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Feature Article

Avengers: Endgame - Here's Doctor Strange's Plan, From Infinity War To Endgame

Warning: Major Endgame spoilers beyond.

Note: This post contains a bunch of spoilers explaining the ins and outs of Avengers: Endgame--particularly its ending. You've been warned.

The title of Avengers: Endgame isn't just something cool--it's a clue to how Endgame connects to to Avengers: Infinity War. Specifically, the Endgame title recalls a line Doctor Strange said toward the end of Infinity War, revealing the fact that there's more to the end of the battle with Thanos than was immediately obvious. After the heroes fail to stop Thanos on Titan and he absconds from Titan with the Time Stone, Strange tells Tony Stark, "We're in the endgame now." It sounds like a weird thing to say, given that the end seems so near--Thanos now has five of six Infinity Stones, and he's about to achieve his goals.

But while it seems like the Avengers have lost, Strange acknowledges that letting him get the stones is actually a necessary part of his plan for actually beating Thanos, and there's more to the fight against the Mad Titan than just this battle. He's saying he has a plan. (Check out our Endgame review to see if the finale measures up to the setup.)

Infinity War ended with Thanos's victory and his snap, in which he used the Infinity Stones to eliminate half of all life in the universe. Among those who ceased to exist was Doctor Strange, who never got a chance to explain what his big plan was. Now that Avengers: Endgame is here, we can see what he was thinking--and why he changed his mind about allowing Thanos to get the Time Stone.

First, it's important to remember exactly what Strange said in Infinity War. Originally, his plan was to keep the Time Stone away from Thanos by any means necessary, but he was unwilling to let Tony destroy it or otherwise take it away from him--Strange was insistent that he keep the stone. After he was kidnapped by Thanos's lieutenant, Ebony Maw, and rescued by Tony and Spidey, Strange reiterated that the most important thing in the fight was the stone. He pointedly told Tony that no matter what happened, he would protect the stone, even at the cost of the lives of Tony, Peter Parker, or both.

When they reach Titan, Doctor Strange spends part of the discussion of how to take down Thanos using the Time Stone. He watches some 14 million possible timelines, and as he tells Tony, and only saw one in which the Avengers won the battle. The fight ensues with the team coming close to getting the Infinity Gauntlet away from Thanos, which could have allowed them to stop him, but they're unsuccessful. In the final moments of the fight, Thanos stabs Tony in the gut, then prepares to finish him off.

This is the moment where Strange changes things. He makes a bargain with Thanos: Spare Tony's life in exchange for the Time Stone. It's a big shift from Strange's earlier declaration that the stone was more important than anyone on the team. Strange's comment about being in the endgame comes soon after, once Thanos has departed from Wakanda. That reveals that Strange changing his mind and saving Tony services some greater agenda, more important than keeping the Time Stone away from Thanos.

We all know what happens next: Thanos wins. But Endgame reveals why Strange made the decision that he did, because Tony's survival in Infinity War is essential to everything that happens. When Scott Lang returns from the Quantum Realm, he reveals that Hank Pym's shrinking technology can make time travel possible--but it's Tony Stark who figures out how the team can travel to specific places and times, without getting lost along the way. Strange knew that the Avengers couldn't beat Thanos in a straight fight, but that they'd be able to eventually undo the snap--if Tony was still alive to help them figure out how.

Strange and Tony have another big moment during the climax of the film. As Tony is battling Thanos, trying to get the Gauntlet away from him so he can't use the Infinity Stones again, he catches Strange's eye. The pair have already had a conversation about the future; as Strange puts it, telling Tony about what was going to happen would cause it not to happen, because the knowledge would cause Tony (and potentially everyone else) to change how they would act.

In the final moments of the fight, Strange, meeting Tony's eyes, raises one finger. It calls back their earlier discussion--this is the one successful version of events, telling Tony they're on the right path. But Strange is also signaling what Tony has already realized: that it's up to Tony to defeat Thanos, and to use the Infinity Stones to do it. And Tony knows from seeing both Thanos and Hulk use the Gauntlet that it'll likely kill him.

The reality is that Strange has known this was how things had to go the whole time. He stopped Thanos from killing Tony in Infinity War because he knew that Tony had a huge role to play in the rest of the fight. Tony would be essential to helping secure time travel; he'd be necessary to get hold of the Space Stone and build the gauntlet that would allow the Avengers to use the Infinity Stones; and he'd be the one to finally defeat Thanos.

And when Strange said he couldn't tell Tony the outcome or it would change, it was because he knew that Tony still had one more role to play: He'd have to sacrifice himself to beat Thanos.

The bummer is that Strange knew all this, but in 14 million timelines, couldn't see another way forward--maybe one where Tony got to live a long and happy life with his family. But with the Marvel Cinematic Universe's big arc beginning with Iron Man and closing with Avengers: Endgame, it's pretty fitting that the key to everything would be Tony Stark, doing the very thing Steve Rogers said Tony was incapable of during their first mission together in The Avengers: sacrificing himself for the greater good.

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Phil Hornshaw

GameSpot editor in Los Angeles, and the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel and The Space Hero’s Guide to Glory. Hoped the latter would help me get Han Solo hair, but so far, unsuccessful.

Avengers: Endgame

Complete coverage of Marvel's latest big movie release, which caps off the Infinity Saga and sends the MCU into Phase 4.
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Avatar image for tekrax2023

2 small things I thought was going to happen. Thanos was the only one not to get snapped so he could be imprisoned and Hawkeye and Blackwidow were going to throw Ted Skull over the cliff. That 2nd thing more like I wanted to happen.

Avatar image for UN_UM

"doing the very thing Steve Rogers said Tony was incapable of during their first mission together in The Avengers: sacrificing himself for the greater good"

Tony also proved him wrong on that one in THAT movie. Not knowing he would survive, Tony takes a missile that would have wiped out NY ... into space?

Avatar image for TheShadowKing

Timetravel should have been left out of the movie. It should have continued from where they meet up with Thanos after he destroyed the stones. The Avengers could have gone to the Quantum Realm, reconstituted the stones, brought everyone back and have a new threat to stop, something that Thanos tried to prevent by erasing half of the universes life. Would have been a perfect way to introduce Annihilus. Thanos could have done what he did after discovering the NegativeZone and the threat of so much life in our universe was causing on the NZ and Annihilus attacking to destroy and conquer that threat

Avatar image for cdragon_88

No shit sherlock.

Avatar image for Keivz_basic

I know this article’s headline doesn’t classify as a full on spoiler but it’s close enough imho. This and the captain America headline are things people who haven’t seen the movie don’t want to see. But you all just can’t help your selves.

Avatar image for mogan

@Keivz_basic: ... How? In what possible way is this title a spoiler? We knew Dr. Strange had a plan from the end of Infinity War.

Avatar image for dzimm

@Mogan: Right. Anybody who thinks this is a spoiler either hasn't seen Infinity War (and this "spoiler" doesn't really give anything away), or they simply weren't paying attention.

Avatar image for Elranzer

Endgame was crappy, predictable fan service. Infinity War was good, but Endgame was worse than Justice League.

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum

@Elranzer: yeah its funny how infinity war managed to make the villain a likeable protagonist and as such it was pretty unique and memorable.

but this. its like the puppet master behind magic show has been revealed. ton of people guessed about time travel and even more guessed about tonys and caps end. infinity war had so called balls to kill everyone but this was just the safe hero story of undoing all of that. the proper discovery of time travel and dimension travel make everything pretty meaningless. stuff like vormir was interesting in infinity war but here they do the same just a bit different

there was some promise here but killing off the unbeatable thanos like that and instead introducing a crazy bloodlusted version was a mistake and from there the movie was a letdown. i would have way preferred if thanos turned some kind of antihero mentor against even worse villain and he would have made the sacrifice maybe along with tony

this gives me big mass effect vibes. like how the original idea was that reapers are trying to save the world against an even worse threat. and then they were going to add the interesting indoctrination segment. but then decided to go with kill the hero the end. amazing series but many people remember just the ending

but 21 or 22 episodes of excellent movie saga is still an excellent achiement. i just think i end my collecting at infinity war or antman 2 and pretend that something else happened after those

its a damn shame my man mysterio comes after this episode

Avatar image for n313grayfox

@PrpleTrtleBuBum: Pretty harsh and you honestly sound pretty trolly:

Your 21 "excellent movies" includes the likes of Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, but THIS is where you draw the line.

Also, the Thanos we see here is from several years back. He hasn't learned to sacrifice anything and doesn't seem to have grown the same respect for his enemies that he had in Infinity War.

(It's like if you complained that the Tony Stark they brought back from 2008, isn't the same one you remember from the end of Civil War. Like, no shit, Sherlock!

Either way, I genuinely think you're confusing your emotions here because Thanos might be a compelling villain, but he sure as shit isn't a sympathetic one.

He killed trillions upon trillions (including children), murdered 300 dwarves even after getting his gauntlet. And more importantly, he regretted NONE of it, none of the harm that came to anyone else. The only regret he had was of his own personal loss. You seem to forget that VERY important detail.

This isn't Loki, or Magneto, or any other "let's help the heroes save the day"-type of villain (which has been done to death in and of itself).

This is on a whole other scale both in terms of the evil he's done and of the potential danger he poses in the future (might as well have the Avengers team up with Hitler).

But sure let's just ignore the villain we've built up for 7 years and dedicated the last movie to focus on a NEW villain that comes from fucking nowhere. You should be a writer!

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum

@n313grayfox: First thing: With mobiles using any punctuation is a hassle.

Second thing: I still think Endgame is around 9/10 or maybe 8/10 territory, but the best thing to sum up my feelings is what for example Angry Joe said. That Infinity War was a 10/10 cohesive story and this is more like common fan service.

Iron Man 2 and Dark World don't really undermine anything that happened before them or has happened after. They're not that great, but they're a small reason why Tony and Thor for example are liked. Endgame flirts a ton with all sorts of dangerous ideas and stumbles on some of them.

With the direction Russo's, Feige and whoever chose, yes this was about the only thing they could do and they did it well with Cap getting his Mjolnir moment etc. But by making different choices they could have avoided the whole time travel thing, or they could have allowed the old Thanos survive and have another actual plan instead of being a rushing idiot, or they could have paved way for the incoming Galactus. Or, considering the whole time travel idea, they could have also returned past villains and have some sort of Thanos's side vs Avenger's side vs Villain side with Loki, Zemo, Hela... Or do something else besides having 2 snaps of fingers solve everything. Besides they already took freedoms with Thanos so it's not like their hands were tied

The execution was great, but things went wrong way the moment someone had this script in their hand and said this is exactly what we're going to do. Though ofc I get the impression that Feige himself wants to introduce the multiverse crap into the series. To counter that I saw some article saying pretty well that comic lines have been running for decades with thousands of issues. At that point multiverse stuff starts to get inevitable. But in terms of these 20 MCU movies they still have ton of potential without any need for this. I really wonder how the series plans to go ahead. Will the multiverse stuff become a norm referenced in every story, or will it be forgotten until another big climax.

Doctor Strange and Ant-Man hinted at this, but I liked how abstract and vague they were with those aspects. Those movies said that these things exist, but not that they're going to change the world forever in the immediate future.

Avatar image for bibliophilip

@PrpleTrtleBuBum: The purpose of this film was to put a bookend on this revolutionary, ground- and record-breaking era. It was a chance to give everyone - cast, crew, audience - to see the "endgames" of the storylines and characters we have known and loved for a decade. So the original group got the endings they needed/deserved/desired, whether happy, bittersweet, sad, cathartic or indicative of how much they've grown.

But more than that, it was also a chance for everyone to revel in the past. For us all to relive the greatest hits - by literally reliving key moments from earlier films. Time travel allowed for that, as well as being a means to undo and reset Loki and Gamora's deaths.

This allowed us to be happily reminded of the series' highs; allowed GotG to go ahead with the full cast (and a new-old dynamic and subplot); allows Loki's sacrifice and death to stay, but keep him around for his TV series, reset as a conflicted villain.

Equally, if part of the purpose of the film was to introduce and cement the multiverse, this is a critical building block for the future for several reasons:

1. Now that Fox (and it's X-Men & Deadpool series) is part of the Marvel/Disney family, their backlog of films can be part of the same expanded world AND be separate.

2. A multiverse allows the possibility of separate versions of the same characters. i.e. recasting revered characters but allowing for the "proper" ones to coexist. We can have a new Wolverine, but allow the possibility of Hugh Jackman cameoing. OldCap and Cap and FalconCap and a new face as Steve Rogers can all be around. Together, separately or in sequence. All things are possible.

3. A multiverse and multiple timelines also allow for new stories of the past to both - hopefully - weave into the current timeline seamlessly (Wanda & Vision; Agent Carter), be part of the Universe but clearly distinct/absent from main events (Netflix's DD, JJ, etc.), or have the potential to rewrite new branches (Loki) or even to just exist in our mind: there's a timline where Tony grows old and Morgan grows up, one where Stan is a Watcher and immortal, ad infinitum.

4. Infinite possibilities in this new phase of presumably-ongoing Marvel films. They can explore new ground, tread old stories, remake, remix, rework and yet not contradict what we've lived with and enjoyed. It's all imaginary, but it's also all real.

Avatar image for excalibur1814

@PrpleTrtleBuBum: Jesus man... use some capitals!

Avatar image for knifebeater

@Elranzer: I was willing to overlook a lot of crap in this movie to enjoy it, and I was enjoying it... then the grand finale happened and I was like "nope".

Avatar image for rhenom

@Elranzer: congratulations, you win the unofficial "worst take" competition. Have a nice day.

Avatar image for nabinator

Funny how he called five years of waiting 'Endgame' but cool, yeah.