Like Infinity War before it, Avengers: Endgame is a marvel of storytelling, threading together plots from across 11 years and 11 franchises to tell its ambitious story.
After the third Avengers movie concluded with a devastating, unprecedented sense of loss, Endgame was left with the unenviable task of moving the story forward toward some kind of victory for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes — something that brought back all of the deceased Avengers without ruining the impact of Infinity War. If critic reviews, audience reactions, and record-setting box office numbers are anything to go by, this movie seems to have pulled off that gargantuan task. It’s impressive to be sure, but is the execution perfect? No — not really.
Throughout its three-hour runtime, Endgame takes some narrative turns that teeter on the edge of nonsense, and some of the screenwriters’ choices threaten to ruin the movie if you think about them too hard. Be wary of spoilers as we break down the biggest plot holes in Avengers: Endgame that everybody just ignored.
During the film's time heist, Bruce Banner visits the Sanctum Sanctorum in 2012 New York City. He's searching for Dr. Strange, to borrow the time stone he's known to guard. But instead of Strange, he finds the Ancient One, Strange's mentor, who doesn't meet the doctor until the events of his movie in 2016.
Despite Strange not yet being the Sorcerer Supreme, the Ancient One has full knowledge of who he is and hearing that he gives away the Time Stone in the future is enough to convince her to give up her own stone as a part of Strange's plan. That's how much she trusts him — as she puts it, "Strange is meant to be the best of us." It's presented as a foregone conclusion that she's already intimately aware of.But this doesn't match up with what we've seen before. In the Doctor Strange movie, the Ancient One presents private doubts as to whether she'll even train Strange, confiding in Mordo that she cannot take him on as a student, lest she "lose him to the darkness." Mordo has to convince her to train him, which flatly contradicts what Endgame tells us.It'd make sense for the Ancient One to put up a front for Strange himself, but why would she doubt him when he's not even in the room? It's not magic — just a little plot hole between movies.
Just as Peter Quill sent the Avengers' plan off the rails in Infinity War, Nebula nearly ruins everything in Endgame. Thanks to her always-on wi-fi, she is found, captured, and replaced by her younger counterpart in 2014, with her past self following the Avengers into the future on Thanos' behalf. Once there, she flips some switches on the team's quantum tunnel, targets Thanos' ship, and opens a portal to bring him through. Afterward, the final battle kicks in so fast that you're left with no time to figure out what exactly just happened. How did she do that? What did she do?
When the Avengers' Nebula is sent back to help retrieve the Power Stone, she leaves with only enough Pym Particles for a return trip — particles which 2014 Nebula presumably uses in her place. She then uses the quantum tunnel to target Thanos' ship and pull it into the future, with Thanos' ship somehow able to enter the Quantum Realm without the help of any Pym tech. But how?
It's hard to argue with the power of Endgame's opening. After sitting out the events of Infinity War, Clint Barton is seen spending time with his family, under house arrest, doing some archery and having a picnic in the middle of the day. When his family suddenly disappears, he's clued into the fact that something has gone terribly wrong, setting him down a five-year path toward becoming a roaming samurai of aimless rage.
All of that? All of that is cool. But what doesn't work, if you think about it, is the time frame of this scene. The problem is plain as day Wakanda is in Africa, and Hawkeye's home is in North America. If the sun is up in Wakanda during Thanos' snap, then it should be dark on the other side of the planet, where Clint is. Unless it just takes 12 hours for the events of the snap to reach the other side of the world which is clearly not the case, since Infinity War showed us other planets getting dusted at the time of the snap.
Much is made of the stakes at play in the Avengers' time heist gambit. On top of playing with forces they don't quite understand, facing a threat that soundly beat them before, the Avengers are also dealing with a case of limited resources. As Scott Lang tells everyone, the time travel trickery of the Quantum Realm relies entirely on the proprietary Pym Particles invented by Hank Pym, who in death is unable to create any more of them. If they use up their supply on the heist without succeeding, that's it — they lose.
But the answer to this conundrum is right in front of the Avengers the whole time, and it's kind of shocking that Scott, a career thief, didn't think of it. Instead of starting off their journey by trying to get the stones, why didn't they begin by going back in time and stealing all of the Pym Particles they were going to need?
Think about it — if the past can be mined for Infinity Stones and magic hammers, it can certainly be mined for Pym Particles. Even if they use them up and don't return them, Hank can just invent more. Sure, it's possible that stealing the particles and not replacing them will create a slightly different timeline, but this hardly feels like a big transgression, considering all the other maverick improvisation the team gets up to during the heist. The only reason the writers didn't take this route is probably because, it would've lowered the story's stakes.
Everyone's got an opinion about Captain America going back into the past to live a life with Peggy Carter. Some people love it, while others think it betrays his character. We're not concerned about any of that.
Endgame makes its time travel rules very clear. It's not Back to the Future style, where changing the past can change the future. Here's how Professor Hulk explains it: "If you travel to the past, that past becomes your future, and your former present becomes the past, which can't now be changed by your new future." It's all pretty simple — changes to the past cause different timelines. So why and how does Captain America going into the past in the prime timeline lead to him growing old and living a life in the prime timeline?In the MCU so far, Steve Rogers has gone under the ice, hibernated for nearly 70 years, and been revived to live a decade or so as one of Earth's mightiest heroes. As Endgame closes, he goes back into the past to catch up on that date he missed with Peggy. That past is now his future — a new future, independent of the one he previously hibernated in. It should have caused an alternate timeline. Instead, it's implied that Steve went to the past of the prime timeline, which completely goes against how Hulk says time travel works.
Some people believe that Steve going into the past and living out his days as Peggy's husband is a simple closed loop that he always married Peggy, and just stayed off-screen during young Steve's reunion with old Peggy during their meetup in The Winter Soldier. In this theory, there have always been two Steves, one's just been secretly retired.
Here's a question that will make you question whether or not that theory works: where did Old Steve get his shield?
Endgame's final battle results in the destruction of Captain America's shield, leaving it cleaved in two by Thanos' blade. He does not take the shield back to the past with him. But when Old Steve shows up next to the pond, he has a shield in pristine condition. How?
If Steve's time-hopping life is a closed-loop, then there should only be one shield to go around. If Cap somehow stole his own shield while his younger self was under the ice, then that would mean there would be no shield for his younger self to receive upon waking up, creating exactly the kind of paradox that this movie's time travel rules are supposed to avoid.
In Avengers: Infinity War, Strange explored 14,000,605 different possible outcomes in the battle against Thanos, and he identified only one in which the heroes triumphed. He then chose to hand over the Time Stone to Thanos at a carefully chosen moment, insisting there was no other way. Presumably, Strange's timing was based on the need for Scott Lang to be stranded in the Quantum Realm when Thanos snapped his fingers, and for Tony Stark to stay alive in order to ultimately snap his fingers.
But here's the problem; Doctor Strange's Endgame plan is predicated on random chance. Firstly, it requires a rat to run across the controls of the Quantum Tunnel in just the right way to free Scott from the Quantum Realm; if that hadn't happened, the Avengers would never have hit upon their time travel plan in the first place, and the snap would never have been undone. Incredibly, the Russos have actually suggested that Strange did indeed view timelines in which the rat hadn't run over those controls at all. So Strange literally gambled the fate of half the lives in the universe on the chance of a rat's feet happening to knock the right buttons and switches.
Avengers: Infinity War made it clear that the Tesseract is essentially a container for the Space Stone. Presumably, the Avengers broke it open just like Thanos in order to insert the Space Stone into their own Infinity Gauntlet; but that raises the curious question of just how Steve Rogers returned it at the end of the film. Perhaps he simply dropped off the Space Stone instead, creating a new timeline where a bemused S.H.I.E.L.D. found the Tesseract mysteriously transformed into an Infinity Stone all the way back in 1970.
A major plot point in Thor: The Dark World is that even the Asgardians don't know how to safely remove the Aether from Jane Foster; only the Dark Elves can do it. It's why Thor takes Jane to Svartalfheim; he plans to give Malekith a chance to extract the Aether, and then attack once Jane is safe and the Aether is vulnerable. Somehow, though, in Avengers: Endgame the Avengers are able to put together a simple device to draw the Aether out of Jane. They manage to do it on the basis of Thor's rambling descriptions, and without even having the Aether to hand to experiment on. They're really lucky it worked.
One final, minor, and frankly rather amusing, plot hole is, how does Laura Barton's phone work five years after she last paid the bill? When the Avengers succeed in undoing the snap, Laura immediately grabs her mobile and gives her husband a call. The problem is, though, that she's been gone for five years. That phone really shouldn't have been working.
Carol comes to the rescue for Tony and Nebula in the (very literal) 11th hour while they're stranded in space in the Benatar about to run out of oxygen, but it's never explained--or even alluded to--how she was able to find them. In her own words, she's "covering a lot of ground" and is working with multiple planets in the galaxy that don't have their own superheroes, yet she just happened to be in the neighborhood to find a tiny spacecraft that is "miles away from the nearest 7/11."
She--and by extension Tony and Nebula--just got lucky, apparently. But it sure would have been nice to see exactly what prompted her to find them--and how she managed to get a broken-down spaceship without oxygen back to Earth in time for either of its occupants to survive the trip.
Time travel is weird and complicated and confusing but something about the way the whole thing shakes out in this movie specifically just doesn't add up. The team had to build a giant Quantum Tunnel device to send everyone back to their respective heist spots, which should have been safe because they had the help of Tony's time GPS bracelets to prevent them from having "time pushed through them" as Scott did during his first tests with Bruce.
However, when Tony and Steve are back in 2011, they are able to use the time GPS bracelets to travel back to the 1970s without the help of any Quantum Tunnel device or machine.
So, what, exactly, is the time machine here? Does the Quantum Tunnel just look cool and keep everyone's watches synched up? Are the bracelets just incredibly powerful time machines on their own? If that's the case, why couldn't they just use them in the first place? Why use the tunnel at all?
We know from Peter Parker's excited rambling that everyone who came back from being turned to dust in Infinity War experienced the whole event in the blink of an eye--for them, no time passed at all, and when they came back, they were dropped right back exactly where they were left.
This means, in theory, that people who were in say, helicopters (remember that chopper that careened into a building after the snap during the Infinity War post credits scene?) would be, where exactly, when the snap was undone? Would they pop back into existence in mid air only to fall to their deaths? Would people on boats be dropped into the ocean to drown? What would people who were in the middle of surgery? People who were on airplanes? In cars? Were people coming back trapped in walls after a building was built over where they vanished in the last five years?
We don't actually get to see anyone come back, so we don't even know what the process looked like or what the world plans to do now that it's population has suddenly doubled in a split second. It didn't do so great at adjusting to the opposite happening, after all.
There's a lot that happens off screen in Endgame and one of the moments that, strangely, felt like it should be the most critical--Steve returning back in time to place the Infinity Stones back where they came from--is no exception. The entire moment is eschewed for a five minute pause-for-effect and then an epilogue for Steve.
Completely ignoring the time travel logistics here, we're left wondering--how, exactly, did Steve put the stones back where they came from? Some of them are easy--the tesseract, the staff, the Power Stone on Morag, sure--but others, not so much. Did he travel to Asgard to inject the liquid Aether back into Jane? How did he give the Soul Stone--a stone that very, very specifically got a conversation dedicated to how the price one paid for it could never be undone (sorry, Natasha)--back to his old nemesis Red Skull?
The Ancient One talks about how the stones create what we experience as the flow of time and reality and that removing them from where they need to create "doomed timelines" that are disastrous for everyone involved, so we have to assume that Steve's mission had some seriously high stakes. Why didn't we get to see them? How did it work?
Speaking of the Ancient One's warning about doomed timelines and the stones guiding the flow of existence--what, exactly, happened to the flow of existence after Thanos destroyed the stones? There's no shortage of time-y wime-y compilation to look at here and any number of possibilities, but does this mean that everything after Thanos' execution and the five-year time skip was a doomed timeline? And if that's the case, did bringing everyone back to that exact moment actually repair the timeline at all?
In Avengers: Infinity War, the combined efforts of Iron Man, Peter Quill, Spider-Man, Drax, Mantis, and Dr. Strange nearly defeat Thanos by wresting the Infinity Gauntlet from his arm. This version of Thanos has four Infinity Stones: the Power Stone, the Space Stone, the Reality Stone, and the Soul Stone. That six superheroes were nearly able to take him down is an impressive feat; just two stones made Thanos the most powerful being in the universe, let alone four.
But at the conclusion of Endgame, at the beginning of the final battle, Thanos has no Stones and no Gauntlet. All he has is a massive blade that's bigger than him. And armed with only that, he manages to fend off Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.
One rationalization making the rounds is that Thanos was more emotionally invested and angry the second time around, and thus, he fought harder. That seems like a stretch; the more plausible interpretation is that at all times, Thanos is as powerful as the plot demands.
For Tony Stark’s sake, it makes sense to simply bring everybody that disappeared into the current, five-years-later reality. That way, he gets to keep his daughter, and everything is fine. Except that actually, no, everything is about to be horrible.
Bringing these people back five years after they left would create profound problems across the entire planet and the rest of the galaxy. How would governments that were still recovering from the effects of the Snap suddenly handle this huge influx of citizens? Do people immediately get to reacquire all the property and money and jobs they left behind, or does it stay with whoever had it in 2023? How would the world document who's returned? How would we go about reintroducing all these people back into society? What about people who were in airplanes when they were snapped? Did they reappear at 30,000 feet without parachutes? Ecologically, we know that the water is finally cleaner and whales are starting to enter the Hudson in 2023, but what's the effect of doubling the wildlife population in an instant?
The whole situation is going to become a profound mess and not one easily fixed by a bolt of lightning from Thor or a Hulk in glasses.