There’s No Way Avengers 4’s Time Travel Will Make Sense

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BY ALEX LEADBEATER

Avengers 4 is all but confirmed to be a time travel film. While this means the MCU isn’t resting on its laurels after the spectacular cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War, there is the lingering sense that whatever method of time travel is used won’t work in Marvel’s already notoriously broken timeline.

The MCU has flirted with time travel in the past – most memorably using the Time Stone in the final act of Doctor Strange to trap Dormammu and as a final step in Thanos’ plan to recover the Mind Stone from Vision – but Avengers 4 looks set to blow the TARDIS’ doors off. Set photos showed recreations of previous movies with multiple versions of characters and new additions – including the Battle of New York with Ant-Man and two Tony Starks – as well as a shared wrist device that seems to power it. It’s been cited that there are parallels to the famously-winding Lost, and multiple time travel methods have already appeared in the movies.

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But if this is true (which it almost certainly is), there is cause for concern. Marvel’s hit rate is staggering, but if there’s one area they’ve always struggled with, it’s era-spanning continuity. That’s not to say Avengers 4 could be undone by a twisted story, but its central plot device may not be as elegant as some are hoping.

The overriding problem with time travel is that it’s not real, making it hard to present in any form of media. In the simplest terms, time moves linearly, and while it is technically possible to move forward in time faster than others, creating the illusion of traveling ahead (this is essentially what happens in the first Planet of the Apes), proper traversal will destroy anything with mass, let alone a living thing. Without anything to go off, writers must build time travel mechanics from the ground up. And, unfortunately, very few movies have extremely defined rules that they then stick to.

The discussion centers on the core question of whether you can change the past or not, and what the effect of that is. Do you create alternate timelines or dimensions when altering the past? Do changes happen instantaneously, gradually (Back to the Future), or after a prescribed nexus point (X-Men: Days of Future Past)? Will the changes expand in a butterfly effect manner or is there a singular base future that everything else varies on? There are so many permutations of this primary idea, and none of them can feasibly co-exist. However, many movies interchange, setting up the manner of one but then having to change for the end.

In terms of positives, The Terminator is probably the best example (if you stick to the James Cameron duology). The first film doesn’t actually change the past but instead counters that with a simple time loop – Skynet sends a T-800 to kill Sarah Connor before she conceives John Connor, but protector Kyle Reese is actually John’s father – and while Terminator 2: Judgement Day does purport to change things, it makes sense standing by itself. Also noteworthy are Primer, which is more logic exercise than the movie, and Looper, which has ridiculous rules yet does follow them to a tee.

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But the majority – Back to the FutureDays of Future PastGroundhog DayBill & Ted – don’t have this tight plotting. Of course, nor do they really need it: the story is more important than the plot making perfect sense, with time travel treated no different to any other narrative device. Still, that doesn’t take away from how all these films are riddled with major question marks, ones Marvel is destined to repeat.

 

PAGE 2 OF 2: WHY MARVEL’S TIME TRAVEL IS DESTINED TO CONFUSE

 

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