Deciding “right” and “wrong” can be a tricky prospect. Can a character’s film version be good even if it’s completely different than the comics version? How much does an actor’s performance play into things? Can a performance save (or ruin) a good script? Wading through all these factors is what makes something like this fun, and what makes it open to debate. The MCU has had a lot of great heroes in its history, and there are too many good ones to include here.
We really like Bradley Cooper’s voice work as Rocket, and we have high hopes for Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther when he stars in his own film, but they didn’t quite make the cut. We’re also afraid the whole production of Inhumans is a disaster, but we haven’t seen enough of them to banish them all towards “wrong”. We think the casting agents chose a good Cloak and Dagger, but we’re reserving judgement on them until we have more than a trailer to consider. Enough beating around the bush, though. Here are eight heroes we think the MCU got right, nailing the sweet spot in the Venn diagram between performance, script and comic book authenticity, and seven we think should go back to the drawing board.
15. GOT RIGHT: CAPTAIN AMERICA
If you’re going to build a cinematic universe around the Avengers, you need to get Captain America right. Though the Star-Spangled Avenger wasn’t a founding member of Marvel’s comic book supergroup, perhaps no character is more closely associated with the Avengers than Cap. The character has been a mainstay and chairman of the Avengers almost constantly since he was pulled from the ice.
So when Marvel cast Cap, they needed someone who could both physically and metaphorically embody the values of Captain America, without seeming hokey or forced. In Chris Evans, they perfectly captured the “aw shucks” sincerity of the small boy from New York mixed with the muscles to punch a Nazi in the mouth. Evans never seems fake or forced when he marvels at modern inventions, and when he very nearly picks up Thor’s hammer, you understand why he might be worthy.
14. GOT WRONG: QUICKSILVER
Poor Quicksilver. Saddled with the weight of the MCU at large, Quicksilver suffers from all too short of screen time. Of that screen time, he spends most of it either not doing much or being a jerk, neither of which makes for a very successful character. Additionally, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is forced to affect a pseudo-Eastern European accent that never sounds right.
Though he finally comes to the side of the angels, Quicksilver spends too much of the movie working for Ultron, who is obviously deranged from the start. Though Quicksilver’s allegiances in the comics have always been fluid, he’s never been one to act out of malice. It’s a shame he’s so lost here. It doesn’t help that the version of Quicksilver from the X-Men movies is fun and enjoyable. In contrast, this Quicksilver doesn’t amount to much.
13. GOT RIGHT: IRON MAN
It’s easy to forget, but shortly before the success of Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr. was on his way towards being a classic Hollywood tragedy. After achieving critical acclaim for several performances, and an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the title character in Chaplin, Downey became more and more embroiled in substance and alcohol abuse. Eventually, this behavior landed him in trouble with the authorities and multiple stints in rehab.
He was fired from some jobs while continuing to gain accolades in others. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and finally began taking his recovery from addiction seriously. As his story swung from tragedy to redemption, Jon Favreau came calling to cast Downey as Tony Stark. Not only does Downey look convincingly like Stark, Downey’s own battles with addiction mirrored Stark’s alcoholism. The casting was perfect, and paved the foundation for the MCU as we know it today.
12. GOT WRONG: HANK PYM
Michael Douglas does a fine job of acting the role he’s given in Ant-Man. Our complaint, and the reason why he ends up here, is that, so far, the MCU hasn’t given Hank Pym his due. As the MCU has moved to make Tony Stark the center of the universe, other characters with a large history of prominence in the comic books have been forced to the side.
That’s the case with Hank Pym, who’s place as a prominent scientific mind has been nearly completely given to Stark. That’s especially sad in regards to Ultron, though much of their father/son dynamic that appeared in the comics made it to the screen. But since we’re fair, given the timeline of the MCU, the films have done a pretty nice job of incorporating Hank’s historic place in the universe into the larger story. We just wish he’d been given more to do.
11. GOT RIGHT: DUM DUM DUGAN
Part of the MCU’s success is the richness of the environment its built, and a big part of that environment is the minor characters that populate its landscape. One of the best is the Howling Commando Dum Dum Dugan, played with enthusiastic aplomb by Neal McDonough, who perfectly embodies Dum Dum’s extreme confidence in the face of overwhelming odds.
McDonough’s comic book credits run pretty deep. In addition to Dum Dum, he’s played Damien Darhk in three of DC’s television shows, and voiced Green Arrow, Deadshot and Bruce Banner in several animated offerings. But let’s be honest: it’s all about the mustache. And instead of giving Dum Dum a mustache that more accurately translates into the real world, producers have kept Dum Dum’s signature bushy handlebars that make him instantly recognizable, even in the chaos of world war.
10. GOT WRONG: IRON FIST
Modern audiences were always going to complain that Iron Fist (aka Danny Rand) was guilty of playing into the “white savior” trope, because, well, that’s what the character is. Iron Fist is a product of his time, and we’ve become more sensitive to the messages conveyed by fictional characters.
Iron Fist could have gone a long way to mitigate the criticisms of its main character by making Danny more likable or self-aware, but instead, the script given to Finn Jones paints Danny as too much of a bro while simultaneously coming off as someone who’s paid too much attention to the “lessons” of Eat. Pray. Love. He doesn’t need to be Tony Stark’s “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist,” but Rand could have been an answer to it. Finn Jones seems like a swell guy, but when he gets punched in the face as Danny Rand, we’re kind of OK with it.
9. GOT RIGHT: SPIDER-MAN
While previous incarnations of the wall-crawler each had their own merits and shortcomings, Tom Holland’s version of Peter Parker best captures the wide-eyed rookie we enjoy seeing as Spider-Man. He’s a kid who gets to walk metaphorically and literally with gods, a fan as much as us who has hit the lottery (or the jackpot, if you will) through a mixture of luck and the application of his own skills and heart.
We are even comfortable with Tony Stark’s role in Spider-Man’s development as a hero, though as you’ll see from later in our list, we aren’t always on board with Stark’s preeminence in the MCU. Spidey looks great on screen, behaves how we think he should behave, and captures a sense of fun that’s too often missing in comic book films.
8. GOT WRONG: THE PUNISHER
Truth be told, Frank Castle actually nearly made our villains list. We don’t have anything against the Punisher as a character, or even Jon Bernthal as an actor, but when you bring them together on Daredevil, what you get is mostly a poorly-lit grunt. In the end, the impression the character leaves is not all that impressive.
We hope that when the Punisher gets his own series he’ll have a chance to shine. The Punisher is a classic character in the Marvel Universe, and he deserves to be done right. He also presents producers with a low-tech power set, so that should make a translation to the screen fairly easy. The Punisher appears on our list here because of his unfulfilled potential. Hopefully his solo series will prove us wrong, and get him moved to the other side of the list.
7. GOT RIGHT: PEGGY CARTER
In the testosterone-fueled world of superheroes, Agent Peggy Carter is a unique character. Strong, charming, believably competent, Agent Carter is a bright spot when she’s on screen. Played by Hayley Atwell with complete confidence, we’ve been treated to stories that show Peggy maneuvering through the dangerous battlefields of World War II and workplace misogyny.
The strength of the character is perhaps most obvious at her funeral, where the speech made by Captain America in the comic books is attributed to Peggy during the eulogy Sharon Carter delivers for her aunt: “Compromise where you can. And where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right, even if the whole world is telling you to move. It is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say, no. You move.” That’s good stuff, attributed to the incomparable Peggy Carter.
6. GOT WRONG: GORGON
The new Inhumans has been plagued with bad press, unless it’s press about Lockjaw, in which case it’s been all “Squee!”, but Inhumans, sadly, isn’t only about Lockjaw. The show features the entire Inhuman Royal Family, and that means we get to see Eme Ikwuakor wear goofy boots to make it look like he’s got hoofs.
What we see here is the challenge of balancing audience expectations with the budget realities of a television show. The entire production suffers from its aspirations exceeding its abilities. Where it shines, it shines, but where it cuts corners, you get Gorgon. We aren’t sure how important Inhumans is to the overall plan of the MCU. If the comics are any indication, the importance of the Inhumans and the shift away from mutants seems to be fading. If that’s the case, we won’t have Gorgon’s lame special effects to kick around for very long.
5. GOT RIGHT: JESSICA JONES
We imagine the character description for Jessica Jones could read something like this: a cactus with a soft, squishy core; fiercely loyal and sharply cynical; beautiful on the outside but deeply scarred on the inside; able to melt a heart with a smile and throw a car through a storefront. As Jessica Jones, Krysten Ritter captures all these traits and more, really hitting her stride.
The show does an excellent job of juggling all her characteristics while developing both her powers and her motivations to use — 0r not to use — them. We understand her reluctance to let loose, her inclination to bury her past in snark and booze and we cheer when she finally comes to accept being a part of something bigger. We loved David Tennant’s portrayal of the Purple Man, and Ritter’s Jessica Jones was the perfect foil for him.
4. GOT WRONG: JANE FOSTER
Natalie Portman has won an Academy Award and been nominated for two more, but her talents are wasted in her role as Jane Foster. We aren’t asking for her to become Thor, like in the comics, but she’s been demoted to little more than a prop in the films, barely given a mention. Jane could be an interesting addition the the larger MCU, but because there’s just so little space in the films, she disappears.
In fact, Jane’s highlight moment occurs when she’s not even on screen: Tony Stark and Thor get into a bragging match over who’s ladyfriend is better. We believe characters should be added and used. Jane Foster isn’t even window dressing in the MCU films. She’s that little sticker you put in the corner of the window that lets firefighters know a baby sleeps in that room. Jane, and Portman, deserve better.
3. GOT RIGHT: THOR
We want a Thor who enjoys being Thor. He can control lightning, woo women with a smile, bash open the heads of anyone he meets, and drink like a god. Chris Hemsworth wears the joy of being Thor well, without ever losing the weight of the responsibility of being Asgard’s heir-apparent. He’s the Avenger men want to be, and women want to be with.
We love each time Thor interacts with his fellow Avengers. He never lords his godhood above the mortals he surrounds himself with and welcomes opportunities to just be with his friends between battles. We believe his love for Jane is genuine, even if Jane never gets much to do in the films. Thor: Ragnarok will give the God of Thunder another chance to shine, and if the trailers are any indication, we’ll be treated to more of what we like from Thor.
2. GOT WRONG: QUAKE
We feel like Quake is a character that was a mash-up of the television series’ needs and the writers’ attempt to use original source material and in the end, as much as we like the character and performance, there was so much wasted opportunity that we are left feeling empty. Chloe Bennett does what she can with the character, but is she Quake, or Skye (remember when she was a hacker?!), or Daisy? The character has really suffered thanks to a lack of direction.
Maybe worst of all, though, is that though they try to paint her as a strong young woman, she’s almost always being defined by her romantic relationships. When that’s not the case, she’s coming to terms with her father’s past. Going forward, hopefully Quake gets to develop on her own for a while.
1. GOT RIGHT: DOCTOR STRANGE
Surgeon Doctor Stephen Strange is condescending, arrogant, brilliant and egotistical, and he’s portrayed unapologetically unsympathetically by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch cultivated playing this sort of character during his seven years as Sherlock Holmes on the BBC television series Sherlock. Cumberbatch distinguishes himself by nailing the performance as Doctor Strange transitions to the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
He maintains a healthy arrogance, tempered by the knowledge that he doesn’t have all the knowledge. Yet. When he gains his powers and enters a scene with his Cloak of Levitation majestically flowing behind him, he owns the room. The film looks great, and most-importantly, as the first MCU movie to star magic and magicians, it looks completely different than all the other MCU movies. While Doctor Strange suffers by not having a particularly strong villain, the film has got its hero game locked down tightly.
What are some MCU heroes you think we’ve left off our list? Let us know in the comments!
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