The following post contains SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame, most of which were strongly hinted at — but totally ignored — a year ago in Avengers: Infinity War.

Every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie opens with the Marvel Studios logo, but the version in Avengers: Endgame is a little different. As the company’s name emerged onscreen, the familiar red background darkened to black, and the “i” and “o” in “Studios” turned into a “1” and “0,” a reference to the ten-year anniversary of Marvel’s initial foray into the movie business.

It was a clever way to honor the company’s first decade in Hollywood. It was also a huge clue as to how the Avengers would eventually beat Thanos, hiding in plain sight in front of tens of millions of people. Even while Marvel guarded the secrets of the plot of Avengers: Endgame like overzealous S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, directors Anthony and Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely essentially spoiled their biggest secret a year ago — and no one noticed.

That secret was this: The Avengers would undo Thanos’ snap by traveling back in time to collect the six Infinity Stones before he ever used them. Once they nab the Stones, they plan to return to their present with them and use them to restore life to the half of the universe that Thanos wiped outIn other words, time is the key — and “time” is the key word spoken all throughout Avengers: Infinity War. It’s said repeatedly, and alluded to even more — like in that Marvel logo that emphasizes the ten years since Iron Man and the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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“Time” has to be one of the most-spoken words in Avengers: Infinity War, right up there with “Thanos” and “Groot.” Many of its uses relate to the Time Stone, the Infinity Stone wielded by Doctor Strange and coveted by Thanos as part of his plan to erase half of the universe’s population. Strange even uses the Time Stone to go forward in time to see the millions of different potential outcomes of the Avengers’ impending fight with Thanos, then forks over the Stone to Thanos — something he’d previously insisted he would never do — to save Tony Stark’s life, explaining “it was the only way” to ensure victory. Strange’s leap forward in time subtly foreshadows the Avengers’ eventual leap backward in time in Endgame.

But there are many references to the concept of time beyond Doctor Strange and his treasured mystical doodad. When Heimdall sends Hulk to Earth before Thanos can kill him, he says “All Fathers, let the dark magic flow through me one last time.” When Bruce Banner reveals he can’t turn into the Hulk anymore, Tony Stark tells him “It’s no time for a thing!” When evil alien Ebony Maw tries to intimidate Strange into handing over his Infinity Stone, he says “In all the time I served Thanos, I have never failed him.” When Thanos explains to Gamora how her sister Nebula wound up on his ship, he says “Some time ago, your sister snuck aboard this ship to kill me.” When Shuri warns Black Panther and the Avengers that it will be difficult to remove the Mind Stone from the head of Vision she says “One misalignment could cause a cascade of circuit failures. It will take time, brother.”

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Speaking of Vision, his romance with Scarlet Witch is the single most time-centric subplot in the movie. Every scene about their relationship makes overt references to time. They’re introduced walking through the streets of Glasgow, where Wanda talks about Vision switching to a different train “which would give us more time together before you went back,” to which Vision replies “What if this time I didn’t go back?” After the couple is attacked by Thanos’ goons and rescued by Captain America and his team, Wanda apologizes to Black Widow by saying “Sorry. We just wanted time.” 

Their time ends when Thanos arrives on Earth before Shuri can successfully remove the Stone from Vision’s body. When he convinces Scarlet Witch to destroy the Stone (and kill him in the process) he says “It’s time” and “We are out of time” in the span of about 20 seconds.

Then, after Thanos erases Scarlet Witch’s heroic act by using the Time Stone, he says “Now is no time to mourn. Now is no time at all." Once you know to look for this, it’s not exactly subtle.

In addition to Infinity War’s emphasis on the specific word, it also contains numerous allusions to periods of time. Like the two years since Captain America: Civil War, when Steve Rogers and Tony Stark had their falling out, and the 70 years since Cap sacrificed himself to save much of the East Coast in Captain America: The First Avenger, and the “few minutes, maybe more” it will take to heat the metal to make Thor’s new axe, Stormbreaker. Thor even specifies that he’s 1500 years old, a superfluous detail except as it relates to strengthening this hidden theme about the nature of time.

It’s worth noting that while the Avengers go back in Endgame and save many billions of people from Thanos, they don’t save everyone. It still looks like Loki’s gone for good (although he’s looked dead before) and poor Vision remains dead as well; Scarlet Witch even mentions him as her motivation when she fights Thanos one-on-one during Endgame’s gigantic final battle.

The Infinity Gauntlet enables the Avengers to undo most of the damage Thanos caused, but not to undo the nature of the universe. Despite the Avengers’ efforts, Vision and Scarlet Witch really were out of time. According to the rules of time travel laid down by Endgame’s various characters, you can’t alter the past; changes to the timeline create alternate realities, not new futures in the original reality. While time can be stretched, it can’t be entirely broken. Or snapped may be the more appropriate word in this case.

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