The events of Avengers: Endgame are continuing to affect the MCU in Phase Four, both in terms of the franchise’s canon and the fan discussion outside it. The defeat of Thanos and the character development and deaths that went along with it (not to mention the five-year Blip when half the universe didn’t exist) are still pretty fresh to those who remain, but the time travel element of the film is something that’s mostly been a fan discussion topic - until now.
Yes, with the time-traveling adventures of Loki on the horizon, it seems like Marvel is finally going to have to address the “Time Heist” in a project for the first time since Endgame. Specifically, they’re going to have to explain how it fits in with the strict rules of the Time Variance Authority (aka, the TVA), the organization taking center stage in Loki.
With the TVA following a seemingly different set of time travel rules than the Avengers did in Endgame, the show is taking the risk of potentially confusing many viewers, and possibly even losing them altogether. Here are a few questions fans have been asking about time travel in the MCU now that Loki is complicating the matter even further than it was before.
The “time travel” in Avengers: Endgame was really just the team visiting replicas of past events and creating new timelines as a result. Thus, their actions in these time periods weren’t affecting the main MCU timeline but were able to lead to events being different in the new ones. (This is, of course, how the very concept for Loki came to be, but that’s getting a little too ahead of things for the moment.)
Trailers and press for the series have revealed that the TVA is dedicated to protecting “the sacred timeline” that they have created, determining every event from the beginning of time to its end. Thus, it’s possible - perhaps even likely - that the TVA knew the Avengers would embark on the time heist and since it was part of their precisely planned timeline, they didn’t need to interfere.
However, that says nothing of the other timelines which were created. While some of them presumably ceased to exist by the time the film was over (again, that’s getting a little head of things for now) there are (probably) three that remain: the one in which Loki escapes with the Tesseract, the one in which Captain America / Steve Rogers lives out his life with Peggy Carter (another thought to hold for the moment), and the one in which Nebula, Gamora, Thanos, and his army are all either dead or missing (as most of them traveled to the main MCU for the film’s final battle).
It is possible that Steve returning the stones taken from the third timeline caused it to rest (and cease to exist) as he did for several others from which stones were taken, but there is also the possibility that the permanent vanishing of the aforementioned characters caused that timeline to be irreparable, thus creating a permanent new timeline.
So the questions here are whether this third alternate timeline still exists, and if so, is it one of the branches in the main timeline the TVA needs to fix, or a whole new timeline entirely? And what about the other two?
THE MULTIVERSE FACTOR
It’s no secret that the multiverse exists in the MCU (or would that make it the MCM?) and that it will be coming into play very soon. Technically, the timelines created by the Avengers in Endgame could also be considered part of the multiverse, but it is unknown if and how they will factor into that, or if the multiverse even operates similarly.
The question here kind of ties back into the previous one: does the TVA handle all the timelines in all the existing universe, or just the main MCU one and any timelines which branch off of it?
As footage from Loki has shown, the titular character is arrested by the TVA for causing a rift in the timeline, but he’s not the only one who has been taken in by the organization. In fact, there’s a whole department at the TVA specifically for dealing with people who have broken the timeline.
What seems weird here is that assuming Loki only used the Tesseract to escape Stark Tower and travel to another location in the universe (as opposed to creating yet another entirely new timeline) it doesn’t totally make sense why is he the one being arrested and not the Avengers on the Time Heist, since they created the timeline in which he did so in the first place.
Perhaps there are ways a timeline that goes slightly differently than “planned” can revert back to normal, and the future the TVA has mapped out can remain intact as long as certain events still occur. If this is the case, it’s possible that things in the branched timeline were still on track to play out in more or less the same fashion until Loki picked up the Tesseract and escaped with it.
It’s worth mentioning that these rules would also explain how Loki can help fix the timeline by traveling to certain moments and existing within them to set things right.
CAPTAIN AMERICA’S NEW LIFE
As The Ancient One explained to Smart Hulk in Endgame, returning the Infinity Stones to their original timelines sets said timelines back to the way they were before they were removed from them. Steve Rogers does just that at the end of the movie and creates a branched timeline of his own to live out his life with Peggy Carter.
Based on what is known about the MCU’s TVA so far, this would seem like a HUGE no-no, perhaps even bigger than Loki taking the Tesseract. Surely, Steve Rogers’s presence outside the ice for so many years had to have huge effects on the timeline. Even if he were to keep a low profile, Peggy’s loss of Captain America led to so many key events in time that it would be basically impossible for them to remain the same in this alternate universe.
So...what gives, TVA? Why is Steve allowed to live out his personal fantasy timeline knowing full well what he is doing while Loki is arrested seemingly without knowing what he has done wrong? There’s a chance his returning of the Infinity Stones to the other timelines earned him some brownie points with the TVA. Maybe they even talked it over with him and gave him the go-ahead to create his own universe.
But still, this is very odd, and it would seem like a massive oversight for the show not to address it. (Loki may not know what Steve did, but the audience certainly does!)
These questions will (hopefully) be answered when Loki premieres on Disney+ June 9.