With the Infinity Saga finished, the Marvel Cinematic Universe missed the opportunity to resolve Phil Coulson‘s (Clark Gregg) death in The Avengers. A key character in the MCU’s Phase 1, Coulson is the common denominator in the franchise’s first few films which culminated in the 2012 Joss Whedon blockbuster. His existence better established the universe’s interconnected storytelling format as he appeared in four MCU movies: dealing with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) becoming Iron Man in Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) arrival on Earth from Asgard in Thor, and Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) invasion of New York in The Avengers.
While Coulson appeared in Captain Marvel, the story is set in 1995, pre-dating Iron Man by 13 years; in the MCU timeline, Coulson’s final big screen appearance is in The Avengers where he was killed by Loki. However, ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. revealed that Coulson was brought back to life using the project T.A.H.I.T.I., and the series has focused on Coulson and his team of agents as they have battled Hydra, traveled through time and space, and fought against inhuman villains.
Coulson has gone through a lot since his final MCU movie appearance, and all the while, his Avenger friends remain in the dark about his survival from the events of The Avengers. Talks about whether or not Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will ever find out about this secret picked up steam as Marvel sold Avengers: Endgame as the culmination of the Infinity Saga. Many hoped that Coulson’s appearance in Captain Marvel was hinting that he would be reunited with the rest of the team, but this was not the case. In fact, there wasn’t even any mention of him or any Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters in Endgame. As Marvel Studios now move away from Infinity Saga and transitions to Phase 4, they already missed any good opportunity to resolve this loose narrative.
With heroes like Iron Man, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans) no longer in the primary MCU universe, there’s really no pressing need to resolve Coulson’s narrative now. Because only three of the six original heroes are still in the franchise, revealing that Coulson is still alive wouldn’t have the same emotional effect, especially since he was specifically close to Tony and Steve Rogers – the S.H.I.E.L.D. operative played a big role in the former’s origin story and he was personally a fan of the Captain America.
Gregg has floated the idea that some Avengers might know Coulson is alive, which is not outside the realm of possibility given Tony’s reimgs and access to information, and Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) has interacted with Coulson during season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Either Tony or Hill could’ve made a passing remark about Coulson’s fate, effectively addressing the unresolved plot thread, but what Marvel missed was an opportunity to fully reintegrate Coulson back into the MCU films.
In any case, former Marvel TV boss Jeph Loeb did tease that this loose subplot will be resolved in a surprising way, and since it hasn’t happened on the big screen and the MCU is already moving forward from the Infinity Saga, chances are that any Coulson/Avengers reunion will be addressed in the remaining episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Unfortunately, without the involvement of the characters who were really affected by Coulson’s death, any resolution to this lingering narrative thread just won’t be as emotionally satisfying as it could’ve been had it played out on the big screen with the Avengers involved.