Why The MCU Doesn't Have Consequences Any More

The introduction of the Marvel Multiverse to the big screen may be a dream come true for directors in the MCU for wiping the slate clean, but what ramifications does it have on the audience?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes  Source: The Press Free

The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since stepping its' toe in the water with 'Iron Man' back in 2008, Marvel superhero movies have become the powerhouse of international cinema. Adults and children alike all follow the science fiction dream of being a heightened being with extraordinary powers that can be used for the aid of mankind. And Hollywood knows it. 

Disney/Marvel Studios churns out superhero movie after superhero movie each year, sometimes two or three a year, and each movie averages around 700 million dollars. With this in mind, it's important to remember exactly which individual heroes are the most popular, and keep returning to them.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a vast array of colourful characters and superheroes, so it stands to reason that the threat of death and dire consequences are omnipresent. How is it that evenly-matched one-time villains always die, and the hero gets to fight another day every time? I explore just some of the instances where death does an about-turn in favour of the good guys.

Iron Man
Robert Downey JR's Tony Stark A.K.A. Iron Man  Source: Goliath

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU) has become the forefront of modern cinema. Since Disney's tentative gamble in 2008 of bringing Iron Man to the big screen, the franchise has catapulted and expanded exponentially. Title after title, sequel, team-up, or origin story, have seen no fewer than 25 movies in the last 13 years. 

This expansion has brought many other beloved comic book characters from page to screen. Captain America, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, and many more have established the 'Avengers' movies as the most anticipated cinematic events of the year. 

Viewers are singularly rewarded for watching all of the other movies in the franchise. Several references will be made to other characters or events that fully flesh out the universe while providing back-story for solo movies and linking them to a higher purpose.

The Marvel movies are similarly unique in the fact that viewers are rewarded for their patience to sit through the end credits: as there is usually a bonus cutscene that sets up future events. 

So with this vast array of eccentric super-enhanced individuals, and ever-increasing odds with each offering, how is it that there never seems to be any lasting consequences? 

Death and loss are aspects ever-present in the Marvel universe, often shaping the psyche and weight of responsibility with the characters. It's part of the deal with the risk of exercising their abilities. Yet for whatever reason, Disney seems reluctant to let characters die. 

Agent Caulson dying in Avengers Assemble
Agent Coulson's 'death' scene in 'Avengers Assemble'  Source: Polygon

Not counting parents or one-time villains that preceded it, but the first on-screen 'casualty' that should have had a lasting effect was that of Agent Coulson. His brand of wooden, po-faced abruptness didn’t exactly make him a fan favourite, but nevertheless, he was a recurring character throughout Phase 1 of the MCU. 

His ‘death’ at the hands of Loki in ‘Avengers Assemble’ was a galvanizing factor in uniting the disparaging band into an effective team. However, in Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ series, it transpired that Coulson faked his own death and is very much alive and kicking throughout that series, yet never mentioned again in subsequent movies.

In ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, it’s revealed that Steve’s (Captain America’s) best friend Bucky, who ‘died’ in the first movie, is a repurposed Russian super-soldier-turned-assassin. While this is recognised as a Marvel Comics canonical storyline, it’s another notch in the trend of recurring fake-outs.

Another such instance, from the same movie, is the ‘death’ of Nick Fury, only to be revealed later on that he faked his own death, in order to stop being hunted by the covert group Hydra. Yet another is the old-age death of Peggy Carter, only to have 2 seasons of her own series, and a timeline refresh in ‘Endgame’.

Nick Fury fake death
Heartbreaking for all of 20 minutes, Nick Fury faked his death  Source: WhatCulture

‘Captain America: Civil War’ sees James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes A.K.A. War Machine, injured in battle. While not strictly a death, he seemingly loses his ability to walk and pushes best friend Tony Stark to his subsequent actions. Some 20 minutes later though he’s seen to be on the mend, and the whole thing is breezed over.

From a big battle between superheroes ’ divisive ethics, his is the only casualty or injury, and it’s glossed over. This ineffectiveness to cripple, maim, or injure each other diminishes the heroes’ powers, and only shows to me that their own brand of force doesn’t do much to sway their arguments. 

Regarding Loki, his tenacity for survival is apparent throughout. In ‘Thor’ we see him fall off the Bifrost into Space and presume him dead. Only to be revealed as the main villain in ‘Avengers Assemble’. In ‘Thor: The Dark World’, we see the God of Mischief’s use of trickery: Loki fakes his death to escape justice again. 

Loki escapes with Tesseract
Adios! Loki escapes in the past, negating his canon death  Source: tumblr

He is seen to be officially killed by Thanos in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, and his trickery is meta-referenced by Thanos as he says, “no resurrections this time”. This is seemingly a definite event that certainly enrages brother Thor’s motivations.

However, through an accident in time-travel in ‘Avengers: Endgame’, a variant of the main timeline Loki is permitted to escape, and a whole TV series is established that keeps the mischievous scamp alive.

The first casualty that has apparently ‘stuck’ is the death of Pietro Maximoff A.K.A. Quicksilver in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’. The speedster brother of Wanda took several bullets to save the lives of Hawkeye and a young boy.

Even here though, the Fox version of his character, seen in the ‘X-Men’ movies, makes an appearance in the series ‘WandaVision’ which only teases the potential return through time travel and/or Multiverse possibilities. In ‘WandaVision’ also, the role of Vision was effectively brought back to life after his ‘demise’ in ‘Infinity War’.

Black Widow is a real casualty in ‘Avengers: Endgame’ as she sacrifices herself in their quest to gain the Soul Stone. It’s a devastating loss for the team, and viewers alike, as her characters’ prowess is entirely down to skill and athleticism, not a super-serum or an iron suit.

She was the first female superhero seen in the MCU. Yet here again, although she is considered canonically ‘dead’, it seems that the MCU wasn’t done with her and gave her her own origin story movie post-mortem.

Dead MCU characters
A few of the side characters that have stayed dead  Source: YouTube

There are of course some very definite deaths, from the likes of Yondu from ‘Guardians’, The Ancient One from 'Doctor Strange' and a great many Asgardians, like Odin, Frigga, Heimdall, and the Warriors Three.

These are peripheral secondary characters though and aren’t as sorely missed as primary characters. Frigga and The Ancient One even had post-mortem scenes in ‘Endgame’ though, thanks to that movie’s use of time-travel.

The ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ lost their friend Gamora in the same way as Black Widow, but time travel prevailed again, this time enabling a past version of her to enter the timeline. They also lost the original Groot, but he was hastily replaced with his cute offspring five minutes later, which salved that wound almost instantly.

Groot dancing gif
Oh no Groot died! ...never mind   Source: Fast Company

It’s apparent that Marvel, (or more likely Disney) wants us to feel the weight of these losses, and use them as driving factors for character motivations. It impresses on the viewers the risks and consequences of the superhero lifestyle. However, these constant confusing back-references, and future appearances from dead characters, negate all of the negative impacts that they hope to convey.

Disney did this a lot in their other franchise ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’, with the fake-out death of Chewbacca, and the memory wipe of C3-P0, effectively killing his character. Both turned out fine at the end of the movie though and all was hunky-dory. 

In conclusion, Disney walks the tightrope of mass age appeal. They simultaneously want to appeal to adults by having a meaty war movie with nail-biting deathly consequences, and also to children, for whom to sell merchandise and encompass every character.

The MCU is first and foremost a franchise and exists to sell toys. The MCU is also about inclusion so that all races and genders have a superhero representative to make us feel special. 

Killing certain characters can therefore be considered offensive if the ratio of other races and genders becomes imbalanced through a certain death. That is why Disney/Marvel is so keen to keep all characters as alive as possible, but it comes with the underwhelming viewer expectation of low odds, and inconsequential death scenes.

Loki’s triggering of the 'Multiverse' in his titular series has opened up lots of crazy possibilities, not least the ability to bring back characters from other timelines, who are considered dead in the main one. So those previously considered dead characters we know and (sort of) love? Watch this space because they may well be back.

Jason is a freelance content writer living in Nottinghamshire whose preferred topics are movie/game reviews and climate change.

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