4 Jerks In The MCU Who Deserve More Hate
Everyone knows Tony Stark can be tactless sometimes, and Vorgryd the Genocider (according to one interpretation) is a bit of a villain. But with all the jokes and action hitting us so fast, we easily miss some of the less obvious dick moves in superhero movies. We’re betting, for example, some of you totally forgot about ...
The French Ambassador In Black Panther
Midway through Black Panther’s credits, T'Challa addresses the United Nations. He says Wakanda’s opening up, ready to share its resources and knowledge. Then comes a question from a skeptic in the assembly, identified in the script as the French ambassador. “With all due respect,” he lies, “what can a nation of farmers offer to the rest of the world?”
The Wakandans exchange knowing looks. We viewers are supposed to consider this question ignorant because Wakanda is secretly super advanced. But ... what if Wakanda weren’t? What if (as outsiders believe) it really were just an underdeveloped nation, closed off from the rest of world till now? In that case, the ambassador’s question would still be incredibly dumb.
What can a nation of farmers offer to the rest of the world? Gee, I dunno, how about farming? Did the world suddenly stop being fans of food? Imagine if in the U.S. Senate, someone scoffed, “What can the farmers of North Dakota offer the rest of the country? Wheat?” Um, yes actually, they can offer wheat. Wheat is great. Without it, we starve.
Probably, this one country won’t export enough food to change the balance of the whole global supply chain (though, some countries do). Still, they’re offering to export something. If you think that won't benefit you, well, maybe then you can’t assume their king’s addressing you specifically, maybe they plan to share resources with the countries that do need it, including the ones nearest to them.
So that’s why, without any other context, the question “what can a nation of farmers offer to the rest of the world” is dumb. But also, it’s dumb to call Wakanda a “nation of farmers.” It can’t be that. Because no nation can be that.
Even if all you know of Wakanda are the villages and farms they let outsiders glimpse, there still must be cities somewhere in there too, and people with various different occupations. That’s how countries work—not just rich countries or industrialized countries but all countries, even countries thousands of years ago.
Wakanda has politicians and diplomats. You know this, Mr. Ambassador; their head of state was assassinated in this very building two years ago (while giving a speech acknowledging his country as the source for the world's most valuable metal). So they have a government. So they fund their government, so they have an economy. So they have labor, and consumers.
The very fact that they have land means they have real estate and natural resources. They must have schools. They must have various cultures and millennia of art and history. And yet you can’t think of anything they might offer the world? Do I really have to explain how free trade and connections between nations, even poor nations, is a good thing, explain it to someone whose job is (*checks notes*) a posting with the United Nations?
Even if Wakanda offered nothing but dust and blood, even if this whole speech were actually a veiled request for assistance—listen to it again, and you could interpret it that way—you should still see a country lowering its barriers as a cause for celebration. That’s the whole reason you devoted yourself to the field of international relations.
As an ambassador, you aren’t even just voicing your own concerns, you’re speaking on behalf of your country, France. Yes, France. Hey France, you seemed to think undeveloped African nations had plenty to offer when you were carving up the continent in the 19th century, why so shy now all of a sudden?
Peter Parker, For Laughing At This Guy’s Name
Marvel keeps doing variations on this one joke. A character says their name (or the name of some object or place), a name from the comics. A different character, our surrogate, responds with amusement or disbelief because they’re from the real world, where things aren’t named like in comic books.
The humor comes from the story mocking itself and also from playing with how dialog traditionally works. It’s funny that a character should break the conversation to debate the verisimilitude of this name rather than focus on the far more important matter they were previously discussing. We laugh, even if the joke ultimately hurts the movie by limiting how seriously we can take it.
In Spider-Man: No Way Home’s take on this, Doc Ock introduces himself, and Peter and his two friends burst into giggles. The marketing team liked the scene so much, they stuck it in trailers.
Problem is, six movies in, Spider-Man should no longer be a fish out of water thrown off by weird comic booky names. He’s reached the stage in his career when he’s the one with the crazy stuff he can just casually toss out (“I fought an alien too. On Earth and in space. Yeah, he was purple”). Pete, you attended a funeral with Drax the Destroyer and a raccoon named Rocket. Names should no longer faze you.
So, if this traveler from another world said, “My name is Doctor Octopus,” Pete should not laugh. Maybe Pete could respond with something funny, since that’s his schtick—and spoilsports like me in the audience will say, “Enough with the quipping, get back to the story”—but he shouldn’t find the name funny.
Only, when Peter asks his name, Doc Ock doesn’t say Doctor Octopus. He says he’s “Dr. Otto Octavius.” That’s ... his real name, his given name from birth. Why does Pete find it funny? Does Pete laugh every time he meets someone with a name he finds unusual? Is that the true reason MIT rejected him? If Pete realizes it’s the guy’s actual name, he shouldn’t laugh, and if he thinks it’s just the name he adopted as a villain, then that explains away any weirdness so is also a reason not to laugh. Anyway, “Otto” and “Octavius” are both actual names, even in our world. So what amuses Peter here?
Is it the alliteration? Half the characters in this movie have alliterative names (Happy Hogan, Betty Brant, Jonah Jameson, Matt Murdoch). Peter Parker should accept alliteration as unremarkable.
Is it funny because, when you think about it, the first three letters of the guy’s surname make up the Roman prefix oct–, which means eight, and that’s also the number you get when you add this man’s four natural limbs to his four metal tentacles? I don’t buy that these three kids, honors students though they may be, instantly all thought of that, and if they did, that observation merits a heh, not a lol.
These movies already did a joke about Pete mistaking someone’s real name for a pseudonym, a much better joke. In Infinity War, Pete introduces himself as “Peter,” a wizard replies that he's “Doctor Strange,” and Pete says, “Oh, we're using our made-up names. Um ... I'm Spider-Man then.”
There, it’s funny (and rings true) that he should mistake that strange name for a superhero alias. It’s funny and rings true that he accepts as a matter of course that all heroes have an alias. It’s funny and rings true that, since his world hasn't even established “superhero” as a word, he has his own informal term for such aliases (“made-up names”).
It’s funny—to us. But Pete doesn’t laugh; the situation isn’t funny for him. Movies can include humor without also featuring amused characters or actual laughter to inform us something funny just happened.
And speaking of Infinity War ...
Steve Delays Saving His Friends To Ensure He Looks Cool
Vision and Wanda are in Scotland and locked in a tough fight with two aliens. Thankfully, after those couple minutes of combat, heroes show up to lend a hand. Steve appears, standing behind a moving train. He is wearing his Captain America costume.
When did he put that on? Why did he put that on?
We’ve seen he doesn’t wear his costume 24/7. And though he is now wearing the same suit we saw him sport in Civil War, he can’t have been wearing one set of clothes continuously for two years. Think of the smell. His gang have actually taken pains to avoid being recognized, which is why Black Widow went blonde. So we must conclude Steve spends most of his time incognito—say, wearing sunglasses, a cap, and a kilt—and he only put the suit on now because he’s about to fight.
Movies always have to come up with some clever justification for Steve to put on his costume, given that it offers no utilitarian function (no sci-fi tech, not even fancy pockets). Sometimes, he’s doing a publicity shoot. In Endgame, he’s impersonating his younger self. In some movies, he simply puts it on because everyone else is suiting up and he wants to wear something inspirational. That’s fine because he dresses at leisure during some lull before the action. But here? Every second counts, and yet before entering the fray, he first puts on this elaborate costume, for no reason other than vanity. Dressing must take a fair few seconds, judging by all those straps and buckles.
Granted, it’s not immediately clear to us how much help this 1940s strongman (and his sidekicks, Guy With Aerial Advantage and Woman With Sticks) should be able to offer Vision and Wanda, two beings of unimaginable supernatural power. Still, that’s the conceit of the scene that follows. The star-crossed lovers are about to die, but they don’t because Steve & co show up.
Even once they all find themselves in the same train station, Steve doesn’t rush and leap to get to his friends in need. He poses behind the train, waiting for it to pass and reveal him standing confidently. The aliens could finish their murder job and fly off even in just those seconds, but Cap decides there’s something more important than intervening: looking really good, while modeling.
Looking at this as a writing choice, he wears his suit tattered and with the star ripped off to underline that he hasn’t really been Captain America these last few years. But you know what could show that even better? Having him wear absolutely anything other than his suit. Then since he must put a suit on at some point, Steve could retrieve some Captain costume out of storage and ditch his civvies when he later ends up at Avengers HQ. The stored clothes could even be moth-eaten and dirty, if Disney insists on such an outfit so they can sell tie-in action figures labeled “Captain America (Grizzled).”
Wong Just Loves Killing The Innocent
A trolley is about to run over five people, and the only way to avoid them is to switch to a different track, where it will smash just one person. You’ve heard this thought experiment before. Some say you should switch tracks; some say you must not.
Now imagine this instead. One person is tied to the track your trolley’s on. The only way to avoid them is to switch to a different track, where you’ll run over five people. Should you switch? Uh, probably not, say people on both sides of the original question—it’s neither the best thing for everyone nor something you have the right to do. It might be the selfish choice, if you know the person in front of you, maybe even an understandable choice, but this murder is not heroic.
And yet if you are a Marvel superhero, you might well switch to the crowded track and swear you’re justified. The clearest example of this may be Captain America saying “we don’t trade lives” in Infinity War and then trading dozens of Wakandan lives for Vision’s (a bad trade even before the plan fails and the trade gets much worse). But since we already talked about Captain America today, and Wakandans, let’s move on to a different movie.
In Multiverse of Madness, the girl America Chavez is in danger, so Wong invites her to Kamar-Taj. Then when he learns Wanda is going to attack, he marshals the wizards for battle. Kamar-Taj is no impregnable fortress; we saw it breached by magic multiple times in the previous Doctor Strange movie. This is looking awfully like another case of killing many people for the chance at saving one.
However, it’s more complicated than that. If Wanda takes America’s power, we learn, weird stuff will happen and the entire multiverse will be destroyed. In that case, sure, Wong’s efforts here are justified, even insufficient. But it’s what happens next that defies all reason.
After (expectedly) killing scores of sorcerers, Wanda lifts four who survived the siege. She tells Wong that unless he helps her with her plan, she will kill those four. Wong agrees to help her.
Let me try to plot this out. A few minutes ago, to maybe keep Wanda from winning, Wong was willing to let her kill 63 sorcerers. But now, to keep her from killing just four of those 63 (four, whom he thought she already killed), he is willing to help her win—leading to the deaths of everyone in the multiverse, including these four?
This all would make sense if Wong were only pretending to help Wanda, if he says he’ll tell her what she wants but actually plans not to. That doesn’t happen. He could tell her the magic book she seeks is lost irreparably, but he reveals it’s just a copy, and the original text still exists. He could give her some false location for the original text, but he tells her exactly where it is, something she otherwise has no way of learning.
Then he opens a portal to take her to that place, a mountain with magic engravings. It definitely seems like he needn’t take her to the correct spot. He could portal her or them both to the planet KillsYouInTenSeconds, or to the bottom of a sea of custard, or at the very least to the base of a different mountain to throw her off the scent, but no, he does just what she asks.
Still, everything works out, right? The multiverse does not end, despite Wong’s best efforts to let it. Except, no, Wong’s malfeasance still has all kinds of terrible consequences—not as bad as the consequences he expected, but still pretty bad. Thanks to him, Wanda heads to another universe and kills all five members of their Illuminati superteam, who surely matter at least as much as the four sorcerers. She also destroys, in all universes, a relic with the power to defeat any villain, which seemed capable of otherwise saving the world a few times in the future.
If you caught She-Hulk, you saw Wong spends his evenings watching television, with no other sorcerers keeping him company. Probably he got confused again and killed them all offscreen, because he thought that was the only way to save a can of soup.
Top image: Walt Disney Pictures