Is Disney Willing to Kill Off More Marvel Superheroes?

Death has long tended to be elastic in the world of comic book heroes. There’s a joke that says the only people who stay dead in Uncle Ben and Bruce Wayne’s parents. Now we find out that Marvel Studios‘  attitude toward death is quite casual.

That may not surprise fans, considering how many people died and were resurrected in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. What is surprising is how much freedom Marvel gave the writers of those movies as to whom they could kill. 

Robert Downey Jr. at the D23 Expo event.
Robert Downey Jr. | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

‘If you want to get rid of people, you can’

Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote all the Captain America-titled movies, plus Infinity War and Endgame. As reported in CinemaBlend, they sat down with Vanity Fair recently to detail their writing process, and they made that process sound pretty loose. This was the directive they were given, according to the writers: 

“I think really all we were handed was Thanos, which necessitates the use of the Infinity Stones — which are this, this, and this throughout the MCU — and ‘If you want to get rid of people, you can, but you’re under no obligation to just kill them willy nilly.’ And that was just about all.”

That’s not to say that Markus and McFeely said, OK, “We’ll kill Falcon and Wanda Doctor Strange and Black Panther and Spider-Man and half the Guardians of the Galaxy”  without giving it a second thought. It’s just that Marvel gave them no specific directive about whom they couldn’t touch.

That’s ultimately what made the dustings in Infinity War so affecting: “But Black Panther just gave them their most successful standalone movie! Spider-Man? What?”

There is not always a master plan

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has been praised for being a master planner in that he made 23 movies in 11 years with relatively few stumbles  He shepherded several movies with massive casts and stuck the landing with the impressive double achievement of Infinity War and Endgame. Not to mention his movies made $22 billion worldwide. 

That said, Markus and McFeely’s comments go to show how there is not some sacred master plan that writers have to adhere too like a Bible. There may be an overall plan, formula, or end goal, yes – but how you get there is up to the writers. It’s why JJ Abrams has had to deny that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi blew apart a planned storyline set up by The Force Awakens

Movie formulas have been around for decades. Generally, all that movie producers ask is that you adhere to the formula within reason. In 1967, novelist Roald Dahl was asked to write the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice.

The Bond producers told him, “You can come up with anything you like so far as the story goes, but there are two things you mustn’t mess about with. The first is the character of Bond. That’s fixed. The second is the girl formula. That is also fixed.”

Is death too elastic in Marvel?

All of this makes one wonder if Marvel will be similarly nonchalant in regards to deaths in future movies. For the next phase of movies lasting into 2021, the studio seems to be more concerned with building new characters rather than wrapping up old ones, so maybe death won’t be so heavy-handed in The Eternals or Shang-Chi. What Marvel ought to be on guard about is making death too easy to overcome. 

As the Marvel movies have gotten bigger, they have become more spectacular and otherworldly. This is why they could kill off half their heroes in Infinity War, only to have them come back in Endgame. However, the risk they run is robbing death of its finality. If Marvel characters can just be resurrected willy-nilly, a sacrifice or revenge won’t mean anything.

So it will be interesting to see how Marvel moves forward from here: What about Gamora, whose death in Infinity War wasn’t quite resolved thanks to the time travel? If Natalie Portman becomes the new Thor, does that mean Chris Hemsworth dies as the old Thor?

Fans will keep asking questions and we’ll keep trying to answer them.