Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame managed to close out the "Infinity Saga" by seemingly wrapping up the current narratives of several big name Avengers and bringing back all those lost in Thanos’ Snap. Their solution, however, was to bring back everyone who was Snapped as not having aged or changed, but five years later, with their un-Snapped loved ones having grown, changed, and presumably in some cases moved on.
This five-year jump carries its own implications for what might come next for those who were dusted, and for the Marvel Cinematic Universe overall – to say nothing of the extremely complicated results of spontaneously bringing back trillions of people throughout the Universe.
While some of those questions can be answered with “Infinity Gauntlet magic,” we’re left asking – what does the time jump mean for the next phase of the MCU?
As it turns out, there are already some clues to what we might expect and as to how “the Snap” could continue to inform the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The most obvious route to addressing the implications of the five-year jump is to just, well, avoid it. That’s the route Marvel TV seems to be taking, judging by the premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 (read our advance review here). While that opens its own separate can of worms, the idea that Marvel could consider the matter closed and move on isn’t totally impossible – that’s often how things work in comic books, by necessity.
But that leaves almost everything we know is coming from Marvel Studios in the next few years saddled with big hanging questions that, if totally unaddressed in the story, might put a bit of a dent in the whole 'fully realized shared universe' thing.
While the potential ramifications of the jump on Endgame’s immediate MCU follow-up Spider-Man: Far From Home have been pretty clearly laid out with the latest trailer's new wrinkles adding to these questions, Black Panther 2, Doctor Strange 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Black Widow, and even a presumptive Captain Marvel 2 all have big unsettled questions arising from the jump.
For example, who was the ruler and the Black Panther of Wakanda while T'Challa and Shuri were Snapped, such a significant plot element in the first film? Okoye was at least serving as an envoy to the Avengers, but she doesn't appear to have any claim to the throne. M'Baku seems like the natural fit and the throne being empty for five years while T’Challa and Shuri’s global outreach plans languished would be a lot to gloss over in Black Panther 2.
That seems like a lot of exposition, but perhaps the sequel will incorporate it all into its main plot?
Somewhat similarily, the question of who was Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme during the five-year gap has significant potential effects on Doctor Strange 2. We know Wong was around by the 'Fallen' movie posters even if we didn't see him until the final battle, but without the Time Stone (and with a severely hampered line of magical defense) what was stopping Dormammu or another dark power from crossing into our realm while Doctor Strange was dust in the winds of Titan?
And that's not even mentioning Mordo. The last we saw of him in the Doctor Strange credit scene his goal was to eliminate sorcerers and sorcery, presumably the focus of the sequel or future installment. He likely would have had a field day towards achieving that goal with Strange gone for five years. It doesn't seem like he'd sit on his sling ring the whole time.
Of course he could have been Snapped too - but would the experience alter his worldview at all?
And what of Rachel McAdams' Dr. Christine Palmer, put upon by Strange in his pre-magic life, who seemed to be warming up to him again? Another of the Snapped, or did she move on?
Then there’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. While we’ve got theories about what that plot could entail, for now we’ll simply ask – is Gamora’s fate the next MacGuffin for the franchise? We still don’t exactly know where the past-Gamora ended up – or if the Gamora lost to the Soul Stone can be saved. There’s almost no chance Guardians Vol. 3 will leave that stone unturned (pun very much intended). And that’s not even getting to Thor being a possible cast member in the film.
If it is as simple as Gamora being alive but with no memories of her experiences with Peter and the Guardians, how does that gap get bridged? And let's not forget, the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 established that Ayesha was growing Adam Warlock in a cocoon to fight the Guardians - and that was in 2014, almost 10 years ago in MCU continuity time (remember Baby Groot there, vs. Teen Groot in Avengers: Infinity War?). Is he about to hatch ... or has he already - and if so, will that drive the next film's action?
And what of the presumed-prequel Black Widow? Now that Black Widow sacrificed herself in the manner she did, it would seem tone-deaf to simply jump to the past for a new story. Whatever the film's nature and period it's set in, it seems like Endgame is going to have to be acknowledged, though that's admittedly less about the five-year jump.
And of course, the inevitable Captain Marvel 2 will have to grapple with the fact that the 2023 MCU is now 34 years ahead of when Carol Danvers left Earth the first time and 28 years after she left earth the second time – not to mention what might have happened with all those planets she was tending to besides ours as a result of Endgame.
And what of Monica, who fans expect to eventually make her MCU precence felt? If unSnapped she'd be 38-ish already in 2023. Nothing wrong with an older hero, though they can buy back five years by revealing she was Snapped too.
It’s very likely some of these questions won’t be fully addressed. Even in the best comic book stories, the ongoing, interwoven nature of bringing multiple narratives with their own themes and characters together in one direction requires a bit of squinting to make it all work, a little bit of suspension of disbelief. And the larger emotional and practical impact of billions of people returning to life would hardly be typical superhero movie fodder.
But the MCU has crafted longform narratives in the tragedy of its heroes before – providing a potential roadmap for what comes next.
For example, Iron Man 3’s tale of Tony Stark’s battle with PTSD (a subplot which continued through Endgame) was a direct follow-up to Avengers’ Battle of New York, in which Stark almost died. In fact, the aftermath of the Battle of New York is a likely template for what to expect from the MCU’s response to the five year jump.
The wake of Avengers rumbled through the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the aforementioned Iron Man 3, to Captain America: Civil War, even up to Spider-Man: Homecoming, the disaster response and lived trauma of the people in the MCU became a touchstone for building a shared universe and guiding the action therein.
The Battle of New York even provided almost all the apparent connective tissue between Marvel’s film world and its TV universe – which actually sprung up in the wake of Avengers, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bringing Phil Coulson from film to TV and creating the biggest tangible link between the two now somewhat disparate worlds. The Battle of New York was even one of the most frequent MCU references in Netflix’s Defenders shows, a relationship largely based on references.
The long term question then becomes, just how much of the next era of the MCU will focus on Endgame’s impact? It’s hard to say with Eternals and Shang-Chi the only confirmed new Marvel movie properties in the works. So the likely answer is, probably a lot – but in the same way Avengers rippled out into the franchises of the characters directly touched by it, and provided some scaffolding for the worldbuilding that led directly to Avengers: Endgame.