***WARNING: Major SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame appear below.***
There’s one question lots of people are asking about this amazing movie. How does Steve Rogers get back to that bench by the lake? There are two possible explanations, and they are both problematic.
If Steve grew old naturally in the prime reality (the MCU timeline as we know it through all 22 movies), he must have lived a long life without changing anything. That would logically imply old Steve has always been hiding in Peggy’s life, which probably complicates some details from Winter Soldier and the Agent Carter TV show, but a bigger problem is pointed out by Meg Downey on the Gamestop website: Steve has never been the kind of person who could sit by and let bad things happen, and even if we suppose that he changes that m.o. for the sake of his love life, it’s horrifying to imagine that peacefully aging Steve spent decades ignoring all the ways his future knowledge could have prevented vast quantities of human suffering. Thus, explanation number one is a clever in respecting the time travel rules but this is simply not a desirable scenario to consider. In Downey’s perhaps not too strong words, it ruins the film.
Option two makes more sense from the perspective of Steve’s character but creates a gaping plot hole. If Steve and Peggy’s past life changed anything at all about the MCU timeline then old Steve would wind up growing old in the alternate reality his actions created. It’s tremendous to think of Steve and Peggy working together to rescue Bucky, keep Hydra out of Shield, keep the tesseract out of the wrong hands, prevent the Chitauri from coming to earth, and potentially so much more… but then how does old Steve make his way to that bench by the lake? How could Steve Rogers “jump” (without using the quantum suit) back into the present timeline, and why would he do so at all?
One efficient way to suggest solutions for problems like this is by letting one question answer another. Oh, yes. There’s a more perplexing question that nobody seems to be asking.
How was Steve able to return the stones to their places? Yes, I know Banner seems to think he can do it. Yes, we should they made a plan together before Steve went back in time. Yes, I know Steve tells Sam, on that bench, “I put the stones back.” Still, there is one major unspoken problem in all this.
The reason Steve shouldn’t have been able to accomplish his mission is because the objects he took with him in that briefcase were six colored gems. He did not have the cube. He did not have the scepter. He did not have the orb. We know *THOSE* are the objects, originally housing the gems, which Rogers is supposed to put back. Maybe Steve and Bruce thought about this in advance, but how did they intend to deal with it? We are not told. How is Steve supposed to manufacture those objects and put the stones back inside them once he gets back to those alternate timelines? Thus, we have two problems. How did old Steve get from his married future in some alternate reality to the lakeside? How did Steve manufacture the objects he needed, once he went back in time? I suggest the solution to both problems could be Tilda Swinton.
|This universe is only one of an infinite number. Worlds
without end... [a] vast multiverse." -- Dr. Strange (2016)
Going back to 1945, Steve finds Peggy and begins an incredible new lifetime, creating a glorious new alternate timeline and enjoying that reality until Peggy dies of old age in 2016. Bereft without Peggy, elderly Steve returns to Greenwich Village and asks the Ancient One to transport him to the prime MCU timeline he departed from so many decades earlier. Although this is not the same Ancient One he met in the alternate 2012, this Ancient One is equally well aware of multiple realities. She inquires further, somehow locates the prime timeline, and agrees to help.
At this point, if not sooner, Steve will have one more thing to do. He flies to the arctic, wakes up his frozen younger self, gives him the quantum suit and the Pym particles and sends him back in time to have another fresh start in 1945. However, he keeps the shield so he can give it to Sam. With this last loose thread tied up, Steve returns to New York where the Ancient One transports him and his original shield into prime 2023.
Voila! Old Steve lived a long life in an alternate timeline and still got back to the lakeside.
Assuming Steve didn't lie to Sam, by the lake, I really like this solution. But you tell me. If the Ancient One didn't help him recreate the cube, the scepter, and the orb, then who did? And if she did help him do those things, and we know she outlived Peggy by a few months or a year, then it makes sense to me that when Steve wanted to exit this timeline he would naturally think back to the point of his entry.
At any rate, that’s my fan theory. It’s a more satisfying scenario to me. Avengers fans, imagine something different if you wish.
Let me also say THANK YOU right now to Kevin Feige, Joe and Anthony Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for all their amazing storytelling efforts. If you guys like this fan theory, I'll accept my "No Prize" anytime... or in any timeline!