As weird as it may sound, time travel is a common topic of conversation in my family. This is mostly because my sister just doesn’t understand it. Any time we watch a time travel movie, we end up spending hours discussing the logistics behind the warped chronology that the characters inevitably go through, and we usually end up more confused than we began. In our terms, to accomplish time travel correctly, there have to be repercussions for all of the character’s actions without unresolved or confusing gaps in the timeline. While I am by no means an expert in this topic, I’d like to think that I do know a little bit about time travel in movies, at least enough to explain which movies make sense and which ones don’t.
I’ll start with one that doesn’t: “Avengers: Endgame.” In the simplest of terms, the movie revolves around the Avengers venturing into the past to get the Infinity Stones that control the universe. But it isn’t exactly a simple concept. The directors of the film, Joe and Anthony Russo (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), pioneered an entirely new way of time travel. Their new method insinuated that any change a character made to the past didn’t affect their original future; rather, it affected a new future. What does that mean? To be honest, I’m not sure anyone really knows. The best way that I could understand it was that any time you go back in time and change something, you create a new alternate reality.
This is a fine concept, I suppose, but only if it’s consistent … and it isn’t. For one thing, if Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, “Knives Out”) goes back in time and lives a life with Peggy (Hayley Atwell, “Christopher Robin”) — which he does — wouldn’t that then create an alternate reality, or an alternate “future”? So how does Old Man Steve show up in the Avengers’ reality, having lived a life with Peggy? According to the Russo brothers’s rules, he shouldn’t be able to. Also, when Steve and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr, “Iron Man”) go back to the ’70s to retrieve the Tesseract and Pym Particles, how is Tony’s father Howard (John Slattery, “Churchill”) an old man when Peggy, who is presumably around the same age as him, appears virtually the same thirty years after we last saw her? Again, it doesn’t make sense. I’ll never really forgive the Russo Brothers for messing with my mind the way they did with “Endgame.”
“Back to the Future” remains one of the most iconic examples of time travel and does it more correctly than “Endgame” does, but plenty of concepts in that film remain difficult to swallow, continuity-wise. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, “The Frighteners”) accidentally goes back in time, interrupts his parents’ meeting and has to hurry to reintroduce them to ensure that he exists in the future. But how do Marty’s parents and Biff (Thomas Wilson, “The Heat”) not recognize “Calvin Klein” when Marty himself grows up to look just like him? Shouldn’t they all remember the kid that had such a huge impact on their lives? After all, “Calvin” helped George McFly (Crispin Glover, “Hot Tub Time Machine”) and Lorraine Banes (Lea Thompson, “Howard the Duck”) get together while ruining Biff’s car with manure in the process. However, I will admit that this film did a pretty good job with time travel, especially considering the fact that it was such a new idea in the ’80s. Most of the time travel continuity problems in the “Back to the Future” franchise stem from the fact that almost all the time travelling that Marty and Doc do involves either past renditions of themselves or the past versions of people that they know, thus teaching me that if anyone ever does decide to time travel, they should not meddle with events their ancestors were a part of. In fact, if time travel ever does exist, it should only be used to passively observe history.
This brings me to my final example of time travel, the movie that does it the best … “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” A lot of people might overlook this film due to the fact that it’s categorized as a children’s movie, but not only is this probably the only movie I’ve ever seen that has done time travel correctly, it’s also just an awesome, entertaining film. Mr. Peabody, voiced by Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”), and his son Sherman, voiced by Max Charles (“The Angry Birds Movie”), use Mr. Peabody’s invention, the WABAC Machine, to time travel to important historical events to teach Sherman about history. This movie shows that there are repercussions to time travel that go beyond just getting stuck in the past, like what happens to Marty. You could destroy the entire universe with time travel. This is why, in all honesty, time travel should just never, ever exist. There are too many variables and too many ways to mess up everything. And there is, unfortunately, no Mr. Peabody in the real world to save us all when we inevitably screw everything up when we try to time travel.