2019 is the 11th year of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and by the end of the year the studio will have produced 23 interconnected films. For the most part the MCU has been great, bringing us worthy adaptations of many Marvel characters that might not have seen the light of day otherwise. What studio would have greenlit a live action film featuring a talking raccoon and his pet tree?
But, that being said, there are still plenty of things the MCU could have done better. There's never something good without a few bad bits tagging along, or at the very least things that could easily have been improved. We have hindsight to help us out, but let's take a look at some of the things that could easily have been improved.
Whatever Happened to the Science Bros?
By Tom Pritchard
After The Avengers the internet got into a frenzy about Tony Stark and Bruce Banner riding off into the unset together, with the goal of doing science. Thus the 'Science Bros' were born, then fizzled out almost as soon as they arrived. What happened there? Aside from a brief clip at the end of Iron Man 3 and the fact they developed an apocalyptic murder bot together, the MCU never bothered to explore Tony and Bruce's relationship. We had the perfect opportunity to do that, but we ended up with Iron Man 3 instead. Really Marvel should have made Iron Man 3 a Hulk team-up movie. Or more specifically, a proper team-up with Bruce Banner.
We haven't seen a whole lit of Bruce Banner since the 2008 solo film. Thanks to rights issues Mark Ruffalo has never had the opportunity to take on the lead in a solo film, and in the team-up movies Marvel has generally been more focused on using him as a way to move the Hulk from place to place without everything being destroyed. Even in Thor: Ragnarok, which would finally see the Hulk team up with a (mostly) solo here, Banner was just there to be around when the Hulk couldn't. Aside from that one scene where he tracks down Loki and the tesseract in The Avengers Banner hasn't had a whole lot to do. Iron Man 3 would have been the perfect place to change that.
Of course Iron Man 3 helped cement the relationship between Tony and Rhodey, with the latter later taking on a much more important role within the wider MCU. Not as important as the original six Avengers, but still. Throwing Banner into the mix would have hindered his character development, and who know what would have happened to him in later films, but that's not the thing I'm here to speculate on. Tony and Bruce are the most similar of the original Avengers, and the fact that this hasn't really been explored is a wasted opportunity. Plus Iron Man 3 was already about Tony having to use his brain instead of his fancy armour, which would have been the perfect place for him and Banner to bounce off each other in that special science-bro way people found so endearing before.
On top of this the two characters share a lot of other similarities that could have worked well for some proper emotion. One of the key things people have noted about Iron Man 3 is the positive way it explores Tony's PTSD after the Battle of New York, and I can't help but wonder how it could have also incorporated the various emotional issues Banner faces in the comics - many of which stem from having grown up with a physically abusive father. Mental illness is often characterised in a poor light in comics and their film adaptations, and is generally considered to be a villainous trait. Tony's portrayal was a significant step forward, but having two heroes facing those problems together? Done right that could have been a great thing.
Regardless of what has or hasn't happened it's fair to say Bruce Banner has been neglected by the MCU, and here's just hoping Endgame won't be the last time we see him in action.
It's All Connected... Except When it's Not
What’s impressive about the MCU is that under the expert stewardship of executive producer Kevin Feige, they have managed to maintain a broadly cohesive universe, with a shared set of rules, a shared history and shared events. This is arguably the reason why the MCU has been so wildly successful.
And don’t get me wrong - I love the MCU and there isn’t much I would change. I do, however, have one incredibly nerdy nitpick: Why are there so many weird micro-lapses in continuity?
The Netflix series are a good example of this. While they cohere between themselves internally, there isn’t much indication of events outside. Sure, there are oblique nods to “the incident” - Loki’s invasion of New York through a massive space portal in the sky - but everything else in the MCU, from an entire agency of the US government turning out to have been secret Nazis, to flying aircraft carriers existing, to a rogue AI destroying Sokovia, does not appear to have merited a mention.
This isn’t to say that I wanted the now-cancelled shows to be constantly name-dropping things we’ve seen in other films, but you might at least expect, say, Kingpin to be just as interested in black market alien weapons as the Vulture was?
It isn’t just the stories - I can suspend my disbelief to a certain extent. There’s just some textural things that seem sloppy: Why isn’t the Avengers Tower on the New York skyline in the Netflix shows? How come in Runaways , the mobile industry is dominated by an in-universe mega-corporation, and yet in the rest of the MCU they just use iPhones and Samsungs like real life?
Agents of SHIELD is perhaps the biggest misstep in this ultra-nitpicky respect. With Luke Cage or Runaways , I can mostly buy the fact that they exist broadly independently from the wider MCU (even if you wonder why SHIELD aren’t more interested in a literally bulletproof man?). But with the scale and types of threats that the Agents of SHIELD deal with on a week to week basis, each time you just can’t help but wonder: Given the huge stakes, why does nobody think to give Tony Stark or Captain America a call? It’s not like they don’t have their numbers.
Obviously there is an explanation for these nit-picks: In the real world marshalling a shared continuity across a myriad of different properties is hard. The fact that movies and TV shows are made by entirely different units within Disney complicates things further. And let’s be honest, Hollywood megastar Robert Downey Jr isn’t going to trouble himself with appearing on a little network TV show just because it would make narrative sense to have Iron Man turn up and save the day.
But if one of the major reasons for your success is connectivity between properties, then maintaining the integrity of the shared universe should be treated as something that is important - so I hope that post-End Game, Marvel doubles down and takes even more care with its connections.
Dr Strange, or Dr House?
by Tom Pritchard
Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, and very few people will successfully argue against that opinion for a variety of reasons. That said he certainly isn't perfect, and the accent he chose for Doctor Strange is where the imperfections of both him and the MCU interconnect. Because let's be honest, it sucks.
The thing about Stephen Strange's MCU accent is that it sounds like Cumberbatch binged through every episode of House and decided Hugh Laurie did a fantastic job of being American. So he decided to mimic his accent and play Strange with that weird faux American accent that doesn't really sound like a rich man from New York should. It's a bit jarring, and even distracting at times, taking away from what is potentially one of the MCU's most interesting characters.
To make matters worse one of the things people praised about Spider-Man: Homecoming was that fellow Englisher Tom Holland managed to nail a Queens accent. That's arguably a much harder feat, and while I'm not trying to disparage Holland's acting ability getting a half-decent accent is the kind of thing you'd expect from any semi-decent actor. So what gives Cumberbatch?
Evil, Forgettable, and Ultimately Quite Boring
by Tom Beasley
When the Rotten Tomatoes score rolls in
For years, the list of memorably brilliant MCU villains was very short. You had Loki, and that was it. Everyone else was more or less disposable. Think of the excitement surrounding Michael B. Jordan's Erik Killmonger in Black Panther and try to imagine that being applied to Malekith the Accursed or Ronan the Accuser, or even someone without a definite article in the middle of their name. They were all basically just Villain the Forgettable.
The tide has now changed. Whether it's the aforementioned Killmonger – the abs that launched a thousand thirst tweets – or the Malthusian, magenta monster known as Thanos, Marvel villains are now far more complex and terrifying than they once were. It does, however, leave a sour mark on the MCU that its early bad guys were just so thoroughly bland.
In fairness to Marvel, the comic book material doesn't exactly lend itself to great villains. There's almost no heel in the Marvel catalogue who is as immediately indelible as someone like The Joker, Lex Luthor or General Zod. The best villains were saved for Spider-Man, who was until recently sequestered over at Sony, denying the MCU the chance to use Green Goblin, Venom or Doctor Octopus. However, that's little excuse for the roster of banal baddies the MCU served up in its early days, with Loki such an obvious outlier that he has gone on to make as many appearances in the 22-film franchise as some of the heroes.
Perhaps the greatest problem with the worst Marvel villains is that they tend to fit into a handful of pretty generic, stock categories. With only a few exceptions, they're either colourful alien despots or manipulative men in suits. If you can genuinely tell the difference between Aldrich Killian, Darren Cross, Obadiah Stane and Justin Hammer without resorting to Google, you're either a better MCU fan than this writer or someone with enough brainpower to make Bruce Banner turn green with envy... or is that anger?
Thankfully, Marvel has corrected its course somewhat. Killmonger had massive depth, Thanos is terrifying, Captain America: Civil War 's Zemo boasted real intrigue and the Skrulls in Captain Marvel proved to be something far more than what they appeared to be on the surface. It still stings though, when looking back at the MCU, to have to acknowledge that most of their bad guys were pathetic, damp squibs.
No one went out on Halloween night dressed as Ronan. And if they did, everyone probably just thought they were a Na'vi or a Smurf anyway.
Higher, Further, Faster… Sooner?
By Becca Caddy
Captain Marvel has proven beyond all doubt that she can go higher, further and faster than any other hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – so why couldn’t she have done it sooner.
At the end of Avengers: Infinity War it looked as though the universe was without hope after Thanos’ snap. But then, in the post-credits sting, Nick Fury manages to send a cryptic graphic (via souped-up 90’s pager) – the meaning of which will have sailed clear over the heads of any audience members who don’t read Marvel comics.
The graphic, we now know thanks to a blistering run at the box office, is the emblem of Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel, and it was teeing up her introduction to the MCU and the answer to why she may be the Universe’s only hope of beating Thanos.
Saving the best for last, right? I actually think I’d have liked her introduction a little sooner – say, around the time I was in primary school. Being told at that age how we, as women, can get back up again, that our feelings are worthy and don’t need tamping down, and to tell every Yon-Rogg who shows up in our lives to peddle their nonsense elsewhere would have been welcome.
But apart from that, I’m now worried about the Danvers we’re going to see in Endgame after Brie Larson revealed at a press conference that Endgame was filmed before Captain Marvel, so she possibly hadn’t yet fully got to grips with the character – in fact, she hadn’t even seen a script.
Now I’m fully Team Brie, but this could be hugely risky for the character. For many women and girls, the Captain Marvel movie is a moment as culturally seminal as when David Bowie sang Starman on Top Of The Pops in 1972. I left the cinema a buzzing wreck of gratitude and I distinctly remember punching the air at least three times during the screening – which I never do. And this is largely down to the character we saw onscreen.
I’ve loved rewatching the MCU movies and have nothing but admiration for the scale of its accomplishment and the success of their shared, interconnected characters and storylines. I just wish Carol Danvers had flown into all our lives sooner.
By Tom Pritchard
This would have been a very different film
Believe it or not Marvel doesn't have a perfect track record when it comes to directors. Sure it brought the Russo Brothers away from TV directing to give us the best MCU movies by quite a stretch, as well as bringing the likes of Taika Waititi and James Gunn into the mainstream, but there have been some misfires along the way. Of course everyone knows the story of Edgar Wright leaving Ant-Man, but I'm talking about Patty Jenkins. The woman that would go onto direct Wonder Woman and its sequel was originally slated to direct Thor: The Dark World but didn't.
Thor: The Dark World was not good, and Wonder Woman was, and it means Thor's sequel is just another example of what almost could have been. Unlike some 'what ifs' in Hollywood, we actually know what went wrong here. According to an interview with Indiewire Jenkins' idea for TDW was completely at odds with the script Marvel had put together. She wanted to develop a film focussing on a "Romeo-and-Juliet-esque space opera that hinged on the separation of Thor and Jane Foster". Marvel's script was not that.
Apparently Jenkins didn't think she could make a good film out of what Marvel wanted, and she felt that doing a bad job may negatively impact other female directors. So she left the film and we ended up with Alan Taylor directing his version of the film which was (presumably) based on the script Jenkins seemed at odds with. Now that we've seen Wonder Woman and know what she was capable of doing with superheroes, it does make me wonder what TDW could have been if Jenkins had been given the freedom to film her story.
It's easy to romanticise what could have been, seeing as how Jenkins' story never even got a script, and we don't know whether things would have worked out for the best. It's possible that she never would have gone on to direct Wonder Woman as a result. She's also mentioned that her time on TDW was a good learning experience that helped her on other films - Wonder Woman included.
We don't know what her vision would have been like, or if it would be any good, but considering how poor Thor: The Dark World ended up being it can't have been much worse.