First and foremost, if, for some reason, you haven’t seen every Marvel movie, stop here, because there are plenty of spoilers headed your way.
The death of an important character can go a long way in helping a film deliver a major emotional impact, makes the movie unforgettable and long-lasting. Even movies that aren’t great to begin with can be subject to a boost in the memorability department by ending the life of a character that audiences love.
Take, for example, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It is not a great movie to begin with, but the death of Gwen Stacey went a long way in delivering a deeper and more emotional experience.
Yet, for the most part, the MCU has refused, time and time again, to properly kill off main characters. Let’s take a look at the evidence, starting at the very beginning of the MCU.
In Iron Man, during the final fight against Obadiah Stane, Tony yells at Pepper, telling her to overload the arc reactor. She says something like, “but you’ll die!” and Tony tells her to do it anyway. So she does it. And Tony…doesn’t die. Why? Why include Pepper’s line about Tony dying, only to just gloss over the fact that he clearly is not dead?
In Thor, as Loki and Thor dangle from the broken Bifröst Bridge, held by Odin, Loki makes a heartfelt plea to his adoptive father, before releasing his grip on Thor and falling into the void below. Yet, of course, he shows up, unscathed, in multiple movies after Thor.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, during the assault on the Hydra train carrying Dr. Zola, Bucky Barnes falls to his death, which shakes Cap up pretty badly. But he appears, alive and well, as the villain in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier.
Moving on to the Avengers, Phil Coulson is shot and killed by Loki, but then an entire season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is dedicated to uncovering how he survived the fatal wound. Also, Tony Stark literally carries a nuclear missile into space, and falls back to Earth. He is unconscious as his team surrounds him, but then a simple yell from Hulk brings him back to life.
Surprisingly, nobody dies in Iron Man 2 and then comes back to life, but in Iron Man 3, Pepper falls to her death, but returns to actually kill the movie’s main antagonist, thanks to her Extremis abilities.
In Thor 2: The Dark World, Loki is stabbed and presumably killed by Algrim, but turns out to be alive and impersonating Odin, the king of Asgard. However, Thor’s mother, Frigga, also dies in this movie, and it looks like this one has stuck. This is the first real instance of a non-villain character dying for good in the MCU.
In The Winter Soldier, a fair bit of the plot revolves around Nick Fury’s death. But we find out later that Fury faked his death, as if we didn’t all see that coming.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot forfeits his life to protect the rest of the crew from an otherwise fatal fall. After the final fight, Rocket is distraught at the death of his friend and companion. But don’t worry, Rocket, because baby dancing Groot is still kickin’.
And then, in Age of Ultron, the MCU finally puts its big boy pants on and kills off a likeable character by having Quicksilver sacrifice himself to save Hawkeye and some random kid. The problem? Quicksilver was only a good guy for the very last portion of the movie, so the emotional impact of his death is stunted by the fact that we just don’t really care about him, and that a way cooler version of Quicksilver is still alive in the X-Men universe.
By now, I think the point is clear. Marvel superheroes don’t die. But the Marvel movies find themselves in a tough spot because of their refusal to let characters die. They obviously can’t just start eliminating every character that audiences have come to love. A huge part of the draw to the MCU films is so that we can see Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Cap, RDJ as Stark, and so on. These actors, for better or worse, are intrinsically tied to the roles of their respective superheroes. Losing too many of them too quickly, as if the MCU was a season of Game of Thrones, would almost certainly turn audiences off completely.
Also, killing too many characters leaves audiences with what I call “The Mockingjay Effect”. In the conclusion of the Hunger Games series, too many characters die or leave Katniss for good in a quick span of time, and with each successive death or abandonment, the lost characters become less and less important, leaving audiences numb to emotional influence.
So why does this matter? Why kill off Marvel superheroes? Because each time a character ‘dies’ but then is revealed to be alive, the sense of danger within the MCU disappears. We have become so confident that Earth’s mightiest heroes will emerge victorious from battle that, at this point, the idea of one of them not returning from battle is nearly out of the realm of possibility. This makes the MCU films feel too safe, and the villains far too weak.
It is a common complaint that the bad guys of the MCU are often underused and underpowered. Take Ultron, for example. While he is certainly a thorn in the side of the Avengers, it really didn’t take any more effort to dispose of him than any other previous MCU baddie. This is one of the three biggest problems in the MCU: The villains are weak, the heroes are invincible, and the characters, while likeable and familiar, are never developed past a point of familiarity. A good death at the hands of a strong bad guy could instantly solve all three problems.
Enter Captain America: Civil War, the starting point of Phase 3 of the MCU. If there were ever a movie that is perfectly set up to kill off a few characters, this is the one.
In the literary material that the film will be based on, many important characters die. Unfortunately, most of those characters are ones that we haven’t yet seen on screen (most notably are Goliath and Giant Man, Ant-Man’s mega-sized counterparts). While it’s possible, and probable, that new characters will be introduced and subsequently killed in Civil War, killing these characters presents the same problem as killing Quicksilver, namely that we won’t have seen enough of them to really care.
But, one other character dies in the Civil War comics. A character whose death would provide just enough feels to get the blood pumping in the veins of Marvel fans again. That’s right, it’s everyone’s favorite patriot, Captain America. He actually is killed immediately following the war, but that’s an unnecessary nuance that is easily changed. Steve Rogers dies, and his old friend, Bucky, then carries the mantle of the Captain.
This is the opportunity that the MCU must seize in order to keep the Marvel movies from feeling stale, and eventually sour. Cap’s death could be a massive, pivotal moment in the entire overarching narrative of the series. Perhaps, even, the most important event of all the movies so far. It could forever sever the bonds of the Avengers, or unite them. It makes room for us to care about new Avengers that just don’t matter to us yet (I’m looking at you, Falcon and Iron Patriot).
So, could Cap’s death solve the three big MCU issues? Absolutely. Whoever strikes the killing blow would instantly become one of the meanest and most evil villains to date. It would show that the Avengers are no longer safe; no longer impenetrable. And it would let us see some emotion, and some character development, from the surviving crew that we have yet to see. Therefore, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to survive, Cap’s gotta go.
It’s a grim thought, I know. But I believe that it is crucial to the success of the MCU going forward. What do you think? Will Cap die in the war? Should he? Could anyone else bite the bullet? Let us know in the comments.