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Avengers: Endgame’s ending, explained

We examine 9 unresolved questions from Marvel’s biggest movie yet. Spoiler alert!

The Avengers in “Avengers: Endgame.”
The Avengers in Avengers: Endgame.
Marvel Studios

This post discusses Avengers: Endgame in depth, and spoilers abound. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to be spoiled, this is your chance to leave.

By now, if you’re a Marvel fan, or even just Marvel-curious, you’ve seen the big conclusion to the studio’s first 11 years of films. Avengers: Endgame goes out of its way to shake up the Marvel status quo, and even if the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a comic book franchise where changes never stick for long, Endgame’s overall effect is still exhilarating.

But the movie may have left you with some big unresolved questions. If you still don’t quite understand Endgame’s use of time travel, or if you want to know who that kid was in the movie’s saddest scene, or if you’re simply wondering what Marvel’s plans are for the future, you’ve come to the right place.

Here’s our take on nine questions you might still have about Avengers: Endgame after watching it. And if you haven’t seen the movie yet, needless to say, SPOILERS FOLLOW!

1) What actually happened in the ending of Endgame, and that last scene in particular? A.k.a., explain this time travel stuff to me. Please.

First let’s hit the broadest bullet points of the ending:

  • The ending takes place in 2023. The “five years later” time jump is another five years after 2018, when the majority of the film is set, and the film explicitly says that 2014 was “nine years ago.” The Avengers, having traveled through time to collect all six Infinity Stones from before Thanos destroyed them, made a special glove containing all six stones and put it on Hulk. He snapped his fingers, thus restoring everybody Thanos had dusted in Infinity War back to life at the present moment not five years in the past, when the dusting actually happened.
  • A Thanos from 2014 traveled forward to 2023, with the help of 2014 Nebula (who took the place of 2023 Nebula), then blew up Avengers HQ.
  • There is a huge fight scene that encompasses much of the movie’s final 45 minutes, which includes every Avenger introduced so far, a bunch of side characters, and even Pepper Potts in full Iron Man regalia. It’s really cool and fan service-y; we get to see Captain America wield Thor’s hammer and all kinds of fun things.
  • That fight scene includes a massive game of keep-away involving the glove containing the Infinity Stones, which is held (but not worn) by nearly every character of note. Thanos finally gets hold of it but is prevented by Captain Marvel from snapping his fingers to completely unmake all of existence.
  • Tony Stark tricks Thanos by taking not the new Infinity Gauntlet, but the Infinity Stones themselves, which slide into slots on his armor. He snaps his fingers and erases Thanos and his army — but Tony dies in the process.

There are several more big moments after that — seriously, the biggest complaint about this movie might end up being how long it takes to wrap up its business — and we eventually learn that Captain America has effectively left the franchise (by heading into the past to live a long, happy life with his love Peggy Carter). It’s a big, warm, happy bow on the entire story.


Okay, yeah, it is, but if you think about Endgame’s use of time travel for a couple of seconds, the ending starts to sour just a little bit. Endgame uses a theory of time travel that’s pretty different from that of most other movies, which posit that changing the past also changes the future. Endgame says that if you change the past, you create a new parallel universe that branches off from the moment you changed said past — but when you travel into the future, you return to your original future, not the new one created by the changes you made in the past.

This is ... complicated. (Most time travel theorists suggest that if you changed the past, you would be doomed to also hang out in the new parallel reality you created.) But it’s also necessary that the Avengers eventually get their hands on all six Infinity Stones and don’t mess with reality so much that they erase Tony and Pepper’s daughter, Morgan — who was born after the events of Infinity War — from existence.

This also means that Endgame glosses over what amounts to two apocalypses. The first is Thanos’s Infinity War dusting, which Endgame mostly suggests has amounted to piled-up garbage and the dissolution of the New York Mets. But it does dig into some of the personal traumas Thanos caused, like when director Joe Russo cameos as a man Steve Rogers meets in a support group, who’s just getting back into the dating scene after his former partner was dusted.

The second apocalypse is when everybody comes back five years later. Yes, the dude Steve meets at the support group, who hasn’t quite moved on, is going to be thrilled to have his guy back. But plenty of people will have remarried or entered into new serious relationships. They’ll have coped with the grief over losing a child or a parent. And suddenly ... there will be somebody back in their lives, someone they literally thought had ceased to exist.

It seems unlikely the Marvel movies will deal with this, but boy, now don’t you kind of want them to? Maybe the company could do a sort of reverse-Leftovers TV show for the new Disney+ streaming service.

2) Is Tony Stark’s death going to stick?

Most likely. During the press tour for Infinity War in 2018, Chris Evans had said that he, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Hemsworth were more or less done after Endgame. “Myself, Downey, Hemsworth, we all kind of started roughly at the same time, and I think we all, through [Endgame], kind of wrap it up,” Evans told Good Morning America.

Tony Stark’s death, then, isn’t just a way to conclude his story — it’s also a fitting exit for Downey, at least contractually. But there’s something in Marvel’s comic books that could maybe be a way for him to come back should he want to. At the end of the Marvel comic book event known as Civil War II, Stark is badly hurt, but then we find out he created an AI of himself — with his consciousness and his vast knowledge and intelligence — in case his body stopped working:

Tony Stark’s AI.

The AI, which mentored and helped out the Avengers, appeared to be a sort of holographic figure — not unlike the hologram message that Tony left for his daughter at the end of Endgame. If Marvel and Downey were game (or Downey was at least willing to let Marvel use his likeness for Stark), Marvel Studios could copy the comics and keep an AI version of Stark as a recurring character.

3) Who was that kid at Tony Stark’s funeral?

The shot of a teenager brooding toward the back of Tony’s funeral gathering — he’s standing by Maria Hill, and you see him for a couple of seconds before the camera pans over to Carol Danvers — feels like it might be a setup for some new teen superhero to join the MCU, or maybe a surprise reveal about Tony’s secret son.

But no, this is just Ty Simpkins, the actor who played Harley in Iron Man 3, a.k.a. the little kid Tony bonds with in that movie, which is unquestionably the best of the Iron Man movies, and if anybody who works for Vox tries to tell you otherwise, they are a Skrull — and not one of the misunderstood ones from the Captain Marvel movie; one of the evil ones from the Secret Wars comics crossover event.

This is a very weird callback — Harley hasn’t been in any movies since Iron Man 3 — but it’s also a sweet acknowledgment that Tony’s impact extends beyond the immediate Avengers family. We’ll allow it.

4) What happened to Gamora?

Unclear, but here’s a thought: At the end of Endgame, Tony snaps his own glove bearing the Infinity Stones to decimate Thanos and his forces (and, sadly, himself). And we know that Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, is using his computer to track down 2014 Gamora (present-day Gamora was sacrificed to get the Soul Stone in Infinity War), who is labeled as missing. And the last clue we have is that future 2023 Nebula (2014 Nebula was killed) and 2014 Gamora were together at some point, but only Nebula returned to the Guardians.

There’s a slight possibility that Gamora was killed during Iron Man’s snap. We don’t know who he used his snap against other than Thanos, his allies, and his soldiers. Gamora could have been considered an ally and soldier because she hadn’t officially left Thanos for the Guardians at that point. It’s not as though Iron Man has any clue who she is — he only knows her as the woman that Star-Lord freaked out about in Infinity War before Star-Lord bungled their entire plan by being a selfish brat. Iron Man would have needed to wish for something like “all Thanos’s forces except for Gamora” in order for her to live.

But killing a major character offscreen isn’t really Marvel’s way (though it did do that with Shuri). The more likely scenario is that finding 2014 Gamora will be part of the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which is in development after the rehiring of director James Gunn. When Gamora died in Infinity War, it left her Guardians status in doubt, but in 2018, Saldana signed a letter along with the rest of the Guardians cast and crew to reinstate Gunn as the director of Vol. 3, signaling that she will still appear in some capacity.

5) So what exactly happened with Steve Rogers?

At the end of Endgame, Steve Rogers is tasked with returning each of the Infinity Stones to their respective timelines. The Ancient One, who bestows the Hulk with the Time Stone in 2012, explains that putting back the Stones is necessary to keep the 2012 timeline from branching off into an alternate future, a world that would be vulnerable without the protection of the Infinity Stones.

Rogers goes back and returns all the stones, a trip that should only take seconds. But the team spearheading the expedition — Hulk, Sam Wilson a.k.a. Falcon, and Bucky Barnes — has trouble calling him back. After a couple of attempts, Bucky points out that there’s an old man sitting on a bench nearby, and he turns out to be Steve Rogers (Chris Evans as you’ve never seen him before: in old man makeup!). Rogers informs his closest confidant Sam that he decided to have a life, which Tony Stark always poked at him about, insinuating that he went back in time and lived his life with Peggy Carter instead of coming back to the present. And since he lived a full life, he’s now a very, very old Steve Rogers.

But this opens up more questions, like: What happened to the Steve Rogers who exists in the past timeline? Did the time-traveling Rogers just decide to live in secret, hiding from the parallel Captain America? Did he then sit idly by and watch all the things he’d already witnessed play out a second time, like Hydra taking over S.H.I.E.L.D. or the invasion of New York? Did he spawn a new timeline? If so, how did he get back to his original timeline? Also, did Steve Rogers just give back the Soul Stone to Red Skull, and does that mean Black Widow is coming back?

The specifics are unclear, but it seems as though Rogers went back, lived a seemingly normal life with Peggy Carter, aged into an old man (super soldier serum be damned), and seemingly met Sam, Bucky, and the Hulk at the place they were sending him back in time. But the point here is that Rogers got his happy ending, a chance to go back to the world he missed so much, even if it meant ignoring some of the time-travel logistics.

6) Does old Captain America break reality?

But wait a second: How does the above explanation square with everything else in this movie and the broader MCU? We’ve established that the second you change the past in this movie, a new parallel universe splits off. So when Steve Rogers returns to the past to live out a life with Peggy Carter, doesn’t he effectively enter a new universe entirely?

The answer to that would seem to be yes, but that leads one to wonder just how he made it to the park bench where he has his conversation with his good pal Sam. An obvious rebuttal is that he returned to that point in time using the quantum realm time-travel device as an old man to show everybody his life had been a happy one, but then he would have popped back into the middle of the time machine. There’s no way he could have snuck past everybody to the park bench.

The trickier possibility — and the one that makes more sense — is that when Cap returns to the past and decides to stay, he accidentally reveals that the MCU reality has always had two Steves, who somehow exist simultaneously and never bump into each other. Then, when he’s caught up with the current moment in linear time, he shows up on that park bench, where Sam and Bucky notice him. Or, put another way, for Steve to stay in our reality without causing a parallel universe split, he has to have always been here twice without anybody finding out.

Making sense of this story point requires that Peggy doesn’t reveal to Steve that she’s actually been married to his other self all this time when Steve goes to visit her in the hospital in Winter Soldier, and it requires a whole bunch of other mental convolutions to sort out its weird complexities. (Just think about how Steve reacts when he meets his new baby niece Sharon!) But you can sort of make sense of it. If you really try.

In conclusion: Time travel is silly, and you should never think about it.

7) So is that one timeline where Loki gets ahold of the Tesseract completely screwed now?

Yeah, probably. You should also try not to think about this.

8) So, ummm, how does Spider-Man: Far From Home work now?

Look: The Marvel movies are not without continuity errors. The studio’s MO, very quietly, is that if something is good for a standalone movie but contradicts something in a different movie, it will just embrace the contradiction. It’s one of the reasons Marvel movies are pretty good across the board and, thus, add up to a cinematic universe that feels like it’s more coherent than it actually is.

But even by these standards, the fact that the events of Endgame mean that the MCU technically now takes place in the year 2023 creates a bunch of logistical headaches for Spider-Man: Far From Home, which comes out in July and is not quite an MCU film (as it’s produced by Sony and not Marvel Studios), but also not not an MCU film (as Spider-Man and his friend Ned pop up in Infinity War and Endgame).

See, Far From Home centers on a trip Peter Parker and his classmates take to Europe, which implies they’re all still in high school. But if literally any of Peter’s friends fell into the 50 percent of people who weren’t dusted by Thanos, then they would be five years older than their peers and, as such, in college or even working at their first job. The only way the plot of Far From Home works is if everybody Peter Parker knows was Thanosed.

And look, sure, if that’s how Far From Home wants to play it, we’ll go with it. But my goodness, the probability of Peter, Ned, MJ, Betty, Flash, and Liz all getting dusted is 1.6 percent. (Thank you to Vox’s Alvin Chang for this calculation.) Obviously, it’s possible, but it’s going to rankle just a bit. (Or Far From Home will just ignore the whole “it’s technically 2023” thing and do whatever it wants, which is what I would do.)

Though imagine if MJ had survived, and her would-be romance with Peter was complicated even further by her now being five years older than him! That could have been fun!

9) What are the next Marvel movies coming out?

Marvel has announced a few movies in the works, including a Black Widow solo movie (which is going to be tricky, what with her death and all, but rumor has it the movie is a prequel), a Black Panther sequel, a third Guardians of the Galaxy movie, a movie about the beings known as Eternals, a Doctor Strange follow-up, and a movie about Shang-Chi, Marvel’s first movie about an Asian superhero. There will also certainly be a Captain Marvel sequel, considering the movie has now passed the $1 billion mark.

But Marvel hasn’t revealed when these movies are going to be released, probably in an effort to keep the attention on Endgame and not spoil it (e.g., if Marvel released the specifics of a Black Widow movie, fans might be able to ascertain what happened to Black Widow in Endgame before even seeing the movie). We will probably see release dates for 2020 soon after Endgame hits theaters, or at Disney’s D23 expo in August.

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