Heads up: this is about a specific plot point in Avengers: Endgame. Do NOT read this if you haven’t seen the movie yet. You’ve been warned.
At the end of the movie, Cap goes back in time to return the stones to their original timeline. He takes with him his shield and Thor’s hammer: Mjölnir.
Cap doesn’t return from the trip as planned, and the crew notice an old man sitting on the bench. At this point Old-man Cap gives his shield to Mac. Very nice and touching scene. But, where’s Mjölnir?
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One explanation I like is that during Cap’s time travels to return the stones he returns the Power Stone last, to 1970, and that’s where he stayed, with Peggy. At this point, there would have to be two Captain Americas in the same timeline that the MCU has traveled for the past 10 years. The Old-Man Cap decided to live with Peggy, in seclusion. (He couldn’t exactly go out and advertise who he was, could he?)
Update: in the comments Chris Estrada points out that Cap almost certainly goes back to the 1940s to be with Peggy. I highly suggest reading his entire comment. It sheds a lot more light on this topic.
If this is what happened, then Cap would have taken on a role of a average, nondescript citizen, and he would have to have an agreement with Peggy not to influence the timeline.
So here’s Cap, putting down his hero persona and living as a regular citizen. He has his shield and hammer, probably stored away in the hall closet. But at some point, Cap is no longer “worthy” of the hammer; he’s mowing the lawn instead of fighting the good fight against evil.
And so Mjölnir sits, unmovable, in the hall closet. I picture a scene of one day Cap goes to pick up the hammer and it doesn’t budge; he suddenly realizes he’s no longer a hero.
Unfortunately, none of that works for the continuity of the timeline. Because Cap would have to have left Mjölnir back in Asgard to replace the one that Fat-Thor brought back with him. Basically, they borrowed Mjölnir from the past to fight Thanos.
The big problem with Cap going back to live a life with Peggy — Peggy was already married and had a child with another man. We know that from an interview with Peggy shown in Captain America: Winter Soldier, recorded in 1953. We can say that maybe Peggy and this man were no longer together by 1970 when Cap went back — that’s believable. However, again in Winter Soldier there’s a scene with Cap and old Peggy, and she definitely doesn’t remember a relationship with him after he went down in the plane in the arctic.
The only way this works is if Cap told Peggy what would happen in the future, that he would be thawed out of the ice, and at some point she would have to convince young Cap that they never had a life together.
That’s some serious fan-wanking, but pretty much every single story that involves time travel requires those sort of blinders. Don’t pull too hard, or the whole story unravels.
I’m not complaining. I think Endgame did a fantastic job of injecting time travel into the plot in a playful and thoughtful way. But it’s not flawless. Clearly, this wasn’t the plan all along, because if it were they could have added a few tiny easter eggs in the previous movies that only hatch during the time travel scenes.
What do you think? Are there any other temporal paradoxes that the story glosses over?
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Chris Estrada Contributor
I disagree with when you think cap went back to. He completed his mission of returning the stones and Mjolnir. The he travelled back and stayed in the late 40s or early 50s… Take a look at the cars rolling around just before their dance. Definitely not 70s models… Not even 60s models…
I like a theory that I heard a YouTuber start to explain… Cap went back to live in an alternate timeline. He stays there, creating a completely different world due to butterfly effects with Peggy, until the day she dies.
When Peggy dies he Don’s his time suit one more time and returns to our original timeline. Likely minutes before he shows up on the bench. Maybe Cap, Sam, Bucky, and Banner had their backs turned or had gone off for a break before the mission to return the stones… Old Cap returns just before they come to the machine and hides until young Cap leaves.
This explains his presence as old Cap… But not the shield… It is NOT the broken shield repaired… It’s a completely different one. Back in Spiderman : Homecoming when the Avengers tower is being emptied, Happy mentions a new prototype shield is among the manifest. This is a possible explanation… Tony, when he sped up to the Avengers compound to solve the time travel problems, gave Cap either the new prototype, or his old shield from before Civil War… the shield Cap gives Sam could be the other of the 2…
This would require old Cap to come back sooner to find the shield he passes on… But then where does the case come from? I doubt he would leave an alternate timeline Cap to be shieldless… Maybe he has Peggy get Howard to obtain more vibranium from Wakanda and forge a new shield… Maybe when he returned the Soul Stone and was confronted by an old enemy, that old enemy had a gift for him… Perhaps Schmidt has actually changed and the new shield is some even stronger alien metal…
That’s the plothole that is bugging me… After a second viewing of the movie I’m no longer thinking the Loki imprisoned on Asgard is a plothole or continuity error… It’s all about the various timelines actually being different universes… Anyways… Theorizing is fun!
Dan Gardner Administrator
Wow, great insight there. You’re right, Cap definitely went back to the 1940s I forgot about that when I was writing.
The MCU was already pretty intensely complicated; now it’s become a skein of timelines.