The final sequence, where several of the main characters disintegrate along with half the universe, didn’t feel consequential or even permanent. There’s going to be another Black Panther movie. And another Spider-Man movie. And an Avengers 4. And, who knows, possibly even a Captain America 9.
Obvious reasons aside, one death would have been enough. It didn’t even have to be on the glory of the battlefield, it just had to be something heartfelt. Something genuine. And most importantly, something that left zero chance for any return.
As any comic junkie has condescendingly reminded all of us at least once, the death of a beloved character means nothing in the comic book universe. There’s no grief or heartache. Just uncertainty. It’s like being in a theatre after watching an MCU movie. You never believe that it’s over, even a full minute after the credits stop rolling and the lights come on. The days of mourning used to be short. Now they’re gone entirely.
Just remember how you felt after watching Peter Parker, Bucky Barnes, Wanda Maximoff, Dr. Strange and T’Challa vanish in little wisps of black vapor. The shock was fleeting, but the sadness lasted less than a millisecond. To put it simply, these 10 or so “comic book deaths” wouldn’t have the same emotional gravitas as one real death.
This death could have befallen anyone – Thor or Steve Rogers, hell, maybe even Tony Stark. Now that would’ve been something. To experience the feeling of loss or the consequences of tragedy. To know that even in a universe filled with magic stones, talking raccoons and flying humans, the rules of real life still apply.
It would also change the way we look at the MCU. A good superhero movie is one that can keep its audience guessing. A great superhero movie is one where anything can happen. This is made possible by only violating a few rules, little things like physics and gravity and reality. But there are some variables that wouldn’t be ignored like they are in the 30 pages of paper that make up a comic book.
Comics go on forever. The characters never age and they never die. There are different universes and different timelines. Different retcons and different canons. Things happen and then they don’t happen. There’s never an ending in sight and the boundaries of logic are constantly violated and redefined.
Some films and TV shows have tried following this formula. It’s why no one’s watched The Walking Dead for four years. It’s also why there hasn’t been a good Terminator movie since the 1990s. While the Avengers franchise is far from reaching similar disaster levels, the fatigue is becoming palpable, and it’s happening during a time when special effects are becoming less relevant. Watching stuff get blown up stops being fun when we’re not worried about the outcome. Dammit, even getting vaporized doesn’t mean anything anymore.
To be sure, death isn’t the only thing that can make a film feel consequential. Sometimes comic books actually try to be like literature and imitate life. The original Civil War storyline took place during the Patriot Act, when the line between spying and surveillance was blurrier than Polaroid. This theme wasn’t explored as closely in the film, and the ending and lasting effects were far less impactful.
Captain America was a fugitive in Infinity War, but the only sign of this for anyone who hadn’t seen Civil War was the beard Chris Evans borrowed for the film.
Perhaps even more than change, progress can also be achieved with some type of closure. Things have to be able to end. Game of Thrones will end next year. Star Wars ended after three episodes, and didn’t reappear until 16 years later. Sure, Marvel Studios has confirmed that the next Avengers film will officially conclude phase 3 of the MCU, but this means very little since Phases have the potential to be infinite.
When all the “dead” characters make their return in Avengers 4, (presumably not themselves after spending a few months living in the soul stone), maybe this new adventure will have something different. A chance for the comic film gods to finally do the right thing: Break our hearts and crush all of our hopes into dust.