Now, before you raise those pitchforks and prepare to burn us for heresy, we have a small theory worth considering – What if, when Captain America went back in time (at the end of Avengers: Endgame) to return all six Infinity Stones, he also saved Black Widow’s life?
Wait, what do you mean, ‘saved Black Widow’s life’? She’s dead. Gone. Irreversible. No refunds.
What if, instead of returning the Soul Stone to Vormir, Cap travels to Morag in 2014 and passes his Soul Stone to Natasha and Clint, to bring back to their 2023? The Soul Stone from that timeline never leaves Vormir.
Stay with us, as we will explain how it can be done!
For the sake of brevity, we’ll assume you’ve fully watched Endgame and understand how their time travel mechanics work.
If you have not, here’s a crash course – basically time travel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe functions in such a way that whatever you do in another timeline only affects that timeline, and doesn’t impact yours. Go back in time, and you effectively create a branch in the timeline, which means time paradoxes cannot take place. So you can’t go back in time to kill your ancestor, to prevent your birth. This will only happen in the branched timeline.
This is important, as the MCU also establishes another rule – that it is possible to create a branched timeline, within a branched timeline. (When Captain America and Iron Man fail to retrieve the Tesseract in the branched 2012 timeline, and jump further back to 1970.)
Now, down to business.
So at the end of Endgame, Captain America has decided to go back in time via the Quantum Realm to return all six Infinity Stones to re-balance the flow of time, without undoing the eventual defeat of Thanos in any alternate reality. To do this, he needs to go back to the point where the Stones were taken, to restore this equilibrium.
Why? As the Ancient One explains, the Stones are an integral part of maintaining balance across the cosmos. Remove one from the timeline and your universe is essentially done for.
So by taking the Infinity Stones from their current timeline into another, the flow of time, according to the Ancient One, will be in turmoil, plunging that timeline into chaos. (We’re also thinking that at this point, Banner must realise that, since his own timeline didn’t cease to exist after Thanos destroyed the Stones five years ago, the original Stones must still be around somewhere, but no one knows where.)
In keeping with that theory, Cap has to go back to the exact moment he and the other Avengers extracted the Infinity Stones in the time heist, to return them.
But that’s impossible. While it’s just a simple delivery mission to each timeline, we think that the return of some Infinity Stones may be a little trickier than you’d think. But let’s resolve the simpler ones first.
He heads to New York in 2012, to return both the Time Stone to the Ancient One, as well as the Mind Stone/Scepter, to where he defeated his younger (unconscious) self. That’s 2, which leaves 4 and he does so undetected.
So Cap goes back to Asgard in 2013 to return the Reality Stone/Aether, and injects the Aether back into Jane Foster. Let’s assume Thor debriefed Cap on exactly what to do, and how. 3 of 6.
Here comes the tricky part. The Power Stone on Morag circa 2014 was housed in a sphere. With that sphere destroyed, and the Starlord of that branch rendered unconscious by War Machine, who know if Peter Quill got his hands on the Power Stone, to allow the events of the first Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 to play out. We’re leaning on NO, since Thanos and crew were time travelling to 2023, so that timeline is a mess.
(Which begs another question – if traveling back in time creates a branch, what do you create when you jump forward in time?)
And when Cap heads to SHIELD HQ in 1970 to return the Space Stone, how does he get the gem to take the form of a cube? If it’s not a cube, then the events won’t play out exactly as they did before.
But say that for whatever reasons (maybe the Stones are self-aware and form the respective sphere and cube for Steve just as he returns them. Who knows?), all first five stones are returned.
In these instances, Cap goes back to the moment right when these Stones were taken, as he wouldn’t want to disrupt the heist conducted by his teammates in those timelines. He wouldn’t want War Machine and Nebula to mess up getting the Power Stone, even if the latter gets captured by Thanos. When events playout correctly, the timeline is intact.
He wouldn’t want to get in the way of Tony Stark meeting with his father. And he certainly wouldn’t want to crash in on Bruce Banner learning about the consequences about removing the Infinity Stones from their respective timelines in the first place.
But what about the Soul Stone, then? Well, Cap is going to skip Vormir altogether.
Instead of returning the Soul Stone right after Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow sacrifices herself, he does so before that very moment. Meaning to say, he can give Nat and Clint the Soul Stone, without the two of them going head to head on the ledge.
Think about it. Instead of Nat sacrificing her, Cap creates another branch where he passes his Soul Stone to Nat and Clint. They bring it forward in time, and the ending of the movie doesn’t change and when their Cap makes the same return journey, he does the same thing.
As such, the Black Widow in that timeline would be alive. This will not bring back the Nat from the Prime timeline, but it’s still a win for us in a sense… right?
Just know that this is totally different from snapping the dead back to life. Especially not when you’re a blood sacrifice for an Infinity Stone. Just ask Bruce Banner/Professor Hulk. He tried this himself, after using the Nano Gauntlet to snap everyone back into existence.
Furthermore, the writers of Endgame themselves, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, have gone on record in the HeroBlend podcast, and debunked the possibility of Nat being alive.
“You put it back, you don’t get anything in return,” explained Markus. “It’s not like a pawn shop. It’s a slot machine.”
But you know who else got sacrificed for the Soul Stone but “came back”? A certain child of Thanos called Gamora, obviously.
Yes, the Gamora we’ve all come to know and love may be dead and gone, but 2014 Gamora was brought back at the final third of Endgame on board 2014 Thanos’ Dreadnought.
Also, she seemed to be totally fine even after her future/present self seemingly disappeared and apparently may be the focus for Peter Quill/Star Lord’s search in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
If this time displaced Gamora can still be alive and well, then Nat can definitely be “brought back” by the same method. Of course, it won’t be the same Nat, but one who knows enough about the conflict against Thanos.
Of course, the upcoming Black Widow solo movie will be a prequel to flesh Nat’s backstory a lot more, so we won’t be expecting a potential return of one of the original Avengers to the current fold of MCU heroes any time soon.
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.