'Ms. Marvel's Time Travel Problem Reveals An MCU Weakness
Adding to the long list of 2022's time travel-related stories, last week's episode of Ms. Marvel found Kamala being randomly thrown into the 1940s. But instead of making a fortune by inventing the hula hoop, or strategically placing winning sports bets, à la Biff Tannen, this week's show revealed that Kamala saved her grandmother during the mass exodus of the Indian Partition, using her powers to create the "trail of stars" that led Nani back to her great-grandfather – which was previously recounted to Kamala before things went full Quantum Leap.
It's basically a closed-loop depiction of time travel, in which the past cannot be changed, and Kamala's time travel had already informed her own past. Kind of like the first Terminator movie before things went all screwy. The only problem is, that's not how time travel has operated in past entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe projects – which has apparently caused some confusion among fans. And to be fair, Avengers: Endgame featured lengthy scenes devoted to the concept that meddling in the past creates diverging timelines.
Not to mention how Loki went into painstaking detail about how time travel disrupts the flow of events, creating alternate realities which sometimes necessitate the intervention of Owen Wilson.
Following that logic, Kamala’s interference in the past would have created a new history for her family rather than affirming the current one. But that’s obviously not the kind of story this show needed to tell; Ms. Marvel gave us a touching story about how our hero is able to forge a literal connection to her ancestors’ past, which wouldn’t work under the MCU’s existing time travel dictum.
Sure they could have Bruce Banner pop by in the final episode to casually mention that time travel operates differently when involving magical bangles, but this discrepancy, and the confusion around it, illustrates an unavoidable problem with shared universes like the MCU; sometimes pre-established world-building can smother future storytelling opportunities. Thankfully, Ms. Marvel seemingly didn’t feel the need to capitulate to the plot machinations of other Marvel properties. We should be able to just enjoy this series without being bogged down by concerns over whether or not timecops from another TV show might show up and arrest our protagonist.
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