Obviously, massive spoilers lie ahead, so turn away now if you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame. Like, right now, because we’re going to start with the most unexpected – and thus the most shocking – death of the entire movie.
That’s right, Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, is the first Avenger to bite the dust in Endgame, in a heart-wrenching scene that sees her and her former partner Clint Barton (Hawkeye) travel to the cold and desolate planet Vormir, looking for the Soul Stone. Marvel fans will already know that the Soul Stone requires a sacrifice in order to be won: it stole Gamora, the fiercest woman in the galaxy, from us in Avengers: Infinity War, and now it’s taken Black Widow as well. Both Clint and Natasha try desperately to commit suicide and prevent the other from dying, but in the end Natasha is the one dangling precariously off the edge of a cliff, while Clint grips her hand, telling her he won’t sacrifice her. Natasha, however, reminds him that he has a family, while she has nothing to live for and no family to go home to – though, interestingly, Natasha gets an interesting hint about her own parents here on Vormir, when the Soul Stone’s guardian Red Skull names her “daughter of Ivan”. More on that in a moment.
Clint lets go, Natasha falls to her death, and the Soul Stone is won. But the question remains: was it worth it? Natasha’s entire character arc has been about her loneliness – she doesn’t have a family, and called herself a “monster” for being unable to have children. She believes she’s nothing but a cold-blooded killer, incapable of love. And, sadly, she dies like this too, sacrificing herself because she has nothing left. Rather than having a triumphant character arc, Black Widow dies in tragic fashion, far from her home, so that Hawkeye can get the Soul Stone. Yes, the Stone helps to save the day in the end, but Natasha’s sacrifice feels like a crushing blow, not just to the other Avengers, and to the audience, but to her own character: Natasha’s death is sad, but it’s also infuriating. She died without ever realizing that she was valuable in her own right. She died without ever truly fulfilling her arc.
The good thing is, there’s still a chance she’s coming back. Of course, a Black Widow movie is already moving into production and will be released next year, but it is a prequel, set long before Endgame. But there’s more evidence than just that: look here.
At the end of Endgame, Captain America goes back in time to replace all the Infinity Stones to the time and place they were taken from – in other words, the Soul Stone returns to Vormir. (This also means Captain America comes face-to-face with his old nemesis Red Skull, but that’s a story for another time). Anyway, Cap replacing the Soul Stone could negate Black Widow’s sacrifice and bring her back to life. But what’s the purpose of that?, I hear you ask. Why bring back a character who really doesn’t have anything to do in the next phase of the MCU?
Well, she could actually have a crucial part to play in the next phase, and here’s the evidence.
The Black Widow movie will be the first film of Phase 4, for one thing (this was previously believed to be Spider-man: Far From Home, until Marvel President Kevin Feige revealed that Far From Home would be the final film of Phase 3). Black Widow also could have a newly-revealed connection to an upcoming film in the Marvel roster: The Eternals. In The Eternals, we will see a new character – the villainous space god Druig, who, in the comics, takes the identity of a Russian KGB agent and becomes leader of a Soviet state named Vorozheika. While living in Russia, Druig takes a new name – Ivan Druig.
That’s right. Black Widow could be the daughter of a god, even though she doesn’t know it. If her death is undone, Natasha will come back to life on the planet Vormir, far from her home planet and alone: imagine a scenario in which Druig, her father, comes looking for her. I would suspect a scene like this could occur as a post-credits stinger for Black Widow, which will probably focus on Natasha’s formative years. We’ve grown used to her being a baton-wielding martial-arts fighter, but what if she were to inherit some new powers from her father? This could open the door to many more Black Widow stories, and she could have a chance to live out the rest of her unfulfilled arc.
The next death is one that certainly seems more permanent – and to reverse it would be to negate a great arc that reached a satisfying and poetic conclusion in Endgame. Tony Stark, the Iron Man who started the MCU as we know it and has been Marvel’s figurehead for a decade now, sacrifices himself to wipe out Thanos’ army of killer aliens. He dies surrounded by his friends, survived by his wife and young daughter. It would be a mistake to reverse this death, in my opinion: however, that doesn’t mean we’ll never see Tony Stark again.
You see, in the comics, Tony Stark has died before – but in one notable case, he was able to create an artificial intelligence hologram of himself before his death: we even saw this teased a little in Endgame, when Stark’s daughter Morgan watches a holographic video that Tony had prerecorded in case everything went wrong. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that Tony created an AI body for himself too, an artificial Tony Stark that could still be played by Robert Downey Jr, and could hang around Avengers HQ and make cameo appearances every now and again, or impart wisdom to the next generation of Marvel heroes. This seems like a fitting way to keep Tony around without reversing his incredibly impactful death.
The only death that I regard as “permanent” is Captain America’s. When Cap goes back in time at the end of Endgame to replace the Infinity Stones to their original timelines, as previously mentioned, he decides not to come back immediately. In fact, he goes all the way back to the 1940’s, and instead lives out a normal life with his old girlfriend Peggy Carter, before returning to the present timeline as an elderly man to pass on the Captain America mantle to his comrade Sam Wilson, also known as Falcon. We last see him sitting on a park bench, staring off across a lake, and it’s implied that his death is not far off, even though we don’t see it onscreen. In my opinion, this death can’t be reversed without a lot of time travel or a deep dive into the alternate realities that have been opened up by the events in Avengers: Endgame. While it seems likely that some of these new realities and timelines will be explored in some fashion, this is not one of them, I think. Any attempt to show Cap’s life with Peggy would be redundant and boring: his arc was concluded, and he can rest in peace now. I, personally, would have preferred a different end for the character, one that doesn’t involve Captain America messing up time and basically ensuring that Peggy and him end up together – whereas in the original timeline, Peggy had moved on with another man and had her own happy ending. It seems to suggest that Cap has some selfish intentions, and that’s not an implication I like (though one theory says that Peggy’s new husband was always Captain America, and that there’s actually two Caps, and always have been, and it’s just a really complicated and complex theory that I don’t have time to explain here).
So those are the three main deaths of Avengers: Endgame (though not, in fact, the only deaths. A past version of Nebula, Thanos, and possibly a past version of Gamora all get killed off – in Thanos’ case, twice). I regard Black Widow’s death as temporary, Tony’s as permanent-but-with-a-loophole, and Cap’s as permanent. What do you think? Did you feel the character deaths in Endgame were satisfying or not? Share your thoughts in the comments and look out for more Endgame news in the days and weeks ahead.