Anybody who’s ever invested any significant amount of time into reading their original source material knows that death is almost never the end for any Marvel comic book character. Whether disintegrated on a sub-atomic level, eaten by a pack of wild dingoes, or mysteriously erased from the pages of history, the company’s writers always find some way (however unconventional) to keep bringing their properties back from beyond the grave. But can the same be said for their Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts?
One of the main criticisms so often leveled at the MCU during the nine or so years it’s now been in existence is the company’s reticence to kill off any character of real significance. Sure, life is exceptionally cheap for the villains of the Avengers solo movies. And occasionally it becomes necessary to murder someone who our heroes have a strong emotional attachment to (Yinsen, Frigga etc…) in order to further expand the backstory of a major character. But on the whole, new actors tend to be assured recurring roles when joining the franchise.
Which in some cases can be a bloody irritation, because some of them could just do with damn well getting rid of. As great as Loki is for the MCU, the fact he keeps coming back again and again after faking his death denies the company the room to invest in an appropriate recurring villain to replace him. And the number of ways Agents Of SHIELD has found to bring back Grant Ward continues to be frustratingly tedious.
There does exist, however, a small and lonely middle group that falls in-between the above extremes. Characters who should have been assured interesting and lively futures within the MCU who were instead immediately killed off. This is either because their inclusion was misjudged by the writers, or it was mistakenly felt that their deaths would have a bigger impact on audiences than instead keeping them around for any real length of time.
These are the heroes that could have been. The characters who have expansive and influential backstories in the original comics, that MCU audiences will now never get to see. These are the failings and misjudgments that the Marvel writers hope you won’t care that much for. But, care we do. So allow us to highlight for you to the 10 MCU characters who Marvel should never have chosen to kill off so quickly.
Obvious Marvel Cinematic Universe spoilers ahead!
10. Councilman Rockwell
Kiwi actor Alan Dale is something of a legend on the small screen. After eight years of service in Aussie TV soap Neighbours, he effortlessly made the transition to US shows such as Lost and The OC, before cropping up in numerous sci-fi and fantasy movie roles. So his arrival in The Winter Soldier as a high-ranking SHIELD leader teased a potentially bright and bold future for him in the franchise.
Alas, it was not to be, and by the end of the movie he’d been theatrically electrocuted by a Bond-style gadget belonging to fellow council member Alexander Pierce. Given the fact that this movie kicked off the whole SHIELD/HYDRA internal power struggle that would go on to tear the MCU in half, it would have been a much shrewder move to have a high ranking SHIELD leader such as Rockwell survive into the ongoing events of the Agents Of SHIELD series, helping the team to take the fight back to turncoat agents like Gideon Malick and John Garrett.
9. The Owl
Vincent D’onofrio’s killer turn as Wilson Fisk in the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil eclipsed all of the other characters, be they hero or villain. Amongst others, this included Bob Gunton’s brief appearance as crime boss Leland Owlsley. Lacking the bad taste in fashion and haircuts that his comic book incarnation tended to sport, only hard-core Marvel fans would have realistically recognized his character, who ultimately deserved a far longer run in the show than he received.
The New York City of Earth-616 has borne witness to an unending series of bloody turf wars over the past 50 years, as a small group of insidious crime lords vie with each other for power. The Owl is one of this number, constantly crossing swords with the likes of Silvermane and Hammerhead. Rather than spending the next four Netflix shows repeatedly revisiting The Hand for their main antagonists, it would surely have made more sense for the writers to have retained at least one mob leader capable of facing off against Fisk and the Defenders, rather than killing them all off in Season 1?
8. Denarian Saal
British actor Peter Serafinowicz is a man of many talents, and not just being able to grab a killer score by getting his surname down on the board in a game of Scrabble. He’s one of the best voiceover artists in the business (having previously voiced Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace), has a huge level of screen presence (Playing The Tick in the recent TV reboot), and impeccable comedy timing. His casting as a senior Nova Corps officer in Guardians of the Galaxy followed a fine tradition of Marvel having scouted some amazing comedy talent for the MCU, and promised a hilarious future.
And what happens? After several comedic and emotional interactions with the Guardians, he ends up vaporised in the (slightly foolhardy) attempt to stop Roman’s ship from landing on Xandar. What the Guardians needed, and what was so badly missing from GOTG2, was some kind of comedic nemesis moving forward with them. A good-guy lawman who would repeatedly lock horns with them in a light-hearted manner, and bring the funnies with them in the process. Here’s hoping that we see John C Reilly given the opportunity to correct that mistake at some future point.
7. Roger Dooley
As much as everybody likes to poke fun at the Marvel/ABC shows, the truth is that the body counts are just as high as their cousins over on Netflix. And whilst the manner of deaths may not be quite as visually brutal and gory, quite often they carry a great deal more emotional heft. Nowhere less so than with the noble death of Peggy’s boss during Season 1 of Agent Carter.
To be fair to the show, it nailed its colours to the mast quite quickly, offing several of Peggy’s fellow agents in the opening episodes. During the course of the series, Shea Whigham’s sexist bigot of a Station Chief was gradually revealed to be a decent guy underneath all the misogyny, to the extent that when he was thrown out of a window and exploded over the side of his own HQ, it was a significantly tragic passing. The problem was, that he was one of the few genuinely engaging characters to feature in the show, and his absence in Season Two was exactly the kind of reason the producers went on to pull the plug on it.
The biggest reason that Sons Of Anarchy went on to be such a huge success lay in the casting of the tightly-knit core of bikers at the heart of the ongoing storylines. And none more typified the life of the outlaw club rider than Tommy Flanagan’s ‘Chibs’ Telford. One of the few characters to end up surviving all seven seasons, bearing the physical and emotional fallout from every one of the crew’s onscreen misadventures, he ended the show a huge fan favourite.
So when Flanagan was cast in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it was hoped that he would be able to replicate everything that had made him shine so brightly in his previous role. The fact he was revealed to be playing one of Yondu’s lieutenants also looked extremely promising, until he was given two lines of dialogue and then tossed out of an airlock. Whilst this was obviously upsetting for Yondu and helped to set up that amazing revenge sequence, limiting the only surviving Reavers to Kraglin wasn’t really the wisest of moves going forward, and may be something that goes on to undermine the future Guardians projects.
5. Victoria Hand
It’s a bloody thankless task signing on to be an Agent of SHIELD. If you’re not electrocuted by Inhumans, you’ll most likely end up impaled on spikes of molten rock that have been conjured up using dark magic, or maybe even turned into a mindless slavering space zombie by a marauding alien octopus. With fates like that in the offing, being shot in the face by a renegade HYDRA agent is a relatively merciful way to check out.
Such was the fate of Saffron Burrows, when she turned up playing the no-nonsense Victoria Hand in Season 1 of Agents Of SHIELD. What sets her character aside from so many of the other agents that have quietly been despatched over the course of the show’s five seasons though is the potential that was lost with her. Particularly when the showrunners then went on to also write out Mockingbird a short time later. In the comics, Victoria Hand is a shrewd and canny operator who regularly crosses the line between right and wrong and employs some truly questionable methods in the process, though usually with the best intentions.
4. Maya Hansen
Universally acknowledged by both fans and critics as one of Marvel’s most notorious ever ‘dick-moves’, British actress Rebecca Hall’s inclusion in Iron Man 3 as Maya Hansen is a classic case of the script-writers not really knowing what to do with a character they’ve been given permission to play with. Cannily added to proceedings as an ex-lover, intellectual equal and also potential future adversary of Tony, just as she was starting to become really interesting, she was immediately got rid of.
But then, she wasn’t exactly alone in this respect. Both James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostack were also introduced as villains in Iron Man 3 and then despatched just as quickly. The difference was that Hall had the acting chops and the potential backstory to carry an entire Iron Man movie on her own as the villain, and was instead used for a cheap narrative rug-pull. One that ultimately led absolutely nowhere. Bad times, Shane Black. Bad times…
3. Jeffrey Mace
Bought in at the start of Season 4, Jason O’Mara’s newly appointed Director of SHIELD proved to be one of the most engaging and successful additions to the show. Initially set up as a token government yes-man, it soon became clear that he was actually employing a series of layers and complexities to hide a far more intriguing past, which went on to set up a deep bond with occasional sparring partner, Phil Coulson.
O’Mara is a brilliant journeyman actor, owning the screen in whatever project he appears in, and even being chosen as the voice for DC’s ongoing animated Batman features. In the short time he was in the MCU, he made a massive impact, which only made his onscreen death seem all the more tragic and pointless. With Mace’s links to the Super Soldier project, and the government’s Inhuman accords, the door was closed far too quickly on his character.
In a franchise all so often attacked and criticised for the exceptionally poor amount of effort that gets put into crafting its bad guys, it was truly great and refreshing to see Frank Grillo’s portrayal of fan-favourite Brock Rumlow pitched at exactly the right level. His cocky one-liners and confident approach to settling his business easily transitioned at the movie’s halfway point from being a loyal team-mate, into becoming a really irksome opponent.
It all looked so good. Left brutally scarred and broken at the end of The Winter Solider, Brock was back at the start of Captain America: Civil War, and boy did he have a score to settle. This was a guy so consumed by hate and vengeance that he was prepared to strap a claymore to his chest and give Captain America a killer-cuddle. He very nearly succeeded too, getting arguably closer to killing Steve Rogers than any other Marvel villain. Sadly, once his hydraulic fists and face guard were gone, so was he. Mind you, he did take half of the Wakandan embassy with him in the process. It would have been great to see the character’s longevity in the comics replicated onscreen, so here’s hoping that Scarlet Witch’s future emotional and mental breakdown somehow brings him back.
1. The Warriors Three
Now, if the fans thought that Frank Grillo’s sudden and unexpected removal from the MCU was some kind of betrayal, then that was nothing compared to the criminal act that was coming down the line with Thor: Ragnarok. Taika Waiti’s recent threequel was praised on so many levels for its brave and light-hearted approach to continuing and reinvigorating the franchise. Unless you were one of the Warriors Three, that is.
Given Ray Stevenson’s services to Marvel, you’d think he would have warranted a final line or two? And given the fact that Zachary Levi had to fight his way back into the franchise after casting conflicts to play Fandral, maybe he deserved some kind of decent send-off? Nope. Other than a gormless look, and a couple of swords through the sternum, that was the end of that for Thor’s besties.
Now, I appreciate that the writing was kind of on the wall for the Warriors as their inclusion in The Dark World was fairly minimal. I also appreciate that the nature of Asgardians is that they always come back in some way, shape or form. But to causally flick them aside without warning or reason made very little sense. Thor doesn’t even seem to really notice that they’ve gone, Sif doesn’t even feature in the third movie, and it also means they’re not around to lend their trademark spectacle or comedy value to the events of Infinity War.
Why, Marvel? Just, why?