This article consists of nothing but massive Avengers: Endgame spoilers. You’ve been warned. We have a completely spoiler free review right here.
Avengers: Endgame, like any other movie dealing with time travel, can be a little confusing when it comes time to wrap things up. The more you think about how time travel works in this movie, the more it makes your head hurt. But, since you’re already here at this article, it’s probably too late for you anyway. Fortunately, the time travel elements only directly affect the endings of Thanos, Tony Stark, and Steve Rogers, while whatever is next for Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy (the Gamora problem notwithstanding, which we’ll get into), and the rest of the gang is relatively straightforward.
But you can’t really deal with the Avengers: Endgame ending without at least trying to figure out the headachey rules of time travel (which we’ll go into in much more thorough detail in another article). Most time travel narratives featuring characters traveling into their own pasts follow one of two time travel logics. The first logic is that time travel is a closed loop and that anything you change through traveling back in time will have always been changed. Everything that’s happened in the past has already happened, even if you didn’t know it until your current present. The second option is the branched parallel timelines logic. If you travel into the past, every change you make will create a new branch of the timeline that exists in parallel to the “original” branch. In this logic, you can never change the present and future of your own timeline, only the present and future of other timelines. Which logic does the time travel in Endgame fall into? Kind of both, but mostly the second.
The fact that the Infinity Stones are stolen from the Avengers at various points in the timeline, even if they are returned, implies there are multiple timelines that were created from those changed moments. In other words, parallel universes would branch out from Steve, Tony, and Scott’s jump to Battle of New York in 2012; Steve and Tony’s jump to New Jersey in 1970; and from Rhodes, Clint, Nebula, Scott, and Nat’s jump to 2014. So keep all that in mind as we sort out the events of the Avengers: Endgame ending.
We tried to explain all of the Avengers: Endgame time travel rules right here. Maybe that will help with the rest of this.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THANOS’S ARMY
This parallel branches theory, which is alluded to in Tony Stark’s final voiceover about the multiverse, is perhaps better explained by Thanos’s time travel. If he travels to his own future (the Endgame present) and dies before ever assembling the Infinity Gauntlet and snapping in the first place, then the Avengers’ original need to stop him would become irrelevant… only if this were a closed loop timeline. Since that didn’t happen, this implies that there are parallel branch universes that our heroes and villains are jumping between, but those branches are “clipped” (Steve’s word) when the Stones are returned to their place in the timeline.
Tony Stark uses the reality altering power of the Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out Thanos, the Black Order, and their entire army, just as Thanos wiped out half of all life in the universe at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. Of course, the destruction of the Thanos of “five years ago” in the “present” of the current MCU opens the door to all manner of headaches, but the simplest explanation here is that the Thanos that Thor beheaded early in the movie is still “our” Thanos, while the one defeated at the end of the movie is from a parallel universe, which might help explain why his demise doesn’t invalidate the next few years of the MCU.
DEATH OF TONY STARK
The seeds of Tony’s death by Infinity Gauntlet have been teased since at least 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, when Ronan the Accuser disintegrated because he couldn’t handle the energies contained within the Power Stone, and was thus consumed. Just a little earlier in Endgame, it was clear that the power of the Gauntlet and the combined stones could barely be contained by the Hulk’s gamma-irradiated physique, so if he couldn’t handle it, the minute Tony had to use it, we should have all been clued in to his imminent exit from the land of the living.
We suppose you could say that there’s some symmetry with killing off Tony Stark, the character who made the entire MCU possible thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s performance, and the late 2018 death of Stan Lee, the legendary writer, editor, and co-creator (and master of cameos) of many aspects of the Marvel Universe as a whole. In both cases, an era has passed.
WHO IS AT TONY STARK’S FUNERAL?
In attendance at Tony Stark’s funeral you can find all the surviving Avengers, plus a few special guests, including Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill, Marissa Tomei’s May Parker, William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross, and Ty Simpkins’ Harley Keener from the immensely underrated Iron Man 3.
We wrote in much more detail about the significance of all the guests at Tony Stark’s funeral right here.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THOR, VALKYRIE, AND THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY?
Believe it or not, the Asgardians of the Galaxy is actually a thing in Marvel Comics. Somehow. Don’t expect that to be anything other than a clever pun in the MCU, though, as that team consists almost exclusively of characters who haven’t been (and probably never will be) introduced on screen.
However, the prospect of Thor galivanting around the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy is certainly a fun one. Thor: Ragnarok fed off the colorful, comedic energy of the Guardians movies, and Chris Hemsworth has proven himself a natural comedic presence, with fun timing and chemistry with Chris Pratt. Whether this is the direction James Gunn chooses to go with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 or not remains to be seen, as he has been pretty good about keeping his movies partitioned off from the wider concerns of the MCU. It’s more likely that Thor 4 will take on a similarly interstellar tone to Thor: Ragnarok, one that sees Thor finally recover from the depression that gripped him after losing Asgard, the events of Infinity War, and his actions at the start of Endgame. The prospect of Valkyrie running the show in New Asgard should leave fans hopeful for a larger role for Tessa Thompson in future Marvel movies, as well.
But the bigger problem for the Guardians is Gamora. The Gamora we all knew from the first two Guardians movies most certainly died in Infinity War, leaving us with the Gamora of five years ago (or, well, the Gamora of an alternate timeline from five years ago) who never had these experiences with the Guardians. But the ending of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 set up the arrival of Adam Warlock, a character who has traditionally been tied quite closely to the Soul Stone. Is it possible that through assorted shenanigans, Warlock is able to bring that back into existence, and in the course of that adventure, the essence of the “original” Gamora ends up merging with the one currently running around the MCU? Who knows? We wrote much more about what happened to Gamora in Endgame right here.
In any case, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is going to be the first of that arm of the franchise to have to deal heavily with story and character elements introduced in the rest of the MCU. We’ll see how James Gunn and company handle it when the time comes.
SAM WILSON IS THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA
Make no mistake, Sam Wilson is your next Captain America. Sure, there have been other characters who took up the shield in the pages of Marvel Comics before Sam got his turn, notably characters like the ill-advised John Walker and everyone’s favorite best pal/ship Bucky Barnes. But here’s the thing…
Steve Rogers never got a say in either of those two characters getting the shield. John Walker was appointed by the US Government after Steve went rogue (as he is known to do from time to time), and Bucky only put on the red, white, and blue while Steve was dead (he got better). To be clear, when Steve returned from the dead (as he is also known to do from time to time) he still gave Bucky his blessing to continue for a while before he took the shield back, but in terms of “officially” passing the mantle on, the only person he has ever done that for is Sam Wilson.
And with good reason. Even though Bucky pre-dates Sam by nearly thirty years in comics, Sam has been active for far longer, and did plenty of service as Cap’s partner. Steve officially giving Sam the nod here is a big deal. Still, this is very much only the beginning of Sam’s journey to becoming Captain America. There’s a The Falcon and The Winter Soldier TV series coming to Disney+ that will likely deal with Sam getting comfortable with the responsibility that comes with the Captain America title, and Bucky will presumably help him navigate that.
Oh, and the other good news is that Sam Wilson’s Captain America costume is really, really badass, and the MCU version won’t have to make too many modifications to make it work on screen.
WHAT HAPPENED TO STEVE ROGERS?
As the Ancient One explained to Bruce Banner, removing the Infinity Stones from their place in the timeline causes branching issues, but returning them to the moment from which they were taken means that the branching in question never happens. So Steve has six stops to make, including in 1970 (from where he and Tony swiped the Tesseract), 2014 (where the Power Stone was located), Asgard in 2013, Vormir in 2018 (soul), New York in 2012 (time), and…this is where things get cloudy. Where does the Mind Stone get returned to? Because at a certain point in the past, this could potentially allow Vision to return to life.
But while Steve is only gone for a few minutes of “our time” he’s gone for considerably longer of “his” time. And he decides to take a detour back to 1945, the point shortly after he went into the ice, to live out his days with Peggy Carter. The song playing as Steve and Peggy dance is “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” specifically the version recorded by the Harry James Orchestra with Kitty Kallen on vocals. “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” was a 1945 hit with lyrics that are really, really appropriate, as they seem to deal with welcoming a lover back from years at war. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Steve lives out his days with Peggy (and outlives her by a few years, as she died in Captain America: Civil War), and returns to the spot where he left to let his buddies know that he’s ok, apparently wearing the same tan jacket he wore as young, pre-super soldier serum Steve in Captain America: The First Avenger. He doesn’t look bad for a guy who is about 110 years old, all things considered. And there is still some precedent from the comics for Steve Rogers to still be a part of various Marvel adventures, even if he isn’t taking an active, physical role.
One potential headache here comes when you look too closely at Peggy Carter’s story arc. We know from other MCU films that Peggy eventually married someone else — someone Steve rescued in his big The First Avenger rescue mission. Perhaps Peggy was playing coy and she meant it was Steve himself? Perhaps she married someone else either to lose him in some way (or dump him upon Steve’s return)? Or maybe Steve successfully changed the past here? Or, more likely, after all the other Infinity Stones were returned, he simply created an alternate timeline where he lived out his life with Peggy, and found a way to return to the spot of his disappearance in “our” universe both to reassure his friends and to pass on the shield to Sam.
Regardless of whatever explanation you choose, just know that Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter get the “happily ever after” that they so desperately deserve. May we all be so lucky.
WHAT ABOUT SPIDER-MAN?
During Tony Stark’s final voiceover, we see Peter Parker returning to school, where he’s greeted by Ned Leeds, who is the same age he was when we last saw him in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Infinity War. And we saw in Spider-Man: Far From Home that many of Peter’s other classmates, including Flash Thompson are back, as well. There seems to be some confusion about why Peter Parker’s friends are still the same age as he is when there has been a five year time jump, but it’s not that hard to explain.
Anyone who survived the snapture aged as normal over the next five years. Anyone who was “dusted” is returned at the same age they were five years previously. The key to this comes in the moment when Hulk is about to use the Infinity Gauntlet, when Tony tells him not to “just bring everybody back, don’t change anything else about the last five years.”
DOES AVENGERS: ENDGAME HAVE A POST-CREDITS SCENE
No, there’s no post-credits scene. Why? Because this movie doesn’t need one. Instead, this movie has a pre-credits scene, which plays kind of like an alternate post-credits scene from Avengers: Infinity War, dealing with what Hawkeye sees when the snap happens. Marvel has the next ten years to set up future movies with fun little teases, they just ended this decade beautifully. What, you were expecting Wolverine to show up? Nah. Marvel Studios takes enough heat for the commercial nature of these post-credits scenes, letting Endgame actually end the way it does is a wonderful thing.
But that doesn’t mean you should leave as soon as the credits roll. If you are patient and stay to the end and listen very carefully during the very end of the credits, you can hear a faint clanging sound. That is the sound of Tony Stark forging the Mark I armor in the first Iron Man movie. We wrote more about the significance of this here.
“You can rest now.”