One of the big things that Avengers: Endgame set out to do was bring together the stories of 21 previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and offer a conclusion to the overall Infinity Saga as well as the story arcs for some of the franchise's beloved characters. And that's not a spoiler. Fans have known for a while that various actors had fulfilled their contracts with Marvel Studios and would, at a minimum, would step back into more supportive roles if not hang up their suits for good. It should come as no surprise then that among the characters to get significant conclusion to their current story arc was Captain America. The problem is, however, that it makes no sense.
WARNING: There are massive spoilers for Avengers: Endgame below this point. Stop reading now if you don't want to know very specific details of the film and its conclusion.
Even before Endgame hit theaters there was a prevailing fan theory that Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) would get some measure of a happy ending -- specifically that he would somehow be reunited with Peggy Cater (Haley Atwell) in the past either literally or in a beautiful afterlife moment with Cap's spirit being reunited with his one true love in the end. Fortunately, the latter did not happen. Captain Americadid not die in Endgame, but he did end up reunited with Peggy. With the vanished restored and Thanos well and truly defeated, Cap uses the Quantum GPS Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) devised and some Pym Particles to return the Infinity Stones to where they were taken in history so as not to create alternative timelines and realities. What should have been a brief 5 second trip ended up going seemingly awry when Cap didn't return. Instead, he shows up on a park bench moments later, a very, very old man having opted to remain in the past and "get a life" like Tony had spoken of.
Fans then find out about that life in the film's final scene. Captain America returned to 1945 and reunited with Peggy Carter. The last moments of the film are of Steve and Peggy dancing cheek-to-cheek in their living room, in love and happy, finally getting that dance after all. Now, we're not arguing that the scene isn't moving and beautiful. It 100% is and it's exactly what many fans wanted for Cap. The problem isn't that it's not an emotional punch in the best possible way. The problem is that it does not work, either by the time travel rules established in the film nor by what would be in character for Steve Rogers.
First, the time travel issue. While the term "plot hole" gets tossed around a lot, Cap's whole living out his life scenario gets pretty close to the definition of one by breaking time travel rules. A plot hole, generally, occurs when a film violates the conventions or rules of the world as laid out in the movie, book, or whatever entertainment media we're dealing with. In Endgame, one of the rules of time travel is that you can't alter the past and have it impact the future. For example, when Rhodey (Don Cheadle) suggests they simply go to the past and kill baby Thanos to prevent the Snap from every happening at all, Bruce/Smart Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) explains it doesn't work that way. Changing something in the past would not change the "future" aka, their present.
So, with that rule, when Cap goes back to 1945 and stays, it would have to mean that he's now in an alternative reality, one that branches off from the story we already know of Captain America sacrificing himself to save the world, just this time around he doesn’t end up on ice for 70 years. And if that is how the movie presented things then it'd be a lovely ending, close the book. Instead, though, we get elderly Steve in 2023, passing the shield over to Sam/Falcon (Anthony Mackie). And even that could still work -- had Steve shown up on the Quantum platform as an old man. In that scenario, it would have simply been that Steve held on to his GPS and particles and zipped himself into the "main" timeline to say goodbye. But he doesn't. He simply materializes on a bench -- and we don't see the GPS device at all -- implying that he lived out his happily ever after in some sort of main continuity. Not only does that not work with the rules of Endgame time travel, it also is so far outside of Cap's character that it's disconcerting.
Captain America has always been the hero cannot look away when evil is present. He also is the character that literally never gave up on his friend Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Steve going back to 1945 to live out the simple life with Peggy would mean that he left Bucky to suffer, turned a blind eye to Hydra, and potentially even erased Peggy’s own happy life without him. Remember, in the main timeline Peggy was married and had children. While he likely ended up having a family with Peggy, too, it still eliminates the "original" children she had with whoever her mystery husband was.
And the whole "maybe Cap was Peggy's unnamed husband" argument doesn't work because that also breaks the time travel rules. There are other issues about Cap going back alone to return the stones in the first place, anyway. If the stones have to be returned to the exact moment they are taken, how the heck is Steve supposed to be at two places in New York at roughly the same time to replace the Time and Mind Stone? And where's the Scepter that the Mind Stone would need to be replaced in? Remember, Captain America took the Scepter with him. And as for the Soul Stone, how would that even work?
Ultimately, when you step back from the warm and fuzzy of Captain America's finale while it is a beautiful moment of fan service, none of it works beyond the emotional response. The math doesn't add up and instead leaves a weird, messy tangle that fans will be trying to sort out for a long time to come.
Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now.
What is your take on the Captain America ending? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter @lifeinpolaroid to try to sort out this part of the movie's timeline.