Since its inception back in 2008 with Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has often borrowed elements from Marvel Comics to tell stories for the big screen. While the characters themselves often have a lot in common with their namesakes, films like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War also borrow details from iconic storylines to inspire new narratives. In the early '80s, the concept of Earth-616 was established at Marvel, which is meant to represent the official, canonical reality in which a majority of its stories take place. In Avengers: Endgame, fans can spot a direct nod to this notion of the Earth-616.
WARNING: Minor spoilers below for Avengers: Endgame
As seen in the post-credits sequence in Ant-Man and the Wasp, Scott Lang found himself stuck in the Quantum Realm. With more time passing in the real world than passed in the realm, when Lang reemerges, the van that housed the necessary equipment to travel to the Quantum Realm was now being held in storage. Specifically, the van and Lang's possessions were being held in a storage area labeled "616."
One of the joys of comic books is that, merely with its title, a book can easily convey to readers that the story they are reading is an alternate reality. For example, books like Ultimate Spider-Man or Ultimate Fantastic Four became immensely popular, serving as reboots of the respective characters over the course of dozens of issues. After decades of stories all set within one canonical universe, establishing the concept of Earth-616 and the Multiverse not only helped clarify events for readers when new titles emerged, but also offered unique storytelling opportunities, especially when these realities would begin to collide.
A big question that this reference raises is if this was meant to establish anything for the audience or if this was merely a loving homage. Given the nature of Endgame and its uses of the various Infinity Stones to change time and reality, it's possible that directors Anthony and Joe Russo included this subtle reference to cement the MCU's timeline. Up to the point the sign appears, there has seemingly been one unified timeline within the MCU, with the inclusion of this 616 reference potentially serving as a reminder that there hasn't been any alternate reality trickery that contradicts the events of the film.
Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now.
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