Analysis

Eight Reasons Your Critiques of Marvel Are Wrong

The actors for Netflix's Defenders, with Jessica Jones looking at Iron fist like he just said something rude.

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

A pristine expanse of tropical beach. It’s a magical place. New Chums Beach by Piotr Zurek used under CC BY 2.0

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

Agent Carter looking surprised. Don’t be so confused, Agent. It’s just business.

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

Danny Rand from Iron Fist, sulking with a purple sweater. My life is hard!

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

Stark's suits lined up from Iron Man 3. Just think of the cash!

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

Captain America using his shield to deflect Iron Man's blast. What, you thought the shield was to protect freedom?

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

Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor standing side by side in Doctor Strange Race is so unimportant that Mordo is the only black character.

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

Agent Ward looking really bland. Too much emotion. Can you tune it down a little?

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?

Black Widow looking confused. We just don’t know.

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.*

(Psst! If you liked my article, check out my magical mystery game.)

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Comments

  1. Cay Reet

    Ah, the smell of irony in the morning.

    About #5, though: you could also interpret the Cap’s fight against controlling mutants as him remembering how all Jews, homosexuals, and so on had to register in Germany before WWII … seeing the idea of getting a list of all mutants as something similar. Your idea is a lot better, of course

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      My understanding is that in the comics, Civil War is more about people with powers needing to register them, while in the film it’s just about the UN wanting to have oversight on the Avengers as an organization.

      If Cap and the others don’t want the UN telling them what to do, they just have to not run around shooting people, which can’t really be considered a form of discrimination.

      Or at least that’s how I understood it. Maybe there was something in there I missed.

      • John Ferguson

        Yeah, the Civil War comic story line had much larger stakes and it was much easier to see the right and wrong sides of it all. Essentially, in the comics, anybody with powers or a penchant for vigilante activities would have to either work for the government or be imprisoned in an extra-dimensional gulag. This legislation included people whose mutant power was glittering dandruff or non-combatants such as Howard the Duck.

      • Cay Reet

        Yes, the UN trying to take control of the Avengers isn’t exactly discriminating. One could still wonder, though, to which extend the UN should have influence. When all’s said and done, the UN is made up of politicians who might want to use tools at their disposal (such as the Avengers) for their own gain or to further their own agenda.

        I have to admit, though, that I haven’t seen Civil War (because I’m totally behind with my Marvel movies) and thus thought it was closer to the comic story line.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        It’s true that the politicians in the UN could potentially misuse the Avengers, but the alternative is that no one has oversight and the Avengers just do what they want. It’s the same situation in any country with civilian control of the military. Yes, politicians could and do misuse the military, but that’s clearly a better solution than just letting the military do whatever it wants.

        And worst case scenario, where Cap wants to save the world, and the UN says no for some reason, he can just go do it anyway. They couldn’t stop him.

        • Cay Reet

          But with this argument ‘if they say no and he still wants to, he can do it’ you say they don’t really have control over the Avengers which makes the whole discussion pointless. That way, the only thing the UN could do would be to advise when and where to intervene. That’s a far step from having the Avengers under the UN’s control.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          To a certain extent that’s true, Cay. It’s basically the same deal civilian governments have with their militarizes. If the military really wants to do something, the civilian government can’t stop them, cause the military has all the guns. So in the unlikely event that a civilian government said something like “just surrender and don’t fight the enemy that’s invading us even though you could beat them if you did,” the military can ignore them and there’s nothing the government can do.

          Civilian oversight comes in more reasonable situations, where the government can say something like “no don’t invade that country even though we don’t like them.” Even if the military wants to invade, they’re unlikely to do so because the fallout of disobeying a reasonable order from the people they promised to obey would be high.

          It’s the same thing with the Avengers. The UN tells them “no, don’t go start a battle with that B-list villain in the middle of an urban area, it’s not worth it,” they follow the order because the fallout of disobeying would be high. But if the UN is like “no, don’t stop that blackhole monster from eating the Earth,” well at that point you do what you gotta do.

          • Cay Reet

            Ah, but what fallout of disobeying would there be for the Avengers? The military of a country is financed by the country. Without the civillian government, they can’t pay their soldiers or buy anything they need, from supplies to new machinery. The Avengers are financed, mainly, by Tony Stark. In addition, financing a team of a handful of superheroes is not exactly as money-consuming as financing a whole army.

            The army has to choose between ‘plunder for money’ or ‘obey the government and get paid.’ The Avengers essentially don’t lose anything from disobeying the UN.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            That’s a great point, Cay. We can see even in the real world that the fallout of disobeying oversight isn’t always enough. Hense military coups and the like.

            The UN isn’t completely powerless against the Avengers, though. First, there’s the hope that more responsible Avengers (Tony) would step in if Cap tried to disobey a reasonable order.

            Second, if the UN (and by extension its member countries) declares outlaw Avengers persona non-grata, that makes their lives very difficult. The UN could cut off Stark Industry’s money supply, or just make it so that every time Steve Rodgers wants to go to a baseball game, some cops will try to arrest him.

            This is not a good outcome for anyone, which is all the more reason it’s important for Cap and the others, who have been vested with great power, to accept oversight,

          • Cay Reet

            The UN can’t even stop weapon deliveries to countries which shouldn’t be getting any. If Tony goes far enough to trade with less-than-stellar people, there’s no cutting off his money or his supplies.

            And the poor cops sent to arrest Cap…

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Yeah, like I said it’s a bad situation for everyone. We saw that Cap can deal with swat teams pretty well in the film, though if they show up whenever he’s trying to eat lunch or whatever, that’s gonna be a problem. Also I don’t *think* Cap is bullet proof.

            And you’re right that in real life, the UN would have difficulty dealing with a corporation as powerful as Stark Industries, but the UN we see in the MCU seems to be much more united and have much greater authority than the one in real life. Otherwise they’d never have been able to get every member state to agree to these accords.

  2. Sam Beringer

    The only one I disagree with was 5. Steve wasn’t saying that he should be able to do whatever he wants; he was skeptical that the UN would be responsible with how the Avengers were used (as he points out, what if they refuse to let them go somewhere they’re needed or send them somewhere they’re not). And the events of Winter Soldier played a part in that; he saw first-hand how organizations with good intentions can be corrupted. Who’s to say that the UN won’t abuse how the Avengers are used in the future?

    And given the UN’s past, I can see where he’s coming from. Yeah, the Avengers need someone to hold them accountable for their actions, but the UN may not be the best people to do it. I don’t really see a perfect arrangement, though.

  3. SunlessNick

    Regarding 1, Iron Man 3 is the only one I have that problem with (but boy howdy do I have that problem with it).
    In Winter Soldier, Tony had blown up his suits, I can buy Thor being hard to reach, and the Hulk is the last person you want in a battle where the bad guys strongly resemble the good ones.
    In Thor Ragnarok, once the battle reached Earth, it was resolved more quickly than anyone else could get there.
    But Iron Man 3 has no excuses whatsoever.

    Re 2, Grr on cancelling Agent Carter. Perhaps they should have realised that fans were more keen on her female friendships than her romantic life – except that’s preposterous, right? What else are female characters for if not a love life?

    Re 5, I’ve come round to the idea that Civil War would have been better off without the Accords at all. All they did in the film was provide an excuse to bring a lot of world leaders together for Zemo to attack – everything else was about what to do with Bucky.
    So they should have concocted a different excuse, and if there were to be some Accords, have them be the result of the battle in Germany, where all the damage was caused by the Avengers fighting each other.

    Re 6, I’ve gone back and forth on this, but I’m currently in the “I wish Chiwitel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch had been cast the other way round” mode.

    Re 7, And *now* – while she’s cut off from everyone who was in her life, on either side of the conflict in Civil War – would have been the perfect time for a Black Widow film to explore her present and past.

    • Cay Reet

      Re #2 … I know, right? How could a woman be more interested in having friends than in having a lover, totally unrealistic.

  4. Bronze Dog

    In worldbuilding for my games, I try to keep powerful NPCs in mind and “why don’t they just solve the problem?” One answer I’ve got for my Changeling game is “they’re busy with their own problems.”

    Superhero comic universes can use that excuse reasonably well. There’s always some crisis going on. The Justice League cartoon did a few nods to that, mentioning crises absent heroes were handling, explaining why they weren’t around for the episode’s events.

    I can also imagine a form of marketing in making these nods. Cap on radio: “Tony, I need your help fighting this Hydra mech!” Iron Man (blasting aliens): “Sorry, little busy right now.” Now the audience may be curious about that upcoming Iron Man movie.

  5. John Ferguson

    Awesome article, Tony Snark.

  6. Carl

    I’d love to see an article comparing Rand to Stark. I’ve read some really bad comparison’s of people trying to explain why Rand sucks and comparing him to Stark to explain why, but the comparisons reak of htings I hate about Stark, so…. Just curious how you’d handle it.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      By “Rand,” are you talking about the objectivist Ayn Rand or someone else?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Oops, sorry, completely spaced that “Rand” is Iron Fist. That’s embarrassing.

      I think it’s mainly a matter of charm and the quality of writing. Robert Downey Jr. is made of charisma in a way that Finn Jones isn’t. Also, Iron Man doesn’t have the problem of cultural appropriation the way Iron Fist does.

      • John Ferguson

        I would say that it’s also a matter of privilege with Rand in a way that it isn’t for Stark, and that is saying something. Danny Rand proved himself to be this awesome Kung Fu capable guy. He becomes so awesome, that he is the first westerner to be given the Iron Fist title. He is given the ONE JOB of guarding the entrance one of the seven capital cities of Heaven…something which sounds like a matter of life and death and afterlife…important shit going on here, folks…and what does he do? He abandons his post without telling a soul or even discussing it with the people who saved his life and raised him…and why does he do this?…uh…reasons? The show wasn’t even clear on why he would abandon such an important duty.

        But hey, GOOD NEWS, he’s still got his name on a huge corporation and money in the bank, yo.

        Privilege.

  7. Bryony

    Another person here to disagree with number 5. Captain America is one of the few proven good people out there; putting his powers under someone else’s control doesn’t sound all that sensible. He’s already been manipulated by Shield/Hydra, and the stuff that happened to Bucky when other people controlled him was super messed up.

    Of course, the UN isn’t the same as some super-secret organisation, but as an average citizen, I sure as hell don’t know how to intervene if they do get corrupt and evil. I don’t even know how I would know it was them. It’s not exactly the voice of all the people, just the voice of some people who say they have the opinions which matter. Considering the state our politics are in right now, I don’t imagine theirs are exactly incorruptible, especially seeing how prone to secretly being hydra or the hand or other villain all of the MCU is.

    Captain America started off his career doing propaganda and being kept out of the real fight; he’s never going to be down for that happening again. This is the guy who kept trying to going the war even when everyone said he couldn’t and that he wasn’t good enough, he’s never let anyone tell him not to fight. He wouldn’t even stop standing up to that guy in the alley. Obviously, the aftermath of all the destruction needs more of a proactive rescue thing going on, but that wasn’t what was being offered. None of the available options were really all that appealing in Civil War, which is what made it so compelling. It wasn’t black and white and everyone had their own reasons for the choices they made. In other circumstances, Cap might have chosen to sign on.

    His choice wasn’t out of character or evilly intended. It was due to circumstance and working with what he knew. He intends to do good, he intends to save people, he is Neutral Good and can’t know what the people who are trying to control him want. If he wanted freedom so he could goof off or kill people for fun, that would be out of character and evil. He want’s freedom so he can’t be manipulated or prevented from saving people. Yes, it’s scary for people to think there are unchecked super-powered people going about who can just do whatever they want. Not really fair to take away his autonomy over what people think.

    Personally, I’m on Cap’s side in terms of /him/ being free. Other people, not so much, I’d even agree with some of the Avengers having restrictions. Just, not sure I’d trust regular humans to be the ones to put that in place, and even less so with super-likely-to-turn-out-to-actually-be-the-villains-Marvel-characters-in-charge-of-literally-anything. Something to do with how they are probably evil.

    (Imagine if we started an actual war debating who was right in Civil War. We all get way too into this.)

    • Cay Reet

      Given the current ‘Captain Hydra’ thing going on in the comics, I dare say Cap is just as corruptible as everyone else, depending the person doing the corrupting is good at their job. And just because someone wants to do good doesn’t mean they can’t cause harm. Cap is not all-knowing and might misinterpret a situation.

      With the Avengers, it’s also kind of an ‘all or nothing’ deal. You can’t say ‘I allow this one to decide on his or her own and this one has to wait for me to give an okay.’ So, either you trust the ‘good’ Avengers to keep their teammates in check or you have to impose control on all.

      • Bryony

        My understanding was we were talking about the MCU, not the comics. It was already suggested int the article that cap’s motivation is stronger in the comics. I’m not saying he doesn’t do any harm, I’m objecting the him being described as evil and out of character.

        I don’t see how it is “all or nothing”. “I allow this one to decide on his or her own and this one has to wait for me to give an okay.” sounds like exactly the right thing to do. I’d be pretty happy letting characters like Hawkeye take initiative, but people should deffinately stop and think before setting the Hulk on a mission. Hawkeye can’t control Hulk, but he can control himself.

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