The 10 Best Deaths in Superhero Movies (5-1)
There’s not much to say here, I suppose. If you read the previous blog, continue and discover which deaths I listed as my top 5. If you haven’t read the previous blog, I’d suggest you take a look at that first. Or don’t. I guess you can read them in any order if you’d like.
Really quick, a reminder of the rules: I have to have seen the movie, I have to have liked the death, and it has to have been a character who stayed dead, because we know how much superheroes cheat death.
NUMBER 5: Steve Trevor (Wonder Woman)
2017 is the year of the superhero movie. I know you could probably say that about pretty much any year since 2008, but we’ve had four-and-a-half superhero films so far this year (Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I’m giving Split the “half”), all of them have been great, and we’re also waiting for Thor: Ragnarok later this year. And Wonder Woman is DC’s best movie since The Dark Knight. It has strong characters, great action, and a fantastic twist that I detailed in one of my previous blogs.
So, again, we’ve got a regular guy, Steve Trevor, making the list. Steve is integral to Wonder Woman’s story, having been a friend and boyfriend throughout her many years of existence. Of course, he plays a similar role in this film. He’s someone who brings Wonder Woman into our world, shows her around, leads her towards the conflict, and challenges her somewhat naive perceptions about war. Oh, and falls in love with her. Can’t forget that. He’s played terrifically by Chris Pine and comes across as the “everyman” character, an individual we can somewhat relate to, since he is only a regular guy having entered a realm of mythology. He is our tether to reality, and that tether gets cut in two at the end of the film.
With evil Germans planning on bombing London with a plane filled with poisonous gas, someone has to stop it. Steve heroically takes the mission, knowing it will kill him. As Wonder Woman engages in battle with Ares the God of War, Steve boards the plane, takes control, and destroys it, dying in the process. It’s a truly heroic, sacrificial moment. Since he is the “everyman” character, the audience is left with one of those “what would I do in that situation?” moments. Would we be as sacrificial as Steve? It was also a death I didn’t really see coming because, as stated earlier, he’s Wonder Woman’s main love interest in the comics, he’s been around as long as she has. I was wondering how they were going to make the relationship work, as this is World War I, so killing him so heroically seemed like the right move to make. Throughout the movie, we see how Steve and Wonder Woman build off each other, how their actions inspire one another. This, of course, becomes the ultimate inspiration.
NUMBER 4: Harvey Dent (The Dark Knight)
“Foul!” some may cry. “Isn’t Rachel Dawes’ death much more impactful? Isn’t that what leads to the creation of Two-Face?” Well, yes. I, personally, have never been a huge Rachel Dawes fan. I saw The Dark Knight a few years after watching Batman Begins, so her character was never really memorable or endearing to me. Years later, she still isn’t. While Maggie Gyllenhal goes a great job as her, Rachel’s death doesn’t hit me hard. Harvey Dent’s is different.
“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” Harvey says early in the film, a line that is arguably the best David S. Goyer has ever written, in my opinion. Throughout the movie, we watch the Joker’s attempts at twisting Harvey—Gotham’s “White Knight,” the public face of law enforcement—to “bring him down to our level,” as he says to Batman. He succeeds. After Rachel’s death and the loss of half his face, Harvey becomes Two-Face, murdering the people involved in the plot that led to his girlfriend’s death. While a loss of a supporting character like Rachel is hard, Harvey dies on the inside before he dies physically. He loses his humanity, lets himself be twisted by the Joker, and succumbs to the darkness and evil the Joker wanted to manifest in him. He proves the Joker right.
What resonates about Harvey’s death is that he’s not a “villain” in the traditional sense. Therefore, the audience feels somewhat sympathetic for him after he dies. Much of Harvey’s character is adapted from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween, which is my favorite graphic novel of all time. The Harvey in The Dark Knight is similar to the conflicted Harvey from the graphic novel, fighting his own personal war against crime as Two-Face (which includes a lot of murder, not justice), corrupting the ideals that he, Batman, and Jim Gordon for striving for, because of an incident that marred him forever. Like the Joker says, he’s a regular guy who’s tainted by a lot of darkness and responds in the wrong manner. Plus, Harvey’s death helps lead into the sequel, The Dark Knight Rises. Batman assumes Harvey’s failure for himself; Harvey’s death is not sacrificial, but it leads Batman to make a sacrifice to prove the kind of hero, the kind of man, that he is.
NUMBER 3: Yondu (Guardians of the Galaxy 2)
Yondu isn’t the kind of guy you’d think would make the “sacrifice play,” as Steve Rogers would call it. He’s rather selfish, rude, and obstinate. He kidnapped Peter Quill at a young age (which, as we find out in the second film, was per his father’s request), but decided not to deliver him to Dear Old Dad. Why? Well, according to Yondu, it’s because he fit into tiny spaces. Cool. Makes Starlord feel special, doesn’t it?
Turns out, his intentions were a bit more noble. Because, as it also turns out, Peter’s dad is a Celestial known as Ego, a massive planet that has assumed corporeal form and plans on recreating the entire universe into his likeness. Oh, and as readers of my “Plot Twists” blogs will know, he inflicted Peter’s mom with the cancer that killed her at the beginning of the first film. No “Best Dad of the Year Award” here. While Peter discovers this later, Yondu has seemingly known something was wrong since the beginning, and so kept Peter away so he wouldn’t fall into Ego’s clutches. He’s not the crusty old pirate we all think he is. A heart lies under that tough exterior of his.
Now, before anyone goes “Aw…” remember this is a blog about deaths. During a final showdown with Ego, I started wondering if Yondu wasn’t going to make it. There are some signs, including his character’s increase in screen time, his story being fleshed out, and certain moments during the battle where it looks like he may not make it. It’s like James Gunn teases his death before it happens. So, Yondu gets Peter away from Ego as the planet crumbles around them; unfortunately, they’re jettisoned into space without any air save for the one breather Yondu has. He gives it to Peter. Like Steve, Yondu’s death is a sacrifice. As he succumbs to the icy coldness of space, he tells Peter that Ego, “may have been your father, but he wasn’t your daddy.” It’s an incredibly touching moment, and a great line like that reveals the depth of love Yondu has had for Peter that he’s tried to hide because he’s a tough, emotionless, space pirate captain. Yondu is, really, a better father than absentee Ego has ever been, and the loss of a character we’ve gotten to know over two movies is tough. Like with Harry Osborn’s death, as mentioned in the previous blog, Yondu’s passing leaves a void. Also, the following scene, where tons of other space pirates pay tribute to Yondu’s memory, is really cool as well. It’s probably the best death scene in an MCU movie, a well-written sacrifice about a pirate who redeemed himself as a hero.
NUMBER 2: Gwen Stacy (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Much like Spider-Man 3, ASM2 wasn’t all that well-received (for many of the same problems) and led to Sony rebooting the franchise as Spider-Man: Homecoming within the MCU. I would be one of the few, though, who would argue the film’s merits. I think it’s fantastic, and Gwen Stacy’s death is a huge part of why. As awful as that sounds, it’s a scene that really clinches the movie for me. I’ll explain.
It’s a climactic battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, Harry Osborn. Gwen’s there, too, and of course the Goblin uses her as bait as much as he can. The hero and his foe are duking it out in an old clock tower when, suddenly, things start to fall apart. Literally. The walkway beneath Gwen gives way, and she falls. Spidey, in a flash of panic, shoots a strand of web to save her, but he’s too late. The jolt of the web causes Gwen’s head to smack against the ground, and she’s dead.
First off, this death is fairly brutal. I cringed in the theater when her head hit the pavement. It sounded painful. Second, this death is fairly faithful to the comics, but with a few changes. The biggest similarity is Gwen’s clothing: she’s wearing a green sweater, purple dress, and black boots, similar to what she’s wearing at the time of her death in the comics. It’s a fantastic detail that I thought was wonderful for the filmmakers to include. As soon as I saw it, I knew she was not going to make it. The other similarity is that this is a battle against the Green Goblin. Different Goblin (Harry, not Norman), but the idea is the same. However, it’s the changes from the source material that add to this scene: one, this is in a clock tower, not at a bridge. The problem with using the bridge scene is that it’s difficult to have that emotional punch with Gwen falling and the sudden stop breaking her neck; her head hitting is harsh, but it gives that emotional blow, that “oh, no” moment. Also, Sam Raimi used a bridge in his first Spidey film, when the Green Goblin kidnaps Mary Jane; thus, I think audiences would’ve felt that ASM2 was copying that film, even though that film was a copy of the scene in the comics where Gwen dies! The second difference is that, in this adaptation, Gwen is conscious. She’s unconscious in the comics (or, as a recent Dan Slott-penned issue would claim, was pretending to be unconscious), and so you never see her emotions during the situation (I would love to argue that she was dead even before the Goblin tossed her off the bridge, but Slott ruined that—thanks, Dan!). In the movie, she’s fully awake, fully aware that she’s falling to her death. You see the terror on her face, and it’s really sad. Yeah, there are changes to the source material, but even the purist that I am can accept a few alterations, if they strengthen the story, which I believe these changes ultimately did.
NUMBER 1: Logan (Logan)
Like I said, 2017 has been a fantastic year for superhero movies, and Logan might be the best this year has had to offer (yes, even against a Spider-Man film). It’s the dark, gritty, R-rated Wolverine film fans had been waiting for and marked Hugh Jackman’s last time playing a character he had crafted over the past 17 years. Based in part off of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan comic storyline, it’s an incredibly violent film, yet also touching at certain moments. It pushes aside the superhero tropes like the supersuits and world dominating plans, replacing those with a realistic world where few mutants exist and an evil corporation (cause what is a postmodern superhero without evil business men and scientists?) is trying to breed child supersoldiers of their own. Logan is tasked with taking one of these children—a girl named Laura with claws and a healing factor of her own—to a safe haven.
Near the end of the movie, Laura and other children are attempting to cross into Canada while being pursued by footsoldiers from this evil corporation By this time, Logan’s been through a lot. He’s fought various enemies, driven across the country, battled a clone of himself, lost Professor X, and realized that the adamantium inside him is slowly killing him. He’s done his mission, and he wants to get away from these kids. But…they’re in danger. And Logan, despite his protests that he’s no hero, realizes that he has to be a hero one more time. He goes after the kids, killing soldiers and engaging in one more battle with his clone that spells the end for both of them. It’s an absolutely brutal match between the two, leaving Logan on the edge of death.
With Laura by his side, he tells her, “Don’t be what they made you,” and she calls him “Daddy” before he dies. This in and of itself is crazy. This movie killed Wolverine! He’s dead! That’s nuts to think about. However, it’s a surprisingly poignant, surprisingly touching way for Wolverine to go. Here’s Logan—the drifter, the warrior, the loner—dying in the arms of a little girl who’s never had a father and considers him the closest thing to it. The guy who’s never had much of a family finally gets one, the fighter who’s never considered himself a hero dies being one, and the calloused mutant shows he has a heart inside him. It’s fantastically done, surprisingly powerful, and incredibly symbolic; a fitting end for the Wolverine. I don’t know if many people thought he would die, and I’m fairly certain nobody thought his death would be this moving. It’s a great scene and a great end.
That’s the list. Best deaths in superhero movies. Being unable to remember who all died in these movies, I kinda cheated and looked up some other opinions just to remind myself who all bit the dust in these films. I found some similarities between what I’d thought up already and what people had already written about; this means, I would say, that the filmmakers knew what they were doing when they wrote or shot these scenes. If so many of us agree that these deaths work well, there must be something right about them. There are plenty of deaths in superhero films (and plenty of near-deaths and resurrections as well), but these are the ones I think are the best. They’re largely powerful scenes that speak to larger themes in the films and even in the real world. Heroism, sacrifice. What would I do if I were Yondu, Steve Trevor, or Wolverine? Makes you think, doesn’t it?