If Marvel's Characters Can't Suffer Long Term Loss, What's The Point?

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: How Marvel's episodic treatment of their characters undercuts the larger dramatic arc.)

The events of Thor: Ragnarok had some enormous consequences that should have lasting effects on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But will those events really mean anything if they are just going to get retconned in the next film?

Spoiler warning: this article talks about the climactic events of Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Continue only if you've seen those films.Update: Shortly after the publication of this Soapbox Feature, we were able to confirm that Thor does not regain his eye in Infinity War. Our original story follows and contains speculation that is no longer valid. I think the piece is still worth reading as the concerns at the center of it are still totally valid.thor eye

Will Thor Regain His Lost Eye?

A photo gallery attached to Vanity Fair's extensive profile of Avengers: Infinity War seems to reveal that Thor has his eye back in the upcoming superhero sequel. Those of you who have seen Thor: Ragnarok know that Thor lost his eye in the climactic battle at the end of that film. Vanity Fair even mentions the inclusion of Chris Hemsworth's lost eye in the magazine copy:

The hammer and cape—which were broken and torn in Ragnarok—may be back for the photo shoot but that doesn't mean they'll return in Avengers: Infinity War. As for Thor's most significant lost accessory, the eye that was plucked out of his head by Cate Blanchett's Hela, all that remains of that trauma in our gallery is a light scar running down the right side of Hemsworth's face.

And while the Vanity Fair article doesn't definitively confirm that Thor's eye will return in the next Avengers film, all of the actors are wearing their Infinity War costumes and make-up. It's possible the eye loss was kept from this photoshoot in an effort to not spoil those who have not yet seen Ragnarok, but there seems to be more evidence to suggest that Thor will regain his eye.


The D23 Sizzle Reel

A sizzle reel for Avengers: Infinity War was screened at D23 Expo 2017 and San Diego Comic-Con International 2017. The clip, which will probably be footage from the eventual teaser trailer, featured the Guardians of the Galaxy encountering Thor floating through space among wrecked debris – perhaps pieces of the ship we last saw Thor in during the end credits scene from Ragnarok. In that footage, Chris Hemsworth had both eyes. There was no VFX make-up around his eye as there was when he shot the Ragnarok scenes on set.

The footage was screened months before Ragnarok was released in theaters, so it's possible that Disney had the eye make-up removed using CG coverup in an effort to not spoil this development. It would be a lot of effort to go through and a lot of money to spend for a bit of footage only screened to ten thousand people in a convention hall. That said, Marvel has paid lots of money in the past finishing visual effects footage in advance just to have it ready for Comic-Con, so maybe it's worth it for them?

It's worth noting on the evidence on the other side that actor Chris Hemsworth told EW that his character will "carry it into the film with the eye patch you see in this film." But that doesn't necessarily mean his eye stays that way.

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The Problem With Repairing Thor's Eye

My problem with giving Thor back his eye is one of my biggest issues with the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe: there seems to be very little in the way of stakes. People have been killed and been brought back from the dead (but hey, these movies are based on a medium that has a long tradition in doing such things). But one of the exciting things about having an expanding film franchise is the growth, evolution, and changes in the characters. If Yondu were to come back from the dead in the next Guardians film, his death would essentially mean nothing. Thor losing his eye is only significant if he doesn't regain it the next time we see him on screen. We need more lasting effects of these battles.

The loss of Thor's eye serves many purposes: significant battle damage representing the day that Asgard the planet was lost, and the character's growth into the role of a leader and king for his people, echoing the lost eye of his departed father, Odin. Perhaps for Thor, it will always be a reminder of his father, the leader he should be but also the mistakes he doesn't want to repeat. But what would the purpose be of taking away Thor's eye only to have it return in his next scheduled film appearance?

At the end of Thor: Ragnarok, the legendary planet of Asgard is destroyed. Korg makes a joke so we somehow aren't hit with the devastating dramatic impact that should come from the destruction of one of the MCU's major worlds. And maybe it's meant to be a more hopeful sendoff, as the surviving Asgardian people are left on a journey to find a new place to call home. But the end credits scene hints that the dream of a new Asgard may be short-lived. The idea of a planet of people having to relocate their home is very interesting. It's far less interesting if the ship full of people gets massacred in the opening moments of Infinity War.

With Avengers: Age of Ultron, we were teased with the possibility that the Avengers would have a huge line-up change. While that did happen, we then got Captain America: Civil War, which largely consisted of the same people. The Avengers line-up may have technically changed, they might now have a boring headquarters in upstate New York, but it still feels like we still have the same Avengers team. Just look at the Vanity Fair photoshoot for Infinity War.

Infinity War is being set up as the finale of the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, and Marvel head Kevin Feige has teased that there will be dramatic casualties. I hope this is actually true, and not just because they can't (theoretically) lock down Robert Downey Jr. for more Iron Man movies, or whatever. I hope that this universe is forever changed by the events that Thanos brings with his Infinity Gauntlet. I hope that we will actually feel some lasting loss and defeat alongside the hope and excitement.

Galaxies Beyond and The Toy Wars?

And this isn't just a Marvel problem, but something I see a lot recently with cinematic universes. For example, C-3PO was given a red arm for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a new look which was a visual nod to the many years and adventures that have happened since we've seen these characters last. At the end of the movie, in a bit of quick dialogue, C-3PO is finally given back his normal color arm. I know this is far less trivial than Marvel deaths or permanent injuries, but what is the point to give him a red arm for one single movie? To sell toys? To sell a comic book that will explain how he got the red arm? I believe that making these episodic changes limits the dramatic effects of the overall franchise story arcs.

Tony Stark can invent new armor for each new film, and Hulk can don gladiator armor, and we all know the purpose is to sell more toys because somehow there is a belief that you can't sell the same doll or figure without significant design changes (yet Disney seems to have made a business of doing this with their animated characters). It doesn't seem to be a toy play because the events were so late in the film that they were not included in the marketing or merchandising of the film.

But whatever the case may be, let's hope that Marvel, Star Wars, and any other franchises embrace the idea of implementing lasting changes in their ongoing movies. Otherwise, what's the point?