With 23 movies under its belt, it’s no surprise that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a bit of controversy every now and then.

Of course, given that the 23 movies have taken more than $22 billion worldwide, it’s clear that there’s never been a big enough controversy to threaten the MCU’s future, but there have been notable decisions that fans just can’t agree on.

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Here are some of the biggest to date.

(Note – we’re sticking with movie-based controversies, not behind-the-scenes stuff like the recent Tom Holland saga or James Gunn’s firing and rehiring.)

1. Mandarin

Disney

For some it’s one of the greatest twists in the MCU but for others it’s an outrage and a complete insult to the character.

We are of course talking about the Iron Man 3 reveal that the Mandarin in the movie, played by Ben Kingsley, is actually a washed-up, drunk actor called Trevor Slattery. Marvel even released a One Shot that assured fans that the ‘real’ Mandarin was out there in the MCU.

Defending the twist, director Shane Black said the idea was to show how “people are complicit in being frightened”.

“I think that’s a message that’s more interesting for the modern world because I think there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes, a lot of fear, that’s generated toward very available and obvious targets, which could perhaps be directed more intelligently at what’s behind them,” he added.

And at least those fans annoyed by the twist will have the ‘real’ Mandarin to look forward to in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

    2. Gay character

    Avengers: Endgame, Chris Evans, Captain America
    Marvel Studios

    A long-running criticism of the MCU is its lack of LGBTQ+ characters, and even when it finally introduced its first openly gay character, it didn’t go down that well.

    Avengers: Endgame co-director Joe Russo pops up briefly during a support group that Captain America attends. He doesn’t get a name, but he does get to talk about going on a date with another man.

    Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige insisted it was just meant to “be a matter of fact” and was “never meant to be looked at as our first hero”, but he acknowledged that it would of course get attention as it’s the MCU’s first openly gay character.

    It divided fans because while it could be seen as a good thing that the movie didn’t make a big deal about ii, surely the first LGBTQ+ character in the MCU had to be more than just a glorified extra?

    “Representation is really important,” Joe Russo explained. “It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them. We felt it was important that one of us play him, to ensure the integrity and show it is so important to the filmmakers that one of us is representing that.”

    It was a small step and perhaps not a well-judged one, but at least Phase 4 looks to be a big improvement with Valkyrie confirmed as the MCU’s first openly LGBTQ+ superhero, and another major LGBTQ+ character in The Eternals.

    3. Black Widow death

    Scarlett Johansson, Avengers Endgame
    Marvel Studios

    Black Widow wasn’t the only MCU hero to perish in Avengers: Endgame (RIP Tony), but her death on Vormir caused fierce debate – and not just because it renders her solo movie a bit pointless.

    The decision for Black Widow to sacrifice herself instead of Hawkeye meant that we essentially had an exact re-run of Gamora’s death in Avengers: Infinity War. Endgame arguably gave Black Widow her biggest MCU role, having previously been little more than a supporting character to the male heroes, only to kill her off.

    What’s more, she never even got a funeral. Left forgotten on Vormir while Tony Stark got a big send-off. Yes, we know she’s a spy so obviously wouldn’t get a big public thing, but surely the Avengers would have held their own memorial?

    You could also see it as a heroic end for Black Widow, dying to save her family, and that’s certainly how Scarlett Johansson sees it: “It felt in-character that she would sacrifice herself, of course for humanity but actually for her friends, for the people she loves. It was bittersweet.”

    You could also call it fridging.

    4. Language, Loki

    Tom Hiddleston as Loki in The Avengers (2012)
    Marvel Studios

    When Loki gets locked up (intentionally) in the first Avengers movie, he uses an insult against Black Widow that, unless you’re up-to-date on your old English, probably didn’t make much sense.

    He calls Black Widow a “mewling quim” and if you Googled it afterwards, you might have been surprised to see that Joss Whedon essentially snuck the C-word into a Disney movie.

    The problem is that it became a meme, so the movie made light of a pretty awful word, even if you can justify it by saying Loki is a villain. Some TV broadcasts of the movie since its release have changed it to “mewling child” to avoid the swearword.

    It’s lucky that shortly after the insult, Black Widow reveals that she’s actually been playing Loki all along, so it’s not like she’s actually affected by it.

    5. Okoye and Ayo relationship

    Black Panther, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Florence Kasumba as Ayo
    Marvel Studios

    Before Joe Russo’s cameo in Avengers: Endgame, there were plans for Black Panther to feature the MCU’s first on-screen gay relationship.

    Early footage from Black Panther featured Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) flirting, suggesting that the movie would adapt the LGBTQ+ love story in the World of Wakanda comic.

    Alas, this scene was nowhere to be seen when the movie was released – and fans weren’t happy.

    Writer Joe Robert Cole confirmed that it had been cut, although it sounds like Okoye and Ayo’s relationship wouldn’t have been a big thing.

    “I know that it was not – there wasn’t some major theme through that we were looking to explore with that in terms of the story. We didn’t like, pull out a full thread of some theme,” he explained.

    6. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver backstory

    Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron
    Marvel Studios

    Mutants aren’t in the MCU (at least not yet…), so Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s backgrounds had to be changed for their debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

    It’s unfortunate, though, that Marvel chose to make them guinea pigs of HYDRA, given that in the comics, they are Jewish and the children of Magneto, a Holocaust survivor, and Romani woman Magda Eisenhardt.

    Their comics backstory has since been retconned after their MCU debut too as they are no longer mutants, but failed genetic experiments of the High Evolutionary.

    7. Phil Coulson

    Agent Coulson's death in Avengers Assemble
    Disney

    One of the defining moments in the formation of the Avengers was the tragic death of Phil Coulson at the hands of Loki, back when he was still evil and not a loveable rogue.

    But opinions were mixed when Agents of SHIELD revived him, meaning he’s still alive in the MCU, although the movies never mention him (except for his appearance in Captain Marvel, of course).

    Does his revival cheapen his death in Avengers Assemble? Or is it just a necessary part of his overall character arc?

    For Joss Whedon, he still considers Coulson dead in the MCU. “Watching [Avengers] with my kids and watching Coulson die but [thinking], ‘Yeah, but I know that he kind of isn’t,’ it did take some of the punch out of it for me,” he told io9.


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