Marvel Studios Has a Death Problem, Which They Can Fix Very Soon

(Author’s note: Spencer’s Soapbox is a weekly column here on SHH where yours truly tries to spur a conversation on specific topics. Dive in!)

“Death, death, and death,” that’s what writer/director Joss Whedon said when asked to tease The Avengers sequel. Whedon has a reputation for killing off characters, so much so that as soon as he was revealed as the director of Marvel’s The Avengers, fans began to wonder who he would kill off in the culmination of Phase One (they were right to worry). In fact, since his inclusion in the Marvel family, the MCU has been ripe with death, and almost all of them have been marketing fake outs that resulted in few actual lasting deaths. Marvel’s got a death problem, and they need to fix it.

Spoilers ahead about the Marvel Studios films…

Let’s go back and look at the major death’s in the MCU. The only major characters that died in the first two “Iron Man” movies were the villains, Obediah Stane and Ivan Vanko. No one died in The Incredible Hulk or in Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger is where it began as Steve’s buddy Bucky Barnes died only to be resurrected as the titular bad guy in the sequel (this one is excusable since it has precedent in the source material). The Avengers killed off Agent Coulson only to bring him back to star in “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Iron Man 3 seemingly killed off Pepper Potts, until they revealed minutes later she had gained super powers and in fact had not died. Thor: The Dark World showed Loki die in Thor’s arms only to revive him at the film’s end, though Thor’s mother Frigga stayed dead (for now). Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in addition to definitely killing off Agent Sitwell, used Nick Fury’s death as the catalyst for much of the film’s entire plot until they revealed he had faked it, and Guardians of the Galaxy obliterated Groot before the big dance off (again, precedent in the comics, but the film structures it as a real death with Rocket’s line, “No Groot, you’ll die”).

Five movies, five deaths, and five “resurrections,” those are pretty good odds for any actors worried about getting killed off in the MCU. Certainly some of these moments serve as key beats in the film for an audience, but they’re reversed just as quickly as they happen, a cheap trick that totally devalues them. Where does that leave Marvel though? After announcing a full slate of Phase Three movies last year, the studio has eleven features set for release between now and May of 2019, and they can start killing off characters in just a few months.

Avengers: Age of Ultron debuts this May, and based on Whedon’s teasing I’m going to guess there will be actual deaths in the film. Who could be on the chopping block though? Iron Man and Captain America are safe since they’re set for Captain America: Civil War, which could also include Hawkeye (who also claims he won’t die in the movie) and Black Widow; Thor has Thor: Ragnarok; based on persistent rumors of The Hulk, he’ll stick around; and I find it hard to believe that Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver will be introduced and immediately killed off.

Who does this leave? Rhodie? Nick Fury? Maria Hill? We know that all three of them are in the film, but they could all play a big role in “Civil War” given their ties to either the events of “The Winter Soldier” or Iron Man himself. What about The Vision? He certainly could be killed in some sort of triumphant defeat over Ultron, but given he is an artificial intelligence with a robot body, the studio already has an ace up their sleeve to bring him back. The thing to admire about the marketing for “Age of Ultron” so far is they’re not selling a death, not yet. Despair and frustration on the team is being sold, which could lead to a “death” of The Avengers as a construct, but so far there are no hints of death in the trailers, which almost makes me more suspicious.

As for what’s coming up, I can’t expect Earth-shattering departures in Ant-Man, but Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok are different stories. War means casualties, and if “Civil War” is as grand on the screen as it played out in the comics, then that could spell the end for some of our favorite heroes. As for Thor, “Ragnarok” as told in traditional Norse mythology means the end of all things and the death of several gods, including Thor, who dies fighting to protect his father. Marvel certainly won’t follow the path of old Norse tales completely, but heads should roll (hypothetically) in this climatic battle. Other gods die in the original Norse tale, including Odin (who might not be dead in the MCU, just imprisoned) and Loki and Heimdall who slay each other.

Avengers: Infinity War Part I and II are on the horizon as well, and if the teaser is to be believed, then Thanos has the Infinity Gauntlet and all the Infinity Stones. This gives him near omnipotent power and the ability to totally destroy his enemies or even revive previously-killed characters (maybe even his trusted spokesman, played by Alexis Denisof, or Ronan The Accuser). Don’t forget Thanos’ primary “love interest” is Death itself and his post-credit scene debut in The Avengers is accompanied with the line “To challenge them (humans) is to court death.”

I get it, superheroes die and come back in comic books all the time, but it’s annoying to fans in that medium too. It seems like Marvel Studios is setting up for big consequences after Phase Two and leading into Phase Three, but fooling the audience into thinking a character has died is starting to wear thin. As the phases conclude and contracts wrap up, I’m sure some characters will be killed off, but Marvel has only scratched the surface with characters to bring to the big screen as they literally have thousands at their disposal. It might not seem like Misty Knight or Kate Bishop or She-Hulk are viable replacements for their current A-Listers, but this is the studio that made Loki, Bucky Barnes, and Groot into household names. They can make anything happen. You don’t even HAVE to kill characters to make me happy Marvel, but if you do, please make sure they stay dead.