(Warning! Potential spoilers for Avengers: Endgame)
I watched Avengers: Endgame when it came out in theaters. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous entry, Infinity War.While Infinity War had a compelling story, Endgame felt like they’d painted themselves into a corner and didn’t really know how to end off their story. Instead of finding a logical conclusion, the writers decided to resort to time-travel to magically fix the conflict they’d set up. Perhaps they thought they were being clever but it felt lazy and poorly thought out to me.
For one thing, how they went about the time travel felt confusing. Everything that had happened up to the present time had happened–but it was also okay to change everything in that sequence of events as well and do new stuff that somehow didn’t unravel it. Captain America had to make certain to return the Infinity Stones to their proper time and place so history went about the proper sequence it had originally–but then we can also have Thanos and his warriors come to the present with no consequences. Gamora died in a sacrifice to get the Soul Stone but now she’s alive too. You can’t have it both ways!
One grevious problem with Endgame is the fact that Captain America goes back in time and marries his long lost love, Peggy Carter. This invalidates the whole short-lived Agent Carter TV series (which may or may not have been in-continuity in the first place since Marvel seems to have changed its mind somewhere along the line). Regardless of continuity issues, there’s a bigger problem with that:
Conflict is essential to storytelling.
Every story conflict is defined in one of three ways. Man versus man, man versus nature or man versus himself.
But what happens when you negate that conflict retroactively?
Everybody loved Steve and Peggy as a couple but he was lost at the end of World War Two. His awakening in the present and not fitting in is the impetus for his story going forward. He needs to start anew, cope with his situation and move on with his life. Most of his old friends and comrades are dead. There’s no going back now (or there shouldn’t be).
Granted, Steve’s story was over with the end of the movie and a new character is taking on the mantle of “Captain America” so it’s all cool, right?
If we re-watch Winter Soldier, Avengers or any other movie up to that point involving Cap we know that his story arc is now rendered pointless. He’s a man out of time? Who cares! He goes back eventually anyway. His connections with Natasha or Sharon Carter are pointless because he’s going to end up going back in time to be with Peggy anyway.
Imagine if Spider-Man goes back home at the end of the movie and now Uncle Ben is alive for some reason. Or Iron Man sacrifices himself to save everyone but he has a time duplicate survive and carry on like nothing’s changed. What if JJ Abrams had legitimately brought Darth Vader back from the dead for that matter?
So, what should have happened to Steve Rogers then? I don’t know. But he could’ve died in battle against Thanos or maybe retired for some reason. Maybe he goes away for a while and gets recast (since Chris Evans was done with playing him)?
I’m not against Steve getting a happy ending per se but to invalidate all the conflict that’s come before makes his ultimate fate feel hollow. It’s not earned by the previous movies. It feels tacked on at the end instead by writers who didn’t know what to do with the character.
Also, if everything that we saw did happen, how did Peggy get married, have kids and grow old but we don’t see her husband (old Steve) or any sign of him at all when younger Steve was visiting her? Or was he hiding because he knew he had to? And if Peggy still passed away in Civil War does that mean old Steve is now a widower and living alone? How is that a happy ending? It doesn’t feel well thought out...
This movie further illustrates how using time travel in any story is a potential cop-out. Don’t like how something turned out? Hand wave it away with magic basically. If you’re going to do something in a story, do it. Kill that character off. Destroy their world, etc. Don’t do it and then try to take it back later.
Comics have been pulling that for years. But, to be fair, many of them have been running decades and need reboots or to undo story decisions ultimately to keep things going. The MCU, by contrast, has been going just over a decade and has plenty of flexibility to avoid that sort of scenario in the short-term. As I mentioned, some of the actors are done with the whole project now (Evans and Downey Jr) but they could die, go away and come back recast or something. Actors leaving is not necessarily a deal breaker that necessitates poor story decisions.
Without meaningful, lasting conflict, we’re no better then animals! We need to create stories where the odds are against our protagonists and they must rise above them. Undoing the conflict ruins the story completely. The MCU is no different then other.