Despite being arguably the most important component of Avengers: Endgame, the time travel rules put forth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film have left fans with a lot of questions. Even now, months after the film’s theatrical debut, fans still aren’t entirely clear on what the do’s and don’ts of time travel are in Endgame and now, directors Joe and Anthony Russo are clarifying one very specific detail about how it all works.
In a recent video from Wired, the co-directors answer fan questions from Twitter and, in one, a fan wants to know why it was okay for Smart Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to reveal the future to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) if the Avengers weren’t supposed to talk about the future in the past. It turns out, the explanation is pretty straightforward and makes a lot of sense in terms of the larger scope of the story.
“That is a Back to the Future rule that is not applicable in our universe,” Joe Russo said in directly answering the question. “We’re playing by a different set of rules.”
However, even with the film playing by a different set of rules, Anthony Russo explained that there are some important reasons why talking about the future in the past can be problematic — and why the Ancient One knowing was okay.
“You may be thinking about the fact that Doctor Strange doesn’t want to tell Tony about what timeline they’re in as they’re going into the climactic fight with Thanos,” Anthony explained. “The difference between these two situations are when Smart Hulk is talking to the Ancient One, the Ancient One is no longer alive during the events that they’re discussing whereas Tony is very much involved in the events he and Strange are talking about so there’s a little bit of a distinction there.”
“And that’s just really talking to someone about this prior to their death,” Joe said, taking it a bit further. “You don’t want to emotionally confuse them or create a situation where they no longer want to go through with what they are supposed to go through with.”
“Especially when your chances are one in 14 million,” Anthony added. “You have to be very, very careful about not messing it up.”
That specific breakdown actually makes a lot of sense, especially if you go back and look at Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) journey within Endgame. Tony establishes early on that preserving his “happily ever after” as it were — his life with Pepper and his daughter Morgan — is of utmost importance to him. While the possibility he won’t survive the Time Heist is something that he clearly intellectually understands, it’s also not something he likely sees as a tangible possibility — or, at the very least, can’t allow himself to consider. It is entirely possible that if Tony knew going into things that he was going to die in order for the team to ultimately succeed and save the universe, he would have opted out and thus ruin the one successful outcome out of 14 million possibilities.
Narratively, there’s also something to be said for the story value of withholding information about the future from those who will be part of it. One of the deeply emotional moments of Endgame for fans is getting to watch Tony realize that they are in the one and only successful outcome — as well as the realization of what that means for him personally. It makes his “I’m Iron Man” snap even more moving, his sacrifice all the more heroic.
“What’s so incredible about Robert Downey and his performance — and we think this is an awards-caliber performance — is when he looks at Benedict in that moment, what you see happen on his face and the way he just drops his eyes and receives the information, it’s because he knows he’s the solution and the solution involves snapping his fingers — he’s going to die,” Joe Russo explained to Backstory Magazine. “The thing he wanted to preserve two hours earlier in the movie is his relationship with his daughter, and he will have to sacrifice that in order to save everyone else.”
Spider-Man: Far From Home is still in theaters, and Avengers: Endgame is now available on home video. Upcoming Marvel Studios projects include Black Widow on May 1, 2020, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier in Fall 2020, The Eternals on November 6, 2020, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on February 12, 2021, WandaVision in Spring 2021, Loki in Spring 2021, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on May 7, 2021, What If…? in Summer 2021, Hawkeye in Fall 2021, and Thor: Love and Thunder on November 5, 2021.
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