Don’t get us wrong. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has done a lot to popularize superhero films. The franchise essentially created the modern shared universe and has remarkably elevated characters like Iron Man, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy into crowd-pleasing brand names of their own. However, despite being the highest-grossing film franchise in cinema history, the MCU isn’t without flaws of its own. Many longtime fans of the comics have acknowledged just how many liberties the films take with the source material, while others argue that the big-screen versions still capture the spirit of these beloved characters.
While the DC Extended Universe has been the target of incredibly raw criticism from some, it’s only fair that we take the MCU to task for its own issues. No film franchise is perfect, and while the MCU manages to get a lot alright — and has built up enough audience goodwill for crowds to flock to virtually any product bearing the Marvel Studios logo — there is still room for improvement. Let’s go into a bit more detail on exactly where the MCU could use some work.
1. The overwhelmingly bland villains
Okay, this one is a bit of an easy target, as it’s easily the most common complaint of the MCU films to date. With the exception of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, nearly every other villainous figure to inhabit the MCU (at least the films, the Netflix series are another story altogether) fits into the power-hungry, world-destroying stereotype that has long plagued superhero stories.
Characters like Zemo and the Winter Soldier have added some more shades of complexity, but Iron Monger, Malekith, Ronan the Accuser, Kaecilius, Yellowjacket, Whiplash, and the Abomination reveal that developing credible threats is indeed a very real problem for the MCU.
2. Formulaic CGI-overloaded third acts
No matter how intriguing an MCU entry is, the story almost always devolves into some overly convoluted computer-generated mayhem by the end, usually involving an army of faceless baddies or a beam of light in the sky or sometimes both (see: The Avengers).
More recent films like Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange have shown a concerted effort to deviate from this trend, placing an emphasis on characters over meaningless spectacle. However, the MCU still has to demonstrate that it has officially turned away from this lazy approach to climactic showdowns.
3. Inconsistent storytelling between films
One of the hallmarks of the MCU has been its reliance on mid-credits and post-credit scenes to set the stage for future releases. Yet, these initially surprising bonus sequences have all too often turned into narrative crutches. Take, for instance, the most recent example. The mid-credits scene in Doctor Strange may feature a cameo by a popular MCU mainstay, but in doing so, it glosses over the narrative cliffhanger from a previous film, robbing viewers of the chance to see how that particular situation played out. Instead, the films have opted to simply skip over a payoff that was previously promised and move forward with little regard for narrative progression. That kind of thing needs to stop.
4. The “Disney-fication” of the material
Look back at the first few MCU films. Entries like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2 had a greater sense of edginess and included more adult content than the many films since then. Jon Favreau’s 2008 film and its 2010 sequel even featured sexual humor that has all but disappeared from the MCU. These characters, after all, are adults. So it stands to reason that they would act that way.
However, when Disney purchased Marvel in 2009, that all changed. Tony Stark’s alcoholism — which was set to be a major focus in the following year’s Iron Man 2 — was virtually absent from the final film, and a distinct family-friendly tameness has crept into nearly every MCU film since.
5. A tone that doesn’t let filmmakers shine
It’s no secret that the MCU has had a contentious relationship with directors. The mandated focus on the bigger picture means that filmmakers must sacrifice or compromise their vision to fit in with years of upcoming films. The same muzzled aesthetic has infiltrated just about every MCU project released so far, with Edgar Wright’s exit from Ant-Man after years of development the most egregious example. Films like James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange give us hope that Marvel may be loosening the reigns a bit and giving acclaimed filmmakers the chance to bring something fresh to the MCU.
Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable
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