Before I go further, the usual warning: spoilers.
I’m not the first person who watched this movie and noted more than a few plot holes. In my first-flush reaction I focused on perceived points of departures from how favorite characters were built up in earlier films (another warning: I am a film-only fan and am approaching them without much if any reference to the comics). M’Baku, for instance, who I felt became “brother” with T’Challa a little too quickly; or Peter Parker’s embracing being part of the Avengers. But what really struck me this time made very little sense but were set up very particularly and precisely in that non-sense. These don’t add up, but it’s not because the film-runners are being careless.
Starting with the opening scene, which incidentally seemed much better suited to a DCU than a Marvel movie, it’s just so dark. (It helped me enjoy the movie a lot more this second time, that I knew it was coming so wasn’t thrown for a loop. It’s also very out of character that Heimdall would open the Bifrost to save the Hulk, of all people. He’s so defined by his devotion not just to Asgard and Asgardians, but to the rightful sons of Odin in particular. Well, there’s two of them very much in need of rescue. The only conclusion I can draw is that Banner is in danger in a way the other people aren’t. Or perhaps -- because that still doesn’t explain why Heimdall would care about Banner in the face of so much Asgardian loss -- Hulk’s survival is crucial to those refugees’ salvation in a way that’s not immediately clear. Understandable, really, given the dark tone: hope is not an emotion easily accessible in the moment.
And where does Heimdall send Banner? Literally crashing into the entry way of the Sanctum Sanctorum. Remember, Heimdall is defined by his sightedness. He’s supposed to see everything that happens in all the realms, which if you know much about temporal mechanics seems rather similar to being able to see into the future, or perhaps even multiple alternate futures. And he sends him right into the lap of the only Marvel characters we’ve come across who’s even more sighted than Heimdall.
Let me make a brief digression into my other pet theory. I’ll be upfront in y biases: I love Loki. I hate the thought he’s permanently dead. But if we’re looking at things that are made oddly explicit -- things that only really need to be clear if that necessity is significant, plot-wise -- consider a few facts:
* Asgardians can fake their death quite effectively -- Heimdall revealed he was alive when he summoned the Bifrost.
* Asgardians can survive without breathable atmosphere (only way Thor can survive until the Guardians’ arrival), which also suggests the possibility they can survive without breath full-stop.
* Loki is a trickster-god. I mean, obviously, but he makes a point of emphasizing that fact with a man whose trust he’s trying to preserve.
* Loki is also Odin’s son and Thor’s loyal brother (as loyal as he’s capable of), he chokes up over that fact. He chooses Thor’s life over the tesseract, which he was so captivated by.
All of which suggests to me that, first, Loki probably could survive, and second, his attempt to get close to Thanos is shrouded in trickery. I don’t think Loki actually intended to die or thought he would because for all his growth since Avengers I still don’t see him as the self-sacrificing sort.
As I said, I have a soft spot for Loki and I fully admit this could be me deluding myself. But it gives me hope, and as I think about it, it does have a kind of clever logic to it that I’d like to see play out.
Speaking of self-sacrifice, there’s another time we see someone summon an infinity stone out of thin air and offer it up to save his friends: Doctor Strange with the time-stone. Why, especially after saying specifically if he had to sacrifice Peter or Tony(and we can presume the Guardians wouldn’t get a free pass) to save the stone he’d do it. The cuddly crowd-pleasing read of that scene is Strange has changed his ways, he now realizes it’s wrong to sacrifice people to fulfill his oath/purpose or save the stone. But I’m not convinced that’s what’s going on here. He knows they can’t fight Thanos and win. Going toward him or fleeing him, Thanos will find the stones. The story about Gamora only shows how driven he is, and how skilled.
Let’s step back a moment and ask: why is Strange so devoted to protecting the time-stone. It predates Thanos and the practical good of keeping the gauntlet incomplete. Sure, he’d prefer half the universe’s population not die, but I think at a more basic level, he recognizes the danger in changing time. That’s what the time-stone lets you do. And that’s his motivation: not getting to the best possible outcome in this timeline, but preventing cosmos-destroying consequences of manipulating time into a fundamental contradiction.
Thanos is uneducated on this point, which I think makes him very vulnerable. He can clearly sense when a stone isn’t real, and he’s already suspicious Strange is trying to fool him. He can’t just conjure up a fake. But are we really so sure Thanos would know if the stone had been altered, not enough to keep it from completing the gauntlet, but perhaps not giving him control over the full range of time.
Let’s work with a bit of a hypothesis here. Doctor Strange, master of time, in his showdown with Thanos where he creates all those emanations of himself, isn’t actually just projecting trickery; he’s calling multiple versions of himself from multiple timelines to fight against Thanos. So when Thanos forces Strange back into “alignment,” he’s not identifying the “real” Strange so much as committing himself to a single timeline. Then when he takes the time-stone he’s actually operating within a much more constrained field of reality (for lack of a better term),and he’s just too blinded to see it. Then when Thanos uses the time-stone to manipulate time in Wakanda, he thinks he’s controlling the only timeline that will unfold, but it’s actually only applying to a certain subset of reality.
It’s late, and I’m not well enough versed in theories of time to dig into this. But think of it this way. There are multiple possible realities we could have, different timelines like different lanes going down the same road. Strange essentially creates a crisis point in the time continuum by bringing all of his different selves together, and Thanos forces them back into one reality -- maybe the one he started in, maybe not, but the important point is when he tries to manipulate time, he only has control over a portion of them and he’s too unlearned to realize that. So maybe there are a thousand lanes on this road, and once he’s committed himself to a fraction of the timelines that are really possible, he may be able to choose which of ten different lanes the universe will proceed along; but he’s clueless to the fact he’s only choosing between those ten lanes, and the other 990 are proceeding without his notice.
At its most basic, this might mean Thanos thinks he’s manipulating time and mastering it, but in reality there’s this whole realm of possibility he’s not touching, not controlling, because he’s thinking (wrongly) everything is already under his own power. So when Thanos manipulates time to prevent Wanda from destroying the mind-stone, he’s convinced that means in actuality she can’t destroy it, that he’s handled that possibility, but he’s really being fooled.
Because when people of unknown loyalty summon infinity stones out of thin air,there’s usually some trickery involved. Also a plan to survive.
Vulgarweed pointed out on Tumblr (and I agree) that “we’re pretty much flat out told that Dr Strange gave Thanos the time stone because of a future he had seen.” Right -- he saw the one future where Thanos is defeated, which means he knows what necessarily has to happen to defeat him. I don’t see any possible way to keep Thanos from taking the stone, once they reach endgame, so that future would have to keep Thanos from using the time-stone or some of the other stones (but time-stone is the one Strange has experience with) in as disastrous as a way as he might want to.
Giving Thanos the time-stone, letting him think he’s using It properly but really constraining his field of operation is a pretty effective way to delay if not flat-out defeat him. To pull it off, Strange has to trick him into thinking he actually did beat him and now has the correct stone. All the drama with Tony accomplishes that pretty neatly, particularly if Thanos is making the same mistake Ebony Maw did in assuming Strange and Tony were actually close. So Strange really is sacrificing Peter to save the time-stone, or at least to protect the universe from its misuse. He can’t possess it, which means he damn well better make sure whoever does possess it doesn’t end up blowing up the (or all the) timelines once they take it.
That’s loyalty to his stated mission, I think, but it has the added bonus that once Thanos starts manipulating time (which he does before he completes and uses the gauntlet), getting killed doesn’t preclude other timelines where you’re not dead. After all, remember in the Marvel universe(s), no one really stays dead except Uncle Ben.
One last thing: I find it really interesting that Eitri (the giant dwarf smith) tells us his forge is capable of reopening the Bifrost. If I’m right and the Bifrost is a way not just of moving between space in the same timeline, but between different timelines/realities, that could be a really cool way to undo some of Thanos’s damage.
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