September 26, 2021

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Travel Finishes First

Marvel Retconned MCU Time Travel Rules For The 4th Time

4 min read

Marvel’s What If…? episode one once more includes time travel, and once again, the MCU is messing with the rules established in Avengers: Endgame.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for What If…? episode one.

The MCU is still messing with time travel rules. The first episode of Marvel’s What If…? reinvents the Captain America story by swapping Steve Rogers for Peggy Carter, but it ultimately ends with the same tragic event: a hero sent through time away from their true love. In the case of Captain Carter, there is no decades-long sleep under the ice, as she’s sent through time thanks to tangling with Red Skull’s interdimensional monster Shuma-Gorath, sacrificing herself to save her own time. Sadly, the events make no sense because of the MCU’s established time travel lore.


Time travel has been both a curse and a huge story opportunity for the MCU: it was at the core of Avengers: Endgame‘s incredible story and made Loki a great addition to the early days of Phase 4, but it inevitably comes with greater scrutiny. Already the rules of exactly how time travel works in the MCU has been put under the microscope, which wasn’t helped by Endgame‘s writers and directors failing to agree how it all worked, despite having worked together. The MCU’s time travel already didn’t make sense and now What If…? has thrown another wrench in the works.

Related: Every Upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie

At the end of the episode, the Tesseract opens a portal in space – as determined by the Infinity Stone at its heart, the Space Stone – teleporting Captain Carter and Shuma-Gorath away from Red Skull’s fortress. Somehow, after her sacrifice, Captain Carter appears 70 years in the future, having traveled through the portal to the future. The only problem with that is that it’s not strictly possible by the laws of the MCU’s time travel lore so far. The Tesseract sends you from place to place, not time to time, because the Time Stone controls time. This is either a huge mistake, or the MCU has just changed the laws of time travel again. That would make it the third retcon to rules after Captain America, Doctor Strange, and Loki’s TVA  all reinterpreted (or ignored) time travel rules in previous MCU outings.

The first established version of the MCU’s time travel rules comes in Endgame, which states that you can’t change your own future by traveling to your past. The means to travel was shrinking to sub-Atomic size and traveling through the Quantum Realm to another point in the timeline. The Ancient One then expands on that to explain how branching realities are created went the Infinity Stones are removed out of a timeline. The first rule didn’t even make it to the end of Endgame without a problem, as Steve Roger’s reverse time heist to replace the Infinity Stones saw him jumping back to the main timeline without the required Pym Particles. The creative team behind Endgame merely waved this away as a mystery for another time, but since it’s not likely to come back up, it’s easier to chalk it up as a defiance of the rules.

That wasn’t the first retcon though. In Infinity War, Doctor Strange retconned something the Ancient One had told him about seeing the future (by using the Time Stone) in Doctor Strange. She said it was impossible to see past the point of one’s death, which Strange then somehow navigated around when working out the only way to defeat Thanos. He saw past the point he was snapped, despite those who were turned to dust definitely dying for the length of the so-called “Blip”. And then, of course, for the third retcon, Loki’s TVA walked back the Ancient One’s rule that the Infinity Stones controlled the flow of time, instead turning them into trinkets and revealing that nexus events and free will were more important to creating branches and the TVA and He Who Remains were the force that cleared them up.

What If…?‘s retcon is a little more basic, linking again to a misunderstanding of how time travel is even achieved. The Tesseract has no say on when its user can travel to, only where, and suggesting that Carter somehow navigated the Quantum Realm using the Space Stone without requiring a change in size undermines a major part of Endgame‘scentral time heist. Perhaps it’s just better to think it was an oversight, after all…

Next: Every Returning & New MCU Character In What If…? Episode 1

Marvel’s What If…? releases new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.

  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)Release date: Sep 03, 2021
  • Eternals (2021)Release date: Nov 05, 2021
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)Release date: Dec 17, 2021
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: Mar 25, 2022
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever/Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
  • The Marvels/Captain Marvel 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)Release date: Feb 17, 2023
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)Release date: May 05, 2023

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