, what they’ve forgotten.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has gone from an egotistical hotshot to a regretful middle-aged man. Iron Man (2008) shows him learning from his past mistakes of getting into arms dealing, and every passing film has dealt with Tony trying to get ahead of time, to prevent a coming doom. And he fails time and time again, irreversible mistakes piling up, until his nightmares come true in the form of Thanos’ snap in Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has been a man out of time, trying to understand his place and his duty in the 21st century. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) depicts Rogers as unsure of what he’s meant for. Captain America: Civil War (2016) gives him a semblance of purpose. Time gives him back his best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), but takes away in equal measure, as he loses his first love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and the Avengers as a family. Avengers: Infinity War calls Steve back to duty only for him to truly fail.
Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) has been running from her past as a covert operative, but this becomes exposed at the end of The Winter Soldier and relived in Age of Ultron (2015). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has encountered tragic loss after tragic loss, his hard shell finally cracking in Infinity War, with him asking, “What more could I lose?” in one of the film’s most effective character moments.
Time travel in Avengers: Endgame could re-examine the core of each Avenger, allowing for their character arcs to come to a close, like the potential for Steve Rogers to finally have that date with Peggy Carter.
Time travel not only could serve endings, but it could serve beginnings, too. When Marvel steps away from Avengers: Endgame and into its future, it is stepping into a universe that won’t have all of the heroes it started with. A simple passing of the baton from new to hold seems insufficient, even with many of the heroes of the next phase already introduced, because the period of time between Iron Man and Avengers: Endgame will loom over the journeys of those heroes who take over.
Bringing the other heroes back in time with the original Avengers could form a bridge between the phases. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is alive (and might be the key to time travel with the Quantum Realm), and so are other characters connected to the newer heroes who died, such as Black Panther‘s Okoye (Danai Gurira) and M’Baku (Winston Duke); Guardians of the Galaxy’s Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
If the film does return to New York during the events of 2012’s Avengers as fans speculate, the heroes who weren’t there originally could see firsthand how the Battle of New York scarred the Avengers (specifically Tony). They could see what the original Avengers’ past means to them, to see how they formed a team that’s been integral to saving the world multiple times.
The most important hero that needs to make a connection with The Avengers is shaping up to be Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, who could become the face of the MCU going forward. Marvel Studios has been thinking about time from the outset with Carol Danvers. Not only is her story literally set in the past — but based on trailers, her own past is an integral part of her character. In the most recent trailer, Jude Law’s Mar-Vell says to Danvers: “You have to let go of the past.” Danvers replies: “I don’t remember my past.”
March’s Captain Marvel will address Danvers’ past at some point, as in the second trailer, Danvers says: “Something in my past is the key to all of this.” And it’s possible that how they address unlocking her past could also be key to how the Avengers travel through time to save the universe.
While characters may be retired or dead, that connection through time with Danvers could both help with character development of the heroes moving on and bring the heroes of the past into the themes of new stories. Perhaps Avengers: Endgame will help Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow and the others live on beyond their years.
Avengers: Endgame opens April 26.
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