Beginning in 2008, and going more-than-strong nearly ten years later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proved itself to be a powerhouse that very few other film franchises can aporoach. Led by producer Kevin Feige, the MCU has assembled an assortment of actors, directors, and screenwriters, putting to the screen beloved characters and stories that have won over old fans and created legions of new devotees the world over. As a result of its ever expanding fanbase, the franchise has raked in billions at the box office, and it shows no signs of stopping in the foreseeable future.
While many of the films and shows in the MCU have been major hits, the series has not been without controversy. In fact, controversy seems fairly common for many of the entries that make up the franchise, as this list will showcase. Some of these headline grabbers deal with issues within the films (such as plot or characterization), while others deal with outside and behind the scenes problems - almost all of which directly affected the films themselves in one way or another.
Face front, true believers, for these are the 15 Most Controversial Things The MCU Has Done.
It took Marvel a while there, but they eventually reacquired the rights to have Spider-Man show up in their films after selling them off back in the '90s. Showing up in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland’s portrayal brought much enthusiasm and excitement from fans of the web-head. His own film was soon to follow, and would include a few familiar characters as well as some brand new ones.
Zendaya was cast in the role of Michelle, but at the end of Homecoming, she mentions that her friends call her “MJ.” It was a nice nod to the original red-head in the comics, but many a fan (and publication) took this to mean that the not-red-headed and not-Caucasian was basically Mary-Jane Watson. Never mind that her character was confirmed to be someone else for months, but it just goes to show the reaction a small mythology tweak can have on a fanbase that demands hyper-faithful adaptations.
Iron Man was the MCU’s first film, and a majorly successful one at that. It introduced the world to Robert Downey Jr’s take on Tony Stark, as well as the world of Iron Man and the yet-to-be-fully-revealed MCU itself. The film also featured Terrence Howard as Rhodes, Stark’s best pal, longtime military man, and future War Machine.
However, Howard only played Rhodes in the first Iron Man; he was later replaced by Don Cheadle, who continues to play the character. The reasons behind Howard’s dismissal seemed to stem from Marvel wanting to reduce his salary for the subsequent sequels (he was the highest paid actor on the first film, having been the first to sign on). Negotiations are said to have stopped at some point, and Cheadle was asked to replace Howard in the role. Howard has said that it was something that happened with “no explanation”, though there have also been reports that director Jon Favreau did not enjoy working with Howard. Marvel themselves had no comment.
The Incredible Hulk was the second MCU film to come out, releasing a few short months after Iron Man. It wasn’t nearly as big of a hit, but was still a success nonetheless, further cementing Marvel Studios as a viable house for superhero films. It also helped that the movie itself was pretty well-received, but there was some trouble with regards to the film’s titular main character.
Edward Norton played Bruce Banner, and is said to have rewritten significant portions of the script, as well as generally meddle with the production of the film. Norton, known to be a difficult actor to work with, would later say that he wasn't interested in reprising the role. He was eventually replaced for The Avengers, with Mark Ruffalo stepping into to play the Green Goliath.
Ruffalo ended up being better received by fans and critics alike, but if you're hoping he'll be afforded a chance to star in a solo Hulk film, we wouldn't suggest holding your breath. (Character rights issues with Universal make it highly unlikely.)
Having invented the tech and the suit himself, to many Marvel fans, Hank Pym will always be the true Ant-Man. He was a founding member of the Avengers, and even appeared as Giant-Man, and in the comics, he was actually the creator of the troublesome and evil Ultron. While a few select others have worn the suit, Pym has always been the main man behind the mask.
So when it was announced that Scott Lang would be in the suit for Ant-Man's solo debut, and that Hank Pym was going to be aged to an older man, a decent portion of the fanbase was less than pleased. However, the film itself would thankfully reveal that Pym had been the Ant-Man in the past, and was gifting a young Scott Lang the suit while also serving as hos mentor. It certainly didn't hurt that Pym was played by Michael Douglas, either. Still, the MCU did establish that it was Stark who invented Ultron and not Pym, so there’s still that to contend with.
After the success of Thor, Marvel started the plans for a sequel, hoping to secure the return of the first film’s director, Kenneth Branagh. This didn’t end up happening, so Marvel then looked to television director Brian Kirk, who declined to sign on due to contractual issues. Marvel then chose Patty Jenkins, who had experience on the big and small screen behind her, to direct the film.
While it’s been said Natalie Portman was enthused by this choice in director, Jenkins did not end up directing the film. She’s said to have left Marvel on good terms, and that her idea for a Thor film wasn’t what they wanted for The Dark World. In the end, the job went to Game of Thrones veteran director Alan Taylor. The film ended up being one of the least critically successful MCU films, while Jenkins ended up heading over to the DCEU to direct a little movie called Wonder Woman.
Most of the casting choices made for Doctor Strange were greeted very positively, whether it was Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular hero or Mads Mikkelsen as the film’s villain. But the casting of Tilda Swinton in the role of the Ancient One, however, was immediately seen as yet another example of Hollywood whitewashing.
The character was created at a time where an Asian stereotype wouldn't be seen as offensive by most people, and he has mostly been portrayed as being Tibetan. Casting a character as Tibetan would have meant upsetting China, a major country for big budget blockbusters, who don’t recognize Tibet and would absolutely not recognize a film that featured a main character that hailed from there. So the decision was made to cast Swinton, whom could play the character as she saw fit. Luckily for her, and the movie itself, she was a well-received part of a very well-received film.
The first glimpses of the then upcoming Avengers sequel gave audiences the feeling of a truly threatening villain. Ultron is a major enemy to the Avengers in the comics, and the film’s trailers and marketing made it seem as if he’d be a truly terrifying enemy. From his look to his speech, James Spader’s take on the classic villain seemed like one that would instill true fear into Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
However, in the eyes of many, the end result was a character who seemed more like a snarky teenager than a diabolical villain. Whether it was his quips, laidback attitude, or strange decision making, this film’s version of Ultron didn’t seem nearly as threatening as his comic counterpart, or how the marketing made him seem. The film was still a success all around, but it stands as a contentious entry in the MCU.
Agent Phil Coulson first appeared in Iron Man, and showed up in nearly every MCU film in Phase One. His last film appearance came in The Avengers, where his character was seemingly killed by Loki in a major plot point that fuels the team to work together and stop the otherworldly enemy that is out to enslave humanity.
However, as Marvel prepared to premiere their first MCU network show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was revealed that Agent Coulson was alive and well. In fact, he was one of the main protagonists of the series. While plenty of fans were happy about his return, it also rubbed others the wrong way, since some felt it cheapened his seriously portrayed death in The Avengers. Regardless, AoS has managed to become a very popular series, tying in well with the MCU and being successful in its own right.
Over the last few years, Marvel and Netflix have come together to helm a series of shows that arguably rival the main MCU films in popularity. Starting with Daredevil, these mature takes on the superhero genre have garnered a great deal of acclaim, introducing lesser-known but compelling characters like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones to the mainstream.
Then came Iron Fist, a show that somehow managed to land dead on arrival. While fingers were pointed at the story, dialogue, fight scenes, producer and creator Scott Buck, or all of the above, it was star Finn Jones in particular who seemed to get a lot of the hate. Blaming one of the ex-producers of Showtime’s Dexter was one thing, but Jones was criticized for his lack of martial arts experience and lame characterization of Danny Rand, aka The Immortal Iron Fist.
Even in the most recent miniseries The Defenders, Danny (and by extension, Jones) has been continually noted as the weakest link. Wherever you fall in regards to the racial controversy surrounding the casting of Iron Fist, most can agree that the character's depiction to date has been a major letdown.
Reprising her role from Captain America: The First Avenger and the Marvel One-Shot Agent Carter, this series starred Hayley Atwell as the titular Agent Peggy Carter, chronicling her time in New York and Los Angeles following the end of World War II. The show was very well received and beloved by fans, and was intended to showcase important events in the MCU that happened before the main MCU films came to be.
However, due to a combination of bad promotion, scheduling, and ratings, Agent Carter was cancelled after two seasons, despite having ended year 2 on a cliffhanger. This angered many fans, who couldn’t understand why the show had to be cancelled, especially when it was as well liked as it was. What’s more troubling, it was the cancellation of a female led show that doubled as a period piece chronicling an MCU never before seen. While it remains to be seen if the show will ever come back in any form, fans of the show, as well the creators, still hold out hope.
Due to Fox holding the film rights to the X-Men series, it was a welcomed surprise to hear that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch would appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Scarlet Witch in particular would become a major player within the greater MCU. And as exciting as it was to see these characters interact with other Marvel heroes outside of X-Men lore, some took issue in regard to their existence in these films…
…Mainly that they’re not actually mutants. No, in the MCU, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are experimented on as children and grow up to become the more familiar characters comic fans know. On top of that, Quicksilver himself only stuck around for single big screen outing, as he dies protecting Hawkeye and a civilian in the final fight of Age of Ultron. So while most are content with Scarlet Witch being a member of the Avengers, how we got there is still a bit of a touchy subject for some.
Ant-Man had been in development for several years, with the project having been spearheaded by a passionate, popular, and well-respected filmmaker named Edgar Wright. Wright helped develop the story and the overall direction the film was going to take, and every glimpse into the future fans got (test footage at Comic Con, Paul Rudd's casting, etc) made the project look all the more exciting. All in all, the film was looking to be one of the freshest and most original entries in the MCU.
But just weeks before filming was finally set to begin, Wright left the project due to creative disagreements. Many spoke out against Marvel and defended Wright, regardless of what actually went down. After negotiations, comedic film director Peyton Reed was brought in to helm the film, and Paul Rudd and Adam McKay contributed to the script. The film ended up being a surprising success all around, but to this day, people continue to assert that Wright’s uncompromised version would have been miles better than Reed’s.
Iron Man 2 introduced the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent known as Natasha Romanova, aka Black Widow to the MCU. She was also the first major female superhero in the series, and by the time of The Avengers, the only female superhero in the series. While a few more female heroes (Agent Carter, Scarlet Witch, Gamora, Jessica Jones) have shown up throughout the Marvel's shared universe, not a single one of them was given a crack at a solo film.
While having Jessica Jones certainly helps, Marvel Studios has appeared hesitant over the years to greenlight and produce a full-length movie starring a woman. Due to her popularity and mysterious backstory, fans and MCU cast members alike have expressed their interest in a Black Widow solo film, which would give her a chance to shine independent of her co-stars. Many will blame a certain Marvel executive for the lack of progressive moves in the franchise, and even with the Brie Larson-starring Captain Marvel finally on the way, the calls for Scarlett Johansson to lead her own solo flick don't appear to be dying down.
If Shane Black wanted to ensure that comic purists the world over would hate him, he may have succeeded. Black co-wrote and directed Iron Man 3, a highly anticipated threequel that not only garnered mostly positive reviews, but also made an astounding profit, becoming one of the biggest hits of the MCU. But while the film proved to be a success for the most part, there was one major thing that seemed to divide fans: The Mandarin.
The Mandarin is a classic Iron Man villain, and the announcement that he would be in Tony Stark's third solo outing (and be played by Ben Kingsley) was met with much anticipation. However, as we see in the film, Kingsley doesn’t actually play The Mandarin, because The Mandarin doesn’t actually exist. Instead, the real villain of the story is Aldrich Killian, though it was originally supposed to be Maya Hansen. The film remains contentious and polarizing within not only the MCU fandom, but among film fans in general.
Ever since the premiere of Netflix's Daredevil, nearly every MCU fan has been wondering just when these gritty New York characters would ever get to interact with the larger-than-life heroes seen in the films. It never seemed too far-fetched; the Avengers HQ, Stark Tower, was located in Manhattan for a time, Steve Rogers is from Brooklyn, and Spider-Man himself lives in Queens. The Netflix series have repeatedly been confirmed to exist within the same world as the films, though that's been a one-way street thus far.
Even after The Defenders happened, it seems that we're no closer to seeing any of these characters show up or interact with anyone outside of their respective streaming shows. Why Marvel continues to keep the shows and films apart is anyone’s guess, but it wouldn’t seem at all far-fetched (or even all that difficult) to have at least one or two of the characters from each side of the MCU interact at some point. While Kevin Feige did recently say that their coming together could happen in the future, your guess is as good as ours regarding just when that will actually happen.
Did we leave out any major controversies surrounding the MCU? Let us know in the comments.