Is There a Killing Trend in Superhero Films and TV Shows?

4:49 PM Joseph Aberl 0 Comments

Superhero movies and TV shows are everywhere and they are certainly not slowing down anytime soon. Both Marvel and DC already have fixed plans up to the year 2020 with a variety of projects ranging from Avengers: Infinity War and Justice League to Aquaman and Doctor Strange. Yet up to this point there has been one trend going through the franchises in general, which actually started a while back even with the first release of Spider-Man. So you might be wondering what exactly am I talking about? Have you ever noticed that the best way for a superhero to save the day, is finding a way to directly or indirectly killing the villain?

You might point out that not all villains die throughout the films, as Harry Osborne in the original Spider-Man series survives, even though if you look at it he only becomes a villain in the second and third film, but never is the actual villain. What about the Joker in The Dark Knight? Yes, he certainly survives the film, probably due to the message he entails for the story in general, but the same goes for Scarecrow who survives, but what about Two-Face and Rha’s Al Ghul? They certainly didn’t survive and ended up being the last villains the character faced. Loki survives his fall into the depths of space! Indeed he does, but if we didn’t have the post-credit stinger one would assume he has “passed away”, but in the end he certainly wasn’t killed off.

So we have those exceptations that prove not every single time a villain dies in a superhero film, but if you think about it closely there are more deaths than survivors. Our death list involves Obediah Stane, Whiplash, Green Goblin in the original Spider-man, Adriach Killian, Ronan, Zod, Malekith the Accursed, Alexander Pierce, Electro and even, spoiler warning, Ultron in the latest film from Marvel. These are a lot of characters that could have evolved beyond their first films and others have proven that this “trope” is not necessary anymore. It sadly seems to be the best solution to getting rid of a problem. On one hand what does that even say about the message your sending out that the only way to get rid of the problem is to literally rid of it. Naturally, this is just me reading a bit more into it, but I find it sad that so many characters are wasted. Especially considering the Cinematic Universe expansions, these characters could potentially come back at any time within the franchise. I am still hoping that we see the return of Justin Hammer, as I still think he was a fantastic addition to the cast at the time of Iron Man 2.

Like I stated before there are exceptions to the rule, but I wish it didn’t even exist. At the time of superhero films starting no one expected them to go beyond a trilogy. Look at the original Batman series, which pretty much went through the most popular characters first and killing them off so another can take its place. Christopher Nolan actually had a great way of handling this topic, he made the death an important aspect of the story and theme. Yes, Two-Face had to die simply because of the words he echoed earlier in the film. Rha’s death was actually was more of an answer towards Rha’s philosophies from Bruce. Then there is Talia and Bane, which are sadly the worst send-offs in the thrilogy. Bane gets shot out of screen and his story is done even if I still don’t believe a gun shot from that bike would kill her and Talia was sadly a very depressing send-off after a very short reveal. Still, I believe Nolan understood the best how deaths should be handled, as a story mechanism.

Even I have to confess that the first Spider-Man understood this with the death of the Green Goblin. Hell, his last words echoed the entire film and were supposed to push another characters motivation. This way the death itself served a purpose to the story in general and even to evolve the trilogy. Actually shows quite a change between the original Batman series and the Spider-Man series that followed, as at the time Batman was more of an anthology. Spider-Man on the other hand was build as a franchise.

How about Television though? The “monster of the week” storylines that most shows have commonly end in the death of a character. Yet the overarching bad guy commonly ends up dying by the end. Agents of SHIELD sadly killed of John Garret, who sadly died for a joke. It was a great joke and surprise, but still for a joke. The second season actually surprised me as the over-arching enemy actually turned out to be a red herring and Cal Zabo was given a new life. Arrow managed to surprise me in the first two seasons with letting the main villains actually survive and further develop them, especially Malcolm Merlyn has evolved over the series. It is too bad that the third season changed this trend by echoing Batman Begins. The Flash on other side of the spectrum did end up following the trope, but due to the way it works can kind of work around it and I am very curious to see what direction the show is heading.

In the end, it is a trope that exists and might not go away anytime soon, but if it is handled the way for example Nolan did I would be fine with it. Marvel and DC need to take into consideration what they can do with these characters in their franchise and maybe start keeping their options open to what they can still win out of the characters. Let us see if Darren Cross survives in Ant-Man this July and if Marvel is already changing their path?