In this article, spoilers abound for Avengers: Infinity War. If you read the headline, which references the characters who die in the movie, and still somehow thought you were clicking on a recipe for a cake or something, rest assured, this is not about cake. This is, as promised, about dead characters in a big Marvel movie. Don’t read any further unless you’ve seen it.
Well, Thanos wasn’t joking around. The mad titan played by Josh Brolin waltzed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe ready to chew bubble gum, collect all the Infinity Stones, and kill off half the universe … and he was all out of bubble gum. By the time Avengers: Infinity War ends, Thanos has succeeded in his schemes, and nearly half the cast evaporates into ash. As far as gigantic tentpole endings go, this has got to be one of the most downbeat in recent memory, even if you keep in mind that this is merely the first installment of a two-part Avengers arc that culminates next May.
But did they kill off the right people?
Let’s recap the casualties and survivors of Thanos’s snap. All of the original Avengers appear to still be alive, including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, and the Hulk. (We don’t see Hawkeye in this film, so it’s unclear if he made the cut, and the film doesn’t show us whether Shuri, Pepper, or Wong survived, since they were in other locations.) In Wakanda, Rocket Raccoon and War Machine are still kicking, while on the planet Titan, Iron Man at least has Nebula to keep him company. Thanos is still breathing, too, though it would have been hilarious if he had committed an inadvertent suicide by snap, given the 50/50 odds that affected everybody else.
Speaking of everybody else … a whole lot of franchise leads perished in those final minutes, including Black Panther (as well as his trusted bodyguard Okoye), Star-Lord (whose comrades Drax, Mantis, and Groot also died), and poor, sweet Spider-Man. If your audience was anything like mine, those casualties produced the biggest gasps. And hey, those are ballsy moves! When I handicapped the heroes likeliest to die in this film, I put Black Panther dead last on my list, since he’s the future of the Marvel universe and has so many sequels yet to come.
But that’s exactly why, once he did die, I didn’t quite buy it. If the film had killed off some of the characters whose trilogies have already ended — say Thor or Captain America, since Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans have reached the final film mandated by their original contracts — I would have believed it, and grieved the loss of their good humor and massive biceps appropriately. But there’s no way that Black Panther will stay dead, since his stand-alone series is just getting started. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will start filming fairly soon, and you’d better believe that Chris Pratt is returning for that. As for Spider-Man, the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming will arrive next July, meaning we’ll have seen plenty of trailers featuring Tom Holland’s revived Peter Parker before we learn how the fourth Avengers film will actually bring him back to life.
For these deaths to really hit home, you have to be a Marvel moviegoer so casual that you haven’t heard about any of the MCU’s future films, as well as a person so naïve to the realities of modern-day franchise filmmaking that you believe Disney would murder its billion-dollar Black Panther mere months after his first movie. Sadly, that means the comic-book fans who’ve long looked forward to the battle with Thanos are also the least likely to mourn its casualties, since they quite simply know better. A few of Infinity War’s earlier deaths might stick — I doubt Idris Elba wants to come back to the Marvel universe anytime soon — but it’s clear that the fourth Avengers film will revive most or even all of the heroes felled by that fateful third-act snap.
It also means that as far as deaths go, we may not have truly meaningful, permanent ones until this two-film arc concludes next May. I can foresee a scenario where some of the six O.G. Avengers sacrifice themselves to bring back their Infinity War comrades — the originals giving up their lives to pass the torch to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and if Captain America must die to resurrect his beloved Bucky, perhaps I’ll feel that tug on my heartstrings that eluded me at the end of Infinity War. At the very least, it will seem cheap if everybody comes back in the fourth film without a commensurate price paid. As Thanos likes to say, it’s all about balance, and if you fake out the audience without giving them something real in return, the fourth Avengers film will prompt grumbles, not gasps.