“To Court Death” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Having seen Avengers: Infinity War twice in the opening few days more since I wrote my review, I thought it might be worthwhile to dig into some of the things that happen in the film that are a bit more spoiler-y. Also, both times the audience was awesome, even at 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning. I talked a decent amount on this topic with Dan and Garrett on the most recent I Like to Movie Movie episode, but I wanted to put some of it writing as well.

Spoilers after this point! You have been warned.

The Marvel Universe has only truly surprised me twice. The Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3, and the Vulture reveal in Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s worth noting that both of these are major departures from the comics, which is likely the biggest factor here, but it is also key that both of these films don’t structure these things as mystery (boxes or otherwise), so they are truly an Act 3 twist. But Infinity War came very close.

Up until his final line in the film, I didn’t realize that Thanos (Josh Brolin) was going to be allowed to win. Having Thor plunge his shiny new hammer into the Titan’s chest was supremely satisfying. To the point that Thanos completing his subtasks of collecting the six Infinity Stones but not getting to use them would actually have been a great choice if they wanted to end the story here. Knowing that Avengers 4 was changed to not be Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 made a lot of sense in that moment. I had a sense of relief…until he snapped his fingers. Having a bunch of your most popular characters disappear at the end of a movie is a bold choice when it comes to a summer blockbuster, especially since they rarely end on a down note.

Of course, we all know that Untitled Spider-Man: Homecoming Sequel is scheduled for summer of next year, and there’s no way Black Panther crosses a billion dollars worldwide and they don’t bring back T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). But as Infinity War draws most heavily on comic book storytelling, this is nothing new for superhero comics fans. In December 1992, when DC killed off Superman in the pages of Superman #75, they still published #76 the next month. The Death of Superman wasn’t the ending of the story, it was the beginning. The real story being told there was about what a 90s replacement Superman would look like (a cyborg? A black man in a suit? A youthful clone in a leather jacket? Or a more brutal alien hero?) more than anything else. Superman was still the central figure following his “death.”

So I expect these heroes will be at the center of Avengers 4, whether we are seeing them on screen or not. The film will be defined by their absence (or unreachability). But knowing that at least some of them will return does not take away from the drama of them disappearing the first place. It is how do they come back? At what cost? How does this impact these resurrected people as well as those who saw them disappear from existence?

This is the main thread setting up Untitled Avengers Movie 2019, of course. And as a fan of superhero comics, I know they always come back. Except Uncle Ben. That list used to be a lot longer, including Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who remained dead from the end of World War 2 until being reintroduced as the Winter Soldier in 2005. Bucky is the exception to the rule, because if you bring a character back in an interesting way, fans will embrace it and it won’t undercut the impact of their original death. The Winter Soldier story in both the second Captain America film and the comics are about the impact this has on Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), not the exposition of how Bucky showed up. It’s about what it means to the characters.

And movie fans have been be prepared for this. The most obvious example being the return of Michelle Rodriguez’ character Letty in the Fast Family film series. She was killed off in Fast & Furious, and they even had a funeral for her. She skipped Fast Five and returned in Fast & Furious 6 with just a bit of memory loss to show for it. And of course, after Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) death in The Wrath of Khan, the entire third film was about bringing him back. The subtitle was The Search for Spock, which was a pretty big spoiler.

Narratively, I have no problem with this and don’t really feel it to be a cop-out. However, I am looking forward to see how they market the Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel, which comes out a month or so after Untitled Avengers Sequel.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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