'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' Gives Us the First Major Death in the Marvel Universe — It May Be Just the Beginning

·Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo Entertainment
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel)
The Guardians: Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel). (Photo: Marvel Studios)

Warning: This story contains major spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; please proceed with caution.

Superheroes die all the time in the comics, but they rarely stay dead. Until now, the same has held true for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 contains the first substantial hero death in the studio’s 15-film run — and the crime-fighting body count is certain to mount in coming films.

One of the biggest criticisms leveled at the MCU is the lack of real stakes. With the release of each new film, the argument gets trotted out again and again and again: that none of the heroes is truly in jeopardy because we already know they’re going to return in the sequel or the next big Avengers movie.

Indeed, no major hero has taken a dirt nap in the decade that Marvel has been making its own movies. Bucky Barnes (in Captain America: The First Avenger), Phil Coulson (in The Avengers), Nick Fury (in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), War Machine (Captain America: Civil War) and even Groot (in the first Guardians) all survived what appeared to be mortal wounds to return to the fray. “But Quicksilver!,” you might say. Sorry: Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s underdeveloped speedster in Avengers: Age of Ultron had just over 25 minutes of total screen time and didn’t make enough of an impact to qualify as a major death.

Michael Rooker’s Yondu Udonta is different. A surprising source of humor and heart, he was a major figure in both Guardians films, morphing from antagonist to antihero to full-fledged member of the team. Whereas Quicksilver’s sacrifice felt like an afterthought, Yondu’s was well-earned, coming in service to the entire galaxy, his dysfunctional “family” … and, most importantly, his adopted son Peter Quill.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 yondu rocket groot
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, from left: Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Yondu (Michael Rooker). (Photo: Marvel Studios)

“It was very hard for me to make that choice,” Gunn, who is close friends with Rooker offscreen, explained to Yahoo Movies (watch below). “I felt like it was the true ending of the story — that’s the way that Yondu was able to fully express his love for his son. [He loved him] so much that he was able to give up his life for him.”

For those of you who teared up at Yondu’s sendoff, don’t stash away the hankies yet. If Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War bear any resemblance to their comic-book source material, the hero body count will mount. “Ragnarok” literally means the twilight, or doom, of the gods. While we’ve seen Thor in concept art for Infinity War, don’t be surprised if members of his Asgardian supporting cast (Odin, Sif, the Warriors Three, Heimdall) don’t make it out alive. Infinity War could further thin the ranks of heroes, especially those without standalone franchises who are ill-equipped to challenge Thanos and his omnipotent glove (we’re looking at you, Hawkeye).

Avengers Infinity War Concept Art
Rocket Raccoon and Thor in Infinity War concept art. (Photo: Marvel Studios)

With only one more Avengers film on the calendar, 2019’s untitled installment, and the expiring contracts of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, et al., on the horizon, we would not be shocked to see Tony Stark or Steve Rogers end his MCU service with an emotional exit. Likewise, Gunn said Vol. 3 will finish the story of the Guardians as we know them — would he dare conclude two straight movies on a tragic note? Knowing Gunn, the answer is yes.

Marvel has crafted an unparalleled string of blockbusters, so we won’t dismiss the viability of Downey-, Evans-, or Hemsworth-less future. Still, as we said earlier, dead superheroes rarely stay dead. As long as there are paying fans, there will be reboots, reimaginings, and, perhaps, rebirths. Maybe Marvel Studios will take a cue from the Marvel Comics template, which allows iconic characters to live on in different forms. In recent years, Thor has been a woman, Iron Man has passed the torch to a brilliant adolescent girl who goes by Ironheart, and Sam Wilson has graduated from Falcon to Captain America.

Right now, it’s hard to imagine someone other than Downey as Iron Man or Evans as Cap, but may we suggest: Enjoy ’em while you got ’em.

Watch Gunn and Rooker talk about the Vol. 2 demise:

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