In Avengers: Endgame, after Natasha Romanoff’s ( Scarlett Johansson) sacrifice in Vormir, the remaining Avengers remain standing for a while, unable to process the news. The moment is short because they can’t dwell on it too much, as they have to reverse the effects of Thanos’ snap. Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) swings a chair in the lake, Captain America (Chris Evans) sheds a tear. After the war and the loss of Tony Stark, there is a moment of solemnity between Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), as they know that their loved ones are always with them.
Perhaps Endgame touched on the concept of grief more than the other Marvel movies – even if it was to some degree. The surviving characters had seen their loved ones – friends, mentees, family – disappear into the dust before their very eyes, and despite their best efforts, they couldn’t prevent it. And in the end, when they flipped the snap, they lost Tony Stark. Loss is a looming shadow in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame — it’s what led Chris Pratt’s Starlord to act the way he did when he realized Gamora had been sacrificed — a move fans will never forgive, as his unchecked rage in favor of Thanos worked . Endgame serves as a survivor’s guilt and anguish as they struggle to bring back everyone they’ve lost. The emotion shines through the action sequences and overpowering Marvel humor, especially in the case of Thor, who turns to alcoholism.
Ending the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the tone of resounding sadness, Phase 4 was ushered in. The world had been broken, snatched and snapped back – it was time to rebuild, even if it was without some crucial loved ones. But Grief was a bad friend in the MCU, with the minor exception of Shang-Chi: The Legend Of Ten Rings, which provided a heartbreaking picture of a family’s grief after losing their mother. There is anger, denial, as the father fights with demons to destroy everyone around him, believing that he can save his love.
However, in the post-credits scene of the wildly disappointing Black Widow, Yelena (Florence Pugh) barely has a chance to shed a tear at her sister’s grave, before Julia Dreyfuss’s Contessa shows up, ready to turn her on. against Hawkeye. The time to mourn is over, it’s time for action-packed revenge as the MCU is in a rush to present their next project.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was a dream come true for most fans as it reunited the three Peter Parkers from three different franchises. Even in this film, the grief wavered back and forth as Peter loses the last parental figure in his life. The scene feels forced, only to get one dialogue out before May takes her last breath. The only thing that changes in Peter after this monumental death is that he is ready to kill – something that wasn’t there before, because he had always believed in second chances. However, in this movie, he learns that some bad people are just… bad. Still, by the end of the movie, he seems to be more interested in getting his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) back. This is a character who witnessed the deaths of the only two guardians in his life: Tony Stark, his mentor and his Aunt May. Will the next movie deal with this, or will it ever be addressed? Your guess is as good as mine.
Grief has been vague in almost all Marvel movies, either confined to a mere plot device, or serving as a motivation for the (mostly) male heroes to save the world from more pain and destruction. It’s the premise of most superhero stories, without giving much thought to the actual process. It was mostly predictable – the motto is always to do better. Grief and loss is all there, beneath the glossy CGI action and Marvel trademark humor – but you have to dig really hard to get to it.
In Captain America: Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers struggles with a new world as his past grows further and further away from him. T’Challa in Black Panther is still processing his father’s death as he ascends the Wakandan throne. Tony Stark’s own character development has been motivated by a sense of loss, although he crosses the line for the first time in Captain America: Civil War, driven by a vengeance. Grief is not so linear and the outcome is not always positive or radiant. It’s a messy and ugly process, but there’s only so much to do in these big budget movies: villains to bash, keep the world from tearing itself apart from the inside, and heartbreaking revelations about family. Marvel has always been eloquent about family love and friends in their movies – but they don’t seem sure how to handle the situation if someone really loses them.
But in their recent run of Disney Plus shows that tie in with the movies, they weren’t so scared of the concept. In fact, the shows explored more than what the movies did. They had more time to dig into it with shows like WandaVision – which perhaps did the most justice to the concept, and to some extent in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki and Hawkeye. The whole premise of WandaVision describes Wanda’s unhealthy coping strategy, as she had lost her lover, Vision, in Infinity War. The show is encapsulated in that one quote: ‘What is grief, if not enduring love?’ Vision says these lines to Wanda, who likens her overwhelming sense of loss and heartbreak to a feeling of constant drowning.
It also showed that grief can have a toxic and dangerous effect on us, and the people around us suffer from the effects of our emotions – Wanda takes an entire city hostage while fooling herself into believing that she is live the life she’s always wanted. She is supposed to be the hero, and yet she commits acts that are completely unjustifiable. In a rare moment when a woman took charge of an MCU project, WandaVison delved into the complexities of grieving, realizing that grief doesn’t always motivate heroes to “do the right thing,” it can destroy others, too.
On the recent show, Hawkeye, Black Widow finally got the respect and accolade she truly deserves, and that’s the one fact worth remembering about the show. Marvel had faced the ire of fans when the character died in Endgame, claiming she was “chilled” – a plot device for a woman to suffer in movies or books, to increase motivation for the male hero. In Hawkeye, Black Widow remains present as two people who loved her come to terms with her death. Yelena is out for revenge; she wants to kill the person responsible for her death. Finally, Natasha’s questionably necessary sacrifice is honored, and fans can rest assured that Clint regrets the Vormir incident every day.
Phase 4 has started rather morbidly and we can only see what Doctor Strange 2 has in store – and what new forms will grief take next?