The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most popular movie franchise in the world (literally — it's the highest-grossing movie franchise of all time), but that doesn't mean its decade-long run has been without controversy.
In fact, in the ten years since the MCU's inception, it's been embroiled in more controversies than Tony Stark could aim witty quips at!
The controversies in question have ranged from behind-the-scenes issues to the way certain things have been depicted in the movies themselves — and we're going to take you through the highest-profile, most contentious examples.
Here are the ten biggest controversies in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It's not all connected
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the fact that its movies, television shows, one-short shorts, digital series and indeed tie-in comics are all said to be set in the same universe — in fact, “it’s all connected” is the franchise’s mantra.
However — especially as far as the majority of the movies and television shows are concerned — there’s really no evidence for that being the case, and some fans are growing very impatient at the lack of connectivity. It’s really becoming a persistent bone of contention.
If the Avengers and the Defenders were to team up — even if it was briefly and only once — that would be all the pay-off said fans would need. Sadly, due to several factors (rights issues, different tones, costs and so forth), that kind of thing looks very unlikely to happen.
Phil Coulson's resurrection
Rather ironically, given what we’ve just said about the lack of connectivity between the MCU’s movies and television shows, one of the biggest points of controversy in the franchise was the resurrection of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson following his death at the hands of Loki in 2012’s The Avengers.
Coulson is played by Clark Gregg and he became incredibly popular following his appearances in the Phase One movies — so much so that Marvel opted to have him brought back to star as the lead in a spin-off TV series.
It caused controversy because, while fans of the character were overjoyed to see him return, it emphasized Marvel’s inability to kill off key characters — and it sort of tarnished the entire plot of The Avengers, as it was Coulson’s death that prompted the titular team to come together and work as a cohesive unit (and the fact the Avengers still don’t seem to know he’s alive is just bizarre).
Replacing Terrence Howard
Don Cheadle has now made the role of James Rhodes, aka War Machine, into his own in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but you may remember it was actually Terrence Howard who portrayed the character in the first movie in the franchise, 2008’s Iron Man.
Cheadle took over the role in 2010’s Iron Man 2 and, initially at least, it was reported that Howard’s behavior had been difficult, and he’d refused to take a “50 to 80 percent pay cut” but, as it turned out, he was actually forced out in very controversial circumstances.
He claims he’d been told his pay was going to be one-eighth of what his contract said it would be and Tony Stark himself, Robert Downey Jr., had refused to back him up on the matter. Howard had helped Downey Jr. land the role in the first place, and when he called him to discuss the situation, he didn’t call him back for three months.
Replacing Edward Norton
Terrence Howard isn’t the only actor who departed the Marvel Cinematic Universe in controversial circumstances. Edward Norton — the star of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk – also had to be replaced.
Norton was extremely difficult on set — citing the reason that he wanted the movie to have a better script and wanted more creative control — but Marvel Studios wasn't having any of it and opted to bring in a new Bruce Banner.
Mark Ruffalo took over the role in 2012’s The Avengers and has since appeared in a further four MCU installments (including his Iron Man Three cameo). While a lot of fans were disappointed when Norton departed the franchise, it’s fair to say the situation has turned out just fine.
'You mewling quim'
2012’s The Avengers is, without a doubt, one of the most popular comic book movies amongst children. That should come as no surprise, as it saw six of the most iconic Marvel superheroes come together for the first time in live action to face an alien invasion — it’s the stuff kids’ dreams are made of!
However, a line made it into the movie that was extremely controversial, and it was spoken by one of the movie’s most popular characters. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki refers to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow as a “mewling quim” when talking to her on board the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier.
While “quim” might seem like a funny word, it’s actually the old English equivalent of “the c-word”, which is regarded as one of the worst words in the English language. Exactly how it made it past the censors to end up in what is essentially a Disney movie will forever remain a mystery!
Multiple race issues
This particular issue could easily be split into 10 entries itself, as there have been a number of controversial castings in terms of the race of the actors in question — perhaps starting with the casting of actor Idris Elba as the Norse god Heimdall in 2011’s Thor.
Since then, several castings in the MCU have caused further controversy. There were accusations of whitewashing when Scottish actress Tilda Swinton was cast as the classically Asian Ancient One in 2016’s Doctor Strange. Then, the casting of half-black, half-white actress Zendaya as the classically white MJ in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming caused an equal amount of uproar. Almost unbelievably, 2018’s Black Panther movie was even described as “too black” by some Chinese moviegoers.
If an actor can play a part adeptly, it really shouldn’t matter at all what their ethnicity is — end of discussion!
A lack of female-led movies
The lack of female-led superheroes movies has been a talking point in general in recent years, but it’s a very controversial talking point with regards to the MCU.
20 movies into the franchise, there’s only been one movie with a female character’s name in its title — this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp — and even that had the character in question’s name alongside that of a male’s.
Characters like Shuri, Gamora, Scarlet Witch, and Black Widow are incredibly popular in the MCU and, next year, Captain Marvel will be the first female-led solo superhero movie in the franchise — and that’s a great start as far as a change is concerned. Thor: Ragnarok star Tessa Thompson also firmly believes the franchise will become more female-centric in the future, which would definitely be a positive thing.
The depiction of the Mandarin in 2013’s Iron Man Three was extremely controversial for two reasons: first (and somewhat related to the aforementioned race issues), because it changed the character’s ethnicity; and second, because of the big twist that revealed the Mandarin was just a front, played by an actor so that Aldrich Killian could carry out evil actions in his image.
In the comics, the Mandarin is Chinese and most certainly isn’t an actor working for Aldrich Killian, so the casting of British actor Sir Ben Kingsley as... well... a British actor version of the character received a lot of backlash.
Moreover, the character is generally depicted as an expert martial artist who uses ten alien rings which grant him a variety of superpowers — and it was disappointing not to have seen that in live action.
Edgar Wright's departure from Ant-Man
The mere idea of bringing Ant-Man to the big screen was met with a lot of skepticism. But appointing Edgar Wright as the movie’s director alleviated that skepticism, as he was considered perfect for such a challenge.
After co-writing the movie’s screenplay, Wright commenced his directing of the project, but he left in controversial circumstances in 2014, leaving fans extremely worked-up about the whole thing.
The Shaun of the Dead director has since revealed he departed due to creative differences with Marvel Studios, stating that he wanted to make “a Marvel movie" but they didn’t want to make “an Edgar Wright movie” — although, thankfully, Peyton Reed has come in to replace him and done a fantastic job on both the first Ant-Man movie and its recent sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Firing James Gunn
Disney severed ties with Gunn after a series of historic tweets — which were described as “indefensible” by the media giants in a statement — resurfaced, having been brought to public attention by alt-right social media personality Mike Cernovich, who targeted the director because of his anti-Donald Trump stance.
Attempts to have Gunn reinstated as director of the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie have been ignored by Disney, which has resulted in the project coming to a halt and several of its star actors — Drax actor Dave Bautista in particular — suggesting they might not want to work with the company anymore.