This unbelievable Endgame time travel theory suggests the Avengers will travel back in time to stop… themselves

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Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

How is Avengers: Endgame going to end? That’s probably the biggest question every Marvel fan has been wondering since Thanos snapped half the universe to dust in Avengers: Infinity War. Since then, countless Avengers: Endgame theories have begun popping up left and right about what happens in Endgame, including Doctor Strange’s understanding all possible outcomes, Nick Fury already knowing the future, and Ant-Man defeating Thanos through bizarre butt stuff (somehow, this last one seems unlikely).

Despite the many ideas out there about the Avengers: Endgame ending, I’m just going to come out and say it: I think I’ve figured it out. Call it a hunch, hope, blind optimism, or hubris, but here’s my take on how Marvel Studios might wrap up what’s possibly the most highly anticipated superhero movie ever. Instead of going back to challenge Thanos, the Avengers travel through time to stop themselves… hear me out. 

Before I try and convince you of my theory, let’s begin with what we know for sure. Endgame marks the conclusion of both Phase 3 and a narrative that technically began with the first Iron Man film back in 2008. But even though the contracts of several Marvel actors, including franchise heavyweights Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, are supposed to be up after Avengers 4, there’s no way that Endgame represents the end of the line for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In March, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige announced that Captain Marvel will be taking the helm in future MCU movies—which is awesome—plus, there’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, Black Panther 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy 3 on the horizon, so we know that (at least) these characters are definitely returning.

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At the same time, according to super depressing interviews with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Avengers 4 “doesn’t do what you think it does… It is a different movie than you think it is.” Markus says that the deaths in Infinity War are real (“I just want to tell you it’s real, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you will be able to move on to the next stage of grief”), which means it’s unlikely that Endgame simply unwinds the events of Infinity War, with all the vanished characters magically returning, à la X-Men: Days of Future Past.

We know there’s a time travel element to Endgame. Behind-the-scenes photos leaked from the set shows Captain America wearing costumes from his Phase 1 and  2 movies; as in, the suits he wore in Captain America: The First Avenger back in 2009 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014. And with Carol Danvers looking like she hasn’t aged a day since 1995 in the latest Endgame clip, it’s a clue that she possibly has the ability to navigate through time as easily as she can through outer space (or other dimensions). Most Endgame speculation offers some variation on the idea that the remaining Avengers find a way to travel back in time to prevent Thanos from acquiring the Marvel Infinity Stones, wipe him out outright, or alter existence entirely.

Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

But here’s what I think: seeing as how Marvel is gearing up for Phase 4 where they essentially hit the reset button no matter what happens, with new characters and stories, what if their answer is to also “reset” things, narratively speaking? What if, in Endgame, the Avengers defeat Thanos and fix the Universe—but it comes at the cost of them actually being the Avengers?

“Your work with the Tesseract is what drew Loki to it, and his allies,” Thor tells Nick Fury in the first Avengers movie. “It is the signal to all the realms that the Earth is ready for a higher form of war.” Maybe the only safe route is for Earth to return to being (what the Kree in Captain Marvel referred to as) a “shithole” planet, by using the Time Stone to return the Avengers to each of their respective timelines, to live out the lives they were meant to before becoming Earth’s mightiest heroes.

Consider Captain America. Essentially brought to (superpowered) life by inventor Howard Stark in 1942 as a tool to help fight the Nazis, Steve Rogers’ pursuit of the Tesseract leads him aboard Red Skull’s gigantic Valkyrie bomber, which he’s forced to crash in the Arctic. Fast forward 70 years, where the captain is discovered, resuscitated, and continues fighting the good fight as a member of the Avengers. But despite winning the war, beating the bad guys, and generally saving the day in mission after mission, the one regret that he carries through The First Avenger, Winter Soldier, and Captain America: Civil War is that he missed his date (and spending a lifetime) with Peggy Carter.

Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

In Iron Man, when Tony Stark holds his first press conference after escaping captivity in Afghanistan, he wonders aloud if his father ever was conflicted while making weapons, if he ever had doubts. After his ordeal, Tony’s entire outlook has changed. “I saw young Americans killed by the very weapons I created to defend them and protect them. And I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability,” he tells the reporters.

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In response, Stark announces his intention to stop making weapons and he stops producing all but one: the Iron Man armor. But the existence of Stark’s suit results in its own mayhem—in Iron Man 2, Ivan Drago and Justin Hammer team up to create drones that go ballistic; in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tony’s artificial intelligence meant to serve as “a suit of armor around the world,” has literal earth-shattering consequences; and in Civil War, James Rhodes gets shot down and partially paralyzed while flying around as War Machine. Tony Stark’s PTSD and survivor’s guilt has literally been the basis of academic-caliber articles, and the Avengers keep having to deal with the consequences.

If there’s one theme that runs through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s regret. Black Widow regrets some of her past actions (what she refers to as the “red” in her ledger when speaking to Hawkeye in The Avengers), Peter Quill regrets not saying goodbye to his mother on her deathbed in Guardians of the Galaxy, T‘Challa regrets the fact that Wakanda never intervened to assist other black communities in Black Panther, Thor regrets letting his father and his legacy down throughout all the Thor movies, and Bruce Banner nearly always regrets becoming the Hulk. The literal definition of the word “avenger” refers to someone who takes revenge, retribution, or a perceived corrective action after a past wrong.

Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

But go back in time to stop the Avengers Initiative before it begins—as well as the collection of the Infinity Stones that are being chased around Earth throughout the franchise—and things go back to normal. If there’s no Tesseract for Red Skull to pursue in The First Avenger, there’s no need for Steve Rogers to jump on the doomed plane that lands him in the present day. Instead, he gets to remain in the 1940s with Peggy Carter. The Infinity Stones continually lead Loki to Earth; remove them and Thor, after his first ordeal in New Mexico, gets to return to (a restored) Asgard, having learned how to be a thoughtful, humble leader. 

Without the constant battles, Clint Barton gets to raise his family—at least, his daughter, which was hinted at in a recent Endgame trailer. Scott Lang isn’t forced into house arrest for getting involved in Civil War and actually gets to have a presence in his daughter’s life. Tony Stark still develops the arc reactor while in captivity in Afghanistan, but maybe he never makes it out of the cave? Perhaps Yinsen (the scientist who first connected Stark’s chest to a battery) escapes with Stark’s arc reactor instead, and uses it for non-Iron Man means that can still benefit humankind. As, you know, the world’s first miniaturized, sustainable fusion reactor. (I’ll admit this last one is a bit of a leap but you see where I’m going with this.)

Maybe this theory just sounds like crazy talk. But it allows Marvel Studios to retire its existing Avengers without killing them off, while also setting things in motion to bring in a new generation of Avengers. It also allows the studio to return to focusing on smaller stories for a time instead of having to invent ways to bring in bigger and bigger bad guys who can continually raise the stakes.

Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

Despite all the good the Avengers have achieved over the years as a stopgap solution to imminent crises (Loki bringing an army of aliens to Manhattan, Ultron deciding to drop a city on Europe), problems arise when the Avengers stick around for too long and act as long-term peacekeepers. Their presence attracts threats from across the galaxy and humanity gets caught in the crossfire as collateral damage. “In the eight years since Mr. Stark announced himself as Iron Man, the number of known enhanced persons has grown exponentially. And during the same period, the number of potentially world-ending events has risen at a commensurate rate,” Vision explains in Civil War. “Our very strength invites challenge. Challenge incites conflict, and conflict breeds catastrophe.”

The oft-repeated original concept for the Avengers, as explained by Nick Fury himself, says that the idea was to assemble “a group of remarkable people … [and] see if they could work together when we needed them to fight the battles we never could.” The key part of that idea being, when we needed them. For a decade, audiences have needed the Avengers and they’ve always saved the day. But now, there’s an enemy that was able to wipe out half of them in an instant. Maybe an unusual and unpredictable epic bad guy deserves an unusual and unpredictable epic response. To quote the Avengers, “whatever it takes.”

Find out how we think Avengers: Endgame will end with the GR team's predications.