Avengers: Infinity War doesn't just serve as the culmination of ten years of the MCU, it actually fixes Marvel's broken timeline. The past year has been a rollercoaster for continuity-minded Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, with each new movie seemingly going out of its way to create some form of contradiction. Finally, it looks to be over - even if it's not the most elegant solution.
In the early days of the MCU, the "it's all connected" mantra seemed to be the defining drive, with Kevin Feige and co. going all out to make sure the shared universe lined up, even releasing short films to clear up issues when production changes altered the vision. In the decade since, though, things have changed, with more and more cracks appearing in the Marvel timeline. As Phase 3 begins its final lap, some of the resulting holes are so big you could fit a Celestial through them.
Now, it's worth clarifying this is inevitable on a practical level. When you're dealing with this many movies from varied and diverse creative teams, often produced concurrently and with changes made all through development (as usual, we're not even going to touch on the TV shows or other extended universe material as they intrinsically just don't line up), maintaining a cohesive timeline that makes complete sense was always going to be tricky. And, more importantly, the micro continuity concerns don't matter as long as the big picture works; consistent characters is what's really essential.
Still, that doesn't make it any more delightful that Avengers: Infinity War does, with little fanfare, provides all the pieces needed to put this sorry affair behind.
The Problem With Marvel's Timeline
The problems with the timeline really began in Phase 3, with each movie introducing some form of continuity goof or plot hole - see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 forgetting it was set in 2014 or Black Panther making Captain America: Civil War's mid-credits scene impossible - although what really broke things was Spider-Man: Homecoming.
While the web-slinger's solo MCU debut slotted into the broad narrative neatly enough, unfolding in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, everything was thrown out of whack by a card at the start which placed the film eight years after the events of The Avengers; every dating prior had suggested it was taking place only four per dating in Civil War. This came just a year after that versus movie itself had claimed to be eight years on from Iron Man, itself two years before The Avengers.
The whole thing was a headache that fans tried desperately to make sense of. Various potential timelines proposing solutions to Marvel's continuity woes were concocted, but each one stretched out the films or otherwise introduced new contradictions. In fact, we proved earlier this month that by simple re-dating, the MCU timeline is completely unfixable, something that was echoed by Infinity War director Joe Russo, who called it a "very incorrect eight years". That was the first official admittance from someone involved with Marvel that something was amiss, but nothing suggested that Russo's film would also provide the in-universe solution.
How Infinity War Subtly Fixes Marvel's Timeline
Early on in Avengers: Infinity War, Tony Stark is talking to Doctor Strange and states that aliens attacked New York six years ago, an oblique reference to the Battle of New York in The Avengers. As the is two years after Civil War (per Rhodey when reuniting with Team Cap), that puts Homecoming the correct four years after The Avengers.
OK, so this isn't a proper fix that explains and integrates the "eight years later" gaff, more an adjustment that gives it a wide berth - but it works. Infinity War is ignoring the card altogether and returning us to the original status quo; that unless otherwise explicitly stated (see Guardians Vol. 2 being set shortly after the first), then the movies take place at the time of release. Infinity War is in 2018, The Avengers 2012, and Civil War (and by extension direct follow-ons Homecoming, Black Panther and Ant-Man & the Wasp) in 2016.
What makes this so impactful is that Infinity War is elsewhere also spot on with its timeline. Due to most of the MCU's Phase 3 being out of order, many of the direct lead-ins to Avengers 3 technically take place years prior - Black Panther is two years before; Guardians Vol. 2 is four; some time has passed even since Thor: Ragnarok - and yet each feels suited there; T'Challa has had time as king and the Guardians dynamic has become even more familial.
But that's not the sum of it. Infinity War is told in a way that may render timeline issues a complete thing of the past, but to look at that we need to go into SPOILERS...
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018