comic book movies

What is death in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

the avengers death

Up until now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t really emphasised the significance of death. There’s been a lot of fake deaths and the consequences of actions, and the death it’s caused, hasn’t really been addressed. Now I don’t want to go all morbid on you, but it’s this one little thing that has annoyed me about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Overall I love the universe they have built, and I’m not saying they should become super depressing to emphasise the significance of death, but I do think they should handle that aspect a little better.

So I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I absolutely strongly dislike fake deaths. There are some instances that I give a pass to a fake death. For example the Winter Soldier. Now obviously in the first Captain America film it was shown to us that Bucky Barnes fell to his death. But then in the second film, we find out that he isn’t actually dead. So why do I give this fake death a pass? Simple. His fake death served a function. His fake death was just his progression into becoming the Winter Soldier character. It served a purpose, and helped further the story in a meaningful way.

marvel cinematic universe death

But that is the only instance I was a fan of the fake death in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One fake death that really annoyed me was Agent Coulson’s. I’m sorry but there is no way they actually planned to do the Agents of Shield TV show before the first Avengers film, otherwise they wouldn’t have “killed” him in The Avengers. Obviously in the first Avengers film, his death was the whole big thing that motivated the Avengers to really get their act together. It was a great dramatic scene, that showed that their lack of collective action had consequences. Oh but wait! What’s that? Agent Coulson isn’t dead! In fact he is getting his own TV show! I don’t even know if they know (The Avengers that is) he isn’t actually dead. But that was a bit silly, the significance of that scene is reduced for me because we know Agent Coulson isn’t actually dead.

And now that we know we can bring people back from the dead in this universe, it causes some problems. Rumour has it that in Age of Ultron, one Avenger will die. Say that Avenger is Hawkeye for example. If he dies, and they create this dramatic scene of his death and how it impacted the other Avengers, I’m going to have a little eye roll moment. Because if we can bring Agent Coulson back from the dead, could we not just bring Hawkeye back from the dead as well? Now I know Agent Coulson coming back from the dead had its issues, but he is fine now so wasn’t it worth it?

dead superman doomsday

It’s like the Superman effect. When Superman came back from the dead, it changed everything. If Superman could come back from the dead, so could any character. The significance of a character’s death in the comics is reduced because you pretty much know they are going to eventually come back. So Wolverine died recently, is it even a big deal? We know he’s going to come back eventually.

So that’s one issue about the whole fake death scenario. Another thing is that fake deaths are just cheap. Cheap tricks for an easy way to get some dramatic tension. Going back to the Winter Soldier, they had this whole thing where Nick Fury “died”. Now when that happened, I didn’t buy it at all. Everybody was being dramatic about it in the film, but I felt nothing. I knew he was coming back. For one, we already know they are perfectly comfortable bringing characters back from the dead, and also this is Samuel L Jackson we’re talking about, no way he would let them kill off his character. Basically that whole fake death was another ploy to evoke pathos and generate some dramatic tension. But for me is failed to do so, because death apparently has very little significance in this universe.

captain america death civil war

But I have hope! With the Civil War story brewing I am expecting there to be some major deaths, with (hopefully) some real consequences. Now obviously I’m not saying to kill everyone, and just keep them dead. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t just shrug off the fact that death has very real impacts and consequences.

Anyways what do you think? Do you disagree and think that the Marvel Cinematic Universe handles death well? Let me know!

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30 replies »

  1. I see your point, but personally, I am mostly okay with how they handle the issue so far.
    Generally speaking, there have been some people who died and stayed dead…Mainly Yinsin and Frigga. So it’s not really true that Marvel never killed off a character. They just never killed off a main character. But then, few movies do. I never believed that Batman was actually dead at the end of The Dark Knight rises, or that Jane Grey drowned in X-Men 2. It is not really a matter of the MCU, it is a general issue that nobody expects a main character to die. The only character death in any comic book movie which would have surprised me is Gwen Stacy’s, if her death hadn’t become a trope since it shocked Comic Book readers. So even if they hadn’t reversed death a couple of times, I wouldn’t buy into a main character dying for good because it is a comic book franchise, and comic books find ways to bring characters back all the time.

    There is this notion that the lack of “big death” creates a lack of consequences. But the MCU is full of consequences (and the only time they really backed out of consequences was the entire end sequence of Iron Man 3, which annoyed me to no end). And I personally consider the characters dealing with said consequences – Steve feeling “out of time”, Tony having PTSD, Black Widow having to step in the limelight, Fitz being brain damaged, Bruce never ever being able to have a normal life again because of one hasty decision, Clint’s guilt about killing other agents while being brainwashed – way more interesting than one of them dying.

    Coulson’s death is no less powerful in my mind because the resurrected him. I never believed in it either way, since it was a comic book movie, I expected the possibility that he might pop up again from the get go. But that’s me. I am not the characters. And as long as the characters believe in him dying, the consequences are basically the same.

    To me, it never mattered if a character lays down his life and dies, or lays down his life and survives. It is the readiness to do so which matters.

    And on a purely selfish note: I don’t want my favourite characters to die. I want to be able to believe that they will get their happily ever after eventually. And I don’t think that it will happen in Age of Ultron. You can’t do Captain America: Civil War without Iron Man and Captain America, you can’t do Thor Ragnarok without Thor, Hulk is practically not killable plus Feige already promised that he and Black Widow will play a key role in the universe (and she should be safe, because Marvel would be stupid to kill of their one crazy popular female, at least not before some more are established), which only leaves Hawkeye from the get go, but I have the feeling that they have still plans for him. The only character I really can see die is Rhodey, especially since his demise could push Tony over the edge.

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    • Fair enough, I don’t want them killing characters off either, but if they are going to go with ‘oh nick fury died’ I would prefer if he actually was dead, rather than using it as a cheap ploy.
      But you’re right, they definitely do deal with consequences well, I guess my main gripe is just with fake deaths, it’s just something that will always annoy me

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  2. In the comics there is no such thing as death people die and come back all the time like wolverine just died in the comics we all know he is going to come back Spiderman died in the comics now hes back. in the movies okay lets look at the winter soldier bucky i think most people knew that he was going to become the winter so for most people it wasnt like oh they dont want to kill off characters people knew once they brought bucky in thats were they were going anyway and Agent Coulson I think they knew they were going to bring him back because everyone was liking Agent Coulson and they killed him to bring the avengers together and because people liked him so much they knew they were going to bring him back. I think they are going to find out that coulson is still alive. Maria Hill knows. They only bring characters back to service the story of the whole mcu I think Hawkeye is going to die and I dont think hhe is coming back because there are no plans for a Hawkeye maybe his death makes captain america and Iron man become enemies

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  3. I agree with you, but I feel in some ways death in comic books and Coulson’s death has more resonance, and it contains a hefty amount of weight to it. I think what you consider “cheap” is something that I feel is a tool that I empathize with because it is an expression on the basic morality of a character. One of the prime examples was Spock’s death in “The Wrath of Khan”, it was something that was not a common function to the storytelling of Star Trek but it had a lot of weight to it, and it was fresh and new. It was then on changed and reverted back with, “The Search for Spock”, but I think it still had a vast amount of lessons to be learned. I feel the idea that a fictional character discoverers the morality of oneself also resonates with us, who we also understand the fragility of life. I think it’s more of statement on how we react to death but also doesn’t want to shy away on the idea that it was a progression of the story.

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  4. I agree with you, but I feel in some ways death in comic books and Coulson’s death has more resonance, and it contains a hefty amount of weight to it. I think what you consider “cheap” is something that I feel is a tool that I empathize with because it is an expression on the basic morality of a character. One of the prime examples was Spock’s death in “The Wrath of Khan”, it was something that was not a common function to the storytelling of Star Trek but it had a lot of weight to it, and it was fresh and new. It was then on changed and reverted back with, “The Search for Spock”, but I think it still had a vast amount of lessons to be learned. I feel the idea that a fictional character discoverers the morality of oneself also resonates with us, who we also understand the fragility of life. I think it’s more of statement on how we react to death but also doesn’t want to shy away on the idea that it was a progression of the story.

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    • Interesting perspective! I think when utilised appropriately death in these stories can really contribute to revealing key character motivations and morality, however within the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I don’t think it really furthers the story all that much, and doesn’t really provide insight into morality or the fragility of life. For example that whole Nick Fury thing in Winter Soldier didn’t work for me at all. For me it didn’t really add anything to the story and didn’t really help further develop the characters and was put in to purely elevate the severity of the situation and to add to the tension. Because of that it impacts the significance of death in the whole universe because once again they have brought characters that were supposedly dead back, which in a way makes the consequence of the situation around them seem less real. And that’s my biggest problem with these fake deaths, is the lack of consequence. I personally just think there are better ways to go about it

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      • Nick Fury’s death was not really about adding anything to the story, it was about removing something. With him present, there wouldn’t be much to discover for Steve and Natasha. He is a safety net which has to get removed for the plot of Winter Soldier to work.

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      • Okay I get that, but instead of saying, oh he died and having this dramatic scene of him dying, they could have just said he was in a critical condition, and then have him get better by the end of the film. It would have had the same effect without losing the very real significance and consequence of death and the dramatic impact character deaths have in the future

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      • He wouldn’t have survived then. It makes sense narrative. Plus, we needed him for the end of the movie.
        And like I pointed out, there isn’t much to diminish because it is a comic book movie. I don’t expect anyone truly important to die permanently.

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      • Why wouldn’t he have survived? If it’s believable in this world that Agent Coulson can die and then be brought back to life by some machine that muddles with his brain, then I’m pretty sure it’s believable that Nick Fury could be in critical condition and then make a recovery by the end of the film
        And regardless if it’s a comic book movie or not, death is still very real in other comic book movies, many important characters die permanently, depending on what you view as an ‘important’ character e.g. Rachael from TDK, Gwen. These aren’t comics, their films, and they should treat the story as such. In the comics they can feel free to kill off characters and bring them back, what ever, but in film, in this real world context they are building, I just don’t think they should be fake killing people. Either kill them off completely, or don’t pretend to at all.

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      • He was in critical condition. He just didn’t advertise the fact because he didn’t want his enemies to try again. If he hadn’t been officially dead, he would have hugged a lot of screen-time in the movie, which was better used on Steve and Natasha.

        Give me one Comic Book Title character which died and was not resurrected at one point. Even Gwen, who isn’t even a title character when she died, still exists in an alternate universe in which she is Spider-Woman.

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      • Not necessarily, if they had just kept to the story that he was in critical condition, and that he didn’t die, they wouldn’t have had to keep showing him, just brief mentions on his status and that’s it.

        And I’m not talking about the comic book universe. I know characters come back from comic books all the time, I’m talking about the live action universe. Other comic book films have killed off big characters, and not brought them back, because death is very real and should be treated as so. When you have this machine that exists in the Marvel Universe that can bring people back from the dead easily it lowers the stakes of the situation. When mortality isn’t a concern anymore, it completely changes the situation

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      • That’s what I was saying, it depends on what you see as an ‘important’ character, so rachael from TDK, Harvey Dent, Zod, Gwen. I saw them all as important and big characters in their films, and they died

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      • Well I never talked about main characters, i talked about important. And at the end of the day my main point is that they shouldn’t kill ANY character off, or at least say they have, to just bring them back from the dead later. It doesn’t matter if it’s a villain or a love interest or one of the main heroes, the point is that fake deaths aren’t necessarily something that I like in these films.

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      • I 100% agree with you, that there is a lack of weight to the death of a character in super hero movies but I also believe that it may be a problem in comic books also. I think that comic books are very restricted in what they want to achieve because of fandom and the growing community of perspectives the stories are given. Multiverses have been built to present something new from the rest of the other serial numbers so more freedom can be given to that story. Narratively I believe that Marvel films and DC have picked up on this idea and are adding it to the story. Example: Batman’s death in “The Dark Knight Rises”, Lois Lane’s death in “Superman: The Movie”, Groot’s death in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and etc. I think these ideas are so rehashed but I would not denounce the weight the narrative is presenting. It can still resonate because it is still something that is pertaining to the characters who revolve around this specific person’s death. I guess for me, it taps into the idea about how we empathize with a character, it creates a stronger bond between the character and the audience.

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      • Oh yeah I agree, I think those instances were really great within the context of their narrative (although I’m not the biggest fan of Lois’s ‘death’ in Superman and how that was handled), and there are definitely instances where fake character deaths work really well. Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy is a great example, but personally for me when they handle fake deaths the way they handled Agent Coulson’s and Nick Fury is just doesn’t work so well for me, but it’s only a minor gripe. Overall I completely agree with the standpoint that it can really evoke a strong emotional response in the audience and can really give us a greater sense of the nature of these characters, when used correctly

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      • haha Trust me, I can go all day on how I thought every single death in both Amazing Spider-Man films are excruciatingly terrible (and those were supposed to be centerpieces to the narrative). I think death in films can sometimes be very subjective in nature. Anyways, I think it’s awesome that you approached death in comic book films because it’s a common tool copied from the “Hero’s Journey”, which is problematic on its own. A very funny nod to this was in “Kick-Ass” where they poke fun at the fact every superhero uses a death as a motive but it inversely becomes a motive later on.

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