The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has had a long and storied history, with over 20 movies under its belt and a generation-defining presence of a decade. Needless to say, we’ll be talking about the MCU the way our parents talk about Star Wars or Indiana Jones. They’re a part of us now. But that being said, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for this mega-franchise. In fact, there have been times when some of their films fall short of hitting the gold standard we’ve come to expect from them.
Some of the reasons are either due to poor direction, awkward pacing or just downright bad writing. It would be easy to clown on the films that didn’t make the cut and deride them as “the worst of the MCU” but that wouldn’t exactly be fair. None of the films on this list is Freddy Got Fingered bad. Rather, they started off with a promising premise and simply dropped the ball.
It happens to the best of us but still, we gotta give them their medicine. So here are the five most disappointing films in the MCU thus far. Fingers crossed Endgame doesn’t make it on here as an update.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
2008’s Iron Man was a showstopper. It won us over with clever writing, superb action sequences and an electrifying performance by Robert Downey Jr. as the charmingly incorrigible Tony Stark. So when the sequel came around, we were all excited to see a new chapter in the Iron Man saga. Unfortunately, the sequel was more akin to something out of a child’s colouring book. I know Obadiah Stane wasn’t exactly bad guy par excellence but Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was a clown.
The drones are called Hammeroids, get it! Then there’s the other one, Mickey Rourke’s totally forgettable Ivan Vanko. The plot is little more than an excuse for the costume designers to show off cool new Iron Man suits with the addition of the War Machine armour taken up by Rhodes. In way of substance, it had little to none. Dramatic tension? Zero. No meaningful character development. No major impact safe for the introduction of Black Widow.
Iron Man 2 makes me angry. Not because it’s an atrocious film but because it had an opportunity to be a terrific one and it blew it. It could have established the Iron Man world with a plethora of interesting villains and characters. Instead, all we get are stand-ins who come and go. Never to be seen or heard from again in any other sequel. Furthermore, the whole “Where’s my bird?” bit gets old pretty quickly with Ivan and Hammer. Iron Man 2 is the promising newcomer trying to play up how cool he is before falling flat on his face.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Third time’s the charm? Not quite there. Iron Man 3 is an even BIGGER joke than the previous film. All the trailers and all the marketing material was teasing the rise of the Mandarin by Ben Kingsley. The Mandarin who was known as the founder of the terrorist organization, Ten Rings, in the first Iron Man. The Mandarin, at least from his “lessons”, was depicted as the antithesis to everything Tony Stark was. An anti-imperialist revolutionary hellbent on teaching the arrogant nation of the US a painful lesson. When I first saw that in theatres, I had chills man.
I thought, “This is it. They’ve learned their lesson! A compelling villain, finally.” So you can only imagine the frustration and disgust that washed over my face when I realized that the Mandarin was a fake! An alcoholic, struggling actor who was paid by a scorned, cheap knock-off of The Incredibles’ Syndrome aka Aldrich Killian to distract Iron Man. What. The. Hell.
Alright, let’s get some positives out of the way. Tony’s big display of love for Pepper by destroying his suits in front her was heartwarming…for a time. I mean we all knew he was gonna put on the suit again eventually. This time around, the film had a stronger character arc for Tony, him paying for his arrogance at the hands of Killian whom he was mean to in the past. That being said, wouldn’t it have been better if it was the Mandarin whom he scorned through his involvement in wars in the past? Wouldn’t that be more compelling? Iron Man 3 is one of the most condescending bullshit bait-and-switch pieces of ass I’ve seen in a long time! Self-sabotaging to a fault.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Most of the time, people just refer to this film as the “second one Thor movie”. Yes, it is just that forgettable. Before Thor found his new groove in Ragnarok, he was still the painfully stiff Odinson we saw from the previous films. The Dark World’s plot revolves around an ancient foe returning to take revenge on a war he lost. Real original. But let’s try to be fair and list some things that The Dark World did get right, as marginal as they were to the overall experience. It introduced the Reality Stone and it made Loki likeable again. That’s it. The main baddie Malekith the Dark Elf is such a bore. His motivations are ripped right out of a junior fantasy novel guide. He wants to change the world back into a state of darkness so he and his Dark Elves can take revenge on Asgard and reshape the universe to their liking.
Thor has always been one of the more unique characters in the MCU, with his roots tied to the more mythical and supernatural side of things. Dark World could have really taken the bull by the horns and experiment on some of the more outlandish elements of the Thor mythos. Malekith in the comics is quite Loki-esque in terms of personality. I would have benefited the film if it played up Malekith’s need to take over the universe as some twisted form of nyctophilia. The whole lost honour and war aspect are so played out. It’s called “Dark World”, the name itself conjures up mystery and intrigue. Sad to say, the actual film does not.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
I’m just gonna come right out and say it: Phase 2 of the MCU was not great. There were bright spots with Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy but overall, it was pretty mediocre. A lot of us expected Avengers: Age of Ultron to make up for the uneven string of films. I mean it’s an Avengers film, they’re supposed to be big deals. Unfortunately, Age of Ultron fell under the miss category and became one of the most unremarkable films in the franchise. Don’t me wrong, I completely understand the direction Whedon was going for, Ultron is the culmination of Stark’s arrogance and saviour complex. A shadow created to mirror his worst megalomaniacal tendencies. Not the most original idea but still plenty of potential. So how did it miss the mark then?
Frankly, most of the fault lies with the structure and plot of the film. There Maximoff twins’ subplots only bogged down the film. It certainly didn’t help that Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen’s performance were completely lifeless and dry. I mean even when Scarlet Witch lost it at the death of Pietro, it came off as overly dramatic and cliche.
The action scenes with the Avengers were entertaining for what they were and that was it. It peaked at the first scene with an attack on the HYDRA base and stagnated from there. Even the Hulkbuster scene left a little impression beyond the novelty of “that big Iron Man armour”.Vision’s entry did inject some colour into the film but by then it was far too late. Age of Ultron turned out to be an all too forgettable intermission.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Well, I wasn’t planning on living forever anyways. Look, Homecoming was a commercial success, was a lot of fun with some great comedic moments, especially with the eye-twitching bit. I just have one question: Where was Spider-Man? I didn’t see any Spider-Man here. All I saw was some millennial kid zipping around with funding from his billionaire surrogate uncle. Spider-Man is supposed to be a man of the people.
An everyman who chooses to put on a costume, jump out from his apartment unit and be a hero. The beauty of Spider-Man is that anyone could be him and that was something every Spider-Man film embodied, until now I mean. The qualifier used to be “bitten by a radioactive spider in a lab” and “good with science”. But with all his contacts, tech and upper middle class (let’s be honest here) upbringing, it’s hard to relate to the kid. They downplayed the grittiness of Spidey’s reality while amping up his quippy nature. They’ve disturbed a delicate balance.
The truth of the matter is that Spider-Man uses humour to mask the pain and regret from the loss of his Uncle Ben. It’s a mechanism that enables him to cope with the struggles of life. He’s not a mindless positivity poster, he’s a living example of a man who triumphs over adversity. No matter how much they try to knock him down, he’s gonna get back up and save the day. In Homecoming, however, what’s the big challenge? What tuxedo to wear to prom? Spider-Man: Homecoming could have truly been an inspiring tale of heroism, sacrifice and responsibility. Instead, it’s a fun, poppy superhero flick with plenty of bright colours. Yay.