My dad died at the end of March. The cancer returned five months following the doctors thinking everything was under control. I’m sure the death of a parent would be difficult at any time, but throw in the fact that my gran and uncle died earlier the same month and with the global pandemic, it has not been a fun time.
For me, films are the best distraction. What better way to spend a couple of weeks in lockdown than rewatching the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Much has been made about whether these films can be classed as “cinema” or “theme park rides” but whatever people like to call them, I love this franchise. I’ve spent ten years with these characters and revisiting their stories and adventures is like a comforting hug. I know these characters, and sure, I don’t necessarily like or agree with every choice concerning every character or movie but overall, the MCU is something that has brought me a lot of joy over the years.
It had been a few years since I watched all 23 films, but what I picked up on during my recent rewatches was how prevalent dead parents are to the franchise, and dead fathers in particular. In Phase One, Tony (Robert Downey Jr) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) had their daddy issues (Odin is a terrible father), in Phase Two we witnessed Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki’s mother die, but it isn’t until we get to Phase Three when the loss of parents become instrumental to the emotional core of the MCU’s later installments.
Captain America: Civil War was the first film in my rewatch to make me cry. During the signing of the Sokovia Accords, an explosion rips through the building, killing King T’Chaka (John Kani). In the aftermath, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) cradles his father in his arms after he failed to save him. Following his father’s death, T’Challa talks to Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and it is how he describes the Wakandan’s view of death that set me off:
“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping-off point. You reach out with both hands, and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into the green veld where you can run forever.”
My dad was a Catholic and I know he believed in God and the general idea of Heaven. Personally, while being christened as a Catholic, I don’t believe in anything. But hearing T’Challa talk about how death is not the end and it can lead you to a beautiful and peaceful place was very soothing. I’m not one to think about life after death and where my dad is now metaphorically speaking, but I like the idea of him being somewhere beautiful and comforting. Just hearing how Wakandanians describe the afterlife made me think of what my dad may or may not have thought about what was next for him. I hope whatever it was, it was comforting for him. While my dad was most definitely not into superheroes, I think even he would have appreciated T’Challa’s description of the afterlife.
What with there being a pandemic going on and no flights, there wasn’t a funeral for my dad or currently any way for my siblings and me to be together. In a way, Yondu’s funeral in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a way for me to experience that sense of closure that happens at a funeral.
Generally speaking, the Guardians films aren’t really my favourites and I’d never been emotional watching them before. But the ending of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 really got to me this time. The Ravager funeral was beautiful. Not only are there all the colourful fireworks as Yondu’s former comrades paid their respects, but there’s also the moment when the Guardians are standing around his body, placing the little trinkets Yondu loved so much around him. Peter Quill getting that moment of comfort with his family as he says his final goodbye to his father is something that I can’t really have at the moment, so I think I was definitely projecting myself onto Peter in that instance. “Father And Son” by Cat Stevens playing probably didn’t help matters because that’s the perfect song for the moment and it just tugs at your heartstrings.
Before getting to Avengers: Endgame, I knew that it was going to hit me harder than normal. Tony Stark is one of my favourite characters in the MCU and every time I’d previously watched Endgame, I’d been a mess from the moment Tony takes the gauntlet and clicks his fingers, all the way through his funeral, to the final moments where Happy Hogan talks about cheeseburgers with Tony’s daughter, Morgan.
Watching it now though, it hit harder than before and in a way I did not expect. It was the scene where Tony tucks Morgan back in bed, and she says, “Love you 3000”. I was not expecting that scene to set me off, but it reminded me of something my dad always said to me at bedtime.
My dad wasn’t an affectionate dad like Tony, or particularly hands-on dad when I was Morgan’s age. But one thing he would always say to me every time we said goodnight, even when I was an adult, was “Goodnight, God bless, sweet dreams.” This habitual thing that he did was something I hadn’t thought about, but it’s something so inherently him, that seeing Tony tell his daughter “Love you tonnes” and she responds with “Love you 3000” as a way of saying goodnight…it just hit me. After all, my dad is not going to say “Goodnight, God bless, sweet dreams” to me ever again.
Now I have that association between my dad and the scene between Tony and Morgan, I think it will be with a fond smile (and maybe some tears) that I’ll watch those scenes in the future. That there are things that remind me of him in the MCU, when previously my dad and superheroes were completely foreign to one another, is a little odd but is also comforting.
Finishing my rewatch this time, with world events being terrible and coming to terms with the fact my dad isn’t around anymore, I felt a sense of comfort I wasn’t expecting. So many characters in the MCU experience grief and trauma, both on a personal level and on a larger scale. Seeing how they get through it and often with people to support them – friends, family and sometimes friends who are their family – helped reassure me that I’ll be OK. That not everything will be fixed straight away. That it might take longer than I’d expect, to be able to think of my dad without getting choked up and feeling sad. But I’m lucky to have a family and a lot of incredible friends.
Watching the MCU, being with characters I know and love, felt like I was coming home in a time when it’s difficult to be with loved ones. Being with them in stories that I knew gave me space to grieve and laugh in a way that I wasn’t expecting. And I’ll forever be grateful to the MCU for that.