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It’s hard to know how to react to the news that Clark Gregg will be reprising his role as the SHIELD pilot that Joss Whedon is putting together for ABC. Of course, the fan faithful who adored the character in his appearances through all of the Marvel movies to date are excited to see that his career didn’t end with Marvel’s The Avengers, but still… Isn’t this ultimately a bad decision on Marvel’s part?
Coulson’s death in Avengers wasn’t just a central emotional moment for the movie, it was the central emotional moment, and arguably the only genuine emotional moment during the entire thing (All of the other character beats were just that; beats that were easily lost amongst the sturm-und-drang of the rest of the movie, most of which was more hinted-at than actually stated outright or shown in the moment. Avengers, for all its good points, is a somewhat flat movie emotionally outside of the aim to excite). Retconning that into “Ha ha, it was a Life Model Decoy” or any other form of “He’s not really dead” cheapens it, and the entire movie by extension. More to the point, it turns the moviemakers into Nick Fury, who shamelessly manipulated Captain America with Coulson’s death by playing around with the facts, with the audience as the Star Spangled Super-Soldier.
Worse still, I think people expected this reversal. There was definitely some sense of “That can’t really be the end of Coulson, right?” that gave his death some level of surprise, novelty and – as blood thirsty as it sounds – importance when it happened, and the fact that it wasn’t undone by the end of the movie allowed Avengers to have some sense of depth and weight beyond the exciting, colorful romp that it otherwise was. As superhero fans, we’ve come to expect that deaths of popular characters are temporary at best, with everyone from Bucky to Jean Grey coming back despite the fact that their deaths had redefined the characters’ around them for years (decades!) afterwards , but to see that same lack of permanence shift to the same characters’ movie incarnations is somewhat depressing. Can’t death be just a little bit more final over there, please…?
And then there’s the fact that the resurrection will apparently be happening outside of the movies, oddly enough. For Coulson to be revived in a television series gives the pilot a particular reason to be watched by the millions who came out for the movie, but it also feels as if an important part of the story is happening in a hidden little corner, if that makes sense, when it could have more impact (and make more sense) in a second Avengers movie. The oddness of the venue, in fact, is enough to make me suspicious that Coulson’s return isn’t some kind of fake out, and ends up being a pre-death flashback, or a series of recordings made prior to his demise.
Don’t get me wrong; I get the “Because you demanded it!” aspect of the return, and I’m sure that Gregg is happy that he’s not been kicked to the curb in terms of this massively successful movie franchise, but still: There seem so many more reasons to have kept Coulson dead, once the decision had been made to kill him off in the first place. Bringing him back feels like the first major misstep that Marvel Studios has made in terms of fulfilling expectations since Iron Man was released. Here’s hoping it’s not a sign of things to come.