Thursday, April 16, 2015

Are MCU Characters Too Weak?

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As I was trying to figure out what to do for my miniseries leading up to Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was thinking about an article discussing the characters in the movie, their powers, and their background—what’s happened to them so far in the MCU.  However, I got a question on Monday about the recent Daredevil series, and specifically about Daredevil’s relative weakness in that series compared to the comic books.  So my first article leading up to Age of Ultron will discuss the powers of characters in the MCU, and specifically how the MCU has been dialing down many of the characters.

Warning:  There will be some spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil, and I will also be talking about a couple of the characters in Age of Ultron and their abilities.  You have been warned.

Tony Stark/Iron Man – Well, the Extremis story line from Iron Man 3 did not give him the ability to carry his entire suit in his bones and excrete it through his pores.  Also, he has yet to bond with technology or start creating electronic backups of his brain.  And oh yeah, weaker suitcase suit from Iron Man 2 aside, Tony can’t actually carry his full suit around in a suitcase.

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Bruce Banner/Hulk – In the comics he has some mystical capabilities (with astral projection); they have not explored this at all.  They also have not shown him yet to have “limitless” strength based on anger; as of now his strength appears to have an upper limit, though that may change with the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight in Age of Ultron.

Skye/Daisy/Quake – In the comics she is immune from her own vibrations; in the show… not so much.  In fact, when she tries to suppress her powers, she can actually focus the vibrations inward and give herself stress fractures.

Matt Murdock/Daredevil – In the comics, Daredevil has the ability to keep track of virtually everything happening around him using his super senses—the sensory information he takes in is almost overwhelming!  In the series it appears that he can only track so much at any given time and needs to be concentrating to make use of his extraordinary senses.

Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (not a hero, but kind of relevant) – In the comics, Kingpin is ridiculously, obscenely large—virtually all of which is pure muscle.  This allows him to perform ridiculous feats of strength—feats like ripping off limbs and crushing skulls.  In the series he is larger than life, but not to the ridiculous level that the comics portray.  If he were that strong, he would have taken Anatoly’s head off with a single blow!

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Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch – Well, among other things I don’t expect her to be able to say “No More Mutants” and have it completely alter reality!  Although… if Marvel ever does get the X-Men rights back, they could easily use Scarlet Witch to meld the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe:  she says “MOAR MUTANTS!1!” and suddenly there are mutants!  Ahem…  They’ve described her powers in interviews and shown them in TV spots and trailers as limited psychic abilities as well as telekinesis.  In the comics, that’s only the start of it; she also has the ability to mess with probabilities:  if the probability of someone being hurt is 1/500, she can change that probability to 1/1.  If the probability of someone being hurt is 3/5, she can change that probability to 1/30,000,000.  Thus far they have not indicated that she will be able to manipulate probabilities or cast her “hexes” in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

In all of these cases, the heroes’ powers have been reduced or altered in some way.  So the question raised by all of this is:  Why does Marvel keep on “depowering” their heroes?  There are several reasons I can think of why they would be reducing their heroes’ powers.

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Before getting into other reasons, it should be noted that several of the characters mentioned are not “fully developed” yet in the MCU.  Scarlet Witch only received her powers about a year ago (probably roughly concurrently with the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  Skye (Quake in the comics) received her powers in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 midseason finale, and is still in the process of learning to use them—and deciding that they are a gift to be used, rather than a curse to be suppressed.  Daredevil has had his super-sensory abilities for around 20 years, but has only been a hero for a couple months as of the Daredevil season 1 finale.  All of the aforementioned characters have a lot of further growing and developing to do.  In fact, over time we could even see some of these characters’ powers grow to be closer to those of their comic book counterparts.  Even some of the more developed characters could continue to grow and acquire new abilities—Iron Man may eventually upload his brain to a computer after turning Rhodey into a satellite/space station!

However, let’s look at the reasons why Marvel may be “depowering” their characters.

One reason is because some of them are just plain too powerful.  If Hulk can just keep getting stronger the madder he gets, then he is literally impossible to defeat.  And an unbeatable hero is boring.  If Scarlet Witch can bend reality to her will merely by speaking, she can’t be defeated, either.  So if Scarlet Witch says “No More Hulk” and it makes Hulk mad, is Hulk going to disappear from the MCU or get ridiculously strong and tear the Witch apart?

Another reason is realism.  In the comics there’s nothing wrong with a genuine Norse god from a mystical realm visiting Earth.  In the movies, however, they’re going for a somewhat more “realistic” feel.  Everything has a relatively simple explanation.  Rather than making Asgard into the “Realm of the Gods” in the mythological sense, the MCU turned it into the “Home of the Gods”—a race of incredibly powerful near-immortal aliens who have visited Earth in the past to help the humans and whom the earlier humans worshiped as gods.

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Looking at Iron Man, they have turned him into one of the most “realistic” heroes in the MCU.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at the comics.  In the comics he carries around a man-sized metal suit in a briefcase—everything fits in there!  In real life, that’s just not possible.  That is why in the MCU he needs a fairly sizeable holding compartment to house and repair his suits.  In Iron Man it’s a fairly lengthy process to remove the suit.  In The Avengers he has a “runway” built into the Tower that removes the suit piece by piece.  In Iron Man 3 we see Tony “park” the suit outside a restaurant while he and Rhodey are having lunch.  He used a suitcase suit in Iron Man 2, but that suit was much less powerful than any of Tony’s standard suits.  Why would they make the suitcase suit weak while the more-powerful suits are larger and less portable?  That’s what makes the most sense technologically, and they want a degree of technological realism in their heroes.

The third reason I came up with is that it just makes the heroes more interesting to see on film.  For them to focus entirely on Matt Murdock’s capability as a crime-fighter would severely diminish his interest as a character.  In other words, if he is portrayed as having near-omniscience within a certain radius, there’s no way for an enemy to sneak up on him, and consequently there’s very little way for him to be defeated.  Because he does not know everything that happens around him—and needs to really be concentrating for his radar sense to pick things up—it makes him far more interesting and fallible.  The fact that Skye can actually hurt herself when she tries to suppress her powers makes her far more interesting as a character than her comic book counterpart, who didn’t have anything to worry about with her powers.

It might be a little less fun to see heroes portrayed in such a way that their humanness is highlighted, but it ultimately makes for a better story.  If Superman always manages to save the day, rescue Lois, and defeat Luthor, then you go through all of your story ideas very quickly.  Introduce kryptonite, however, and Superman is suddenly no longer a “god,” but a fallible hero who can be defeated.  This is what Marvel has been doing with their heroes:  Making them interesting and fallible.

The fourth reason Marvel is diminishing their heroes’ powers is because the more ridiculous powers just don’t fit into the MCU.  These things might work just fine in the comic books, but when you try to convert them to the screen, they don’t fit together.  Why do they need to give Asgard a scientific explanation (even though they still make use of seemingly-magical elements like Loki’s astral projection and holographic projection)?  Simply put, a purely-magical Asgard would have a hard time appearing alongside a purely-scientific Iron Man on the big screen, even though the two can coexist in the comics.

Sadly, the heroes we know and love from the comics are not exactly the same in the MCU.  Their powers are weaker on the screen than in the comics.  Rather than virtual gods, these heroes are portrayed as fallible humans who can be hurt and defeated.  This can be disappointing for those who expect the MCU versions to look exactly like their comic book counterparts.  However, the characters we are meeting in the MCU are made far more interesting for their weaknesses and flaws than they would be with the same degree of powers as portrayed in the comic books.  And I think the MCU as a whole is better for those flaws and weaknesses.

So what do you think?  Do you think that the MCU needs to be more faithful in their portrayal of these characters’ abilities?  Do you think the MCU characters are too weak?  Who do you think would win in a fight:  Scarlet Witch of the Hulk?

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  1. I agree with the tenor pf what you have here, but I wouldn't describe DD as having godlike powers. I don't see his sensory abilities in the comics as being perfection the way you describe it here. My beef with the Netflix show is that they didn't do him justice. They're unfolding his powers (if that's what they are doing) at too slow a pace. He's had at least a couple of decades of training as you say. They should be fully formed - all his abilities, ESPECIALLY HIS RADAR SENSE. That sense really defines DD. Without it there is no DD. And they didn't even show it the entire season. However, I like the show a great deal. It's just that it could have been better. He took awful beatings. I don't think he got beat up like that in the comics. IMHO they missed the character.

    1. I didn't think that his Radar sense was off. They toned it down some--he needs to be concentrating to use--but the broad strokes of it are still there.

      He did take a lot of beatings in the series, as you said. However, for the most part he far outclassed the regular thugs he went up against. The reason he took most of those beatings was because he was ridiculously outnumbered, and so he was exhausted by the end. There were only two individual combatants who managed to fight him to a standstill--or at least that it took him a great deal of effort to defeat. Two were characters with similar training, and one was the Kingpin himself. Stick trained Matt, so of course it would be a challenge for him to defeat his own mentor. Nobu was a (SPOILER ALERT) Hand assassin--hence the red robes--and had been trained in the same martial arts as Matt, but for longer. And if the final fight with Kingpin hadn't been long, drawn out, and epic, it would have felt like a letdown after all the build-up to that fight all season.

      DD is definitely a more human character in this season, but I don't see that as a bad thing. I'm going to see if I can get my hands on the 1993 "Man Without Fear" series. My guess is that in there we'll see Matt taking a lot of punishment.

    2. I don't agree that Stick and the Hand guy should be able to defeat him. DD's physical prowess is powered as well and goes hand in hand with his senses. I think they underskilled him as your article says. Read the debate on screen rant I'm having about this.