Before I go on, you should go ahead and assume SPOILERS live here. If you continue to read you have no one to blame but yourself for what comes next. I’m serious. I want zero messages telling me I spoiled AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR for you because, yeah, that’s exactly what’s happening here.
Still here? Ok. It’s all on you now.
One of the common complaints and/or concerns leveled at AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR in the wake of its release concerns the most likely temporary nature of its shocking ending. This is understandable. Given that it is shoving huge amounts of money into Marvel Films coffers, we can safely assume non-comic fans are attending the film.
In fact, it is probably safe to assume the MAJORITY of attendees are not hardcore readers and collectors of the four-color joys we adore. Therefore, many may believe they just watched Spider-Man permanently reduced to a pile of dried leaves. Similarly, critics have been weighing in on what it could mean for the stakes of the MCU.
If — let’s be honest, when — much of the deaths we witnessed in INFINITY WAR are rolled back, how will people react? Can the MCU survive such a reversal without leaving fans feeling betrayed? More importantly, can the MCU not end up dramatically broken by such a move?
Of course, the MCU can survive. We can look to the most improbable of franchises, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, for confirmation. No one in F&F even has super powers — although you’ll be forgiven if you thought otherwise. And yet, in FAST & FURIOUS (the fourth movie released in the franchise, technically the third in continuity) we all watched as Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) was killed.
Then, in the post-credits sequence of FAST FIVE, we see a current photo of her or, perhaps, her evil twin. FAST & FURIOUS 6 confirmed it was Letty. She has been an active part of the franchise since. The FAST movies have continued to make bank and I can’t even think of one article bemoaning this turn of events. Again, this is a woman of just flesh and blood who very much died on-screen.
We can farther back to a more explicitly “geek-friendly” franchise as well. In STAR TREK 2: WRATH OF KHAN, we watch Spock die from radiation poisoning slowly on-camera. A movie later, however, STAR TREK 3: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK resurrected the beloved Vulcan. The film series would go on for 4 more movies before it transitioned to the NEXT GENERATION cast, each earning a profit. Moreover, its biggest box office haul — even adjusted mind you — was still to come.
So yes, a film franchise can survive a resurrection and return, sometimes even stronger than ever.
Of course, INFINITY WAR features no just one or two deaths but 50% of the universe and quite a few heroes. But then, Marvel Films still has some tricks up their sleeves.
The concern is predicated on the idea that the dead returning to life will lead to a flattening of stakes. However, there are several still living characters who are unlikely to be part of the MCU after what I’ll just call AVENGERS 4. That’s part of why the end of INFINITY WAR was so surprising.
The characters we thought were shoo-ins to die — Captain America and Iron Man, Thor to a lesser extent — survived. Meanwhile, ones we know have sequels coming — Guardians, Spider-Man, and Black Panther — and those we expect to — Dr. Strange — crumpled into dust.
However, them not dying in INFINITY WAR may merely delay their demises, not cancel them. There’s no guarantee of survival for anyone. If anything, our expectations that one or more of the Cap, Iron Man, Thor triumvirate may die should be higher. Thus, the next film does not become a promise of the status quo returned but rather an exercise in the possibility of further upheaval.
The acts of resurrections carry their own stakes as well. Yes, of course, Black Panther will be back. But will we have to trade Captain America to get him? No way does Spider-Man stay erased from existence. However, will he come back just in time to reverse roles with Tony and clutch the dying Stark as he slips into whatever waits for us all beyond the veil of tears? And so on.
Truth be told, any of the original Avengers could die in the next installment. Any or all. Even Black Widow. Don’t forget the rumors have her film as a flashback tale. That possibility gives plenty of dramatic juice to the 4th installment.
Remember Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Iron Man, and, BEST OF ALL, Hawkeye? The original Avengers? Remember how great AVENGERS was? Guess what? They’re the lead characters of the 4th AVENGERS movie. Oh and don’t forget War Machine! Plus Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man. PLUS! Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel. Not for nothing, but that sounds like a team that can generate plenty of excitement all by its lonesome. I mean, Hawkeye!
Even if the next installment is all resurrections, no deaths, seeing the original team together for what will most likely be the last time will certainly deliver a jolt. Moreover, the group currently overflows with unresolved conflicts and crushes. Iron Man and Captain America are obviously chief amongst these. However, you also have Hulk and Black Widow’s aborted romance. Hawkeye and Black Widow’s friendship after not seeing each other since Barton cut a deal. Ant-Man reacting to Cap after working with the guy sent him to jail again. There is tension in the air.
Additionally, even if everyone walks away in one piece, this is likely to be the last time we see the original players on-screen at the same time. No matter if the Avengers reverse everything Thanos did, that bittersweet reality will still be undercut the moment of triumph. Think of it like college. Just because all your friends at graduation dodge murder by a giant purple man doesn’t mean you didn’t have a certain sadness about that era of your life ending.
On the other hand, I could be wrong about all this. Whoever expected that JUSTICE LEAGUE’s total box office would be eclipsed by the third AVENGERS movie in a week? I didn’t love that movie, but that’s still a stunning, unpredictable occurrence.
So, yes, it is entirely possible that AVENGERS 4 will be ignored, hated, or beat at the box office by AQUAMAN 2: RISING TIDE (call me DC!). Certainly, fans may hear buzz about those dead not staying dead and reject the film and the MCU whole cloth. Anything can happen. However, it seems unlikely. Even most non-comic book fans have encountered pop culture in their time that saw people seemingly dying and then returning. They will not be completely flabbergasted by that possibility.
As detailed above, Marvel Films has several options to still make the movie dramatic and interesting. At the end of the day, moviegoers can forgive nearly anything if the story is good. If the next AVENGERS movie delivers the goods, however they do it, people will accept the resurrections.