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10 Problems The MCU Desperately Needs To Fix

A decade ago, who could’ve ever imagined how ludicrously successful the Marvel Cinematic Universe would become?

Even optimists are surely stunned at how much money and critical esteem the franchise has rustled up to date, and there’s little sign of the so-called “superhero bubble” getting ready to burst anytime soon.

As incredible and impressive a property as the MCU is, it’s also fair to say that things aren’t perfect. The demands of blockbuster filmmaking, a risk-averse parent studio and straight-up underwhelming writing ensure that the MCU is far away from reaching its true ambitious potential.

Avengers: Infinity War left just about everyone reeling, and with damn good reason, but it’s important to remember the many nagging issues that have been plaguing the franchise for years and years. Considering how easily many of these issues could be remedied, it’s clear the MCU should be achieving even more.

Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige unquestionably has a smart business head on his shoulders, though sometimes that’s at the expense of forward-thinking storytelling and the bold expansion of the most successful movie universe the world has ever seen.

Fix these long-standing flaws, and the MCU immediately becomes more awesome.

10. Its Gutless Approach To Diversity & Inclusion

Marvel Studios

It’s honestly pretty surprising the MCU isn’t given a harder time for its rather tepid approach to diversity.

For starters, it’s a bit embarrassing that it’s taken the franchise over a decade and 20 movies to get a female-led superhero film before cameras, all the more so as Captain Marvel is far more likely to be an outlier than an indication of more to come.

Even the DC Extended Universe, for its many faults, beat Marvel to the punch with Wonder Woman, and that’s to say nothing of the fact that women in the MCU almost universally play second fiddle to their male counterparts, even Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.

It’s just not a feminist issue, though: several recent MCU movies have seen directors and cast members talk about certain characters being gay or bisexual – most prominently Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) in Thor: Ragnarok – but when this is never indicated in the movie itself, it just feels like cowardly lip service.

Are Disney so worried about a potentially vitriolic response to, gasp, a character being gay that they won’t openly have a queer superhero? In 2018, in a time where Black Panther made $1.34 billion despite fear racists would tank its box office, should big business really be cowing to the whims of bigots?

Considering the MCU is the most lucrative movie property on the planet, representation is enormously important, and it’s one area where the franchise feels shockingly lacking.

9. The Marvel Villain Problem

Marvel Studios

This is far from a new complaint, but it’s safe to say that the much-discussed issue with Marvel’s mediocre gallery of villains continues to persist.

Yes, Thanos (Josh Brolin) was fantastic, but he’s effectively the exception that proves the rule. For every Thanos, Vulture (Michael Keaton) or Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), there’s an utterly forgettable, unimaginative villain like Ronan (Lee Pace), Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) or Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen).

While it might not be reasonable for the antagonists to always match up to the heroes, the Marvel movie villains too often feel like an afterthought.

It’s as though nobody could be bothered to actually do something remotely unique or interesting because Kevin Feige and co. are acutely aware that they can get away with just serving up passable antagonists when the heroes are so colourful and charismatic.

8. The Obsession With Pointless Romance

Avengers Age Of Ultron Hulk
Marvel

This is one area where the MCU has been improving somewhat, but it’s still not perfect. Studio executives are obsessed with the idea that audiences won’t watch blockbuster movies without “human interest”, which typically either translates to a family dynamic or a shoehorned romance.

The MCU’s low-points in this regard are the utterly chemistry-free pairing of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and the hilariously forced love-in between The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow.

The series has served up a few genuinely heartfelt and appealing romances – namely Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) – but largely the love subplots feel forced and perfunctory.

Even Phase Three has been guilty of this, sadly: Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp); Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams); and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).

Enough romance-free MCU movies have released to stonking box office numbers that executives really should have confidence in keeping the random soap opera subplots to a sensible minimum.

7. Audiences Don’t Take Death Seriously

Marvel Studios

The issue with “stakes” and the finality of death in the MCU is so apparent that Avengers: Infinity War was forced to have Thanos practically wink at the audience as he killed Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and quipped, “No resurrections this time.”

Ever since the Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) revival in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s been tough to take death seriously in the MCU, especially given the number of times characters have faked their deaths or otherwise been brought back from the brink.

It’s becoming an increasing tough line to walk, especially as the likes of magic and time travel have been introduced to the franchise in recent years, making it much harder to actually care when characters appear to die.

As fantastic as the end of Infinity War was, for instance, is there really any likelihood at all of anyone beyond Loki, Heimdall (Idris Elba) and maybe Gamora (Zoe Saldana) actually staying dead?

Perhaps Avengers 4 could redress the balance somewhat by having several frontline Avengers sacrifice themselves for the greater good, but as it stands right now, the gravity of death really isn’t felt at all in the MCU.

6. The “Marvel Tone” Is Successful, But A Bit Boring

Marvel Studios

It’s undeniably impressive that the MCU has achieved a 20-movie critical winning streak where not a single film has received poor reviews, and things have never gotten worse than the mediocre-yet-watchable Thor: The Dark World.

The main reason for this is that Kevin Feige has ensured a consistent, controlled tone between the films, which are fun, lightly enjoyable superhero romps for the most part, where things never get too serious for their own good and a fun quip is never more than a few minutes away.

Even the decidedly darker Infinity War subscribes to this model, riddled with hilarious quips as it is. Though it’s an incredibly successful formula that audiences remain receptive to, it is starting to feel a little worn.

It’d be great to see the MCU take some more creative chances, by committing to a fully bleak tone for the occasional movie, or simply veering away from the inoffensively quip-happy writing style.

It could end up breaking their critical winning streak and deliver less consistent results, sure, but at least it’d be a little ballsier and more interesting.

5. The Defenders Being Excluded From The Avengers

Netflix/Empire

Fans of Netflix’s MCU heroes Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) have been enthusiastically campaigning for them to join The Avengers, but to date, they’ve been held firmly at arm’s length.

While there are obvious logistical issues involved with combining the TV and movie branches of the MCU, the fact that these heroes are arguably better-developed than many of the frontline Avengers makes their exclusion pretty damn ridiculous.

The main hurdle is clearly the fact that casual audiences have no idea who they are, but considering how many heroes the MCU movies are now juggling, it’s not really a fair excuse anymore.

Jessica Jones in particular would be a fantastic addition to The Avengers, and though the Russo brothers did consider giving The Defenders a role in Infinity War, it was quickly nixed.

It’s probably never going to happen, sadly, and what a waste of some terrific actors and deep character development it really is.

4. The Filmmaking Style Is Too Restrictive

Marvel Studios

It’s no secret that all of the MCU movies adhere to a fairly strict “house style”, and though the likes of Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok have proven that vocal filmmakers can thrive within the blockbuster sausage factory, it’s still clear that Kevin Feige’s grip might be a little too tight.

Now in fairness, Feige’s formula has also ensured a tonal consistency across the films and certainly contributed to that aforementioned critical winning streak, but at this point it’d be great to see some bolder, riskier directorial choices even if it’s at the expense of those ever-important Rotten Tomatoes scores.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to see real auteurs hired for MCU movies, where they’re given relative free reign to deliver the style and tone they want?

We’ll never know exactly what Edgar Wright would’ve delivered with his version of Ant-Man, but it’s fair to say his unique style would’ve been toned down considerably to suit the more conventional MCU style.

20 movies in, though, too many of the films look and feel the same, and it’s kinda tiresome. The series desperately needs major directorial talents who can be given space to deliver unique, singular superhero experiences.

3. The Totally Mediocre Music

Marvel Studios

It’s pretty staggering that, as widespread as the MCU now is, it boasts a curious lack of quality, memorable music. Yes, Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme is undeniably iconic, but there’s precious little in the way of recurring leitmotifs for individual characters or franchises.

Ultimately, the series is heavily reliant on pre-existing popular music, be it the early use of AC/DC in the Iron Man movies or the pervasive 70s stylings of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.

Bar a few inspired appointments – namely hiring Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh to score Thor: Ragnarok – even highly talented composers have failed to turn in much of interest. Hell, even Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino’s Doctor Strange score rehashed a lot of motifs from his own 2009 Star Trek score.

Music is an integral part of any iconic movie franchise, so it’s absolutely ridiculous that there’s only a single theme worth humming after 20 movies.

2. The Looming Inevitability Of Departing Cast Members

Marvel Studios

No matter the MCU’s success, it’s only inevitable that major cast members are going to want to move onto other things eventually, if they don’t age out of their roles first.

It’s been speculated for years that Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans in particular are nearing the end of their MCU tenures, and with them both surviving Thanos’ dusting in Infinity War, it’d be incredibly surprising if both of them made it out of Avengers 4 intact.

Phase Four will likely represent a major turning point for the MCU, as the longest-tenured actors make their exits and the franchise is forced to pivot towards its younger stars.

While there’s no doubting that the likes of Thor, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, The Hulk and Black Widow could carry the MCU to a point, the absence of Iron Man and Cap will nevertheless leave a huge void which they could struggle to fill.

Once upon a time, it was widely believed these characters would simply be recast when the actors eventually bailed, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now. As such, we may see the MCU taking some bolder gambles on more fringe heroes – such as Nova – and it remains to be seen whether they can successfully compensate for these A-lister absences.

Given that Downey Jr. is rightly credited with helping the MCU become as popular as it is, Phase Four could mark the beginning of some awkward growing pains for the franchise.

1. The Thanos Dilemma

Marvel Studios

Thanos was first introduced to the MCU back in 2012’s The Avengers, and though his dawdling, lingering presence became a bit of a joke, it certainly paid off spectacularly with his long-awaited coming-out party in Avengers: Infinity War.

Though we don’t yet know what will become of the Mad Titan in Avengers 4, it’s safe to say he’s easily the MCU’s most compelling antagonist to date, more than living up to the immense hype laid before him.

It’s unknown whether the MCU will simply repeat this formula for the future – introducing an overarching antagonist in Phase Four who battles the Avengers at the end of Phase Six – but whoever the next big bad is, they’ve got some mighty shoes to fill.

Kevin Feige has hinted that Phase Four and beyond will veer off in an unexpected direction, so it’s possible there won’t actually be another ultimate, statuesque villain for a while. Even if that’s the case, Thanos has become the measuring stick, and it’s hard to imagine another antagonist living up to him, to be honest.

 

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