Recently in the news, Iron Man director Jon Favreau and Avengers: Endgame’s Russo Brothers have suggested that Robert Downey Jr. deserve an Oscar Nomination for his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Honestly, it wouldn’t be too far fetched seeing that Black Panther came home with 7 nominations at the Oscars this year. And one of them was for the freaking Best Picture category! That being said, the push for Endgame to get into the Oscars started as far back as late May so perhaps these directors are just generating buzz for the film.
All this talk about Endgame did get us thinking about something: Are there really any performances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe worthy of at least an Oscar nomination? Actually, yes there are a few. Even without our fandom, we still felt like there were some pretty solid performances in the MCU over the years. The stigma of comic book films being “campy” or “childish fantasy” is slowly being chipped away as the genre grows ever larger in cultural might.
It’s time we acknowledge them as cinematic equals to any serious drama or biopic. So without any further ado, here are five performances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that are WORTHYYYYY of an Oscar nomination!
5. Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon
Yes, yes we know there isn’t a category for Best Motion Capture performance in the Academy. If there was, they’d have to nominate Andy Serkis six times in a row. Another injustice on the part of the Academy’s Council of Elderly White Men. That’s the reason why I’m putting this down at number 5. Nonetheless, Cooper’s work deserves to be recognized. The man somehow managed to bring baffling pathos and dazzling depth to a sentient rodent in a genre that is ironically quite unforgiving: comedy.
His role in the Guardians of the Galaxy films reveals a great versatility to Cooper’s acting repertoire. If you had told me that the drug addicted singer from A Star Is Born and the struggling cop from The Place Beyond The Pines was playing a wise-cracking mercenary rodent, and I knew nothing about Guardians, I would have laughed you out of the room. And yet here he is!
Make no mistake though, Cooper isn’t just doing his best Danny DeVito impression for the sake of chuckles. As hinted in the first Guardians film before being fully explored in the second, Rocket is a mess inside. Under all that firepower and selfish, material ambition, he’s a man (or animal) looking for affirmation in his identity. That scene when Yondu confronts Rocket about the kind of man he is in comparison to the person he tries to be is sobering.
Cooper undergirds each and every grumpy line with a measure of sincerity and vulnerability. Every time he loses it when someone calls him a raccoon, his reaction is both hilarious and sad all at the same time. He’s a genetically modified creature crying out to be seen as a person. If we could peer past the bluster and bravado there’s a layer of insecurity and hurt I think we can all empathize with.
4. Tom Hiddleston as Loki
Loki might be the God of Mischief and Mayhem but he might as well be the God of Charisma as well. Way before he possessed the Mind Stone, Hiddleston had already captured our hearts and minds in 2011’s Thor. Let’s make something clear, there’s nothing particularly deep about his villainous philosophy. He isn’t trying to achieve balance, punish the Avenger for their hubris or destroy humanity for the sake of the greater good.
He’s a megalomaniacal man-child with a chip on his shoulder because daddy loved Thor more than he ever did care for him. He wants a kingdom all to himself so they can all affirm him that he’s great and special. If they had gotten anyone else to play Loki, it could have easily have fallen flat. With Hiddleston however, it didn’t. In fact, he’s often cited as one of the most interesting villains of all time!
His gravitas elevates the character beyond mere childish petulance and vain ambition into the realm of poignant familial resentment. Loki is a man at constant odds with himself. He’s been told so many lies his whole life, is it any wonder he grew up into the most infamous liar in all of Asgard? The truth of the matter is he really doesn’t know what he wants or who he is. His morality is mercurial at best but somewhere deep down there’s a longing for reconciliation. It’s kind of tragic actually.
If we saw the Thor films as family dramas, then Loki would be the troubled, eccentric little brother who manipulates others because he doesn’t know how to love. Hiddleston achieved a fine balance between sympathetic and sadistic without making Loki ever feel schizophrenic. There’s always an air of charm to the man when he’s on screen. Hiddleston would be a prime candidate for Best Supporting Actor in my book.
3. Michael B. Jordan As Erik Killmonger
By no means is he as charismatic as Hiddleston but I’ll be damned if the man’s emotional volume isn’t in the least bit acknowledged. People often conflate an actor’s dramatic range and depth as the end all be all of a great performance. When in actuality, it’s a symbiotic process between the actor and the script.
Is he familiar with the background of his role? Can Michale B. Jordan deliver the lines in an authentic manner? The answer to both of those questions are yes and yes. We saw him portray a man struggling with his inner rage and the ache of living under his father’s legacy in Creed. In that film, Jordan brought a level ferocity and intensity to Adonis Creed that made us root for him. Take that and turn it on its head and we get the character of N’dajaka, aka Erik Killmonger.
Jordan clearly has no problem inhabiting the mind space of an angry child of lack from the ghetto and thankfully the script plays to his strengths. The film didn’t have him try to nail the speech patterns of his fellow countrymen. Instead, it has him squarely rooted in his African-American roots. A small but profound detail that speaks to the nature of his character. A man in the presence of royalty who still has the heart and mind of a prisoner of poverty.
Even when he speaks the native Wakandan tongue, you can still hear the lingering influence of his life in the slums. Despite his brief stint in the MCU, the man has made quite an impression on us all. The best kind of performances are the ones that make us ponder on how any of us could have been landed being the characters on screen, given the right (or wrong) circumstances. I just wished Jordan’s performance gave the Academy some food for thought.
2. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner
While Ruffalo certainly can’t boast about the more savage side to his character’s personality, he can take a bow for his part in bringing Banner to life. It’s never easy trying to fill another person’s shoes, seeing that he was Edward Norton’s replacement post-Incredible Hulk. Against all odds though, his debut as the jolly green giant in 2012’s The Avengers left an impression that we won’t soon forget.
The most appreciated contribution of his performance as Banner would be the amount of quiet levity and stoic irritation he brings to the man. Banner in past cinematic adaptations have always been portrayed as a brooding, boring Dr Jekyll to his Mr Hyde alter ego. Which is why Ruffalo’s take on the character is so refreshing. He isn’t a man whining about keeping the beast under wraps but a proactive player in his own mental battles. He’s aware of his problem and Ruffalo fleshes out the complex coping mechanisms with stunning complexity.
His first coping mechanism is his projected personality as the calm and collected man of science. He values rationality because so much of himself doesn’t make sense and when he sees people act against it, we can see almost flickers of the Hulk shining through the surface. Then there’s his relationship with Natasha Romanov aka Black Widow. She helps remind Banner that he’s not alone with the monster within. It’s alright to call out for help and find solace in a friend, or lover. Then, we see the final step in which Banner uses to cope with his infliction: acceptance. During the Battle of New York, Ruffalo gives us one of the greatest lines in the history of the MCU.
When Captain America tells Banner, “Now would be a good time to get angry” as a speeding Chitauri Leviathan heads at him, Banner reveals a little secret. In an almost cavalier manner, he tells him, “I’m always angry.”
I’m telling you, the number of emotional dimensions contained in that scene was off the chain! There’s so much going on in that one line. It’s a mixture of self-acceptance, defeat, triumph and courage. All neatly packaged in what could easily be seen as a cool throwaway line but Ruffalo made it work. It tugged at our heartstrings, got us pumped and told us something about the Banner all at the same time. That’s A-grade acting right there.
1. Robert Downey Jr. As Iron Man
Not unlike Jon Favreau or the Russos, we too believe that Robert Downey Jr. definitely deserves at least an Oscar nod for his performance as Iron Man. For which factor of Tony Stark, you may be asking? Is it for the cold and callous charisma that RDJ brings to the character? Is it for the growing warmth and progression that we’ve seen the man carry in films like Iron Man 3? Or is it those strong dramatic displays of wrath and pain that boil before exploding on screen as seen in Civil War and Endgame?
Well…all of them actually! So often I hear people blow off Tony Stark as a one-dimensional douchier version of Bruce Wayne and it’s so unfair. The only time he’s ever been that remotely close to that caricature was in the first 20 minutes of Iron Man, even then we see him come to a world-changing epiphany after he emerges from the cave.
It would be so easy for RDJ to just phone it in and comfortably stay in his performance comfort zone ala Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow but he doesn’t. Really, he reveals a different facet of the character throughout every film and the ones that are there are developed through each subsequent film. We see him run away from the pain of being alone in the Iron Man and Iron Man 2, he’s a man who’s still masking his anxiety beneath a facade of confidence. Then, we see that facade crack by the end of The Avengers after Tony encounters a near-death experience. It properly shatters into a million pieces in Iron Man 3 and his fears and insecurities are laid naked and bare before us all.
He once again tries to cover it up in a suit of armour through control in Age of Ultron and Civil War. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, RDJ is at his most heartwarming when playing the role of surrogate father to Peter and at his most heart-wrenching in Infinity War as he holds a dying Peter in his hands. Tell me again how he’s one-freaking-dimensional? The writing for Tony Stark is emotionally demanding and nuanced. Without a shadow of a doubt, RDJ kills it. We see this arc come to a fitting and an almost melancholic end in Endgame. The man who so desperately wanted more out of life gave his very own so others may live. Take away the comic book aspects of his whole arc and you have a solid drama right here.