Avengers: Endgame is a fantastic ending to the epic Marvel Cinematic Universe story-line that was built around the Infinity Stones. The Russo Brothers have delivered well. A movie like the Infinity Wars was a tough act to follow. While Endgame is not as pacy as its prequel, it wraps the story up pretty well without plot-holes. Without further ado, here’s Avengers: Endgame’s timeline, plot, and ending explained. Spoilers ahead.
Avengers Endgame Time Travel Explained (Time Heist Explained)
Infinity Stones and Important Events
If you haven’t already, do go through the Path of the Infinity Stones for a quick recap. Also, check out the full recap of All the Marvel Movies in a single article. With these articles you’ll be all caught up for Avengers: Endgame.
We need to know a few dates and details from the past movies:
1970 – When Howard Stark was conducting experiments with the Tesseract (Space Stone) as part of Project Pegasus.
2012 – When Loki attacked New York with the help of the Mind Stone (Sceptre) and the Space Stone (Tesseract).
2012 – When the Time Stone (Eye of Agamotto) was with the Ancient One. At this point, Dr. Strange is still a neurosurgeon, not a wizard.
2013 – When the Infinity Stone (Aether) had entered Jane, and she was taken to Asgard.
2014 – When Red Skull was guarding the Soul Stone in Volmir.
2014 – When the Power Stone was in Morag, and Peter Quill was going to steal it.
Tony and Nebula
After losing everybody else on Titan, Tony and Nebula are on a spaceship which they could salvage to move around for 48 hours. But they lose power and are soon going to lose Oxygen. Captain Marvel, who gets to Earth because of the page from Nick Fury learns about what has happened. She finds and brings back Tony and Nebula. Tony is distraught because of their loss and feels if they had been one team instead of falling out (like they did in Civil War) they might have been able to protect the Infinity Stones better.
Taking Out Thanos
Captain Marvel, Rhodes, Thor, Natasha, Bruce, Captain America, and Rocket locate Thanos with the help of Nebula. We see a retired Thanos who has already destroyed all the Infinity Stones. Thor is furious and beheads Thanos. With all hope lost they return to Earth. 5 years pass. Let’s presume that the year is 2023.
Ant-Man and the Quantum Realm
Ant-Man who’s been trapped in the quantum realm (shown in the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp) gets thrown out of his van when a rat triggers the mechanism. While for him the elapsed time was about 5 hours, the rest of the world ages by 5 years. He heads to meet Cap and Natasha to explain that they could use the Quantum realm to travel back in time before Thanos and stop him.
Tony and Pepper
Tony and Pepper have a kid now and are living in a quiet corner. Cap and the team approach Tony for help, but he refuses. Tony’s dilemma is the worst – while he’s lost enough people he loved, he was lucky enough to have Pepper with him and now a child.
Hulk-Banner goes looking for Pork-Thor
Bruce has found a way to combine his intellect and the Hulk’s form to coexist. We now have a large yet peaceful Hulk. Thor was really close to stopping Thanos, but he didn’t go for the head, and as a result, Thanos was able to snap his fingers. Thor is now a pot-bellied drunkard living in Norway. Valkyrie (Scrapper 142 from the movie Ragnarok) stays there too. Hulk and Rocket show up to convince Thor to join them and he does.
Hawkeye has turned into a self-proclaimed assassin killing all the “bad” people who didn’t die because of Thanos’ snap. He feels he needs to avenge all the good dead folk, especially his family. Natasha meets him and gets him to join the team.
Avengers: Endgame: Time Travel Plan
Hulk is having a tough time trying the time machine on Ant-Man. Tony works out how to get the time travel thing going and risks it all to join the team. The plan is simply this, just get back all the lives claimed by the “snap” in Infinity War straight into 2023. This means that every turned-to-ash person from 2018 will reappear in 2023. There is no intention to change the events of Infinity War or any other past event. The team will travel back in time, steal the stones, bring them to the present, and restore everyone who was turned to dust. Once done, they will return the Stones to the location in time where they were stolen from so that their history will remain unaltered and their timeline will be preserved.
Avengers Endgame: Team Distribution
2012 – New York: Space Stone. Mind Stone. Time Stone
Captain America, Hulk, Ant-Man, and Tony head to 2012 in the middle of Loki’s attack (from the movie Avengers).
Captain America goes after the Sceptre which is being taken by Hydra who have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. At that time the Avengers are unaware of this scheming. Captain America avoids any confrontation by simply saying “Hail Hydra” and the Hydra gang proudly hands over the Sceptre to him. But soon he runs into Captain America from 2012 and the two fight. The 2023 Cap overpowers his past self using the Sceptre.
Hulk goes over to talk to The Ancient One (from Dr. Strange). Initially, she’s not convinced, but when Bruce tells her that Dr. Strange willingly gave away the time stone to Thanos, she realizes that he did that with a specific purpose. Based on that action she hands over the Time Stone to the Hulk. Remember, Dr. Strange checked out over 14 million realities and only in one of those Thanos doesn’t win.
The 2012 Avengers are in discussion with Earth’s authority of who will be arresting Loki. Thor plans to take him back to Asgard and Earth wants to first punish Loki for his crimes. In that confusion, Tony and Ant-Man are almost successful in getting the Tesseract but an angry Hulk from 2012, who’s been made to take the stairs, mistakenly knocks down Tony. Loki takes the Tesseract and escapes. What happens to Loki is not disclosed after this. Loki escaping would cause a new timeline but that is not in the context of this film.
Ant-Man returns to 2023 with the Mind Stone (Sceptre).
Hulk returns to 2023 with the Time Stone.
1970 – S.H.I.E.L.D Headquarters: Space Stone
Tony and Cap head to 1970 because they need to get the Tesseract. They pick 1970 because Hank Pym happens to work in the same office where Howard Stark (Tony’s father) has set up a team to study the Tesseract (Project Pegasus). Tony sneaks into the facility and steals the Tesseract and converses with his dad. Cap steals some Pym particle capsules because that is what he and Tony need to get back to 2023.
Tony and Cap return to 2023 with the Space Stone (Tesseract).
2013 – Asgard: Reality Stone
Thor and Rocket get to Asgard where Jane is kept because she has the Aether in her. Thor runs into his mother and realizes that it’s the same day she will die because of Malekith (what we see in Thor: The Dark World). Rocket retrieves the Aether as Thor is with his mother. He tries to warn her about her death, but she doesn’t want to know about her future. Thor takes the hammer from that time and leaves with Rocket.
Thor and Rocket return to 2023 with the Reality Stone (Aether).
2014 – Vormir: Soul Stone
Hawkeye and Natasha are greeted by Red Skull at Vormir where he explains that the Soul Stone needs a sacrifice. Both Hawkeye and Natasha compete to sacrifice themselves. Natasha wins and falls to her death. Yes, folks, that’s the sad end of the Black Widow.
With a heavy heart, Hawkeye returns to 2023 with the Soul Stone.
2014 – Morag: Power Stone
Rhodes and Nebula reach Morag. Now, this is the time just before the events of the movie Guardians of the Galaxy. Before Quill can steal the Orb (Power Stone), the duo knocks him out, and Nebula steals the Orb instead. Unfortunately, 2014-Thanos is also looking for the Power Stone with the help of 2014-Gamora and 2014-Nebula at that very time. The two Nebula’s neural networks interlock and 2014-Thanos is able to see the memories of the 2023-Nebula. 2014-Thanos becomes fully aware of the events of the future and how he will eventually die but not before accomplishing his deed of wiping out half the living things on the planet. Rhodes leaves with the Orb, but 2023-Nebula is captured. The plan is to have the 2014-Nebula infiltrate the Avengers in 2023 to get all the stones.
Rhodes returns to 2023 with the Power Stone (Orb).
2014-Thanos, 2014-Gamora, 2014-Nebula, 2023-Nebula and the entire fleet of the Chitauri army use the Pym Capsule to travel to 2023.
How does Nebula bring Thanos to the future? And, how did Thanos bring his army to the future?
Thanos is from a race of advanced beings on Titan. He has Ebony Maw, who has genius-level intellect, working for him. The two of them together can reverse engineer and mass produce Pym Particles to bring the entire fleet forward in time. Once they have their analysis complete on 2023-Nebula’s Pym Capsule, they send 2014-Nebula to 2023. For the rest of the army, they will create more Pym particles. Now, remember, this is time-travel. 2014-Nebula took only days to return back to 2023, and even if 2014-Thanos took 3 months to produce the capsules, they will travel forward to that exact point in time in 2023. So from the perspective of viewers in 2023, 2014-Nebula and 2014-Thanos returned within minutes of each other. But in 2014, Thanos and Maw could take all the time they needed to prepare the Pym Capsules for the entire army.
Avengers Endgame: Hulk’s Snap
Now that the Avengers have all the Stones, they decide to go ahead with their plan. Tony has made a Gauntlet to host the stones and Hulk offers to wear it. Hulk Snaps his fingers, and everyone is restored. Now, remember, people like Loki and Vision died before Thanos’ snap, they will not be restored. Gamora and Natasha were both offered in exchange for the Soul Stone, that can’t be undone so they will remain dead.
Thanos blows up the Stark Building and waits outside for the final battle. He wants to use the Gauntlet to obliterate the entire universe and rebuild it from scratch. Iron-Man, Captain America, and Thor line up and fight him. They try really hard, Captain America is even worthy enough to wield Thor’s hammer, but Thanos is too powerful. He beats them to the ground.
How does Captain America lift Thor’s hammer?
Well, looks like he was always worthy of it. If you remember, in The Age of Ultron, Cap almost lifts it. It now appears that he refrained from lifting it because of the expression that Thor gives. The nice guy that Cap is, he wouldn’t want to make Thor look bad. But it looks like after that moment, Thor has had his own doubts and that is why he screams “I knew it” when Cap finally wields the hammer in Avengers: Endgame.
Nebula and Gamora
2023 Nebula convinces 2014 Gamora to go against Thanos. 2014 Nebula refuses and 2023 Nebula shoots and kills 2014 Nebula. Now, this appears to be a grandfather paradox right here but it’s not. You can scroll below for the Paradox Explanation.
Avengers Endgame: Final Battle
As Thanos summons his Chitauri army to take out all of Earth, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe of heroes show up with Dr. Strange to defend. An epic battle ensues. Captain Marvel join in. Thanos is still hard to take down as he has his hands on the Gauntlet. Dr. Strange indicates to Iron-Man that this is that one reality where they have a chance. Iron-Man slips out the stones from the Gauntlet Thanos is holding and wears the stones himself. He snaps his fingers to destroy the attacking Chitauris and also, Thanos. But the snap takes a toll on Tony, and he dies from the injuries he sustains. Oh yeah, this was almost as difficult as watching Logan pass away.
Avengers Endgame: What Captain America does in the end.
Everyone attends Tony’s funeral to pay their respects. Thor asks Valkyrie to become the Queen of Asgard (the one in Norway). Thor joins the Guardians of the Galaxy. Captain America takes all the stones and Thor’s hammer and goes back through the Quantum device. He returns all the Stones to their original time and place from when they were taken. He presumably returns the hammer too. After that, he chooses to go back to the 40s to be with Peggy and get married to her. Years pass and in 2023, we see an old Steve Rogers who’s come to tell that he lived a happy life and hands his shield to Falcon. Again, it would make sense if Cap lived his life in another timeline with Peggy and has returned to this timeline to hand over the Shield to Falcon. This would also explain how Cap has a fresh Shield (Thanos destroys his other Shield during the final battle), this Shield is from the other timeline that Cap lived his life out in.
Possible Time-Travel (Grandfather) Paradoxes in Avengers Endgame
If a person kills their past self shouldn’t they cease to exist? Well yes, only if both the present and past self are from the same timeline. When the team traveled to the past to get the stones, that act of going back creates a new timeline. In the original 2012, there was only one set of Avengers. In this new timeline, there are two. Cap even fights with his younger self.
Avengers Endgame: Timeline Diagram
As you can see in the diagram. The same applies to Nebula too, in the original 2014 timeline, there was only one Nebula. And Quill took the Orb. The time travel leads to an altered timeline where Rhodes exits with the Orb. It’s the Nebula and Thanos from this new 2014 timeline that have come to 2023. Therefore Nebula killing her younger self will not affect her because the two of them belong to different timelines. The same applies to Thanos. The 2014 Thanos we see in this movie is from a different timeline, his death will not affect the 2023 original timeline (which has been through the Infinity War).