Top 10 Times the MCU Tackled Serious Issues
VOICE OVER: Callum Janes
WRITTEN BY: Matt Klem
Once you get past the bombastic action and tight spandex, you'll find that the MCU is full of important life lessons. For this list, we'll be looking at live action instances within this superhero franchise where real-world concerns were shown on camera. Our countdown includes “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, "Iron Man", "Black Panther", and more!
Top 10 Times the MCU Tackled Serious Issues
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Times the MCU Tackled Serious Issues.
For this list, we’ll be looking at live action instances within this superhero franchise where real-world concerns were shown on camera. Both movies and television shows will be considered. Since major plot points will be discussed, a spoiler warning is in effect.
Did we miss a heavy subject that Marvel shows covered? Let us know in the comments..
#10: Police Behavior
“Cloak & Dagger” (2018-19)
It’s not often we get to see something in the realm of law enforcement’s misuse of power on a network aimed at teenagers. During the course of the first season of Marvel’s “Cloak and Dagger,” we learn much about Tyrone’s distrust for law enforcement. As a kid, he witnessed an officer named James Connors shoot his brother and get away with it. Anyone at that age would have been traumatized. But it especially hits hard for a young Black boy who’s grown up hearing stories about tragedies like this. It’s refreshing and brave to see a show aimed at a younger audience tackle such a serious subject that is still an ongoing issue today.
“Captain Marvel” (2019)
When the movie “Captain Marvel'' kicks off, we see Carol Danvers as a Kree warrior who’s been fully indoctrinated into their world. The Kree are at war with the Skrulls and Carol is fully committed to fighting alongside her comrades. It’s not until we get about halfway through the movie we learn the Skrulls aren’t what she thought they were. As the pendulum swings back in the other direction, Carol realizes she’s spent years as the victim of Kree propaganda. It’s this realization that should remind all of us that perspective is vital. One person's interpretation is not necessarily the entire story. Critical thinking is key, especially when lives are on the line.
#8: Losing Your Job
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)
As much as we want to hate the villain in most movies, the best antagonists are often the ones whose motivations may be flawed, but understandable. Even a big bad like Thanos had his own misguided reasons for the snap. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” gave us the relatable Adrian Toomes. He was a blue-collar worker trying his best to support his family through good old fashioned hard work. When the Department of Damage Control takes a huge job from him, he turns to a life of illegal weapons dealing. It may have been morally compromising, but desperation can breed many things when you’re trying to stay economically afloat.
#7: Controlling & Violent Behavior
“Jessica Jones” (2015-19)
Jessica Jones has experienced plenty of tragedy. Pawning herself off as a private investigator, she’s been able to remain more relatively hidden in the superhero realm than other Marvel characters. This subtlety has not prevented her from experiencing even more trauma in the form of Kilgrave’s advances, however. Using his mind control abilities, he forced Jessica to do a number of horrific things against her will. The entire subject matter itself is quite disturbing within the context of this show. But even if Kilgrave didn’t have superpowers, his crimes against Jessica realistically depict one of the worst things a person can do to another.
#6: War Profiteering
“Iron Man” (2008)
Over the course of the MCU timeline, we have learned quite a bit about how the Stark family fortune was made. Howard Stark was a brilliant man who worked closely with the US military. From weapons, to the very serum that made Captain America, Stark was funded quite heavily by government contracts. This continued past his death. Unfortunately, his business partner Obadiah Stane crossed the line and began selling weapons directly to radicals. The arms business is a dangerous one, and a connection that Tony Stark finally put an end to. As arrogant as he can be, Tony showed the world, and us as the audience, that powerful companies have a moral obligation just as much as a financial one.
#5: The Dangers of AI
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015)
The threat of artificial intelligence has been a part of popular culture since the early 20th century. Whether it’s Skynet from the “Terminator” franchise, or WOPR from “WarGames”, storytellers love using this idea to frame a threat to our world. So, when Tony Stark and Bruce Banner decide to use the gem from Loki’s scepter containing an AI, we knew things were bound to go wrong. They created Ultron, a maniacal being who saw the elimination of humanity as the only way forward. He represents the worst of our human fears regarding artificial intelligence. Will what we create ultimately destroy us? It’s certainly a question we’ll face if we push the limits as far as Stark and Banner did.
“Captain Marvel” (2019)
Even since the beginning of the MCU, Marvel has made a point of creating strong female characters. From Peggy Carter to Black Widow, the franchise never shied away from depicting complex women who rise to high-ranking positions. But it wasn’t until Captain Marvel came along that we saw a woman lead a film. Not only did she lead it, she pushed through the barriers of sexism rampant in many films today. Even the actress herself, Brie Larson, faced discrimination for her portrayal as a strong woman. Thankfully, both Carol and Larson herself stood their ground and showed how powerful women are.
#3: Morals Around Mass Surveillance
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
In the wake of the Edward Snowden scandal, the world learned just how much information the government is capturing about each of us. For the MCU, this was personified by the introduction of Project Insight in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. A series of helicarriers were to be used to identify possible threats to both the United States and Hydra. The truth about what they really are is made clear when Captain America says [b-roll1: “This isn’t free. It’s fear”]. There’s a fine line where being too protective can infringe on freedom. Captain America’s second outing definitely illustrates how badly mass surveillance can be misused to cause chaos.
“Black Panther” (2018)
“Black Panther” was the first superhero movie to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. Instead of just being another action heavy superhero spectacle, director Ryan Coogler made a film that shows the dichotomy of being Black in different parts of the world. T’Challa lives in Wakanda, a isolationist nation ruled by African people where oppression is virtually nonexistent. Killmonger, however, hails from the US where African-Americans have openly struggled for equality for centuries. Their clashing perspectives on how to handle the issue came from the worlds they each were raised in. By the end of the movie, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go to resolve racial issues around the world.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Having a Drinking Problem, “Iron Man 2” (2010)
Even a Hero Like Iron Man Can Become Too Reliant on Liquor
Issues with Parents, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017)
A Lot of MCU Characters Have Bad Relationships with Their Fathers in Particular
Workplace Discrimination Against Convicts, “Ant-Man” (2015)
Former Prisoners Can Face Severely Limited Opportunities
Isolationism, “Black Panther” (2018)
Why Put Up a Fence When You Can Extend a Hand?
#1: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [aka PTSD]
“Iron Man 3” (2013)
Despite all their powers, and the countless lives they saved, MCU superheroes can’t always escape their own emotional and mental scars. Every one of the heroes have experienced some kind of trauma throughout their journey. In the wake of the lives lost in the “snap”, we don’t blame anyone for struggling to accept such a massive loss. None of this is more apparent than what we see in Tony Stark in “Iron Man 3”. Following the events of the New York battle in the first Avengers movie, Tony struggles to keep himself together. We’re not used to seeing someone as confident as him in such a vulnerable state. What it does give however, is a real depiction of how trauma affects us.