Rik Worth 24th May 2019
Time travel in movies, to the past at least, is stupid, confusing and often a pretty lazy way of writers getting out of a corner they have painted themselves into. Viewers can be left scratching their heads trying to understand the internal logic of movies and the philosophical concept of causality in general.
Add to that the moral quandaries of fate, the butterfly effect, whether or not you would shoot a baby Hitler or if your mum from the Sixties is a freak for trying to get it on with your as yet unborn teenage self who travelled in time to make sure she gets it on with your dad. See, stupid.
But what do we mean when we talk about time travel in films? Essentially there are four schools of thought:
- Back to The Future: You can alter the present by changing the past. Doing so doesn’t change the future in such a way so that you wouldn’t have to go back to the past in the place. Essentially, you can change history without creating a paradox. You can kill Hilter to stop the Holocaust (though we don’t know that would have actually worked).
- Terminator: You can try to alter the past but you can’t alter destiny. Somehow, the same shit is always going to go down. You can kill Hitler but the Holocaust will still happen.
- Star Trek: First Contact: You’re not changing the past, but protecting it. You were always meant to travel to the past, but you don’t affect events in a significant way. You can’t kill Hitler (you bastard) but you can ensure Turing doesn’t throw away notes he might need to crack the enigma code.
- Star Trek (Abrams): If you alter the past in a significant way, you create a separate timeline. Killing Hitler creates a timeline where Hitler was killed and one where he wasn’t.
So, if you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame you know that they use time travel to beat Thanos and restore the life snapped out of existence — more on why that’s an awful idea soon. But, what type of time travel rules are they using?
Pretty early doors the Hulk tells his fellow Avengers that they can’t go back in time to kill Thanos before the snap. You can’t straight up alter the past. So we can safely scratch off Back to the Future style time laws.
Dr Strange, in whatever accent he has, explains their chances of succeeding are one in 14 million. So, we don’t have a Terminator future either because Thanos would either win or he wouldn’t. It would be inevitable.
I’m going say they aren’t First Contacting this bad boy and trying to protect the timeline. They say they will be returning the Infinity Stones to the part of the time they pluck them from but, they muck around quite a lot. Cap fights his earlier self, revealing that his ultra-boring friend Bucky is still alive, Thor tells his mum she is going to die, and oh yeah, Thanos gets wind of the Avengers’ (or directors the Russo brothers’) poorly thought out and nonsensical plan, is time-travelled to the future and killed. Meaning he never does the snap in the first place.
The fact that the Ancient One, as wise as she is bald, openly says that messing around with the time travel will create alternate timeline/realities, we’re dealing with the Abrams style alt-timeline here. Otherwise, we have a paradox of Thanos never having had the chance to snap his Infinity fingers and half of all life being returned after they haven’t disappeared.
1 in 14 million
But it’s an alternative reality (Thanos not snapping) that they end or at least taper together by Thanos being killed. The Marvel Universe is full of alternative realities. What if everything took place in 1602, what Captain America became the president or Aunt May was bitten by the radioactive spider. That sort of thing. Usually, we get to see the alternative timeline and have the characters interact with it in some way. In End Game what the viewer sees is the one in 14 million times, or rather the one of 14 million timelines that the Avengers succeed. We don’t see all the times they fail miserably and the universe is annihilated.
Strange gave us those odds in the previous movie and had to hand over the Time Stone to ensure that the Avengers had to time travel, to get to the one in 14 million timelines. He guaranteed Thanos upped the stakes. Now don’t get me wrong, Thanos is still a bad guy, and in 13,999,999 timelines he wins and destroys all life in the universe. But he wouldn’t do that if The Avengers hadn’t messed around with time. He even says that since destroying half of all life didn’t stop those tools, he’ll just have to kill everyone.
All life in the universe is killed 13,999,999 million times over because of the Avengers. What’s worse is every time you create an alternative time lime, you also retroactively, create an alternative but identical past, meaning you recreate every human atrocity since the dawn of time for the separate human race.
In any one of the timelines the Avengers lose in, there is a Hitler, a Holocaust, a Bubonic Plague, the Crusades, so on and so forth, that didn’t exist in the multi-verse before they starting dicking about. Just because they die in those universes doesn’t mean that they aren’t responsible for creating the misery that people go through in those alternative timelines. They created those universes. Nearly 14 million times. That’s trillions upon trillions of deaths. To return under four billion lives. That’s a bad payoff. They are literally worse than Thanos.
Think it through
Even if you don’t buy the alternative timeline, think for a second about the actual results of their goal. Thanos disintegrates half of all life out of existence, does that include plants? Groot bought it, but he is sentient. It’s worth keeping in mind anyway.
Half of all life would actually be more than half. Pilots, doctors, farmers, handsome writers for websites; the loss of all these people, the people that help society function, would result in more immediate deaths. If you include plants and animals, crops would fail, industrial farming would collapse, world powers would battle for power over resources and infrastructure as thousands starve. It would be pretty bad.
But like five years later, society would have stabilised, the environment would have recovered from years of abuse, things would just about get steady again. Those who are left would have moved to new jobs that help to prop up what’s left of society and things would be sad but stable.
Then boom — the earth’s population doubles in a second. Industry would have reset itself to a level for 3.7 billion people, not 7.5. Did all the crops reappear in the same place? Are their thousands of cows and pigs suddenly wandering around cities? The world moved on. That kind of insane growth would result in the same misery that the previous extinction caused, only this time, the Avengers are responsible not the Mad Titan. No society is built for its population to suddenly double.
The logicists of who sleeps where and what’s for tea when family visits is hard enough. Imagine if that was happened all over the world at once.
On top of which, the sheer emotional turmoil of people who have moved on: “Oh you remarried? Well, your abusive husband who was snapped out of existence for five years is back and as far as he is concerned you’re still married.”
What about the people who return, who’s loved ones died in the five-year interval? For those people, one second they’re playing squash or whatever people do, the next, their daughter has grown up and hates them for not being around, they have no job, food is rationed and both they’re parents died without them being able to say goodbye and their wife, after having a brief but ultimately more fulfilling and sexually rewarding relationship with his best mate, was killed scavenging for batteries in an abandoned Poundland. The people who disappeared didn’t even know they didn’t exist. That’s not exactly happy but it ain’t misery either.
On top of all that destruction and turmoil, they cause in the timeline they save and the 13,999,999 they don’t, we’re then expected to feel sympathy for the sacrifice of super genius Tony Stark? Bollocks. The man’s a deathmonger. They set that up in the first film. Sod him.
If you thought that was crazy, you should listen to Here’s A Crazy Story a podcast from The Overtake where Robyn, Rik and Abi tell crazy true stories. It’s available wherever you get your podcasts.
Main image: Marvel Studios
Rik Worth 24th May 2019