My biggest issue with the MCU is totally superficial.
Contemporary superhero movies have the worst casting directors ever.
My problem with the MCU, DCU and most syndicated TV is that every fucking character is a supermodel and it takes me out of the moment. I see the scenes everyone lauds and I emotionally shut down because I am by and large looking at the people who picked fights with me for doing things like reading comic books. Every Avenger could easily quit the team if they wanted and spend the rest of their lives living comfortably as underwear models. I know, I know, millionaire playboys and super-spy sexpots are supposed to be good looking. Plus a super soldier and a God, I get it, source material sort of dictates that the Avengers are a bunch of hotties. But does every single important person in a movie need to have it going on for me to pay attention? Hell emphatically no. In the worthwhile comics we love that these movies are supposedly created from, adhering to a beauty standard is not only silly but frequently refuted. Good example: Dakota North, ex-model who turned private detective because, uh, modeling sucks. Not everyone has to be hot- in fact, characters frequently abandon a lifestyle of meaningless superficiality to become heroes.
They say that the interconnected movie plots are also a shout out to how comics really are- massive crossover stories involving all their individual characters converging on a single story line. But, the runaway success of HBO shows I think is a bigger influence. Once upon a time, TV show episodes were self-contained things, you could tune in any day without more backstory than the credit sequence and follow along just fine. A show where you had to watch all the episodes in order when I was growing up was called a miniseries. Now it’s omnipresent. Since The Wire proved that you can do that on television, countless shows have debuted that follow this new formula. Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and the lot are all telling 10 to 13 hour stories instead of hour-long ones, and God help you if you jump in at Season 3 instead of Season 1. Marvel and DC trying to turn their movies into a continuity is more influenced by this than, say, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, or Friday the 13th, both of which have about as many movies as the MCU does by now, but each can stand on its own where contemporary superhero movies can’t. It doesn’t feel like building some giant, complex story so much as a giant, baited hook. Part of that is it kowtows to mainstream standards- don’t make the story too complex because we have to sell toys to kids and they can’t follow subtle stories. The trope that really grinds my gears is lead actors need to be beautiful. Welp, Game of Thrones, despite being so contraverislal that some websites that make their nut reviewing pop culture have refused to continue to cover it, is a runaway success that can alienate the critics and the fan base and we’re all still tuning in every week and sweating the downtime between seasons. Game of Thrones has become the face of the epic story. Let’s take a moment to look at the face’s face.
As the show has progressed, they have fallen more and more into formulaic casting. Look at Mereen (pre-Dinklage) and you have Emilia Clarke, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jacob Anderson, Michel Huisman. Babes, the lot. Before you had beefcakes who were regularly teased about their looks (Jon Snow for example “never met a girl he likes better than his his own hair”) but as things rush towards the conclusion, good casting has fallen by the wayside.
Or look at The Wire. The Bunk. Bubbles. Omar, arguably the Wire’s most popular character, had a facial scar way before Tyrion made it cool. Robert Downey Jr. isn’t mildly disfigured, he’s the Sexiest Man of the Year. Yeah you’ve got Idris Elba as a main Wire character but you also have a season focused on Chris Bauer. I can handle the occasional handsome in the mix (#NOTEVERY10) but it being a mix is great. The opposite is another police procedural like SVU or CSI, where the detectives are models and the extras are so obviously extras. Time and time again you hear the GoT production people praising the extras. Some people are fully aware that good extras make the scene. Others are aware of the fact that sex sells.
The obvious division between characters in anime makes it a little plainer. In the vernacular: bishōnen are the “beautiful boys” who represent eternal youth and gonks are the ugly others, the rule of thumb that “if a character is not attractive looking, they’re usually absurdly ugly.” Which to me is a callback to Shakespeare. The good looking are high born or can pass for high born or are generally assumed to be of a better genetic stock for not having their blood mixed with the commoners. What was once a satirical meditation on beauty standards has been dumbed down over the years by the (false) correlation that the rich are the best at everything and therefore the prettiest, too. A thought that fills my throat with bile and can be dispelled simply by googling the phrase “richest people in the world.” Despite this, the rule of the day is beauty=money and, as pointed out recently by Pessimippopotamus, if you are rough looking, you better at least have a sexy girlfriend or your movie probably isn’t getting made. An outdated and mildly insulting concept to be sure.
And so, the MCU.
Even the B-List Avengers like Hawkeye are still smooth and dashing and “Hollywood Homely” and probably wouldn’t hang out with me. Hawkguy from the comics would definitely hang out with me, that guy is the king of the rooftop cookout, and by king, I mean just another slob eating hamburgers and failing at party tricks.
Further complications: the modern James Bond. Ever since that disappointing footage of the Joker chase in Suicide Squad has been Vined, I have been championing Quantum of Solace.
Daniel Craig is supposedly handsome (he is ripped) but he also kind of looks like some kind of dirty elf made out of rubber and is comparatively the gonk of the Bonds. Plus you got Mathieu Amalric as the villain who is also kind of weird looking. Clive Owen is another supposedly handsome dude, but in his best films (Shoot ‘Em Up, Children of Men) he is scruffy and sad and it feels legitimate because he looks flawed and humans are flawed. Especially in comparison to the airbrushed H&M ads that make up the cast of the MCU.
It’s everywhere. Look at the Star Trek cast compared to the Star Trek cast.
And I hate it. Not to say that beautiful people can’t make good movies. Under the Skin was one of the best sci fi horror movies of the 21st century thus far and it starred Scarlett Johansson. Heck, she was in Ghost World, a comic book movie with a predominantly funny looking cast and it was great, too. All this schlock can be made good but it is up to someone to make it good. Are we reading comics because all we care about is wanting to sex up the Bishōnen Avengers? Nope. So it calls into question who is really making the decisions for all these nerd movies: the supposed fanboy directors who are interested in shaking up the genre, or the executives who are interested in business as usual?