Somehow this ended up more a long article than a top ten list. Most of the problems in Phase 2 are simply to complex to explain them in a few sentences. Overall, though this was surprisingly difficult, mostly because Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy are so good movies, that I would need to go very nit-picky to criticise them. Same with the first season of Agent Carter. But I finally found ten decisions which didn’t really work out in Phase 2:
10. Agent Carter, Season 1: The Marketing
It would be a lie to claim that the Marketing for the Marvel movies during the first two phases was particularly inspiring.
It usually got its job done, but the floating heads, the questionable “woman leans into man” poses, the by the numbers trailers, would have failed to create any interest in a property which the audience isn’t already predisposed to care for. Which is why the marketing for Agent Carter turned out to be particularly problematic. Haley Atwell is awesome, but Captain America The First Avenger is a criminally underrated movie within the MCU, and there are always enough people who can’t imagine that the story centred around a love interest could be any good. Spoiler Alert: Those people were wrong. But it certainly didn’t help that Marvel used the worst tag-line ever in the trailer (“Sometime the right man for the job is a woman.”), and laid it on thick with the feminism theme.
Now, some will claim that this is a proper description of what the show is about (though I would argue that it is less about promoting feminism and more about acknowledging sexism, which isn’t exactly the same thing), but it nevertheless left the impression that the show is a kind of apology for not giving the fans the Black Widow movie they want so badly. Above all though it did nothing to convince the audience that this is more than a little side-dish which one might deign to taste if it is ever shown on Netflix. What it should have done is convincing the audience that this is an event, the first female lead Comic book show since the god-awful Birds of Prey, as well as an exploration of the past of the MCU, including Tony Starks roots.
But the marketing failed to create the appropriate hype. As a result, Agent Carter never got the love it deserved. Oh, the first season was critically highly acclaimed, and Peggy Carter herself became immediately an Icon. I am sure we will see her blue dress and red hat on Comic cons for years to come. But there is still a sizeable number of people, including MCU fans, who have never seen just one episode. Which is too bad. Because it is a show worth watching.
9. Daredevil, Season 1: Fisk defeating himself
I wasn’t exactly as enamoured of Wilson Fisk in the first season of Daredevil as a lot of other fans were. I certainly saw the potential in the character, but for me the one thing I really need of a villain is that he has to terrify me. But I was never sure who the true mastermind actually was, Wesley or Fisk. Fisk’s hold on Hell’s kitchen often seemed flimsy, mostly based on the power the other crime lords gave to him for some never explained reason. This impression was underlined by the fact that in the end, all the efforts to collect evidence against him seems to be pretty useless (especially since in the case of Karen, Ben and Foggy, the process often involves trying to find information either Daredevil has already uncovered or the audience already knows). The only thing which was needed all along was Fisk loosing his temper and wrecking his allies so that eventually the right person would flip on the syndicate. Hallelujah.
8. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 2: Side-lining Trip
Some fans would say that killing Trip was the big mistake of Season 2. I was actually largely okay with the decision in itself, though the fact that his death didn’t accomplish anything does rank a little bit. I also don’t think that it established a “dangerous pattern”, since the show is more or less an equal opportunity killer (the only ones safe seem to be the original six actors – their characters suffer in different ways) and the show runners could not know that Daredevil and Jessica Jones would both go ahead and kill the black older character in the show. My main issue with his death was that the character was barely present in the episodes beforehand anyway. Which is too bad. Him being the grandson of a Howling Commander could have allowed way more interesting angles than just him providing some nifty gadgets. And since we barely got to know him anyway, his passing didn’t cause much anguish in the end.
7. Jessica Jones, Season 1: Robyn
I am usually not into over-the-top violence. I am pretty much convinced that there are few stories which require going all graphic. Nevertheless I liked the Netflix-shows we got so far. But both of them have some serious plotting problems which lead into disappointing third acts. In Jessica Jones, this is partly due to the fact that she has Killgrave under her control multiple times but decides not to kill him, and only one of those times Killgrave manages to escape through careful planning. That the third escape is the result of a giant coincidence doesn’t help at all. Ant this coincidence ties back to one particular character.
I know that Robyn isn’t meant to be endearing (she practically says it herself). I know that she is supposed to be annoying. I am not sure if her relationship to Ruben was supposed to be as off-putting creepy as it was, but I guess they did get the point across that caring too much for a person can just be as damaging as the opposite. But while I do understand the concept, I think the execution added a very dissonant element to the show. Especially Robyn is like fingernails on chalk board every time she turns up. That she is the one who frees Killgrave the third time Jessica has managed to capture him is just the spoiled cherry on a smelling top.
6. Ant-Man: Keeping Edgar Wright too long on the project
The movie we didn’t get tends to be the better one in our minds. So it is no surprise that a lot of people bemoan the fact that we never got Edgar Wright’s Ant-man. I am not sure if he was even the right man for the job in the first place, considering that what most people love about the Ant-man comic is usually the Wasp, and if there is one thing Edgar Wright doesn’t have, it’s a record of writing compelling female characters (or giving females any room in his movie at all).
But in a way this is a useless discussion. What we got, was a really good movie. Which could have been even better if it’s director hasn’t been forced to jump into the work of someone else, rewriting the script during production and rushing the movie out in an insane short time for a special effect heavy piece like this in order to meet the planned release date. In the end the vision of the two directors does clash in the movie. And the whole thing could have been avoided if Marvel hadn’t patiently waited for Wright to wrap up the other projects he was interested in, but had insisted on a reasonable schedule. Who knows, if they had done that we might have gotten the Wasp as one of the founding members of the Avengers. Maybe not. But the movie would have certainly been way more cohesive overall.
Watching this movie I have always the felling that Wright wanted to make a movie about the relationship between mentor and mentee (hence the villain being a former mentee of Hank Pym) while Peyton Reed wanted to discuss the relationship between fathers and daughters as well as transporting the idea that Superheroes don’t fight for the world, but to make said world a better place for the people they care about. The two ideas are kind of wrestling with each other for screen-time. And I think that could have been avoided if Marvel had not waited ages for Edgar Wright to finally get the project off the ground.
5. All movies and shows: Lack of diversity
I decided to put this one in the middle, because this is an important issue, it is also something Marvel is clearly working on. Plus, while I am an advocate for more diversity and a better portrayal of females in the media, the lack of the former is not necessarily impacting the quality of the movies in itself and the latter has been a problem for decades which won’t vanish from one day to another. Marvel has made baby steps in the right direction though.
We got two female lead TV-shows in Phase two, and more shows and movies with diverse characters are in the works. There is also Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which has an unusual high ratio of diverse characters for a network show, instead of the usual token characters. On the other hand though, there are places at which Marvel could have done better. For example the Netflix shows are overwhelmingly white and have this unfortunate habit to kill of the old, black character on top of it. With Daredevil this turns into a true problem, because the show is full of criminals of different ethnicities (and stereotypical behaviour), but we have yet to see a mayor Asian character on any Netflix show which wasn’t some sort of villain.
Now, Marvel had a good excuse in Phase 1 because they needed to establish the universe with the best-known characters they had, and those are all white males due to the time during which most of those stories were written. Marvel’s more diverse franchise, the X-Men, is sadly firmly under the control of Fox. But now that the Marvel brand alone is enough to get the attention of the audience, it is time to do better wherever possible.
4. Thor, The Dark World: Tying the story Back to Earth
One of the most common question which was asked during Phase 2 was “where are the other Avengers?”. If there is one franchise in which this shouldn’t have been an issue, it’s the Thor Franchise. I really don’t get it. There is this impressive alien world we haven’t explored at all. And yet, we keep going back to earth. Why so complicated? Why not starting the movie with the bifrost being repaired and Thor going back to earth, inviting Jane to Asgard? Not only would making her the eye of the audience have given her character a purpose, there would have also been no need for all the contrivances needed to tie her into the plot. When I was watching the movie, I am actually very invested in the world and in everything involving Loki. But whenever it cut back to earth I was immediately annoyed. I just hope that the third movie will stay as far away from earth as possible.
3. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 1: Rushing the Team Building
It is common wisdom that Marvel’s first attempt at television started utterly mediocre. But the opinions differ what actually went wrong. Was it the lack of actual comic book characters? Partly, since a lot of people had unrealistic expectations in this regard, but I think it is mostly that the characters which were presented to us were not properly fleshed out until the end of the first season. The writers just portrayed them in the broadest strokes possible and expected the audience to be invested in them.
I think most of the problems within the first season steamed from the second episode. So, we have this team, consisting of the two cocky scientists, the two mysterious specialists and the new kid on the block stepping into the world of spies. So far, so good. Perfect opportunity to allow the characters to get to know each other step by step, with the usual conflicts which happen when different personalities clash with each other. But nope, that takes too much time. Let’s throw the team into danger and declare them a team because they survived together so that we can get to the “fun” stuff. Problem: The fun stuff isn’t much fun if you don’t care for the characters involved in it. And you won’t care for the characters if you don’t know them.
The show rectified this problem towards the end of the season. It wasn’t even that complicated to make the first step. Just put all the characters into a lie detector, ask them some question and based on the different answers the audience gets a read on them. This fairly simple scene made me understand the characters more than anything which came beforehand.
The sad thing is that this mistake caused a lot of people to drop a show which is just getting better and better. At this stage I think it is as good as the Netflix shows – just in a very different way. It’s exactly the right mixture of drama and fun, but without going all melodramatic about it as most shows nowadays do. I never rued that I gave the show second chance.
2. Age of Ultron: Too many arcs
Okay, this will be a long explanation, ending into an equally long rant. But first, a question: What are the parts of Age of Ultron people normally like? Well, the party scene, the farm scene, the Hawkeye during the last battle, the final confrontation between Vision and Ultron. And what are the scenes which are usually disliked? The romance and the mystical bathing pool. What have the last two in common? They are an attempt of giving characters some sort of arc while setting up future movies. And they are not needed. At all.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed of characters having an arc – if it serves the overall story. When I watch an Avengers movie, I don’t do it because I expect some ground-breaking character development (that’s what the stand-alone movies are for), quite the opposite in fact. I watch it, because I want to see the characters I already know interact with each other, I want to know what they think of each other and how they react to each other quirks. The party scene works so well because it gives me exactly that, a measuring up between the different characters. The farm scene works so well, because it gives the characters some downtime to come to terms with their defeat – and then starts to drag because the romance rears its ugly head.
Yeah, I am one of those fans, who were fuming about this particular plot point in the movie. At this point common wisdom has apparently decided that those who had an issue with this were overreacting and/or obsessive feminists. But I frankly don’t care. I have some serious issues with the way Black Widow is portrayed in the movie, which all boil down to “for some reason Joss Whedon started to write her as a female character instead of simply a character”, but in the end, the whole romance doesn’t do Bruce Banner any favours either. The main issue with this arc is that it doesn’t really tie into the actual main arc of the movie. It is a distraction, which takes the viewer regularly out of the story. Sure, Hawkeye gets a lot of character development in this movie, but it all ties into the main arc. The romance doesn’t. It is just a useless filler. As is Thor’s hot tub myth machine.
Sure, both arcs have some kind of pay-off. The romance ends with Natasha forcing Bruce to Hulk out and Thor comes back with the conviction that yes, the Avengers really need to create Vision. In both cases, though, you could have had the same scenes with less complications. Bruce certainly doesn’t need a romance in order to make the decision “maybe I should leave the Avengers”. During this movie he first helps Tony to create a dangerous robot and then looses control of the Hulk to such a degree that he wrecks the city. He has already ample reason to believe that maybe he should stop being close to the Avengers. The whole scene with Black Widow forcing him to Hulk out, it could have happened without the romance and imho, it would have made the betrayal even worse if Natasha had done it not as his love interest, but as a member of the Avengers betraying his wishes for the greater good. In the end, the romance arc diminishes a potential powerful storyline involving betrayal within a close knit team.
And Thor? My only comment to this is: Why so complicated? Why does Thor need to go to Selvig in order to take a bath at some strange place in order to have a vision? Why can’t he simply visit Heimdall, who then tells him that yes, there are Infinity stones popping up left and right, and they now apparently deal with another one?
So, let’s imagine we had made this changes. No awkward flirting between an attractive woman and a guy who is nearly old enough to be her father and unable to have sex to boot. No mystic pool. Instead a lot of time to spend on the twins and their interaction with the Avengers. I for sure would have taken one talk between Natasha and Wanda over all the nonsense they did with her character in the movie.
1. Iron Man 3: The last twenty minutes
I have complained about this before, specifically about Tony getting rid of his arc reactor and why I consider this problematic. But that is only one of the numerous problems which pile up in the finale of Iron Man 3. There were some minor issues with the movie beforehand, but this is the point at which it falls apart. Tony’s army of robots turn up, begging the question why Tony didn’t bother to activate them when his house got attacked. Though most likely they wouldn’t have been useful anyway, considering how easily they get destroyed in the final battle. But the real insult is Tony healing Pepper in a short narration. No movie can get away with piling up conflict and problems and then solving them by basically saying “yeah, the main character took care of that”. No one. Not to mention that Tony being able to remove his arc reactor in an operation makes him look even more stupid in the second movie, in which he is dying because of it. Iron Man 3 is mostly an okay movie in my eyes. A little bit too ambitious for its own good, but I liked what it tried to do. The last 20 minutes make my blood boil, though. There is nothing redeemable about this hot mess.
Okay, this became quite a long article. I guess I will do something more fluffy and less wordy the next time around. Perhaps the most emotional scenes?