Why Someone Loses an Arm in Every MCU Phase 2 Movie


Summary

  • Phase 2 of the MCU set up the groundwork for years to come, introducing new characters and the rules of Infinity Stones.
  • The Empire Strikes Back
    influenced Phase 2, with a trend of characters losing arms as seen in Star Wars films.
  • Phase 5 of the MCU may not continue the tradition of characters losing limbs as the franchise evolves organically.



By the time Marvel Studios launched Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they had laid the groundwork for the franchise that would be followed for years to come. After some growing pains in Phase 1, following the release of The Avengers, the entire world seemed on board with this new exciting franchise. Phase 2 not only saw Iron Man 3 follow in The Avengers‘ footsteps of grossing $1 billion at the worldwide box office, but the sequels to Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, saw a bump in box office thanks to The Avengers. The studio even turned lesser-known characters and D-list heroes like The Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man into box office hits.


Phase 2 laid out many foundations of the series. It introduced new characters, established the rules and backstory of the Infinity Stones, and brought on key franchise architects like The Russo Brothers and James Gunn, all while Joss Whedon was laying out the franchise. Yet another interesting trend popped up in Phase 2, which was a character getting an arm cut off. Why did the MCU get really into cutting off limbs in Phase 2? It all can be traced back to one of the most successful sequels of all time: The Empire Strikes Back.


The Empire Strikes Back Set the Template


The Empire Strikes Back was the second film in the original Star Wars trilogy. While today regarded as arguably the best in the franchise, at the time, audience reaction was certainly more mixed. It was a darker movie than Star Wars and ended on a cliffhanger as opposed to the rousing, big, bombastic, exciting ending of the original film. It has a bigger emotional climax with the significant action set piece on Hoth towards the beginning of the movie. Part of that darker element extends to how much damage Luke Skywalker takes. He is beaten and hurt badly by a Wampa at the beginning of the movie, and in the film’s climactic battle between Darth Vader and him, Luke gets his hand chopped off.

While Obi-Wan Kenobi cuts off an arm in Star Wars, Luke losing his hand is a major deal because it is a wound inflicted on the main character. He gets a robotic hand at the end of the movie, a moment that connects him to his father when, in the next film, Return of the Jedi, Luke cuts off Darth Vader’s hand to reveal it is also cybernetic. Fans saw how Anakin Skywalker lost his hand in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, the second film in the prequel trilogy. Someone losing an arm to a lightsaber became a popular element of Star Wars, particularly the second installment of a trilogy. This is one of the many ways that The Last Jedi, the second film in the sequel trilogy, breaks convention, as no major characters lose an arm.


Star Wars is one of the most important film franchises of all time, and before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was the biggest. While neither franchise originally started as part of Disney, they would both be brought in under the Disney empire. Star Wars has had a major impact on filmmakers since it came out, and it has influenced the MCU in a number of ways, but the oddest might be someone losing a hand in the second phase of the Infinity Saga.

Why Do So Many Characters Lose an Arm in Phase 2?


In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark cuts off the arm of villain Aldrich Killian, which grows back due to the Extremis formula in his body, and the severed arm burns through the floor, causing Pepper Potts to fall from a high platform. In Thor: The Dark World, Loki cuts off Thor’s hand only for it to be revealed as an illusion cast by the trickster god to fool the movie’s real villain into letting his guard down. Captain America: The Winter Soldier features Bucky Barners, aka The Winter Soldier, a character defined by his cybernetic arm, and audiences see him briefly losing his original organic arm in a flashback.

Guardians of the Galaxy has Gamora cut off Groot’s arm when they are trying to capture Peter Quill and the Power Stone. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the titular villain, Ultron, cuts off the arm of weapons dealer Ulysses Klaw, setting him up to get his Vibranium sonic canon in Black Panther a few years later. Finally, in Ant-Man, when Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket, is absorbed into the Quantum Realm from the inside, the first part of his body to vanish is his arm. This trend even played out on the television side, as in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 finale (which aired two weeks after the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron), Phil Coulson’s arm is cut off and is replaced with a cyborg hand for the remainder of the series.


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If the MCU is one giant saga, then the phases can be seen as one massive story with a parallel to Star Wars. If Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was Star Wars, Phase 2 was supposed to be The Empire Strikes Back and build off the foundation laid out in the first installment. It would seem the Empire Strikes Back homage was intentional, but funny enough, it was not. Shortly before the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kevin Feige told CinemaBlend.


“I’m obsessed with Star Wars. Who’s not? I’m 40 years old. I’m in the movie business. I went to USC. So I’m obsessed with Star Wars – and it didn’t start out as intentional, but it became intentional, including that beat that you referenced. It sort of happens in every Star Wars movie, but I was sort of looking at it, ‘Okay, is Phase Two our Empire Strikes Back?’ Not really, but tonally, things are a little different. Somebody gets their arm cut off in every Phase Two movie. Every single one.”

Even though it was not planned, it shows how influential Star Wars is that the filmmakers and creators were unintentionally calling back to it because it seeped into their psyche. Even when Phase 2 ended, The Empire Strikes Back references did not stop.

Empire Strikes Back Influence Beyond Phase 2


Phase 2 is certainly not the only MCU film to feature characters losing limbs. Captain America: Civil War, the kick-off film of Phase 3, sees Bucky Barners’ robotic arm blown off by Iron Man in the film’s climactic battle. Bucky does not get a replacement arm until Avengers: Infinity War.

Notably, Avengers: Infinity War features a large number of arms getting cut off, which pays off in later MCU entries. The first is when Wong cuts off the hand of the villain Cull Obsidian by closing a portal on him as he stretches his hand through, and that arm would later be a plot point in Secret Invasion. Later in Infinity War, Groot cuts off his own arm to forge the handle for Thor’s newest weapon, Stormbreaker. Stormbreaker later became Thor’s signature weapon in the MCU, which he used in Avengers: Endgame to cut the arm and head off Thanos.


The Empire Stricks Back also gets called out by name in Captain America: Civil War, when Spider-Man says, “You ever see that really old movie, Empire Strikes Back,” much to the disbelief of his older teammates, Iron Man and War Machine. In the epic airport fight, Spider-Man proposes taking down Ant-Man, similar to how the rebels took down the AT-ATs on Hoth, where he says “Do you remember the part on the snow planet with the walky things,” and Spider-Man webs up Ant-Man’s legs while Iron Man and War Machine knock him down.

The shocking cliffhanger of Avengers: Infinity War, where Thanos wipes out half the population and the heroes lose, is also modeled after the ending of The Empire Strikes Back. It can be said that the ending of Infinity War was likely to a new generation what the Empire Strikes Back ending was to previous generations: a massive, shocking conclusion that nobody could believe and they were left waiting in massive anticipation for the next chapter.


Will Phase 5 Repeat the Trend?

As noted, Phase 2 was the second chapter in what became The Infinity Saga. Marvel is now in the middle of their newest trilogy, The Multiverse Saga, which goes from Phase 4 to Phase 6. Phase 5 began in 2023 with the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and has so far included Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Secret Invasion, Loki season 2, What If…? season 2, The Marvels, and Echo with Deadpool & Wolverine arriving later this year. Other Phase 5 entries will include Agatha, Captain America: Brave New World, Thunderbolts, Daredevil: Born Again, and Ironheart.


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With the prequel trilogy, the second Star Wars trilogy, featuring a character losing an arm in their second film, one might assume that the MCU would bring this tradition back for Phase 5, as it is the second part of their second trilogy of film phases. Yet, so far, Phase 5 has been light on characters losing a limb. Ultimately, this might be for the best, as Marvel Studios isn’t trying to force anything. The original lost arm reference to The Empire Strikes Back was organically something that grew out of each film, and trying to force it or make it a mandate for another phase of films just to uphold George Lucas’ famous “it’s like poetry, it rhymes” mantra would only hurt each entry.


That being said, Deadpool can regrow limbs, and there is a good chance Wolverine will cut off his arm. Thunderbolts will also include Bucky Barnes, and maybe Marvel can answer how Nebula got his arm to give Rocket as a Christmas present in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.

Want to learn more about the most recent Phase of the MCU? Check out our video breaking down the timeline of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU films can be streamed on Disney+.



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