Given how many movies and television shows have been produced within it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a pretty good track record when it comes to casting only the best of the best talent.
This often requires searching high and low for the cream of the crop in Hollywood, sometimes seeking out relative newcomers, all while preserving the integrity of the Marvel characters.
Maybe MCU projects aren’t exactly out there winning acting award after acting award, but on the whole, they’ve done a great job of ensuring the right person plays the right part.
However, just because they’ve done pretty well on average, that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain performances that go above and beyond — and also other performances that fail to live up to par.
There are plenty of obvious hits — could you really imagine anyone other than Robert Downey, Jr. or Chris Evans in the iconic roles of Iron Man and Captain America at this point? — and there are a few clear misses, as well — Terrence Howard as Rhodey 1.0 and Finn Jones as Danny Rand immediately come to mind.
However, this list will be looking at some of the more underrated choices, both the good and the bad.
With that said, here are the 8 Performances That Saved The MCU (And 7 That Hurt It).
15. Saved: Paul Rudd
Regardless of whether Ant-Man was a movie that you were looking forward to, or even the kind of superhero fare that you tend to enjoy, there’s no denying that Marvel couldn’t have picked a better man for the job than Paul Rudd.
As versatile in gut laughter inducing comedy as he is in heartwarming and tearjerking drama, Rudd brings the perfect balance of levity and damaged past that the role of criminal gone good Scott Lang requires.
Whether in his hilarious rapport with costars Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Tip Harris, and David Dastmalchian, or in the tender scenes shared between Scott and his young daughter Cassie, Rudd’s performance is utterly compelling, bringing to life the true underdog you just can’t help but root for.
14. Ruined: Jeremy Renner
Clint Barton is a wonderfully vibrant character. Particularly in Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series, Clint has more personality than almost all the rest of the Avengers combined. Self-deprecating, witty, and the perfect blend of laid back and energized, Fraction’s Hawkeye is everything that the MCU Hawkeye should have been.
However, with the complete miscast of Jeremy Renner in the role of Marvel’s signature archer, the MCU has produced one of its most uninteresting characters to date.
Renner’s performance is all but completely devoid of charm and energy, with each of Clint’s lines delivered in near stoic and grunted fashion.
So bad is his performance that the sudden revelation of Barton’s family in Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn’t play as a moment of shock, but instead offers a profound sense of confusion for all viewers, as they find themselves confronted with the disbelief required to imagine a world in which this charmless man was once ever a husband and family man.
13. Saved: Letitia Wright
Teenagers are scarcely ever a likable bunch, especially in the world of superheroes. Often ragtag and annoying tagalongs, you’d be hard pressed to think of a teenager other than Peter Parker who didn’t get on your nerves from the very beginning.
At least until Letitia Wright’s trailblazing Shuri entered the scene in Black Panther. All of sixteen years old, Wright’s Shuri is one of the MCU’s most vibrantly realized characters.
As a technological genius and fearless princess, Wright plays Shuri with every bit of youthful impulsiveness and overly confident wit and feigned wisdom that comes with being a teenager.
In the comics, Shuri eventually goes on to assume the mantle of the Black Panther from her older brother T’Challa when a time of need arises. Given how utterly captivating and spellbinding Wright’s performance was in the first (of hopefully many) Black Panther movies, Marvel would be sorely mistaken not to make that a reality within the MCU.
12. Ruined: Tilda Swinton
Doctor Strange is a movie that dealt with many mixed reactions and controversial decisions throughout its production. However, perhaps no choice was met with greater confusion and outrage than the decision to cast Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One.
The Ancient One, traditionally male, was clearly being gender bent for the role — which isn’t a bad thing by any means. However, the role was also traditionally Asian in origin, so now, by casting Swinton, the role had been whitewashed.
As if that weren’t problematic enough, Swinton’s poor performance in the role would have all but sealed the deal.
Horribly over wrought and over dramatic, the polarizing Swinton sticks out of this already odder than usual movie like a sore thumb. Her performance truly adds nothing to the role, making it difficult to care about so ostensibly central a character, which proves to be one of the film’s biggest failings by far.
11. Saved: Clark Gregg
It’s not every day that a minor movie character, whose death is featured on screen, is allowed to cheat death and come back to life in order to lead their own TV show. In fact, that’s… pretty much something that never happens.
So winning was Clark Gregg’s portrayal of the endlessly loyal and adorably nerdy Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Phil Coulson, that Marvel allowed the MCU to contradict itself — creating a real mess of what the MCU movie and shows can, and can’t acknowledge, in the process.
However, it was all worth it in the end, if only to see more of Gregg’s considerable talents as Coulson’s journey unfolds across the span of AOS’s duration.
The series itself may have had plenty of ups and downs over its five seasons so far, but one thing remains the same: Coulson is, and always will be, the heart at its very center — and it’s all thanks to Clark Gregg.
10. Ruined: Ben Kingsley
We are in no way attempting to say that Sir Ben Kingsley is a terrible actor. Anyone worth their salt would know that would be absolutely pointless to do, given Kingsley’s beyond impressive and award-winning background. Kingsley is a revelation in practically every role he has ever had.
However, unfortunately, not even a Knight Bachelor can be immune to Marvel’s misfire in casting and character creation.
While The Mandarin is a brilliant and fascinating archvillain in the comics — the perfect foil to Tony Stark’s Iron Man — the MCU failed in every way to allow Kingsley to shine in this role.
Rather than allowing him to bring this genius and villainy to life, the MCU instead created a confusing, overly elaborate set up in which Kingsley’s character was an actor playing at The Mandarin.
9. Saved: Charlie Cox
Daredevil is a character who has already had the misfortune of being brought to life on screen in a truly terrible way. As played by Ben Affleck, Matt Murdock and his vigilante alter ego are both utterly boring and cringe-inducing. Neither script nor casting did the complex Marvel hero justice.
Thankfully, Netflix’s Daredevil series couldn’t have remedied that situation any better by casting the absolutely phenomenal Charlie Cox in the titular role.
At once unassuming and utterly brutal, Cox’s Matt Murdock is everything that the Daredevil should be. Cox truly plays Murdock as a man haunted by his past, yet deadset on saving the world all at the same time.
8. Ruined: Wil Traval
Netflix’s adaptation of Jessica Jones has been lauded for many things– its handling of delicate issues such as assault and gaslighting, its casting of key characters, and its fidelity to the tone and wit of its heroine.
One area in which the series really fell down on the job, however, was in the casting of Wil Traval as the horribly uninteresting Will Simpson, also known as Nuke.
Traval might have had an unenviable job to begin with: Nuke’s origin story is the most eyeroll inducing part of Jessica Jones‘ otherwise stellar first season, and he doesn’t get much better in the second season either.
7. Saved: Hayley Atwell
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s truly iconic female heroes are sadly few and far between. However, perhaps its first clear success — and one of its most well-developed examples — was in the inclusion of Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter.
In the first Captain America movie, Atwell is allowed the traditionally female heroic role of a girl in an all male environment who doesn’t need saving.
Bold and brash, her presence on screen electrifies each and every scene she’s in.
However, it wasn’t truly until the short-lived but deeply beloved series Agent Carter that Atwell really got the chance to shine and bring Peggy Carter to life in the way she deserved to be presented.
Portraying Peggy as fabulously flawed and equally impenetrable and vulnerable, Atwell showed young girls everywhere just what being a hero really is: knowing your own value, and not giving a damn what anyone else thinks.
6. Ruined: Jaime Alexander
Unfortunately, matching the MCU’s dearth of significant female heroes is its over abundance of poorly executed attempts at including them. Certain attempts, such as Jane Foster and Pepper Potts, have been temporarily eradicated from the canon by their omission from large movies in their respective series.
Yet another poorly developed female character falls into that territory: Jaime Alexander’s Lady Sif. While it would have made all the sense in the world for the Asgardian Sif to feature in the wildly enjoyable Thor: Ragnarok, Sif is nowhere to be seen. However, honestly, based on Alexander’s past performances, perhaps that was for the best.
Alexander’s portrayal of Sif often represents what Hollywood gets wrong about strong women in the worst of ways.
5. Saved: David Tennant
The MCU has had its fair share of iconic villains, whether in the form of Kingpin, Red Skull, or Killmonger, among many others. However, you’d have a hard time finding an MCU villain who has been more captivating, or portrayed by a stronger actor, than David Tennant’s Kilgrave in the first season of Jessica Jones.
Thanks to Tennant’s masterclass of a performance, Kilgrave comes across every bit as unhinged and entitled as a man with his particular set of disturbing skills would be.
With all the charm of a crocodile, and all of its vicious bite, Tennant’s Kilgrave is the perfect archenemy for Krysten Ritter’s sardonic hero.
The scenes shared between the two, as hero and villain, crackle and come alive with witty sparks aplenty — each scene leaving viewers all the more unsettled than the last, thanks to Tennant’s masterful depiction of Kilgrave’s further descent into mania.
4. Ruined: Isabelle Cornish
Let’s just put it out in the open to start this all off: Inhumans was a terrible idea for a TV show. The characters, once remotely interesting in comic form, were simply not suited to be adapted into short order TV form. Almost the entire cast seemed ill-suited for their roles, but two offenders stand out as potentially worse than all the rest.
The first of these offenders is Isabelle Cornish, who starred as the insufferable element-bending Inhuman, Crystal. Perhaps we can cut Cornish some slack: as a younger actress, she may have not come into her own just yet. After all, there is only so much an actress can do with the terrible writing that Inhumans offered its entire cast.
3. Saved: Krysten Ritter
It takes an actor of considerable talent to make the most out of a horribly polarizing situation and still come out boasting a tour de force performance.
In the first season of Jessica Jones, a blowaway from its very first episode, Krysten Ritter was pitch perfect in every single scene as the irreparably damaged and jaded private eye and reluctant hero.
In The Defenders, she was just as strong, as witty, and reckless with abandon as she ever had been in her own starring role.
However, in the second season of Jessica Jones, which has been met with sharp criticism from audiences everywhere due to its bizarre plot choices, Ritter nonetheless maintains her quality performance — perhaps even upping the ante as Jessica’s plot becomes all the more embroiled in world-shattering, heartbreaking emotional conflicts.
2. Ruined: Iwan Rheon
If Isabelle Cornish’s awkward acting is perhaps able to be explained away as a novice actress unsure of where her talents are, then Iwan Rheon’s questionable turn as Maximus, the formerly Inhuman member of the Inhumans cast, is nothing short of a resounding disappointment from a proven talent.
As the utterly unhinged Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones, Rheon showed himself capable of acting to a level unasked of by many other works of genre television.
Ruthless, bloodthirsty, maniacal, and captivating in his horror, Rheon was once a strong performer of the arts of villainy, but as Maximus, Rheon couldn’t have been more miscast.
1. Saved: Chadwick Boseman
Could any other performance have possibly topped this list?Few actors have ever so fully embodied a role, an icon, and a movement in the way in which Chadwick Boseman became T’Challa/Black Panther.
With steadfast seriousness, unblinking vulnerability, and fearless bravery, Boseman brings the King of Wakanda to life as though he were ripped straight from the pages of the endless issues of comics in which T’Challa has appeared for over half a century.
Black Panther represents a real pivot point for the MCU — a glimpse of what lies ahead once the Avengers as we know them are no more. It suffices to say that the movie — and the franchise — had a lot resting on the success of this.
However, it’s also beyond safe to say that the record-breaking success of this movie shows that, so long as Boseman takes part within it, the future of the MCU is in more than capable and safe hands.
What performances do you think have saved and ruined the MCU so far? Let us know in the comments!
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