Many fans call out the issues and wrongdoings of the DCEU, but can they see issues brought forth by the MCU?
The women of Marvel Comics are among the most recognizable and fascinating women in all of comics. While, yes, many of them, much like other women in comics, are sexualized, they still manage to be powerful, interesting, and impactful despite such decisions of design and characterization. And for characters like Emma Frost, in particular, her sexualization and sex appeal are often viewed as symbols of sex-positivity: that being sexy and sultry are not inherently bad and can even be used as tools in one’s toolshed.
No matter where you fall on how the women characters of Marvel Comics are drawn or written, they benefit from years and even decades of character development and storylines from which many a fan might find something relatable or at the very least engaging in some fashion. However, adaptations don’t typically benefit from such longevity. They have less time for trial and error to make things stick. The MCU, often lauded and overrated despite a myriad of problems, is no exception.
There will be SPOILERS for several MCU-related films and series including Spider-Man: No Way Home, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Spider-Man: Homecoming, WandaVision, Loki, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Civil War, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and many more.
In the MCU, the Avengers started it all. And Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow was the first female Avenger. Even before the atrocious storyline and romance established in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Widow started off in Iron Man 2 and later Marvel’s The Avengers as an underdeveloped, mysterious, and stoic character defined by sex appeal and being the “cool girl” in a boys club. And as the only girl, she often had an air of being the “straight man” (or wet blanket, if ya nasty) in a sea of otherwise comedic characters possessing far more levity. This would be a recurring theme with many more MCU female leads: she is usually highly competent and feels she is too good for otherwise seemingly bumbling humorous men (whose humor often alludes her, at least initially) and her character development consists of or includes her learning to love the men (or man) she previously thought was beneath her or otherwise not worth her time.
For Natasha, the greatest disrespect came when Joss Whedon wrote for Scarlet Johansson and Black Widow a storyline where she could not have children and therefore felt she was a monster like the Hulk (complete with an unnecessary and forced romance with the Hulk, to boot). This storyline would later come full circle when the character committed suicide in Avengers: Endgame in order to help bring everyone back to life because she felt that, as someone without a family, her life was worth less than a douchebag archer who had one but was also a recent, willing, mass murderer of ethnic people in foreign countries… yikes. That, plus her standalone solo film which came after the character already died, which fans wanted years ago, meant little for her character because, as we know… she dead.
This one hurt because ever since I knew a live-action Avengers film was coming I wanted the Scarlet Witch. And while, yes, WandaVision did leaps and bounds to improve her character and bring her closer to the majesty that is the comics’ version pre-retcon, first impressions are everything. Let me explain.
Wanda Maximoff in Age of Ultron was essentially a souped-up Jean Grey. She didn’t use a codename, as Jean is known not to for extended periods of time, she wore a minidress, similar to one of Jean’s iconic looks, and even has telekinesis and telepathy. It wasn’t just “hypnosis” or mind control, she straight up talks about looking inside of people’s minds. And while her red energy signature is far cooler than anything the abysmal FOX X-Men films ever did with Jean’s powers, they’re still pretty much the same, again until WandaVision. The MCU then decided to kill her brother by being shot… despite literally having super speed. Then Marvel Comics decided to engage in horizontal marketing by retconning away Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s longstanding history as mutants and the children of Magneto, just because Marvel Studios didn’t have the right to mutants or the X-Men characters at the time. Then they got the rights back… and still have yet to undo that unpopular and unnecessary retcon at the time of this posting.
Again, while I appreciated what WandaVision gave us, namely a fantastic villainous Agatha Harkness and the establishment of true witchcraft in the MCU, it is still a shame that we still don’t have mutants or the reveal that Wanda is one of them and that she and her brother were adopted, their true parents being a Max Eisenhardt aka Erik Magnus Lehnsherr and his wife Magda (who they could have made a witch account her Wanda’s own inherent witchcraft). MCU Wanda is absolutely saved by the brilliance that is Elizabeth Olsen and her incredible acting chops, although it’s also a shame they couldn’t cast someone who is Romani for a historically at least half-Romani character.
I laughed out loud when watching Grace Randolph’s video about the first Ant-Man film where we realized this wouldn’t be Janet Van Dyne but instead a Hope Van Dyne. “Who the f*ck (it was hilariously bleeped too) is Hope Van Dyne?!” My thoughts exactly, Grace. Hope, much like Black Widow before her, displays tendencies of “This guy is an idiot, it should just be me!” And by the sequel when she truly becomes the Wasp and a co-star and fellow title character of the aptly-named Ant-Man and the Wasp she is a definite stick-in-the-mud, especially as opposed to Paul Rudd’s delightfully funny Scott Lang.
Hope, perhaps even more than Natasha (she even she got her moments of humor and levity, particularly in outings like Captain America: The Winter Soldier), is the pinnacle of “these boys are idiots and it’s once again up to me to make everything right. Very grating, and very jarring. Also very unlike Wasp, the original model. Janet Van Dyne was always a fun and fun-loving character, which makes one wonder why she couldn’t just be the version we got, even if we kept Evangeline Lily.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The best thing that the women of the Guardians of the Galaxy films have for them is that they all look pretty dope and distinct. Of the three, obviously, Nebula is the best developed and crafted. I would even go so far as to argue she is the fan favorite by a landslide. But even she could and should have been more awesome. She, as well as Gamora, have both expertly wielded Infinity gems (I refuse to call them stones like the MCU wants me to) and showed a lot more feats of power and were greater threats. This leads me to:
This is meant to be “the deadliest woman in the universe”..? Girl… Where??? From the very beginning of the first Guardians film, she is already reformed and trying to be a hero. She is also easily the most immediately heroic of all the characters, despite many reminders that she was an assassin and evil because she’s the favorite adoptive daughter of Thanos. Why didn’t we see this change from cold-blooded assassin to hero? Instead, the movie just skips all that and jumps into “we have to save the universe…”
And while her dynamic with Thanos and Nebula is genuinely interesting on-screen, seeing her be yet another “straight man” to the boys’ chaotic and more humorous personalities as well as being largely forgettable by comparison, is quite troubling.
She is easily overshadowed by her sister and is mostly remembered for being the female love interest… to a gross man-child Star-Lord. I can’t decide if I hated their relationship more than Widow and Hulk’s. Here’s hoping that now that we have a past version, we finally get an edgier, more villainous version of the character we deserved from the start. Keep her away from Star-Lord. We don’t want or need it.
Even Gamora, despite being mostly depowered (the comic version seems way more deadly and effective), still somewhat reads like Gamora. The MCU version of Mantis is that character in name only. In the comics, she is a master fighter with knowledge of pressure points who once incapacitated Thor with her bare hands. Instead, she is in the MCU a non-fighter with admittedly powerful empathic powers (even if she mostly uses her powers to advance unneeded romantic subplots or be living NyQuil) who is often the butt of jokes, least of all to the man she clearly has a thing for. Speaking of Drax and master fighters, are we not getting Moondragon..? Because if not, that’s some bullshit for real…
The Women of Asgard
Jane Foster, a human, is one of the most boring characters played by an incredibly talented actress. The fact that they managed to get her to come back to play the character’s most famous role is both shocking (as they had her in Thor: The Dark World which remains one of, if not the, most hated MCU films of all time) and unsurprising because she gets to be a comics-accurate female Thor which was quite popular in the comics.
Side rant, Thor is the dude’s given name. It is not a title. I still don’t understand how or why other people just call themselves Thor as if it’s a mantle. People calling her “Lady Thor” which is often taken as an insult because “she’s just Thor” makes no sense given that the man before her has a true name of Thor Odinson.
My biggest issue with Jane, beyond her being boring (hopefully her as… ahem… Thor… will change that), is that while she indeed was Thor Odinson’s first love interest in the classic comics, the MCU has decided she is the only love interest to him. Since learning more about Thor in the mid-2000s (when I first played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance), I was under the impression that actually Sif was meant to be his true love, and that was certainly the case for many extended periods of time in the comics when Jane kinda dipped out. But the MCU never really cared about…
Sif is the wife of Thor in Norse Mythology. And while Marvel Comics and the MCU only loosely adapt Norse Mythology for Thor and his related characters, the two have a deep history in the comics. Sif is the main example of how the MCU loves to focus on a particular ship or female character or both and then sideline or discard the rest because they don’t fit the narrative of the things they want to push.
Instead of Sif and Thor having any kind of history, or even having the comics-accurate backstory of Sif breaking things off with Thor because she doesn’t understand his attachment to Midgard (aka Earth) and its inhabitants, instead, she has an unrequited crush on him which he barely notices or takes seriously… because Jane. Even if they went with Sif and Thor being exes because he loved Midgard too much, that would have been more character development and intrigue for Sif… but I guess not.
And while we didn’t need a love triangle, I would have preferred seeing Thor and Sif explore a romance and become a hammer-wielding/sword-wielding battle couple.
While Valkyrie was not given the obligatory “men are idiots and I have to clean up their messes” attitude the MCU love to give many of their women characters… they also didn’t even bother to give the girl a damn real name. From outside materials, her name seems to be Brunhilde, the first woman in Marvel Comics to hold the mantle of Valkyrie (well, after technically her identity and body were stolen by Amora the Enchantress in the comics for the character’s initial appearances before the real Valkyrie was freed), the movies have thus far yet to actually say her name.
Valkyrie is fun, tough, and interesting, but she is very underdeveloped. Perhaps more egregiously, her subplot of being visibly openly bisexual was scrapped and it’s reported that the following Thor film will have her searching for “her queen”. Fingers crossed that will be Amora (especially if Amora was still evil and we got some complexity between her and Valkyrie if their love is indeed real but they gotta fight anyway) instead of some rando who will mean absolutely nothing because the MCU utterly fails at romance that isn’t related to Wanda and Vision (and maybe Tony and Pepper, depending on who you ask), let alone anything LGBTQIA+.
I’ll try not to go on too long because I could rant about this character and show for days. If you loved the Loki series on Disney+ or the character of Sylvie, then feel free to skip this section.
I hated the Loki series more than I can possibly say. Despite some melanin, there was way too much whiteness getting screen time and character development with any care (Renslayer was boring and shady, Hunter B-15 was underdeveloped until the very end and never given another name, etc.). No one, not even the main Loki got more attention or care than Sylvie. Everyone in the story made a big deal about her being a “female variant” despite Loki supposedly (according to a document clocked by eagle-eyed fans) being gender-fluid, meaning this would not be an issue or even a big deal whatsoever. Not to mention bisexual reveals via dialogue and a forced romance between alternate selves…
Did I mention I fucking hated this series?
The casting and development of Sylvie was a nightmare because she wasn’t really Loki, except for her kind of dressing like him and similar powers, also double-crossing him in the end, but her base personality was nothing like him. She was shorter, blonde, and looked absolutely nothing like him. She didn’t even seem like him to properly register to the viewer as another version of him. It’s almost as if they deliberately chose someone different enough from Tom Hiddleston to have a heteronormative romance that was, egads, selfcest without really looking like it, just them telling us she was kinda sorta him, but she doesn’t look or act like him for the most part. Kind of like wanting shock value for the most basic shit…
Not to mention her being named after Sylvie Lushton, a teenage successor of Amora the Enchantress, who got her powers from Loki, was coincidental and pointless. Nothing of note or importance came from her being called Sylvie or her mind control being called “enchantments”. She wasn’t Lady Loki (who most people don’t understand that in the comics was THE Loki, the same one from all of Marvel history up to that point. It was the villainous, evil Loki from decades of comic history who took over the body of Sif to spite Thor and condemn the real Sif to death in the body of an elderly, terminally ill woman… and instead, the MCU gave us THIS shit).
Loki couldn’t even be the star of his own series, and Sylvie, as much as they focused on her, was milquetoast and pointless. She also had nothing to say about Thor or had any apparent feelings about Thor, which makes no sense since Loki and Thor are almost always thinking about or mentioning the other.
While I genuinely adore Hayley Atwell and her performance as Peggy Carter, I don’t understand why she was so important to Cap when they barely knew each other. Sure, on his end he had gotten frozen so time didn’t really pass for him, but she managed to live an entire life without him and found SHIELD. And while those shippers might have been upset that they (initially) didn’t get their dance, it was a tragic reminder that sometimes shit happens and you don’t get what you want and have to move on. The point and tragedy of Cap being frozen is that his past is lost to him forever, save Bucky who is his last link to the past (and also a key reason for his devotion to protecting and standing by him). Also, by her short-lived series, which was all about her moving on without Steve, Peggy managed to find meaning, purpose, and dare I say it love (I liked her and Sousa) without him…
And then Endgame undid all that development as well as her original marriage and any children she might have had when they decided Steve would go back in time and stay with Peggy instead of letting the timeline go as it originally had. Again, they barely knew each other. Originally I myself argued that Steve didn’t need Bucky to be his boyfriend on YouTube, but looking back now… he had way more screen time and development and emotional moments with Bucky than he ever did with Peggy… so I change my mind and would prefer Stucky by far.
But both of those things as well as Peggy’s undone potential nothing compared to what the MCU did to Sharon Carter.
Sharon, like Sif, was actually the main longstanding love interest of a Marvel hero. Yes, Peggy was there and she worked with Cap, but up until the MCU, Peggy was more of a footnote and a reminder of a previous connection related to Sharon. Originally Peggy had been Sharon’s sister but was later retconned to be her aunt because of comic book time and Sharon not being ageless like Steve. The MCU once again focused on the first girl, in this case, Peggy (where previously it was Jane in the case of Thor), while the second girl (now Sharon, where before it was Sif) gets paid dust. And while a woman being a love interest shouldn’t be the goal in a movie, unfortunately, the MCU and comic book movies make that the case if you’re not the lead or a villain.
After getting a kiss with Steve in Civil War which was a nod to their (again longstanding) romance in the comics, does Steve move on with her? Does he even go back for her when she was arrested and later exiled or whatever her situation was in Falcon and the Winter Soldier? No. She was abandoned and forgotten, not just by the narrative, but by the people (Team Cap) who she helped and got herself in trouble for. I honestly don’t blame her for becoming corrupt and I hope we see more of her fucking shit up because fuck those guys and fuck the MCU for treating her like shit.
I’ve covered how I feel about Carol Danvers and how the MCU stole Monica Rambeau’s legacy as the first female Captain Marvel from under her, handed it to Carol, made Monica a child sidekick, and play niece/daughter figure to Carol with whom she had no ties to in the comics with (and her story was her own), and made Carol the only Captain Marvel in the MCU even over Mar-Vell… who they even made a woman in the movie!
I will just instead say how, despite Monica’s excellent performance courtesy of her actress Teyonah Parris, her superhero origin story should have been better. We know that Covid prevented more scenes that would have highlighted (no pun intended) Monica’s heroism and powers in the finale, but it was in very poor taste to have her big moment being getting shot (though unharmed) protecting semi-imaginary white children, especially in this time period where gun violence against Black bodies is so real. I’ll even admit that initially, I didn’t feel as though the scene was a big deal because I knew she would be fine (because she already had her powers, even if she didn’t know how to use them), but now I realize it didn’t have to happen that particular way.
As for Carol herself, she has proven to be very divisive among fans for multiple reasons, but I’ll go into why I don’t care for her. She stole Monica’s legacy and Monica should have been Captain Marvel in the MCU while Carol became Ms. Marvel (she didn’t have to wear a leotard, but she was Ms. Marvel for most of her history and Monica deserved a solo movie since the MCU still doesn’t have a solo Black woman-led film). I also felt that I got more emotion from Maria Rambeau in one scene than I got from Carol in the entire movie, though I know there was an in-universe reason for that involves amnesia (though I feel even amnesiacs still have emotions, just not certain memories). I will admit that it was cool to see Carol be so powerful, though it only had me wishing I could see Monica be powerful as well. I never even particularly cared much about Carol in the comics except for her being the reason Rogue from the X-Men had cool additional powers of flight, super strength, and near-invulnerability for much of the character’s history.
Monica will return in the Marvels film alongside Carol and Kamala Khan. I hope that she will get a solo film and also become a leader of the Avengers because in WandaVision she displayed bravery, heroism, and leadership that marks excellent leaders, and Monica, of course, actually was a leader of the Avengers in the comics.
The Supporting Characters of Spider-Man
I’m not stupid and I know how many people love and adore Tom Holland, the MCU overall, and his take on Peter Parker as well as his films. So if you can’t handle someone hating it or him in the role, skip this section. That being said, I almost exclusively refer to Tom Holland as Peter-Tingle when he’s playing Peter Parker, so beware of that as well. They turned the Spider-sense into a literal dick joke, so I’ll call the whole character by that name. Also SPOILER warning for Spider-Man: No Way Home. Anywho…
I have never seen a Spider-Man love interest so utterly ignored, wasted, and pointless as Laura Harrier’s Liz Allan. She was way too gorgeous for him (fight me) and she was a… senior? When he was a sophomore..? I’m sorry. I was in high school. Ain’t no way a girl that tall and fine was gonna not only be giving a short white dude the time of day, in high school, but she also wouldn’t be giving him endless chances after lame-ass excuse after excuse for why he keeps standing her up on dates. We know he was Spider-Man and had legitimate reasons, but she didn’t have access to that information.
Liz was in danger once in the middle of the movie and saved by the hero, but she didn’t get the familiar Spidey treatment of being in danger by the main villain… because the villain was her father. It couldn’t even be her trying (but failing) to convince her father to stop fighting and trying to appeal to his humanity, she was just… not there. Plus, even Mary Jane and Gwen in previous film franchises got to have scenes by themselves and motivations and arcs all their own. Liz got jack squat, relied solely on her white male love interest for screen time and any shred of character development (if she even had any), and left with a whimper.
I did an entire article on how Michelle Jones really being Michelle Jones-Watson aka the MCU equivalent of Mary Jane Watson was anticlimactic. So I’ll just say that she should’ve been their version of Angelica Jones aka Firestar (give more Black girls and women powers, so far all we have is Monica) and that other versions of Mary Jane were better crafted. Like Liz before her, it seems MJ couldn’t get any storylines or motivations outside of Peter-Tingle. I guess you could argue her wanting to get into MIT (but that wasn’t unique to her), or her apparent issues with her father (which weren’t explored) were the best Sony/the MCU could do. Otherwise, she’s just the latest love interest and fellow member of the friend group. She brings nothing unique to the table besides being the girl with a sardonic sense of humor.
Side note, Betty Brant, who canonically was Peter’s first love and second love interest after Liz also got paid dust. In the MCU they cast someone who looks like Gwen Stacy, which probably confused some fans, and had a weird relationship with Ganke–er I mean, Ned, which went nowhere and was her only storyline of any real note. And Peter never even so much as has a one-on-one conversation with her (to my knowledge, I’ve only seen the Peter-Tingle movies once), to pay homage to that relationship from the comics, though Betty and Ned were indeed a couple and married at one point in the comics, so that (at least) was given homage.
Many people might fondly remember Marisa Tomei as the sole (but kind) white student at an HBCU in A Different World, or perhaps as a jilted schoolteacher in Crazy, Stupid, Love. I like the actress myself. But woo chile, why did we need to sexualize Aunt May so much??? Tony Stark hits on her while he and Pepper are broken up (I think), which only hammers in the whole “MCU Iron Man is a father figure to Peter-Tingle” and hits the viewer over the head. I don’t know whether to blame Sony or the MCU for that part, but subtlety is clearly not their strong suit…
Other than May being needlessly sexualized and once again younger than the last iteration (each franchise sees Peter and May get younger. Next, we’ll have a toddler Peter Parker being cared for by Cousin May. I can’t take credit for coming up with ‘Cousin’ May, all credit goes to my sis Princess Weekes), she was mostly fine. Her little fling with Happy, which while it also sexualized her more, was humorous because he took the situation much more seriously than her.
Her death and role as the MCU equivalent of Uncle Ben were shocking, unexpected, impactful, and endearing (even I was moved by Tomei and Peter-Tingle’s performances). It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t have a little more substance for May prior to her death, maybe some more scenes outside of her nephew and Happy. As soon as we saw she was working at FEAST from the games, I should’ve suspected she wasn’t long for this world. Don’t have the name ‘May’ and work for FEAST, in any universe.
Linda aka Killmonger’s Black American Girlfriend, and His Mother
Black Panther was a film with excellent visuals, cinematography (minus one unfortunate scene in the ancestor’s plane towards the end and a clunky CGI mess of a final fight), music, acting, and melanin. The women in this film, for the most part, were the best parts of the movie. Shuri was fun and hilarious (unlike her actress these days), Nakia was fascinating and brought up excellent points (like getting involved in helping areas outside of Wakanda), and Okoye was ever the dutiful soldier learning to be loyal to a friend instead of blindly loyal to a throne. Of the Wakandans, queen mother Ramonda was the least developed, but even she worked for the little screen time she and Angela Bassett got.
Most people loved this movie completely, and while I enjoyed it and love its success, I had mixed feelings. I appreciate that the film, despite being a Disney film, allowed conversation about colonization and Black American struggles and issues. However, I felt that the onscreen representation of Black American characters was both limited and a bit insulting. Killmonger, the film’s villain, was the main representation of Black Americans, being half on his mother’s side. He disrespects and slaps around elders, shoots his Black American girlfriend in the head because she was compromised, and overall wants to destroy the Wakandan way of life.
His girlfriend, originally intended to be Tilda Johnson aka Nightshade from the comics, was, again, shot in the head by her boyfriend and the sole representation of Black American women in the film with very limited screen time and absolutely no character development. She too, of course, was a villain, though more of an accomplice.
Even worse was Killmonger’s mother, the woman whom his father was willing to betray and risk everything to help her and her people as Wakandans didn’t try to save Black Americans from marginalization. We never, at any point, ever see Killmonger’s mother, not even in a photograph. We never so much as learn her name. For a film revolving around family and legacy which also introduced some interesting conversations and concepts, it missed the mark on Black American representation outside of its main villain.
I said this a lot to people I know, so any of them reading this already know this about me, but I personally did not care for Killmonger’s final speech about drowning with his ancestors. He, his mother, and her lineage, much like other Black Americans who exist today, did so because they didn’t drown or die despite harrowing lives and odds. Literally. He could not possibly exist if his ancestors actually drowned. There is strength in people who, despite most certainly going to suffer greatly once leaving those slave ships, chose to remain alive and fight this thing called life so that a better future might one day, hopefully, arrive for their future descendants. I wish Killmonger, the movie, and Ryan Coogler had thought about that.
My opinions on this topic, much like my opinions on any topic, are subjective. You might agree, or you might not. I just feel that the MCU isn’t this shining, perfect thing that never does any wrong. They have missed the mark part of the time (like with Wanda) or the entire time (like with Sharon, Gamora, Mantis, and more) with their women characters, which also includes many of its Black and ethnic characters in general. The MCU gets some things right and is an undeniable success, but they can stand to improve on how they create and develop their characters.
Women characters should be more than just sexy, beautiful, or attached exclusively to their male counterparts. That also goes for mothers and familial characters like Aunt May or Frigga. They should have storylines and motivations of their own and feel like humans, rather than just accessories to the male POV.
Also, while it won’t be hard to improve the women of the X-Men after the travesty of the FOX films, if the MCU uses any of these previous tactics, I am seriously worried. The X-Men are my absolute favorite comic book property of all time, and its women are among the best of any comic book across the board. They need to be developed well and with care.
Do you agree with my points? Are there any characters I left out? Should I include more characters from the TV series’? Should I discuss how Black and ethnic characters are handled? How about a list of which MCU women characters I felt were handled well? Let me know in the comments.