How Marvel's Trying To Trick Fans With Avengers 4
Comics are renowned for so-called "comic book deaths", where characters are killed off but swiftly return. The most recent examples were in the X-Men comics, with Jean Grey and Wolverine resurrected after high-profile "deaths". In just the same way as the comics, Marvel movies have treated death as something of a revolving door. A number of secondary characters -ranging from Bucky to Nick Fury, from Happy Hogan to Pepper Potts - have had "fake deaths".
In light of that, in the build-up to Avengers: Infinity War's theatrical release, Kevin Feige warned that some of the Infinity War deaths will stick. "People need to be careful what they wish for," he cautioned. Marvel's been sticking to that line ever since, arguing - against all the evidence - that these deaths will last. Infinity War co-writer Christopher Markus insisted that the deaths were real, and that viewers would have to deal with that. "The sooner you accept that, the sooner you will be able to move on to the next stage of grief." Asked about how they expected Marvel to market the post-Avengers 4 Spider-Man film, Markus and his co-writer Stephen McFeely seemed to admit the problem. After a brief quip about two hours of Aunt May crying, McFeely gave a simple and honest response; "We can't make movies for people who read Variety, you know what I mean?"
The Russo brothers, for their part, initially played coy about the deaths. "We love these characters as much as anybody," Anthony Russo noted, "but all things have to come to an end." More recently, he actually argued that the sequels may be set before the "snap":
"Just because there’s a sequel on the books doesn’t mean ... people become accustomed to time moving linearly in the MCU. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. There’s a lot of very inventive ways of where the story can go from here."
It's true that the MCU sometimes operates out of sequences; last year's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was set in 2014, this year's Ant-Man & the Wasp takes place before Avengers: Infinity War, and next year's Captain Marvel is actually based in the '90s. But we already know that's not the case with some of the films that are on the books, most notably the Homecoming sequel. In this case, the sequels do guarantee that the "snap" will either be undone or averted, and Marvel should really stop trying to pretend otherwise.
What Marvel Should Do Instead
Right now, Marvel seems to be trying to "have their cake and eat it" - they're trying to pretend their characters have been killed while booking high-profile sequels starring them at the same time. There's a sense in which that strategy is understandable; they hope audiences will react with honest and real emotion at the end of the film. What's more, the studio seems to have achieved their goal; as Markus noted, "Clearly, if there are people crying and there are articles about how to console your children at the end of it, it doesn't matter what you know." But the nature of the shared cinematic universe means that Marvel can't keep this going for much longer. For one thing, when Marvel begins to promote the Homecoming sequel, marketing will reveal that Peter Parker is back from the dead.
Will there be a consequence for trying to trick viewers like this? There's a reason Marvel's propensity towards "fake deaths" has been so roundly criticized and it's partly to do with the manipulative nature of this kind of plot. Viewers object to having their heartstrings tugged with deaths that are swiftly reversed: how will they react if the entire cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War ultimately turns out to be a trick? The danger is that, if the deaths of half the lives in the universe don't actually mean anything, the stakes will never feel high again. Marvel's current strategy is dangerously close to backfiring.
It's time for Marvel to come clean, and admit that these characters are going to return. Rather than simply encourage viewers to react emotionally, they need to move the conversation on to the point where viewers are debating just how that return will happen. This would be a far more honest approach, treating the viewers with a little more respect. What's more, smart marketing could stir up intense debate, dropping countless hints and misdirections.
The cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War was powerful and emotional, but its effectiveness is undermined for many by the very nature of the shared universe in which the Marvel heroes operate. Marvel pioneered the shared universe model, but right now they're trying to avoid its inherent limitations. There's no way they can pull it off in the long run, so it's time for the studio to be a little more honest with its audiences.
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019