Let’s go back to the beginning.
I started this whole project as a response to the new, official timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve been keeping track of the timeline for my own personal edification for a couple years now, but I never went through the trouble of doing the legwork to show my work until now. The result has been something deeply silly and almost certainly not worth the time I’ve put into it, but we’re here now with a nearly complete timeline that – despite some reshuffling due to retcons (and retcons of the retcons) – is functional and pretty drastically different from the official timeline published by Marvel.
But now that Marvel has codified an official – if inaccurate – timeline, how will that affect these movies going forward? We’ve had to make some leaps and disregard the vast majority of printed dates on things like computer monitors and props, but the timeline we have right now works. Every movie agrees with it, or at least doesn’t actively disagree with it. Which brings us to Avengers: Infinity War.
Like the previous two weeks, there’s not a whole lot in terms of overt, specific references to time in this one. It’s mostly vague talk in terms like “some time ago” or “a while”, but Infinity War does get specific in two instances, and that’s what causes our troubles.
And because it is especially crucial this time, let’s go over the rules…
Rule #1: Only the movies are canon.
Rule #2: Title cards are always true.
Rule #3: References to dates in spoken dialogue are always true unless they conflict with rule #2.
Rule #4: Written dates that are prominently displayed in the world are usually true, unless they disagree with rules 2, 3, or each other.
Rule #5: Props and background objects that can be tied to a specific date almost never count.
All right, so we need to talk about the mechanics of space travel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s never spelled out super clearly – we know travel via the Bifrost occurs almost instantaneously, but beyond that regular space travel seems to be a slower process. The Guardians of the Galaxy movies establish the idea of fixed jump points throughout the galaxy that seem to allow for instant travel between two locations, but only to the specific place each jump point connects to. You can travel between multiple jump points to get to places further away, but doing a bunch of jumps in quick succession is potentially dangerous. So for great distances, space travel in the MCU could still take a fair amount of time.
Avengers: Infinity War begins after the events following the events of Thor: Ragnarok, but we don’t know exactly how soon afterwards. They’re 22 jump points out of Asgard, but we don’t really know what that means in terms of time. It could be a few days, or it could be more than a year.
So, the Zune Peter Quill gets at the end Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 have newer music loaded onto it, or did Yondu just dump the backups of Quill’s Awesome Mix tapes onto it? Either way, this movie doesn’t provide any clarity as “Rubberband Man” is from 1976.
Thank god nobody likes Thor: The Dark World and Marvel tries to avoid referencing it as much as possible because it’s in kind of a buck wild place on our timeline, but that’s the only place it will fit with the way the other pieces are arranged. The mention of “years” passing since the post-credits scene of that movie is perfectly vague. More specific, though, is the time in which Thanos has been collecting Infinity Stones. Apparently he wrecked shop on Xandar just a week before the events of this movie, and once the film gets rolling, things move even more quickly. After a decade of waiting around, Thanos fashions himself into the most powerful being in the universe in maybe ten days at most.
For the sake of not wanting a wall of a dozen screencaps, I’m only including the relevant dialogue here. It’s not super obvious from these lines what two years is referring to, but in the context of a conversation about violating the rules of the Sokovia Accords in order to see each other, it’s clear that we’re now two years out from the end of Civil War. That would put the events of Infinity War in 2019, which is a little odd, but it’s not the first time one of these movies was set in the future at the time it was released.
And here’s the kicker. The single line of dialogue the threatens to completely invalidate 18 weeks of work. “Six years.” Stark references the Battle of New York as happening six years ago – the obvious implication being that once again we’re meant to understand that The Avengers happened in 2012 despite the fact that Spider-Man: Homecoming and the Russo’s own Captain America: Civil War reaffirmed that it took place in 2009. I can try to be cute and say that Stark’s making reference to the time his PTSD symptoms started to develop in Iron Man Three (which, by the way, is still set in 2012), but the intention here is clear: The Avengers, Civil War, and Infinity War are, according to this, set in the same year they were released. There’s no good way to reconcile this, no fun No-Prizes to award (saying it’s a reference to Iron Man Three even though it very clearly is not is the best I’ve got), so we have to make a choice: do we treat Infinity War as gospel because it’s the most recent and irreparably break the rest of the timeline in the process, or do we preserve everything else and disregard the outlier as a weird error? Fortunately the decision is out of my hands. Because this line disagrees with both the title card of Homecoming as well as what is said aloud in multiple other films, we cannot count it. This is the first time I’ve had to throw out a line of dialogue entirely, and I kind of hate it, but it’s also the first time that Marvel’s contradicted themselves in an irreconcilable way, so I feel like it’s them, not me.
And then there’s Bucky who would be 102 by this point (or 101 if you’re on the Tony Stark timeline), obviously just rounding down to preserve his vanity.
And that about wraps it up for this one. 19 weeks in, and for the very first time this timeline held together with paperclips and string has threatened to fall apart. Fortunately it’s just a single line that’s easy to write off as a mistake, but I’m worried that with all of the supposed time travel shenanigans happening in Endgame we’re going to get a new timeline of events that fundamentally disagrees with everything that came before. That’s an extremely dumb thing to worry about, and it does not actually matter at all in the grand scheme of things, but for a series that is built on interlocking continuity and a sense of unity across multiple stories, blatantly disregarding what’s been established in prior films feels like a cheat. It was one thing when they played fast and loose with the chronology because it didn’t matter, but to formally codify a continuity without bothering to revisit the older films and make sure everything works. Basically what I’m saying is I did your homework for you, Marvel, and I want some residuals.
Or, y’know, just a No-Prize envelope sent to my address. That’ll work too.
The Timeline So Far…