I’m not a person who puts much truck into “spoilers,” because I’m an old-school entertainment consumer. Back in 1980, I bought the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back and found out Yoda was a little blue yard gnome. The experience of watching the film was so different than the experience of reading the book that it forever impacted my idea of “spoilers.” You can tell me Rosebud is the sled and Bruce Willis has been dead the whole time and I will still be entertained by the journey when I see it unfold on the silver screen, nonetheless.
So it is in that spirit I can tell you… you, gentle reader, who has probably already seen The Avengers anyway, given that it’s made a billion dollars world-wide in ten days; if you are reading this, you have seen that flick, statistically speaking. So I can tell you without guilt that Agent Coulson is not dead.
Oh, sure; it looks that way, what with him getting stabbed by Loki and bleeding out. What with him saying to his boss with his last breath: “We both knew this wouldn’t have worked…” and the audience finishes for him “… if they didn’t have somebody to avenge.” Seems pretty final, I admit. But… and I have to ask… have you people never read a comic book? Jean Grey died, and came back. Captain Marvel. Bucky, man. Bucky, who gives Cap his whole reason for being. Bucky came back from the dead. Aunt May, Professor X. Jonathan Kent. Comics lore is embarrassingly full of characters who die in one story for impact who are resurrected again for a different sort of point. Do you think it will be any different with Agent Coulson?
If you do, allow me to point out the many, many ways Joss Whedon’s script allows for Coulson not just to come back… but for him not to be dead in the first place.
First clue: THE GUY WHO DIED WASN’T AGENT COULSON. So, seriously, that wasn’t even Coulson. Fury sent the real Agent Coulson to protect Jane Foster and to get him off the helicarrier. Nick Fury says that to Thor in what is initially perceived as a throwaway line, that she’s been sent on assignment and is being protected. By the real Agent Coulson, of course.
Second clue: Tony Stark answers his phone when Coulson calls with, “You have reached the Life Model Decoy of Tony Stark…” introducing the concept of LMDs into the Marvel movie universe. If there are Larry Young LMDs all over the 616 (Cable #60’s SHIELD Air Cav commander, Deathlok #11’s drunken robot, and Fury #3’s attache to Nick Fury himself), it stands to reason that there might be more than a few Coulson Life Model Decoys kicking around the movie universe… especially since Fury calls him his “one good eye.”
Third clue: Loki pulls the mirror decoy thing on Thor and says, “I can’t believe you keep falling for that.” So even without the clone-like LMDs, there is Marvel movie universe precedent for being tricked by doubles.
Fourth clue: every character who talks about Fury says he’s a master manipulator, with secrets and machination and wheels-within-wheels. You don’t think he could do a bait-and-switch without thinking about it?
Thematically, there’s a huge precedent for bypassing Whedon’s predilection for killing off a well-known character to up the stakes for the A-team. In comics, death isn’t the finality it is in the real world, and as long as a character is popular and resonates with the audience, there’s always a chance for a return. In Agent Coulson’s case, it’s not even a rebirth. Dude just went to the Pacific Northwest to safeguard Thor’s human girlfriend, and comes back into town to a bunch of crying friends. I can totally see this shot in the next movie or two:
EXT. NEW MEXICO DESERT PLAIN – DAY
A calm, midday landscape. The camera tracks slowly, almost lazily, from left to right to reveal THOR standing in front of PROFESSOR SELVIG’s research van. Selvig and BRUCE BANNER stand idly by. Banner is absent-mindedly wringing his hands, deep in thought, as Thor and Selvig natter.
There is a screech in the sky, overhead, as the repulsor sounds of a SHIELD flying car alerts the crew. They look up as the car floats down, gently.
The wheels spin from horizontal to vertical and the car alights on the sand. The driver’s side car door pops open and the steel-toed boot of NICK FURY hits New Mexico dirt.
JANE FOSTER gets out from the passenger side of the flying car. She starts speaking before she sees Thor is there.
They embrace. Worlds apart, lovers forever; reunited. Music swells. Eyes tear.
A blue-suited functionary fumbles out from the backseat.
Seriously. Agent Coulson isn’t dead.