Warning: The following contains SPOILERS for the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 1.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe did a fantastic job of bringing the world of Marvel Comics to life, it is a sad but harsh reality that the MCU Phase 1 films have flaws that are apparent upon rewatching. Some of these flaws are understandable, involving growing pains as the shared setting developed. Others involve aspects of the films that have not aged well in retrospect.
The success of the 2008 Iron Man movie was a surprise to many. Marvel Studios was swift to try and capitalize on the film’s unexpected popularity, green-lighting a sequel and rushing plans to build upon Samuel L. Jackson’s surprise cameo as Nick Fury. This gave rise to what became known as the MCU Phase 1, with The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers setting the stage for a shared universe unlike anything that had ever been attempted before in movies. However, while the films remain enjoyable, there are some things about them that are problematic given modern standards and what came after.
12 MCU Phase 1 Has A Lack Of Diversity
While Marvel Comics was among the first American comic publishers to try and diversify their characters, these efforts were focused upon the supporting casts rather than the superheroes themselves. The same is true of the superheroes in MCU Phase 1, who largely emulate the early Avengers line-up of the 1960s. This means that all the founding Avengers are white men, with the notable exception of Black Widow.
11 The Incredible Hulk Is Pointless
2008’s The Incredible Hulk has a complex place in the history of the MCU, ultimately preventing the plans for The Incredible Hulk 2 from ever coming to fruition for a number of reasons. Ignoring how Mark Ruffalo was recast in the role originated by Edward Norton, few elements of the movie were ever referenced again in later MCU films. With the exception of William Hurt’s General Ross, most of the cast was also ignored by Marvel Studios and were not given a chance to reprise their roles. This is changing, however, with Tim Roth having played The Abomination in the She-Hulk show and Liv Tyler returning as Betty Ross in the upcoming Captain America: Brave New World.
10 Black Widow Is Overly Sexualized
Scarlett Johansson is a talented actress, who eventually got the chance to turn Natasha Romanoff into one of the MCU’s most interesting and conflicted characters. This was not readily apparent from her first appearances in the MCU, where she was immediately objectified by Tony Stark, who declared “I want one” when they first met in Iron Man 2. While The Avengers gave her some motivation for her heroism, with her talk about having “red in my ledger,” it would take several more movies to develop her personality and to give her a role beyond being the one woman on the Avengers.
9 Iron Man 2 Makes A Joke Of Tony’s Addictions
Iron Man 2 suffered in that it attempted too much, too quickly. In addition to expanding the MCU, the film also attempted to loosely adapt the Demon in a Bottle storyline from the Iron Man comics, where Tony Stark confronted his alcoholism. While this could have lent a poignant tone to the movie and allowed Robert Downey Jr. to further draw upon his own battles with addiction to bring the Tony Stark of the comics to life, the film’s script barely touched upon Tony’s problem and played them up for laughs. Given modern efforts to show more sensitivity in dealing with addiction, these scenes would never fly today.
8 Thor’s Original Personality and Look
Thor made Chris Hemsworth into an international superstar, and the Australian actor is now synonymous with the God of Thunder. However, it took Hemsworth time to find his footing with the legendary hero, and his premiere performance in the first Thor movie is somewhat stiff. Granting that Thor’s character has changed considerably, becoming more worldly and humble the more time he spent in Midgard, Hemsworth is still clearly ill at ease during MCU Phase 1. Another issue is his original Thor wig, which looks incredibly cheap compared to the hair Hemsworth sported in later films.
7 Loki’s Overt Villainy
Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Loki in Thor and The Avengers was so good that it redefined the character in the comics. While the Loki of Norse mythology was a complex character, just as likely to help the Aesir with his trickery as he was to cause trouble, the Marvel Comics Loki lived up to his title as the God of Evil. Later MCU films and modern comics redeemed the character, leading to the creation of a more anti-heroic Loki variant for the MCU Phase 4 television series. This makes it somewhat jarring to see Hiddleston playing Loki as an unrepentant villain when rewatching the MCU Phase 1 films.
6 Hawkeye Is Underdeveloped
Despite being a founding Avenger, Hawkeye is a remarkably underwritten character in the MCU Phase 1 films. His first cameo appearance in Thor amounted to little, and he spent most of his screen time in The Avengers being mind-controlled by Loki. It was not until Avengers: Age of Ultron that Clint Barton was given a background as a family man with a farm far from New York City.
5 The Romance Is Lacking
The classic Marvel Comics were defined by romance, with the comic books devoting just as much time to the heroes’ love lives as which villains they were fighting that month. The MCU Phase 1 films attempted to emulate this, for good and for ill, with most of its female leads feeling decidedly generic, and having little to do beyond stand by their men. Unsurprisingly, the one exception to this, Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter, was later given a spin-off television series, Agent Carter, to showcase the fighting spirit that won Steve Rogers’ heart.
4 Thanos Plan In Avengers Makes No Sense
While Thanos was introduced in the post-credits scene of The Avengers, his character was not yet fully mapped out, and it was presumed that he was literally trying to court the personification of Death, aka Lady Death. Later MCU films changed Thanos’ motivations, making his first appearance odd in retrospect. A larger problem is that Thanos’ plan in The Avengers makes little sense, with Thanos giving up the one Infinity Stone he has at that point to Loki, when he could have just sent the Chitauri under his command to acquire the Space Stone without involving Loki.
3 Where Is Captain Marvel?
When the MCU was first being established, it was unclear that it would succeed, and the management at the time was skeptical of superhero movies centered around women. While Captain Marvel went on to earn $1.1 billion dollars internationally, its status as a prequel to the MCU created some story problems regarding Nick Fury’s personal timeline, particularly the assertion that Fury worked with Howard Stark in Iron Man 2. Additionally, it seems strange that Fury would never mention the woman who inspired The Avengers Initiative to the other Avengers, or that he didn’t try to call Carol during the Chitauri Invasion in The Avengers.
2 The Joss Whedon Problem
Joss Whedon was a dark horse candidate to oversee The Avengers, despite being a popular creator who had overseen several cult properties and written many acclaimed comics for Marvel. While Whedon won mainstream acclaim for his work on The Avengers, the film has been tainted by allegations that he abused the actors under his control. The Avengers is an integral part of the franchise, but for many, it’s also a part that is uncomfortable to rewatch given this behind the scenes context.
1 The Agents of SHIELD Snub
Agents of SHIELD suffers a similar problem, having been produced by Joss Whedon as the first MCU tie-in television series. The show had a successful run across seven seasons, but its status in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon has been called into question in recent years. Additionally, presuming it is canon, it takes some of the punch out of Agent Coulson’s noble sacrifice in The Avengers knowing that he survived to go onto a reoccurring role in Agents of SHIELD.
Key Release Dates
Captain America: Brave New World
Marvel’s Fantastic Four
Avengers: The Kang Dynasty
Avengers: Secret Wars
Some parts of MCU Phase 1 haven’t aged well. Read More