Looking at the poster for Avengers: Infinity War, it’s immediately apparent that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a very crowded place.
First came Iron Man, then came Hulk, and Thor and Captain America followed. Now, some 18 movies later, we’ve arrived at Infinity War, a knock-down, drag-out fight between Thanos and those Avengers, joined by all the friends they’ve made along the way, including Black Widow, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther and his Wakandan warriors, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision, and the underloved Hawkeye.
Because the Avengers stable has gotten so crowded, and because this movie promises to feature the baddest villain the MCU has to offer, it’s fair to wonder whether Marvel will use Infinity War to thin the ranks by killing off some of its beloved heroes. This happens all the time in comic books, but actors have contracts, and these movies make gigantic piles of money, so dispatching onscreen superheroes comes at a (literal) higher cost, which means Marvel hasn’t killed off any of its marquee heroes — yet. Infinity War is a big movie that’s banking on big moments, and it doesn’t get much bigger than a shocking, unprecedented death.
While we can’t say for sure which Marvel heroes may bite the bullet in Infinity War, you can sort of read the tea leaves based on few signs: the number of movies a hero has been in (Marvel probably won’t kill someone who was just introduced), how important they are to the Avengers (Cap is more important than Star-Lord), and what their death may do for a storyline (Iron Man dying would change the complexion of the continuous Marvel cinematic narrative in a completely different way than Drax biting the dust would).
With that in mind, here’s my best guess as to who’s safe, who isn’t, and whom we might not see when the Avengers team up again for their fourth movie in 2019.
These heroes definitely won’t die
This year’s Black Panther has made more than $1 billion worldwide and more than $650 million domestically — its stateside haul is bigger than The Avengers’ US box office of $623 million. There is absolutely no way Marvel is going to kill off its most successful hero in recent memory and the newly crowned king of the MCU.
Is Hawkeye even in this movie? Can you kill a ghost?
Seriously, though, Hawkeye hasn’t been in any of the trailers or promotional material, which has made him feel inconsequential. While this could mean Marvel is ready to be rid of him (should he even appear in this movie), killing the Avengers’ sixth fiddle wouldn’t be the sort of big moment Marvel is after — and the film’s directors, the Russo brothers, have indicated they still have plans for Clint Barton down the line.
Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Gamora, and Shuri
In Marvel Studios’ 10-year history (beginning with Iron Man), none of its 18 films have given a female superhero a movie all to herself. That changes next year with Captain Marvel, but the fact that it’s taken so long is kind of embarrassing, especially when you consider how long Black Widow has been in the cinematic universe (since 2010’s Iron Man 2), how many rich female characters there are in Marvel’s comic book universe, and the fact that Wonder Woman made all kinds of money for Warner Bros.
This is changing slowly, with movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp, in which Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp is getting equal billing, and with characters like Black Panther’s Shuri and Okoye, who were integral to both the film’s narrative and its promotion. But the unavoidable result of all these man-centric movies is a lot of male superheroes and a lack of female superheroes. Because of that discrepancy, and the criticism it’s drawn, it’s hard to see Marvel killing off any of its main female Avengers, or honorary members like Gamora or the well-loved Shuri.
Here’s a twist: According to Guardians director James Gunn, Groot is already dead. The Groot we see in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is actually the son of the Groot who died at the end of the first Guardians.
First Groot is dead. Baby Groot is his son.— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) February 27, 2018
Prior to Gunn’s tweet, I belonged to the school of thought that the new Groot was a reborn or reincarnated Groot but the same Groot nonetheless. But in the spirit of Guardians, I will honor the cinematic rules of Gunn’s Groot mythology. That said, it’s hard to imagine the new Groot getting killed so soon after the old Groot was.
Drax and Rocket Raccoon
Drax and Rocket are the third and fourth options of the Guardians franchise, ones who seem like they don’t necessarily have the most important roles or storylines. But they do have very distinct (some critics may say one-note) characterizations and senses of humor that are crucial to the franchise. Considering how little their backstories have been developed — and especially taking into account how much Drax’s storyline in the first movie is about Thanos, something the second movie largely dropped — killing them off would feel abrupt and pointless. Not to mention killing one or the other would completely change the charm dynamic of the Guardians movies.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
They have a movie out together three months after Infinity War premieres. I don’t necessarily understand the timeline of that movie (specifically whether it’s set after, and if so, how far after, Infinity War), but Marvel won’t let Thanos kill these two before their feature film debuts — if they even appear at all. The Russos have obliquely said that Ant-Man and the Wasp will tie into the events of Infinity War but haven’t said whether the characters themselves, who are not featured on the film’s poster (or are they?), will appear in the movie. And if you don’t appear in the movie, you don’t die.
These heroes probably won’t die
Peter Parker just went to homecoming — there’s no way he can die. While Parker has died in the comic books, he’s brand new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having been separated by Sony’s film rights for many years. Not to mention that we finally have in Tom Holland a portrayal of Parker that feels true to the character. There’s no way they’re killing Peter Parker after one movie — especially when there’s so much opportunity for him and Shuri to nerd out.
Though Doctor Strange looks like he’s in a pretty grim situation in the trailers — a villain known as Ebony Maw has captured the Sorcerer Supreme — Stephen Strange isn’t dying. As with Parker and Black Panther, Marvel isn’t going to kill an Avenger after one movie (well, two if you count his brief appearance in Thor: Ragnarok).
The biggest reason Bucky can’t die is that we need people to be very sad in the event that Captain America dies. Cap fought Iron Man and essentially quit the Avengers for his best friend, and now that Bucky is no longer brainwashed, he’s in a place where he can appreciate that and be grateful for Cap’s friendship and sacrifice. He will truly epitomize the pain we’ll all feel if and when Cap dies.
Star-Lord has almost died in both Guardians movies: In the first film, he touches the Infinity Stone; in the second, Ego almost kills him. If Marvel were going to kill him, they would have done it in one of those movies to get the maximum impact out of killing the Guardians’ leader. Star-Lord dying in Infinity War would have less of an impact, since he’s taking a back seat to heroes like Iron Man, Cap, and Thor. Chris Pratt also went on the record last year stating that he’s looking to continue working with Marvel, and hinted that his contract wasn’t up.
The Hulk has functioned as a special guest star in the MCU rather than the main star. He went on an unexplained hiatus for a few films after Age of Ultron before triumphantly returning in Thor: Ragnarok. Considering how Marvel has already exiled him in the past, and just brought him back, killing off the Avengers’ not-so-jolly green giant — in what would be a tragic death considering all he’s been through — at this point feels like a step too far.
These heroes might actually die
As we’ve seen in the trailers promoting Infinity War, Wakanda is the site of a humongous alien invasion. (I’m guessing vibranium has a connection to an Infinity Stone.) While Wakanda is blessed with technology and adept warriors to protect it, the Avengers and Wakandans going up against the baddest villain in the universe without suffering any casualties seems unlikely. Unfortunately, I could see Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, going out in a blaze of glory, paying the ultimate sacrifice to her king and country. It would embody everything — loyalty, bravery, selflessness — the Dora Milaje and Okoye stand for.
Loki is the ultimate “wait 30 minutes” character. Thirty minutes from now, he could be evil. Thirty more minutes and he’s good again. That said, Thor: Ragnarok ended with Loki growing up and actually being a good guy, and Thanos killing a Loki who just decided to be good is a lot more powerful than if Loki were still evil. Also, it’s worth remembering that Thanos is still pretty peeved at Loki’s inability to secure Earth and the Tesseract in the first Avengers film.
These heroes are in danger
It would make perfect sense to kill Nebula, the secondary villain the first Guardians film who had a change of heart and an epiphany about her relationship with Gamora in the sequel. She’s an antihero with a heart now and is ready to stand beside Gamora as they take on their adoptive father Thanos. The bad news is that this character arc seems to be leading right toward Nebula’s noble death.
It’s quite simple: Vision has an Infinity Stone in his head. Thanos wants the Infinity Stones. This movie hinges on Thanos obtaining the Infinity Stones. Thanos will eventually obtain all the Infinity Stones — he has to if we’re to believe Earth is truly in peril — and therefore, Vision has to “die.” It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that when Vision loses the Infinity Stone, he reverts back to his previous incarnation as Jarvis, Tony Stark’s semi-sentient and extremely helpful computer program.
Thor has the distinction of being the first Avenger to meet Thanos, who intercepts his ship of Asgardians in one of Thor: Ragnarok’s post-credits scenes. That isn’t good, since Thanos is ostensibly this movie’s bringer of death. The other ominous clue is that Infinity War directors the Russo brothers have described the movie as being about Thanos and Thor. Being connected to Thanos isn’t a good thing if you’re a character that wants to survive.
There’s a divide in the ever-growing Avengers roster between the originals (Thor, Iron Man, and Cap) and the newbies (Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange). We’ve seen the originals featured in multiple solo movies, while the newbies are just getting started. In Civil War, it felt like Marvel was setting down the idea that the Avengers can’t continue the way they are with Cap and Tony Stark at odds. In Spider-Man: Homecoming it felt like Tony was passing the torch and teaching Peter Parker to be a better hero and leader than he was. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Infinity War marks the end of Iron Man’s long tenure in the MCU and officially ignites a new era of leadership for the Avengers.
If you want to rip out the heart and soul of the Avengers, and the heart and soul of any Marvel fan, you kill Steve Rogers. Rogers’s death would be one way to put an exclamation point on the end of Marvel’s third phase of movies. His death makes sense story-wise too, as his solo movies have shown us his genesis as a hero (The First Avenger), his struggle to reconcile being a hero with the world around him (The Winter Soldier), and then end up questioning everything, including the country he so deeply believes in (Civil War). Rogers dying in Infinity War would complete his arc, and would serve to unite the divided Avengers.
The nagging counterpoint to Rogers’s death is that Chris Evans, who plays Rogers, reportedly renewed his Marvel contract in 2017 for at least one more movie post-Infinity War. That could end up being something as simple as a flashback or a throwaway post-credits appearance (like the one he made in Spider-Man: Homecoming), but I could also see an Infinity Stone-aided resurrection come into play — which, of course, could apply to any of the above characters as well.
Avengers: Infinity War will be released in theaters on April 27.