Superhero comic book narratives are notorious for their convoluted time schemes, their constant resurrection of dead characters, and their penchant for clones and multiple versions of the same character. The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) utilize the visual effects (VFX) technology of digital de-aging to visualize this comic trope, and the attached clip showcases the most prominent examples of this technology in the MCU. Digital de-aging offers the characters of the MCU a flexible mortality akin to that of their comic book counterparts. This visual technology provides Tony Stark with the ability to interact with his younger self in Captain America: Civil War. It allows Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, Hank Pym, and Ego the Living Planet to exist in multiple temporalities within the same narrative universe.
The difference between the filmic and comic book versions of these characters, though, is that the film versions are embodied by flesh-and-blood human actors, beings that experience the full range of corporeal existence. Whereas the comic book versions reside in a nonlinear version of time, bounded only by the imagination of their writers and artists, the film versions require digital assistance to exist in such an unstable temporal plane. De-aging technology allows a digital composite to interact with its profilmic counterpart, and this enacts a tension between the seeming immortality of the digital body and the inevitable decay of the organic/profilmic body.
Within this schema, the digitally-augmented body is frequently depicted as an improvement over the profilmic body. It is more pliable, porous, and malleable. It is a mediation between the profilmic realities of an actor’s body and the imaginations of VFX artists. The digitally de-aged body visualizes a posthuman fantasy that merges code and the profilmic body to achieve a kind of immortality. As in the comics, the MCU characters don’t age linearly, they don’t understand time as a series of successive moments, and they don’t experience death as a finality. In the MCU, one of the superheroic powers of characters is the ability to move seamlessly between the profilmic and the digital, to time travel through various eras, and to resurrect and interact with their younger selves. These superheroes are heroic, in part, because their bodies can move seamlessly between the analog and the digital.