The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, is the shared universe for the screen adaptations of Marvel’s comic book properties. It started with Iron Man and includes all of the Marvel movies since then, as well as TV shows like Daredevil and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Notably, it does not include films made by other companies, even when they use Marvel properties like 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movies.
The MCU is possibly the most successful film franchise in history. For nearly a decade, its films have drawn big crowds and moderate-to-ecstatic praise from critics. And yet, some people dare to question the supremacy of Marvel. They sit in dark rooms and type up mean critiques of this multi-billion dollar juggernaut. Clearly the MCU cannot defend itself, so I must step up to the plate. Here are eight reasons why every negative word you’d heard about the MCU is wrong.
1. The Characters Are All on Vacation
The critique: Where are all the other heroes during each character’s solo movie?
You may have noticed that, for the most part, it’s rare for the Marvel heroes to intrude on each others’ movies. This has led many to cry out that the movies are inconsistent. After all, this is a shared universe; that’s the whole point. Why didn’t Captain America come running when a terrorist was threatening to blow up America in Iron Man 3? And why didn’t Stark return the favor when SHIELD was taken over by Nazis?
It really seems like Marvel is hoisted with their own petard on this one. They wanted a shared universe, but they can’t actually come up with reasons why the characters wouldn’t always be working together. But the critics forgot to take one thing into account: vacation days.
Marvel heroes don’t have a lot of free time, so they have to plan their vacations far in advance. And it just so happens that they always schedule their vacations when one of their friends is having a movie. And their vacation policy is very strict. Once they put in the request, they can’t change it. Sure, Iron Man would have liked to help out with that whole Hydra problem, but he’d been saving up those two weeks on the beach all year and wasn’t about to give them up.
Incidentally, this is probably why Coulson talks about Tahiti so often.
2. There Are Ratings and There Are Ratings
The critique: Agent Carter was cancelled because it had a female protagonist.
Ever since Agent Carter was cancelled, fans have been crying foul. The crux of their argument is that while the show’s ratings did slide in the second season, Agents of SHIELD had similarly low ratings at least once and was allowed to continue.
At first, this critique seems to have merit. Indeed, SHIELD’s ratings have often dipped quite low. On top of that, Agent Carter didn’t have nearly the same marketing push, or famous actors like Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen. One might expect Agent Carter to have lower ratings than Marvel’s flagship TV show.
But critics are missing the fact that ratings mean different things on different shows. On shows with a male lead, low ratings are part of the viewing cycle and often even out over time. On shows with a female lead, low ratings are a sign of the end times. The show must be killed at once, lest it drag the entire network down into a very special hell.
So it’s completely understandable that either Marvel or ABC decided to pull the plug on Agent Carter. Anyone who says they could have found a way to translate an overwhelmingly positive reception by critics into more views just doesn’t understand how TV works.
3. People Just Don’t Like White Billionaires
The critique: Danny Rand as Iron Fist just wasn’t a compelling character, partly because he’s so privileged but acts like his life is so hard.
The first three Netflix/Marvel team-up shows are about characters who suffer some form of discrimination, even if the portrayals aren’t always great,* so it seemed like an odd choice to make the fourth hero a man of exceptional privilege. Add in how Iron Fist smells of cultural appropriation, with a white dude who goes to Asia and becomes the best at martial arts, and it seems like people have a right to complain. They don’t, of course.
I didn’t even need to think up this one; it came to me via Iron Fist’s actor, Finn Jones.* The problem isn’t with the show or Iron Fist’s character; it’s that people just don’t like white billionaires right now. Due to that teency-weency problem of a white billionaire currently running the United States into the ground, people have been unfairly critical of Iron Fist.
This explanation is so obvious I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. White billionaires are clearly the real victims here. How are they supposed to get ahead with all the bad PR generated by the White House? How Tony Stark remains so popular, despite also being a white billionaire, is just a mystery of science.
4. Stark Was Cashing in His Suits’ Insurance Policy
The critique: At the end of Iron Man 3, Stark destroys all his suits. But in Avengers 2, he has suits again. That makes Iron Man 3’s ending meaningless.
Oh brother, when will people stop complaining about continuity in a franchise where one of the main selling points is continuity? Yes, on the surface it looks like Avengers 2 completely invalidates the end of Iron Man 3. After all, Stark destroying his suits is meant to be a sign of devotion to Pepper, that he’ll give up being a superhero for her. If he suddenly has more suits, that would mean, at best, he was being insincere when he made the gesture.
But there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation: insurance fraud. Remember back in Iron Man 1 when Stark decided not to sell weapons to people who might use them irresponsibly? Well it turns out that Stark’s decision rules out almost all weapons sales, and arms trading was a big chunk of his income. Plus, the property of Stark Industries is constantly damaged in nearly every Marvel film, so he needed a new revenue stream.
Did you notice how fragile Stark’s suits are in Iron Man 3? Previously they’ve stood up to alien super weapons and nuclear explosions, but in that film they can be destroyed by a fast moving truck. It’s obvious that he built those suits to be destroyed, and the battle at the film’s end gives him the perfect excuse to claim full coverage.
5. Civil War’s Politics Are Secret Commentary
The critique: Captain America’s argument in Civil War is that he should be allowed to do whatever he wants with no accountability. That’s out of character and kind of evil.
Civil War is the timeless tale of one man who thought it would be a good idea for power to have limits and another man who said “nuh uh.” That second one is Captain America’s position. Leaving aside the stuff with Bucky, Cap is against the idea that a civilian government should have any say in how he uses violence. Most of the movie is spent trying to make that view seem reasonable.
Considering that Cap’s previous film was all about how SHIELD turned evil when it didn’t have any oversight, and how Cap’s backstory is about fighting an evil dictator, his stance in Civil War does seem badly out of character. But that’s only if you’re watching the film at a surface level, like some kind of pleb.
You see, Captain America thinking he should be able to do whatever he wants is the perfect parallel for the way America itself acts. As a country, we love to go around invading other countries in the name of freedom, or whatever the current excuse is. What’s that? Captain America is supposed to be better than that? He’s supposed to be a symbol of what our country can be, not what it is? Gosh, I guess you just don’t like political commentary.
6. No YOU’RE Racist
The critique: Tilda Swinton, a white woman, should not have played the Ancient One, a character who is canonically Asian.
Doctor Strange is an admittedly thorny story to adapt, because it’s based on the idea of a white dude going to Asia and getting better at Asian magic than any Asian person.* Naturally, making Strange himself a person of color was out of the question. Marvel didn’t want to cause simultaneous heart attacks in its white audience. So the obvious solution was to make the Ancient One white as well. Celtic, specifically.
Somehow, this failed to quell all criticism. Not only were people upset that a canonically Asian character, no matter how problematic, had been made white, but also they insisted on pointing out that the Ancient One’s stronghold is still based in Nepal. This, the critics say, makes the cultural appropriation even worse.
What the critics don’t see is that they are in fact the racist ones. Celtic people can live wherever they want, so it makes perfect sense that the Ancient One lives in Nepal. Also, she was the best at magic because the Nepalese were too busy being stereotypes or something. It makes sense, trust me. When will people realize that talking about a story’s racism makes them racist?
7. SHIELD Wanted You to Think It Was Boring
The critique: Agents of SHIELD’s first season is boring. Really boring.
For some unknown reason, Marvel’s critics were unsatisfied with a season of television where nothing interesting happens and the characters get no real development. Who’d have thought? Yes, SHIELD’s first season certainly seems boring before the sudden reveal of Hydra. But remember, that’s only from a surface, plebeian viewing.
Remember how grateful everyone was when Hydra took over SHIELD, and the characters finally had something interesting to do? That moment was made all the sweeter because of the high contrast with the rest of the season. This is especially true with the character Ward. The showrunners totally planned to make him a Hydra agent from the beginning. You can trust them. And to make that reveal stand out, he had to be as boring as possible.
In short, SHIELD had to be awful so it would seem amazing when the show finally demonstrated some basic competence. Most shows try to have basic competence from the beginning, but SHIELD knew that’s something you have to hold in reserve.
8. What Even Are Women?
The critique: Marvel’s inclusion of women is pathetic.
First of all, whoa, when did these critiques get so harsh? Yes, the MCU so far has fifteen films, and exactly zero of them have a female lead. Yes, many of the female characters that do exist are treated badly. Yes, we’ll have to wait until 2019 for a solo film starring a woman, even though fans have been clamoring for a Black Widow film since Avengers 1.
But none of that is relevant because no one actually knows what women are. It’s just impossible to say for sure how many films have women in them because the existence of women is entirely theoretical. Sure, women might exist, and if they did, they should be in movies, but none of us can know for certain.
In this climate of uncertainty, it’s not really fair to expect Marvel to include more women. Can any of us say for sure that we’ve ever seen a woman? I don’t think so. All we really have is hearsay and anecdotes, no scientific data at all. So this critique will need to be put on hold until more evidence comes in. Or until the people at Marvel realize that a talking raccoon is weirder than a human woman.
There, I hope I’ve explained why all your critiques of the MCU are wrong. If you had any critiques that aren’t covered by this list, don’t worry, they’re wrong too. Just post them in the comments and I’ll explain why. Hail Marvel.*
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