Let me preface this by saying that I am, and have been for quite a while, a big comic book nerd. When Iron Man came out in theaters and Nick Fury popped up on screen, I was the only one who went apeshit when he said “Avengers Initiative.” I am familiar with all of Batman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League Unlimited, and am a religious watcher of Agents of SHIELD. I am oh-so-happy that we live in a world where I can look forward to nearly six different superhero movies in the near future, and know that more are coming after, as well as being in a world where it’s suddenly normal to know the backstory to Batman and Iron Man
But. Like most geeks, the only thing I love more than ranting about what things I love is ranting about what I don’t love in those same things. So in that spirit, I am here to talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a groundbreaking, ridiculously profitable experiment in cinema that has revitalized superheroes as we know them, and about how it actually would be a pretty horrifying place to live.
1. Tech ceiling
Now, I know what you’re going to say. “What the hell? Marvel is practically sci-fi! They have rocket-powered hovercraft fighters, flying aircraft carriers, and power-suits, sentient robot-people and teleporters.” To which I say, yes, they do… and notice who are the only people who get to use those?
The Avengers have the quinjets. They have the power-suits. They have the last living sentient-robot-person, and the last available flying aircraft carrier. They destroyed all the others. At no point does any of this tech seem to become available to the average citizen.
The arc reactor is the best example of this. A battery-sized fusion reactor? I can’t even begin to think of all the different problems that would solve, how radically that would change the world. Electric cars would suddenly be practical. No more pollution. No more fossil fuels. The arc reactor should revolutionize life on earth as we know it.
Tony says, as early as the 1st Iron Man movie, that he wants to bring the arc reactor to the world. In the Avengers movie, he asserts that he’s the only name in clean energy. Yet in Captain America 2, Fury notes that Stark specially gave them arc reactors for their new helicarriers, implying that these things still aren’t out on the market.
The explanation is that Tony is still keeping the arc reactor to himself, either not making it available at all, or only making its power available through Stark Tower-like power-plants. Meaning, of course, that he’s the only one who gets to control it, and that the potentially limitless applications are, well, limited. This is borne out by what we see of the day-to-day lives of ordinary, non-super-powered people on the street. Nothing about them has changed. No flying cars. No economic boom. They’re stuck paying for the power Tony doles out from his super-high-tech towers.
But okay, that’s their right. Again, Iron Man 2 is about his right to do as he sees fit with the awesome-in-all-senses-of-the-word technology he’s developed. The problem is, they don’t really seem to stop there.
The movie Ant-Man comes out tomorrow. Going by trailers, the central premise of the movie is preventing the “villain,” Cross, from selling a super-hero suit on the open-market. Scott Lang, apparently, needs to prevent this by stealing the old suit (which, since it needs to be stolen, means that Cross bought it legally).
Now this crosses a line. Tony doesn’t want to give out his suit, that’s his call. Stealing a suit that someone else bought fairly (or even made, since it doesn’t seem Pym developed the Yellow Jacket suit), that’s actively suppressing other people’s advances because you don’t think they’re using them wisely. As here. The reasoning is that, as Pym says, “if you give superpowers to everyone, it’s gonna be chaos.”
Right. Like if you give guns, or lasers, or growth hormones to everyone. Sheer chaos.
First of all, the Yellow-Jacket suit is clearly too expensive for anyone but the very rich to buy. That leaves it up to world governments and crime bosses. So it’s not like handing everyone on the street a gun.
Second of all, yes, this opens up superpowers to the world, but how is that a bad thing? Again, think how useful an army of Ant-men would have been in combating Ultron. Think how SHIELD could actually be useful, instead of a glorified rescue service that carry guns like they’re going to be helpful.
Okay, so Maggia boss Don Fortunato gets his own personal Ant-Man. Guess what? SHIELD has twenty, and they’re hard at work at developing counter-measures to close mini-spaces to ant-people. Suddenly, being Ant-Man doesn’t automatically make you a superhero, and you’re not automatically dangerous.
Here’s what Hank Pym is really trying to do. Hank Pym is trying to make sure that he controls who gets the power. He wants to make sure that power passes only to those who he thinks deserve it—in this case, a washed-out ex-con that he’s creepily spied on for years.
Pym’s not the only one guilty of this kind of thinking, either, though he is perhaps the most shameless. Tony also refuses to give his power suits to anyone besides his best bud, despite the fact that they could revolutionize construction, relief efforts, and yes, warfare.
Putting aside the fact that Tony probably has a few dumbed-down versions of the power armor he could surely spare by this point…
…can you imagine how helpful even 50 SHIELD agents with power armor would have been in Avengers, or Age of Ultron? Suddenly it wouldn’t be down to the Avengers. Suddenly they wouldn’t need to handle every little thing on their own.
Tony’s argument, of course, is that he wants to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. This is the whole argument of Iron Man 2, especially since we eventually found out the senator leading the charge to recover the tech was totes a Hydra plant wanting to get his slimy mitts on Tony’s power armor.
Cap and Falcon had a hard enough time taking down the Insight carriers already, imagine how hard it would have been if they’d had to fight off Iron Man rip-offs that entire time.
Here’s the thing. Realize that it is only due to Plot-Induced Stupidity that Hydra DIDN’T have power-armor troops there. SHIELD, and consequently Hydra, shut down Hammer, where Ivan Vanko produced all his Iron-Whiplash-bots. Even assuming Vanko left no records, there must have been lots of chances for Hydra to pick up stuff they had sitting around. In fact, it’s pretty likely they did—we see in Age of Ultron that Strucker’s base is being defended by people in power-armor.
The explanation is that this is partly from the Chitauri, but c’mon, none of the Chitauri could fly or shoot from their wrists. You know they ripped off some of that stuff from Vanko. It’s probably why Hydra stopped trying to get Tony’s tech after Iron Man 2.
Why they never deployed any of this tech near the Insight carriers, also known as the linchpin of their whole plan, is never explained.
But if they HAD, wouldn’t it have been nice if Falcon and Cap had had some good guys in Iron Man armor (since clearly Tony was off doing something else) helping them against the Hydra Iron Men? Or Falcon suits, since those are so badass and apparently NOT made by Stark? (Makes you wonder who’s prevented them from making more) Or even Ant-Man suits?
All the Avengers, it seems, have an inherent distrust of the world they’re ostensibly protecting, as well as an earnest desire to make sure the tools of power stay squarely in their hands and not get out to anyone else. Why? Because “the world is not ready”
Except the world better get ready, because…
2. Pending Alien Invasion
This isn’t a secret. It’s been coming since the first Avengers—arguably since Thor. But the Avengers have known, since the Battle of New York, that the Chitauri are coming back. Thor knows it. Fury knows it. The world knows it. It’s just a matter of time.
And the Avengers haven’t done jack shit.
As much as I’ve been ripping on Tony this whole time, he’s also the only member of the Avengers who’s actually got a long-term strategy. He’s saw the mothership, he knows that the aliens are coming, and he knows the Avengers need a plan and/or resources to combat them. As opposed to Cap, who thinks that when the time comes, the six of them will just punch it in the face. Or they’ll die, and the earth with them, and that will be okay, because heroism.
Guardians of the Galaxy showed us what happens in an alien invasion. It took two futuristic, well-armed space armies and an Avengers-style band of heroes to stop a single Kree spaceship. Now think what would have happened if Ronan had attacked Earth. Now think what will happen when Thanos does.
Iron Man 3 does a commendable job of showing Tony going slightly crazy trying to overprotect everything he possibly can, because of what he saw. Except Tony doesn’t trust anyone to use his tech. Again, he’s like Hank, he wants to control everything. That’s why he makes a murder-death-kill robot overlord.
Tony could, if he wasn’t a megalomaniac, release his technology into the world, counting on the overwhelming threat of alien invasion to unify the world into getting together a kickass, power-suit wearing army fully ready to stop the Chitauri army when it comes. A world where the police and the army aren’t just helpless bystanders, and where you don’t have to depend on the enemy focusing entirely on you. Yes, potentially a world where bank robbers also have super-suits and shrink, but lets be honest—that’s where the Marvel universe is headed anyway.
But Tony IS a megalomaniac, so he tries to make an army that he can absolutely control, that he doesn’t have to depend on anyone else for. Which of course blows up in his face, and causes serious problems, surprise, surprise. Which is especially a problem, because…
3. Disabled Military
The robot invasion, as well as the upcoming alien invasion, is especially a problem because earth is currently without an effective military force. That’s not Tony’s fault, that’s Cap’s.
SHIELD was the closest thing the MCU had to a non-useless military. They were the only ones who had moderately effective weaponry against the Chitauri. The nuke that blew up the mother ship and killed all the aliens, saving the Avengers potentially days of costly urban fighting, was one of SHIELD’s. (which the Avengers were oh-so-mad about) Tony was giving them tech to step up their game, because again, apparently Tony is the only person to take the alien threat seriously.
Now, SHIELD was infiltrated by Hydra. Hydra would presumably also be behind fighting off the Chitauri, but okay, they were going to assassinate everyone and take over. They were evil and they had to go.
But just because you find out the police department is corrupt, you don’t fire all the cops and blow up all the police cars. Fury had a workable plan in place to stop Hydra, find the infiltrators, and save the helicarriers for that inevitable day when the Chitauri came. But no, Cap decided they ought to just chuck it all out. Destroy the only good defense force we have. Blow up our three biggest weapons. And everyone agrees because… reasons.
This wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t for what happens next. The government gets understandably ticked off that their sole defense against the aliens is gone. They want answers, they want assurances. Black Widow basically says, “eh, we’re too powerful for you to arrest anyway,” and walks off. (Incidentally, what do you call somebody who destroys the military and then contends that they’re too powerful/necessary to be held accountable for it?)
Cap, meanwhile, doesn’t bother to show up to either the trial OR the Hydra round-up that follows. Cap gives this great speech about the price of freedom and how he’s willing to pay it… and immediately goes off on a road trip. Fury tells him that Hydra is still around and that he could use help taking them down (especially since Cap disbanded his entire organization), but Cap blows him off. Someone else’s problem now.
(Someone else who now is a fugitive, thanks to SHIELD being exposed, and lost several good men to the fight against Hydra. Thanks Cap).
Cap’s not a long-term thinker. He’s really not even much of a strategist—his big plan in Captain America the First Avenger was to get caught. That’s why his “plan” to fight off the coming invasion is to die gloriously. Other people? Psh, who needs them? There’s this moment in Age of Ultron when the Avengers realize that they’re going to die because oh gosh, no one has the tech to help us, and we destroyed the only organization that might have tried.
In fact, it turns out in Age of Ultron that hey, helicarriers are pretty useful to have in a pinch. As are SHIELD agents, who fortunately ignored all that “tear down the only organization willing to help us” business. When Fury gets a stupid-ass decision, he ignores it, even when that stupid-ass decision comes from Captain America.
Cap doesn’t even appreciate the irony. Doesn’t go, “okay, yeah, we need all the help we can get, glad you ignored me, Fury.” No, Cap’s fine with the return of the defense force he single-handedly destroyed in the last movie, because “this is what SHIELD was meant to be.” As in, a rescue squad. With as few armnaments as possible. It’s better if everyday people don’t have the means to defend themselves, and have to rely on six incredibly powerful people to solve their problems.
4. The Avengers are a terrible defense team.
This is not debatable. It’s not even a secret. It was practically the point of the first movie AND the second. They’re not a team, they’re a time bomb. They’re falling apart all the time, necessitating long soul-searching stretches where they sort of leave the world to whatever threat is currently facing it.
You know what army does that? I’ll give you a hint: not the Chitauri.
It’s not just the team dynamics, it’s the size. There are six Avengers in the full roster. That’s barely one per continent. These people literally can’t be everywhere at once. But because they’re the only people capable of doing anything, because they’ve made sure everyone’s weak and helpless, it’s just them. Do you know what would have happened if either the Chitauri or the Ultron-bots had just avoided or distracted the Avengers, or had more than one plan? What if Ultron made seven flying islands? The fact that they’ve had enemies obsessively interested in them is the only reason they’ve been able to make the thing work thus far.
Effectively, the Avengers are running an extremely lax military dictatorship at this point. They’ve destroyed the only military with a chance of standing against them, and they make sure to keep the tools of power firmly in their hands so that no one else can. When governments protest, they just essentially say, “eh, we’re the Avengers. We’re too powerful for you to take to account.” And then walk sassily away.
Which, incidentally, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with, if they were good at their job. But they’re not. The entire point of Age of Ultron is that sometimes the Avengers create their own problems. Actually, a lot of the time. And as we’ve already pointed out, they’re pretty rubbish at coming up with a bigger plan to protect the planet that they’re ostensibly protecting.
Maybe Ant-Man will reverse this, and reveal Pym to be a surprise villain, trying to hold onto his technology. But I doubt it. I expect Ant Man to continue this, with the Avengers suppressing the new tech that had the potential to bring the commons up to their level, and recruiting the only person familiar with it to their governing body. Then Civil War will probably have Tony Stark coming up with another plan to prepare for the upcoming alien invasion, and Cap kiboshing it because reasons. And finally, millions will die in Infinity War, but not the Avengers, except possibly for Cap, who clearly has some kind of death wish going on.
Oh, and you’d better love them for it. Because they’re heroes.