He’s back … yet again: why death in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is overrated

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Disney</span>
Photograph: Disney

Remember the infamous trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in which ghostly Luke muttered those not-so immortal words: “No one’s ever really gone”? It turned out to be a pretty big clue for the almighty disaster that JJ Abrams’s movie turned out to be, as the film-maker wheeled out zombie Palpatine, revealed Snoke as a lab-grown puppet and Death-Starred Lucasfilm’s entire sequel trilogy project in one fell stroke.

Should we not be a little worried, then, that another Disney-owned studio, Marvel, has for some time now been going the same way? This week saw the launch on Disney+ of Loki, in which the god of mischief re-emerges despite having the life crushed out of him by Thanos in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. Of course, this is not quite the same Loki, but rather a younger version who grabbed the Tesseract/space stone in 2012’s The Avengers (but only after the superhero ensemble travelled back in time in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame to give him said opportunity).

Confused? You will be. Without giving away too much about the new series, the theft lands Loki Variant 6529 (or whatever we’re supposed to call him) in trouble with Owen Wilson’s Time Variance Authority, an organisation charged with ridding the multiverse of troublesome alternative timelines. More on this later … but first, at look at some other ways Marvel is now capable of bringing characters back from the dead.

Watch: 'Loki' interview - Gugu Mbatha-Raw explores her character's backstory

There’s the prequel, such as the forthcoming Black Widow, in which Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff returns despite her own death in Infinity War, along with Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man/Tony Stark, who perished in Endgame. Then there’s the blip, the event in Infinity War in which 50% of the known universe was finger-snapped out of existence by Thanos. When the Avengers successfully reversed this in Endgame, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch and Black Panther all popped back.

Wanda Maximoff then unfurled a fourth method of resurrection in WandaVision, in which she recreated Vision using her grief and torment and a heavy whack of (possibly Mind Stone-imbued) witchy superpowers. Meanwhile, the original Vision was also brought back to life by SWORD, recoloured white and sent to battle Maximoff’s illusory pink Vision. So far, we’re counting a total of five Marvel resurrection methods – please let me know in the comments if you’ve spotted any I’ve missed – and the studio is unlikely to stop there.

This is because Loki, and to a greater extend the forthcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, are clearly going to establish alternative timelines and universes as a key element of the MCU, if they were not already. This means all bets are off with future resurrection methods.

WandaVision, episode nine.
All bets are off ... Paul Bettany in WandaVision. Photograph: Marvel Studios

So when Robert Downey Jr or Chris Evans talk about their time as superheroes in the past tense, we should probably take it with a large pinch of salt. There may be no immediate reason for bringing the duo, or any other deceased/aged Marvel heroes back, but that doesn’t mean the studio hasn’t given itself umpteen resurrection routes should it fancy doing so at any time.

All of which means that when Johansson, as she did this week, talks about being open to a potential Marvel return post-Black Widow, we ought not to be writing it off as just another pre-release platitude. Nobody in the MCU is ever really gone for good – and the studio hasn’t even done zombie superheroes yet, not to mention Heimdall stepping out of the shower or perhaps Evans returning as his own twin super-brother.

If you have a favourite superhero who apparently got written out in the third episode of Phase Two, don’t panic. There’s every chance they’ll be back, possibly in a slightly different costume or claiming they’re from Earth 1610.

Does this not spoil the gorgeous pathos of all those death scenes, like football fans cheering for a wondergoal, only to see it chalked off by the video assistant referee for offside? Possibly. But just imagine the tears that will fall when Tony meets an all-new, all-different heroic demise in the penultimate episode of Phase 13!

Then again, this might be one trick that even time travel, magical powers and twisty alternative realities can’t make land with quite the same clout second, third or fourth time around.

Watch: 'Loki' interview - Gugu Mbatha-Raw teases the future for Renslayer

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