The superhero movies, the ones that have popped out of the comic books onto the big screen, are hardly a fairy tale where the hero will save the city along with the woman of his dreams and the bad guy is put behind bars for good. Naa, that won’t sell. Since the turn of the century when the revival of the superheroes began with X-Men in 2000, these heroes have been shown to be more “human”, with enough of their own personal burdens to carry that would overwhelm anyone else. What makes them remarkable is that despite their own tragedies, their own sorrows and anguishes, they venture out to fight crime each day (and night), relentless in their pursuit of justice. So today we honour those that have fallen around them, the deaths that would have left an impact on the audience, the characters we would love to have a fate of another kind, if we could. These are the few deaths in the new age of the superhero movies (counting from the year 2000 onwards) which made a deep connect with me, and possibly with you too.
SPOILERS: Needless to say, this post will reveal crucial plot details of the films we are talking of. If you haven’t explored this genre completely, then maybe you would not want to read further on.
Jean Grey in X-Men 2 (2003)
Alright, she did return in X-Men: The Last Stand (to be killed again!) but that was in her resurrected form as the Phoenix. As far as X-Men 2 was concerned, Jean Grey had indeed sacrificed herself for her fellow mutants. Who would have seen this coming? Stryker had been pinned to the dam, the students had been rescued, and all they had to do was aboard the X-Jet and fly away to safety from the incoming flood. But director Bryan Singer elevated the movie to another emotional level, when he ditched the ‘and they lived happily ever after’ ending for something a bit more tragic. The X-Jet is unable to take off and as her last heroic act, Jean Grey steps outside to create a telekinetic wall as a shield against the flood. She lifts the X-Jet and gets it away from harm’s way before being vanquished by the incoming flood. It was a shocking moment, one that still remained difficult to accept even when the end-credits rolled. And it still makes that ending scene difficult to watch!
Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Hardly ever would a villain in a movie of this genre be given such a definitive story arc. Hardly ever would a villain’s demise emote a feeling of tragedy. But that is what Sam Raimi expertly created in Spider-Man 2. We are first introduced to the brilliant nuclear scientist Otto Octavius, a man who wants to do good through science. But then one of his experiments goes horribly wrong, killing his wife, and fusing his robotic arms to his spine who also start controlling his mind. The new creature, Doctor Octopus or Doc Ock, we are certain will meet his doom by the end of the movie. But while it would have been easy to guess that the doom will come from Spider-Man’s hands, there is in fact a twist to the tale, when during the finale, Octavius wrestles to regain control of his mind and thus his robotic arms. And then in a tale of sacrifice by a villain yet to be seen, Octavius drowns the fusion reactor he was working on, along with himself, completing his own story of tragedy and heroism. In those last moments, one could not have been blamed for hoping that Doc Ock would survive. But alas, the tale could not have been finer if not for his death!
Professor X in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
It was the sheer audacity that stupefied me more than anything else. You killed Professor Xavier, after all! Or disintegrated him, to be technically more correct. Director Brett Ratner did play a big card with this one. The Professor’s death is hardly heroic, and in fact quite quite anti-climatic for a character with such powers. He is simply overwhelmed by the prowess of the Phoenix, whom he had gone to meet so as to bring her back to the X-Men fold. Magneto has come along with him to recruit the Phoenix into his Brotherhood. Things do not go exactly as per plan, though who would have seen this fate that lay in store for Professor X? This scene changes the scale of the movie, and a tragic end of Phoenix seems more or less confirmed then. You after all killed Professor X! Ratner did try to redeem things a bit with the post-credits scene where Professor Xavier’s consciousness is supposed to have moved to another body. But Bryan Singer ultimately made it right by bringing back Professor Xavier all hale and hearty in X-Men: Days of Future Past, without giving much of an explanation as to his resurrection. No one is asking too.
Frigga in Thor: The Dark World (2013)
This death does not come towards the end, but somewhere in the middle of the movie. It is still painful, shocking, and quite important for the way the story moves afterwards. Frigga, the mother of Thor and Loki (though not his birth mother), and the wife of Odin, was not a central character in the Thor movies. But she held a royal presence, which was marked with a sense of righteousness and loyalty. Even when she was not on screen, her importance was not lessened, for she was sort of the last link between Loki and Asgard, the only thing that Loki still seemed to care about. When Malekith and his troops attack Asgard in search for Jane Foster, it seems likely that they would capture her and leave so as to set Thor on a journey to find her. But director Alan Taylor chose to add that moment of sentiment which would not be forgotten. Frigga battles skilfully and valiantly with Malekith, on the cusp of victory, when Malekith’s faithful servant Kurse enters and overpowers her. When Frigga refuses to reveal Jane’s location, Kurse buries his sword into her. In an emotionally charged scene, where things follow in slow motion, Thor enters the room and drives them away as Odin sees his fallen wife. Then in a funeral befitting a queen, with the backdrop of a powerful musical soundtrack by Brian Tyler, Frigga’s body is placed on a boat which is swept away as the Asgardians, and the audience, mourn. Her death would then be a catalyst to unite Loki and Thor. A powerful moment, indeed!
Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The Spider-Man movies have in fact been the most “cold-blooded” of the superhero movies, for there is a death of an important character, be it good or evil, in each one of them. Probably nothing could have been more tragic than the fate of Gwen Stacy. If you had read the comics or were at least aware of Spider-Man’s past, then you would have seen it coming. For with the death of Gwen, the story of Mary Jane Watson begins. But even with all this knowledge, the fall and death of Gwen Stacy still hits your stomach like a bulldozer would. Gwen was a character loved over two movies, and her wit, humour and courage, apart from her affection for Peter Parker, makes her one of the most charming girlfriends in this genre. So when Goblin drops her from the clock tower, and Spider-Man shoots his web to catch hold of her, there is still a tiny hope that she will be saved, that such a tragedy would not be allowed in the world of entertainment, that she will be removed from the future movies through some other way which is less tragic than this. But director Mark Webb remained true to the source material, and thus we painfully saw the final breaths of Gwen Stacy on screen. The emotional pain that Peter was shown to endure afterwards would have been felt by many in the audience. For this has to be one of the greatest tragedies in the superhero movie world!
There are quite a few more such scenes that would have brought a lump in your throat, be it the end of Harry Osborn in Spider-Man 3, or Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight. Tragedies, in their own way, tie you up with the movie a bit more. They create a stronger bond with the hero and the premise, for the feeling of loss has been felt by both. If it is reckless and unwarranted it only leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but the ones which are expertly engineered create an emotionally stronger movie. So expect more to come in the future films too, for such is the fate a superhero has to live with!