“Avengers: Endgame” (2019) changed the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a huge way. We said goodbye to multiple beloved characters and witnessed less prominent characters rise to prominent roles. Most importantly, in the aftermath we saw how this monster of a movie was going to set up the future of the universe. But this is news to no one: We’re all aware of the impact “Endgame” had on both the MCU and the overall business of cinema.
After “Endgame” hit theaters, the fanbase found itself in a debate regarding the elderly Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans). On one side many fans believed that he simply went back in time, returned the Infinity Stones, and lived out his life in the same timeline that we’ve come to know and love. The other side argued that upon traveling back in time our beloved Steve Rogers found himself in a new timeline, traveling back to our known timeline to pass on his shield to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).
Even those who worked on the film weighed in on the debate. The writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, found themselves on Team One Reality. The directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, disagreed and found themselves on Team Two Timelines. Even recently during a discussion on the Lights Camera Barstool podcast, the brothers went on to explain their theory.
“In our internal logic that we defined in the room, that was the choice that we made was based on everything that happened he would have been in a branch reality and then had to have shifted over to this so jumped from one to the other and handed the shield off.“
During the same discussion, the brothers were asked whether or not they knew what Rogers was up to in that alternate timeline. The response? “Nope. No idea.” They also mentioned how it was liberating and a relief to not have to worry about such a question.
The debate on whether or not Rogers came from a different timeline intrigued me, as did the thought that the Russos didn’t put much thought into exactly how Rogers returned the stones. I’ve found myself on the Team One Reality for the most part, and I’ve longed pondered on just how Rogers would go about returning the stones.
So I was inspired to actually sit down and theorize this untold story about Steve Rogers. And in the end, I believe I came up with a proper treatment for said story. That story? I call it “Steve Rogers: Infinity Warrior.” And I’d like to share that story with you now. I’ll do my best to keep it quick and concise… But let’s be honest, we all know it’s hard not to indulge in this type of mental meandering .
Grab some snacks and dig in.
Before we start, we have to lay out some assumptions (some obvious).
- Rogers interviewed every surviving member of the Avengers. He got every last detail of their experiences during “Endgame.” Why? So that he knew how to properly re-insert the stones.
- Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn) trained Rogers extensively on how to program his time-travel wristwatch. Why? Because they knew Rogers would have to most likely improvise.
- Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) provided Rogers and the Avengers with a plethora of Pym Particles, presumably being stored in the same briefcase as the Infinity Stones. Why? Again, Rogers would need the ability to improvise and adapt. So he would definitely need the fuel to do so.
- Every vessel for the Infinity Stones is also stored in that briefcase (shrunken using Pym technology, obviously), and Rogers has been educated on how to return the stones to those vessels when the time comes
So let’s get right into it…
The First Space Stone
So Rogers has all the tools and all the information he needs to return the stones. Where does he go first? There’s tons of possible theories. Do you start at the most “recent stone” to replace (aka. The Power Stone or the Soul Stone in 2014) or do you start from the “earliest” stone (aka. the Space Stone in 1970)? I know everyone probably has their theories, but I also have mine. And it’s not what you expect.
Steve’s first stop in his journey wasn’t in 2014 or 1970. His first stop was 1949.
I know most fans assumed he would return to 1949 last. But hear me out. This is his first stop for three reasons…
1. Quite simply: Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). We all know Cap is a straight shooting soldier, but history has shown that his emotions inform his decision making. So he gets the opportunity to freely travel through time, and you don’t think his first stop would be to visit Peggy Carter at her prime? So, the concluding scene in “Endgame” would actually be the first scene of Steve’s journey in this hypothetical movie. I’d imagine there’s a knock on the door, Peggy answers, she’s shocked to see Steve, and he simply says “I owe you a dance.”
2. He needs Peggy to help him with the Space Stone in 1970. It would be incredibly difficult for him to sneak back into Shield HQ to replace the Tesseract that Stark took, especially since security was alerted and actively searching for someone who looks like Rogers. So Peggy, who has security clearance, would help him. So visiting Peggy first isn’t just an emotional choice. After a day or two (or more) of the two of them reuniting, he would have a serious talk with her: He tells her he has an important mission and that he needs her help. When she asks what she can do, he tells her he cannot tell her now. But he asks that she promise to him that when the time comes, she’ll do exactly what he asks her to do. And because of their bond, she gives her word. And as small as that seems, it’s very important: He now knows the Space Stone in 1970 is locked in. Rogers knows he can trust Peggy, so when she promises to do what he asks, he knows that this particular stone is good to go.
3. The Space Stone of 1970 is the earliest stone he needs to return. In my opinion, the most effective and efficient strategy to eliminate those nasty alternative realities would be to start from the beginning. When trimming a tree, cutting off the base of a branch also eliminates all the other branches attached to it, am I right? So visiting Peggy Carter and locking in the 1970 Space Stone is cutting off the first major branch.
From there, it would be safe to assume that between his multiple stops, he may come back to 1949 to regroup and catch a breather. He does have all the time he needs, after all.
The Time Stone
So after ensuring Peggy Carter will help him, he can confidently move forward in his plan. He travels to 2012 during the Battle of New York, knowing that the Time, Space, and Mind Stones are all there. First, he goes to return the Time Stone: It’s the first stone they recovered in 2012, and he’ll need the Ancient One’s help.
He arrives at the Sanctum Sanctorum moments after Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) leaves in “Endgame.” The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) greets him, happy when he offers the Time Stone to her. Rogers politely requests her help: He needs to locate Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Rogers explains that Loki took the Tesseract that same day (via “Endgame“). She obliges. While she works to find where Loki teleported off to, Steve is allowed to read the books in the Sanctum.
Eventually, she finds exactly where Loki has traveled. More importantly, she can help provide Rogers with the coordinates to get there. Rogers prepares himself, arms himself with the Scepter (powered by the Mind Stone), and teleports away.
The Second Space Stone
In “Endgame,” Loki took the Tesseract and teleported away. There, we assume, he starts his mischievous adventures that will unfold during his own mini-series. But, that means that he is a target in Captain America’s mission to restore all the stones.
In the very last episode of that mini-series, Steve Rogers appears. After some very witty banter, Rogers simply says “You need to come with me.” The two fight. Perhaps Rogers even uses Mjolnir. The fight concludes with Rogers using the Scepter/Mind Stone on Loki, rendering Loki unconscious and possibly erasing his memories of the events of the mini-series. Rogers then takes Loki and the Tesseract before teleporting…
The Mind Stone
…back to 2012. Now there are three Captain Americas in play: There’s the 2012 Cap from the original “Avengers” movie, the 2019 Cap from “Endgame” (yes, I know it technically takes place in 2024, but I’m going by release date), and now there’s our current protagonist. We see 2012 fighting 2019, the awesome showdown from “Endgame.” 2019 uses the Scepter to subdue 2012 then leaves after commenting on America’s Ass.
If you recall: At this point, the people of 2012 believe that Loki took the Tesseract then imitated Captain America to take the Scepter. In addition, upon seeing 2019 Rogers, 2012 Rogers calls into his radio that he found Loki with the scepter. So our current Rogers enters after the fight between the two Caps. He drags Loki’s body into view and drops it next to the 2012 Rogers. He leaves the Tesseract he took from Loki, and he also leaves the Scepter. He then quickly gets out of sight before backup arrives.
As 2012 Rogers awakens and his reinforcements show up, it would appear that he fought Loki and took back both the Tesseract and the Scepter. When he can’t remember how the fight ended, everyone would chalk it up to it being a result of one of Loki’s tricks gone wrong.
Three more stops to go.
The Reality Stone
Next stop? Asgard, 2013.
Rogers shows up before Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket arrive in “Endgame.” He stays hidden in the shadows, waiting until he can approach Frigga (Rene Russo) and have a private conversation with her. He tells her what’s about to happen: Her son, traveling from the future, is going to arrive soon. He is going to be disheveled, depressed, and will need her help to reinvigorate himself. Frigga is rightfully skeptical of these claims, but Rogers convinces her by brandishing Mjolnir. Realizing he’s worthy of holding the hammer, she believes his story and agrees to help.
Thor comes, and Frigga confronts him and talks to him just as we saw in “Endgame.” Thor reaches out, retrieves the Mjolnir from 2013, then teleports away. Frigga smiles, happy to have gone through the experience. Rogers steps back out from the shadows, thanking Frigga for her help. He then says he just needs to return the Reality Stone to its place by inserting it back into Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Frigga helps him: Foster is awake and startled after Rocket extracted the Aether, so Frigga helps to calm her down and gives her a remedy that puts her back to sleep. Once asleep, Rogers injects the Aether/Reality Stone back into Foster.
Rogers thanks Frigga for her help, and he gets ready to leave. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Rogers smiles. He walks to a nearby window, holds Mjolnir in the air, and releases his grip. Mjolnir instantly flies out the window, the 2013 Thor summoning it back. Rogers and Frigga exchange smiles. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Steve.” “The pleasure was all mine, ma’am.” And off he goes…
The Soul Stone
Vormir, 2014. Rogers follows Clint Barton’s (Jeremy Renner) instructions and heads up the mountain. He eventually is confronted by the keeper of the Soul Stone, the “red floating guy” as Barton puts it.
“Steve Rogers, son of Joseph.”
So, look… I have like a dozen different ideas of how this conversation goes down. In fact, I think I could write an entire piece analyzing the many ways this conversation could play out. But for now, I refuse to dive into it too much: I don’t want to cheapen it with a summary. All I can say is that I believe that the Red Skull and Rogers come to a mutual respect based on what they both have gone through.
The Red Skull (Ross Marquand for “Endgame) makes sure Rogers knows that returning the Soul Stone does not mean the sacrificed soul is returned. Rogers understands, returning the stone and leaving.
The Power Stone
2014. Just like in “Endgame,” we get the privilege of seeing Star Lord (Chris Pratt) dance on Morag once again. This time, we see it from the point of view of Rogers. He hides in the shadows, watching as Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) knock Quill out so that they can steal the Orb/Power Stone from the temple.
Much to his shock, Rogers sees Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) warship The Sanctuary II appear in the sky above the temple. He looks on as Nebula sprints out of the temple to try and warn the other Avengers, only to be taken by Thanos. Putting two and two together, he realizes that’s where their plan in “Endgame” went wrong. He shrugs it off, going into the temple to replace the Orb/Power Stone.
Upon completion, he takes a breath and teleports back to 1949 to spend his life with the woman of his dreams.
He lives with the love of his life, Peggy Carter, in secret. The two are madly in love, and they live an incredibly happy life together. They experience some frustrations since no one can know about Rogers existing, but they make it work.
In 1970, Rogers finally brings up the promise that Peggy made him. In the days leading up to the moment where Rogers and Stark stole items from SHIELD’s HQ, he shows the Tesseract to Peggy and says she needs to find a way to put it back where Stark took it. Peggy is overwhelmed, but they formulate a plan. On the day, Peggy keeps the Tesseract in her bag, sneaking away to put it back in the lab before anyone realizes it’s gone. Upon completion, Rogers is elated beyond belief with relief.
The two continue to live happily together. Rogers begins to grow old. He observes with nostalgia as he sees Stark grow up, get kidnapped in the Middle East, and go on to run his family’s company. He watches the news and witnesses all the events of the MCU unfold from his couch. He eventually says goodbye to Peggy Carter, who succumbs to old age and passes away happy and peaceful.
When 2018 finally arrives, Rogers is confused when Thanos’ attack on Earth never happens. There is no snap. The events of Infinity War never take place. With no place to turn for answers, he thinks of one man who may be able to help. He vaguely recalls reading about alternative realities and timelines during his brief time at the Sanctum Sanctorum, and he decides that is where he’ll start.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) greets him with hesitancy, since in this timeline Captain America is a war criminal and decades younger. Strange agrees to sit and hear Rogers out, with Rogers expecting Strange to be very skeptical of his story. However, Strange believes the story and decides to help.
Once Rogers tells Strange the intricate details about his journey, Strange realizes what happened: When Thanos leapt forward in time in 2014 (which led to the climactic battle in “Endgame“) he ceased to exist in their current timeline. Therefore, Thanos accidentally created two realities: The one in which “Endgame” takes place, and the current one where Thanos no longer existed. Since Thanos no longer exists in this current timeline, the events of “Infinity War” and “Endgame” never happen.
Rogers is torn: On one hand, he’s happy that they at least prevented the snap in one timeline. On the other hand, he’s concerned about his friends in the original timeline. He asks Dr. Strange if there was any way he could help him. Strange takes on the challenge, allowing the elder Rogers to stay at the sanctum while he works. Assuming that Dr. Strange does end up getting an understanding of the multiverse (ahem… “Multiverse of Madness“), Strange eventually figures out a way to return Rogers to the original timeline of the MCU. But while Rogers waits for Strange to find that solution, he decides there’s something else he needs to do first.
Rogers makes his way to Avengers HQ. He uses his thumbprint in an attempt to gain entry, and it immediately sets the alarm off since Rogers was an international criminal following the events of “Civil War.” Rogers simply smiles as he is detained.
In custody, he gives his story to those who will listen. Almost no one believes the old man, so they take blood samples. When the blood tests confirm his identity, Stark enters the interrogation room, incredibly skeptical of this story but curious.
Stark and elder Rogers have a deep conversation, and Rogers tells Stark about the events of “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” “I once said you’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play… And I was wrong.” He says that in another life, Stark proved his worth by making the ultimate sacrifice for the universe. Rogers came to give his respect. “ You have nothing to prove to yourself or anyone else.”
Stark is eventually convinced that this elderly Rogers was telling the truth about everything. Realizing that the Steve Rogers of their timeline is still a wanted fugitive, Stark decides to give the shield to this Rogers. “I’m just happy you decided to get out there and get a life.” Rogers and Stark get the proper, emotional reconciliation that I believe was skipped over in “Endgame” (But that’s just my opinion).
Rogers, with the shield, returns to Dr. Strange. Together, they manage to get Rogers back to the original timeline. Rogers takes the shield with him.
“It was beautiful”
Once he returns to the original timeline, Rogers uses a leftover Pym Particle to travel to the time and place where he started this journey. He sits lakeside, waiting for his old friends to join him.
After handing over the shield to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Rogers is taken to Avengers HQ and lives the rest of his life in comfort.
Yes, I’ve already started writing the screenplay, and I’ve started sending frantic letters to Marvel to make it happen.
So long story short? Lets put the debate to rest. Despite my initial position, I must humbly admit that the Russos were correct: Rogers traveled to a different reality at the end of “Endgame.” The key factor is when Thanos travels forward in time on Morag in 2014. By doing that, he changes the course of history and creates a new timeline. Rogers can successfully replace all the stones, but he cannot reconcile the fact that Thanos ceases to exist past 2014. Team “Two Timelines” is the correct team.
How do you all feel about it? How do you think Rogers replaced the stones? Do you agree with my analysis or do you think he went in another direction?