What We Talk About When We Talk About Phil Coulson (Note: Contains Spoilers for ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’)

Note: The following article contains SPOILERS for Marvel’s The Avengers, now in theaters. Please be considerate to those who have not yet seen the film by avoiding posting your own spoilers in the first few lines of any comments, as excerpts appear on our home page. Thanks!

We planned our week of Phil Coulson coverage a good month ago, before any of us had seen a screening of Marvel’s The Avengers. It started as one Top 5 list, but quickly mushroomed into five days’ jubilation. “Getting Closer to Phil Coulson,” we called it. A silly, light-hearted way to celebrate the next great Marvel Studios film, by focusing on its everyman. I have no problem with you calling them fluff pieces, but I relished the whole process and approached it with a lot of enthusiasm. I hope you had at least half as much fun as I did, which equates to whole heaps. There’s little irony in my love for all things Phil Coulson. I think he’s a great character and a wonderful touchstone for film audiences. It wasn’t until I started fact checking that first list on Monday morning that I realized how fateful our choice had been. I stumbled on some devastating spoilers from some over-eager fans on YouTube. A few simple words that turned this disposable exercise into a genuine tribute.

Monday’s brief list of Phil Coulson’s greatest moments stands largely obsolete in the wake of Marvel’s The Avengers. Those moments weren’t so much wiped out, but surpassed by a number of new highlights. In this movie, his fourth and final film appearance, we did get much closer to Phil Coulson. We learned about his love life. We learned about his hobbies. We learned what he was made of. Phil Coulson truly is the Rick Jones of the Marvel Studios world. Though he didn’t cause anyone’s origin story by napping, he did shepherd these warriors along the way. Like herding cats, really. And in the end he also helped to rally them, galvanizing their commitment to doing the right thing.

It’s tempting to cast suspicion on this choice given the storyteller at the helm of this project. We know and dread the pattern. But when you isolate this story from the rest of Whedon’s lexicon and take it on its own merit, it isn’t all a Wash. As my friend Jay offered earlier, it’s a death we didn’t want, but the story needed it. I think that’s true. I think it’s the strongest way to complete the circuit, even if it hadn’t been the intention from the start. Heroes need a hero.

What was your theater like? When it happened, it was palpable. All the air in the room had migrated to our chests and no one was willing to let that life’s breath go. Then the moment of triumph and we all applauded. I know a lot of people look down on that kind of thing. “The filmmakers can’t hear you!” But to me it was a moment of community. That wasn’t the only instance of it either. Not hardly. My theater was enraptured throughout. But that was the biggest explosion. The fuel was so pure. Because, yeah, Coulson is us. He’s the fanboy. The underdog. He’s the best of us. Enthusiasm turned to good works. A fan turned hero. A man of conviction.

I will freely admit I got a bit misty.

I guess this is my eulogy for a character that worked. I’ve been told to get a room this week. I’ve been told the joke has seen its course. Rob Liefeld even jeered us for giving a damn. But even if Coulson was just a device, what a wonderful, entertaining, inventive device he was. The Avengers was just a name for a team. Now it has some meaning. Why not praise an elegant solution when it works so well and engenders such warm feeling in the process?

I close, as is often the case, with a West Wing quote. Well, it’s not from the West Wing originally. That’s just where I heard it. They paraphrase James Goldman’s  The Lion in Winter:

“When the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.”

Phil Coulson may not go down as The First Avenger. But Coulson was the first to fall, and he fell well. So well that our heroes rose to action. A little applause for that, I should think.

Thanks, Son of Coul. May golden cellos sing thee to thy rest.



  1. I was ready to throw my popcorn when he died. Not impressed.

    I understand why it happened dramatically, and its purpose in the story.

    I also think that it might be a fakeout and he’ll be back in a future film (but hopefully not as The Vision)

  2. A Raymond Carver reference in the title? Paul Montgomery, I am impressed. Well played.

  3. Touching piece Paul. Now they better bring him back as the Vision 🙂

    • “They needed a push” using the bloody Caps cards, I loved that..”looks like they found it”…..bringing him back as Vision is not a bad idea, he’s the one hint cameo I was hoping would be in Stark tower somewhere.

  4. This was remarkably touching.

    And also. If you haven’t seen Lion in Winter, it’s my favorite non-Shakespeare play, and it’s fantastic. Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole have a great film version of it. It’s a comedy. Lots of laughs, but also lots of emotion!

  5. It’s funny now when I watch Iron Man 2 and you see Coulson a little pissed that Tony has a prototype of Cap’s shield. It just helps the movie tie in a little more. Hope to see you again Phil Coulson.

  6. Not going to lie, a great quantity of eye water did fall from my eye when our intrepid agent of SHIELD stood alone against the God of Mischief. Rest well in Valhalla, o valiant one.

  7. I never thought he was better, although given it was Joss Whedon I was surprised more characters didn’t bite it.

  8. Well said, Paul. Well said. And a nice capper to the week of articles.

    Now surely there must be a frosty brew being set on the long tables of Valhalla for one Son of Coul.

  9. While Coulson became the uniting factor for the Avengers team, he also is a uniting factor for the audience. We all know Loki and his gang are the bad guys, and we see many other people injured or killed in the fighting in this movie. But Coulson is the loss that brings it all to a head. It was silent in the theater when he died, and you could feel the impact it had on the audience. That’s what made the rest of the film work so well, what made people cheer and shout and clap as if to say “Go out there and KICK LOKI’S ASS FOR THIS!” It makes Loki’s beatings and defeat all the more deserved and satisfying. And the aftermath of his death was also well handled. This was a terrific bit of writing, but then so was the whole movie.

    • And… bumping for spoilers.

    • Very very true. I am rarely surprised now in the movies and damn well this took me out of nowhere. As much many might contend that only those who watched the previous films would feel the impact of his loss (well who didn’t right) and say that it was poorly setup if you look at this film as its own, the pay-off and how whedon framed the scenes there after really gives so much bearing on the heroes’ motivations. Heroes needed heroes too, and it one of them was a fan. Good job, whedon.

    • All three times I’ve seen the movie the entire theater goes deathly silent (excuse the pun) when Coulson dies.

    • badump bumb

  10. Right in all counts, Paul. Excellent article!

  11. When Hill brought up the thing about how the cards were in his locker and shouldn’t have blood on them I totally thought they were gonna bring him back and say that Fury had lied to them.

  12. The reaction Coulson garnered in my theater was silent shock and then extreme emotion.

  13. Wow.
    As if the world needed another example of how little Rob Liefeld understands characterization and storytelling…

    It’s kinda funny, while I recognized almost right away what and what a fantastic set up it was, my first thought was to wonder what Paul would have to write about this.

    Great character, and such a great arc.

    • This is the guy that vehemently disapproves of the fact that Deadpool evolved into something other than just another Slade Wilson expy.

  14. Going into the film unspoiled I was delighted at the amount of screen time he was getting, and not just incidental, most of it pure gold. Then it happened. In retrospect that was probably why he got as much screen time as he did, but man was it such a blow to go from being so delighted by his appearances to BAM! Whedon heartbreak.

    And yes, you paraded Phil Coulson about our corner of the fandom and it was fun and amusing and we all grew to love him. However, it wasn’t just us. As I mentioned in the general Avengers discussion post, one female friend, never read a comic, not terribly invested in the films, literally SCREECHED when he died. And not one person in the theater scoffed or shot her an aggravated glance, because it was a true expression of an emotion that felt so appropriate. We all loved him.

    Rest in Peace you wonderful fictional character you.

  15. Timmy Wood Timmy Wood (@TimmyWood) says:

    I was legitimately surprised at the death.

    Then some idiot thought he would be really hilarious if he yelled “Fuck You Whedon.” If any of you did that in your screening then I really don’t like you.

    Great piece Paul. It was nice that the name Avengers was given an actual meaning. I’ll miss Coulson in the future films.

  16. he’s bluetoothing with angels now…

  17. The spoiler bumping discipline in this thread is very strong. I think the Man of The W.E.E.K. would approve of everyone’s senses of personal responsibility and duty!

  18. People were shocked when Coulson died in my theater. The whole room went quiet, except for some gasps. I get why it needed to happen, but I won’t lie, I’m still a little pissed with Whedon for doing it.

  19. I remember when he showed up in Iron Man I said, “Aw Man! They’re not even calling him Clay Quatermain!” Then flash forward three cameos and three directors later and you have an entire audience in theaters everywhere uncontrollably gasping when he’s fatally wounded. Good work, Clark Gregg.

  20. I just sat there with my mouth open, as did the whole theatre – one of the best moments in a film full of great moments. Agent Coulson, you are The Man.

  21. I was p.o.’d to see him go.

  22. R.i.P Phil Coulson. Long live the Vision.

  23. He’s a leaf on the wind…

  24. Life Model Decoy, nuff said!

  25. I really was shocked when it did happen, but once it did I was so shocked at how I didn’t see that coming. He really was the most obvious one to die b/c he really linked the Avengers together, I mean he the most appearances & longest ones in 3 of the Marvel movies. Yet I also agree that now the name has brevity to it, also so fitting that Tony came up with it.

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Well the name was already in place. Fury’s been calling it the Avengers Initiative that from the start. But it was just a name. Like the Bengals or the Giants. But now it has meaning.

  26. Hell yeah, the initiative is in effect….r.i.p. Phil, or future Vision maybe?

  27. Could he be a life model decoy?

  28. It was sad. But it held a lot of weight. A good death.

  29. I was listening to Kevin Feige on the Empire podcast recently and he said it was Marvel’s idea to kill off Coulson, not Whedon’s. He said they brought the idea to Whedon and Whedon said “You know they’re gonna blame me for this, right?”

    Not sure I 100% believe it, but it’s funny anyway.

    Genuine gasps at his stabbing in Avengers both times I saw it, something I’ve rarely experienced. Can’t blame them, it’s a heartbreaking scene.

  30. All the jokes about his name and then the second act made me think…

    “His name was Phil Coulson… his name was Phil Coulson… his name was Phil Coulson…”

  31. Just typing this bit here to keep spoilers off the front page. Lalalalalalalalalalalala! Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Testing, testing, one, two, three. That should be enough.

    I was well aware of Joss Whedon’s more infamous impulse, but I thought with these all being someone else’s property, they wouldn’t let him kill anyone off. But then a voice in my head said, “If he does, it’ll be Coulson.” Tragically, that voice was correct.

    I literally froze when it happened. I couldn’t tell you if my audience gasped or not; it was like in a war movie when the bomb goes off and they do that “deaf” effect thing. Only on my second viewing did I realise that this was not an actual effect in the movie, and it was just me.

    I know a lot of folks are saying he’ll be brought back in some way, but I don’t think he should. I love Coulson as much as anyone, but it would dimish the character and the moment. Better to remember him at his best: Blasting Loki with a Destroyer-gun.

    • spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer spoiler buffer

      Don’t blame Whedon, it was Marvel’s call to kill off Coulson. Whedon even joked that he knew that the fans would blame him.

    • Oh I’m not blaming anyone; it was a good idea, storywise.

  32. In death, a member of SHIELD has a name. His name was Agent Coulson. (HIS NAME WAS AGENT COULSON)

  33. “Phil?” I thought his first name was “Agent?”

  34. Man did the theater get quiet quick! A death I didn’t want to happen, but was necessary in the context of the movie. Yeah, they could have gone a number of any other ways, but they didn’t. It was a heroic death, and Agent Phil Coulson will live on!

  35. respect…….

  36. “So that’s what it does…”

    My kid mumbled the exact line a second before Coulson did.

    All this Vision talk has me intrigued. If he does come back, I’d prefer that route to it having been a life model decoy or just a ruse by Fury to inspire the team.

  37. Damn. I can’t wait for sunday to come and here what ifanboy has to say about this film. Let’s make it a 2 hour special guys!

    • new here and i see people bumping so i presume the post above goes to the front page or something. So yeah let’s comment on though i hope my post above is spoiler-free.

  38. I want to see a Phil Coulson movie.

    I also want to know more about the cellist in Portland, but I guess I’m weird like that.

  39. I was one of those that gasped loudly when the moment came. So sad to see such a great supporting character go but he went out like a champ. Got a bit misty myself. Looking forward to seeing it again.

  40. *******************************
    *****SPOILER BUFFER*****

    Do we still need to do that? iFanboy needs some sort of checkmark to say [ ] Comment Has Spoilers and hide it from the front page. Or maybe hide the thread. Or something.

    Anyways, I loved Coulson Week (…and lost a little more respect for Liefeld) and that was while I had every expectation that Coulson would survive The Avengers and be there for us in the sequel. Coulson was a fan favorite, and I’m definitely one of those fans….

    That said. He better be dead. To fake his death would be a cheap ploy. Dirty pool. It would be a disservice to both the characters and the fans because it would cheapen the moment. It would also undermine the point they slyly made regarding how Fury manipulates and for what reasons. It also cheapens the character’s sacrifice.

  41. I literally held my breath. I wasn’t expecting it, and when it happened, I realized it made sense. Selfishly I’m just sad that potentially we’ll not see more of him.



    Okay well I gotta say I am surprised on just how this fanbase loves this character. I mean I love Coulson too but I didn’t expect it to reach such proportions like a tribute article for his death. I was surprised they killed him off since he has been the person to tie all the movies together. But it totally made sense to do it so his death could bring everyone together. But that line about lying on where the cards were by Fury really made me think he isn’t dead. But no scene ever came up with him in a coma or something so I guess he is dead.

    Not sure if I like the idea of him being The Vision cause I don’t know why that would make sense. But if he is scheduled to come back in future Marvel movies I’m sure they’ll think of something.

    • ^^ THIS

      I like Coulson and yes I was jarred by his death scene, it was not expected.

      But teary eyed? Saddened? I don’t get it. But then again, people make fun of Star Wars fans who like Boba Fett… so I guess Coulson is Marvel Movie’s Boba Fett? I dunno.
      But even using that analogy… who got teary eyed over *RETURN OF THE JEDI SPOILER WARNING* Boba’s death in the pit?

      And keep him dead. Revival in any way whatsover would be cheesy and dumb.

      I mean, 3 movies with ZERO characterization… then with just a little bit in the 4th movie, which was extremely well-designed as a plot device, and that’s enough to make an *emotional connection* to the character? I think this is more of a knee-jerk reaction, like when Liv Tyler cries ‘Daddy?!’ in Armageddon. Some people just jerk a little harder than others. (That’s what she said).

  43. I was very saddened by his death. But, without his impaling, he wouldn’t have had one of the best moments and lines in the movie as he did. In my mind, only second to the Hulk/Loki moment….yea THAT one! I know in comics, death is not death. But if Joss has a say in the sequel (and you know he will) it may go either way. Joss uses death, especially death of a beloved character, as a plot device that always has meaning, But it you look at his track record, Coulson make be back. We may have a Buffy, or we may have a Wash situation. Only Joss knows…..

  44. ***SPOILER ALERT****

    I don’t think he’s dead. Lying about the cards, and the medic team that was mentioned awkwardly calling it off screen…Naw…he’s not dead. Fury lied to get what he needed. Coulson will be back when THAT will get what Nick needs (which is maybe for the Avengers to STAY together).

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Nope. He’s gone.

    • I presumed that when Fury gave the ‘nod’ to a group to rush in after his moment with Coulson – that was the medical team that is mentioned later. The other agents saying “we’ll send a medical team” I took as their disbelief in his being dead and “we have to do something, this can’t be”

      Though because we never REALLY see.. they could write it into anything in the future I suppose.

  45. I am secretly hoping that Coulson will have a Wolverine self healing mutation and he will be back.

    It was amazing in the theater when it happened. There were audible gasps and you could almost hear Darth Vader yelling Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I do understand why it had to happen, but why does it happen to the one guy that is just the plain old good guy.

    I watched Iron Man 1 tonight and it was very weird when he was there.

  46. With talk about Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver possibly making appearances in the next Avengers film, having Coulson come back as Vision would be a pretty stellar nod to the comics, and pretty great in its own right. But then again, I would want Joss Whedon to direct that movie as well, and he would probably have Scarlet Witch kill Vision/Coulson