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Tag: opinion

The MCU is underutilizing Maria Hill

Contributed by
Aug 13, 2018

Maria Hill has been appearing in the MCU as far back as the first Avengers movie, making her one of the most consistent recurring characters of the franchise that doesn’t act as a main character. Despite her role as Fury’s loyal second in command, she was instrumental in the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., prioritizing taking out Hydra regardless of personal or professional cost. When S.H.I.E.L.D. disbanded, she began working for Stark Industries, noting to Pepper Potts in an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Most of the intelligence community would like to drop me in a deep dark hole.”

In comics, Hill was introduced to fans during Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers run in the early 2000s. She became most prominent as a character directly after Secret War, during which time Nick Fury was forced to go into hiding and was replaced by a Life Model Decoy while Hill served as executive director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Although this was intended to be temporary, it became more than full-time during the first Civil War story. When Captain America refused to join the Superhero Registration Act, it was Hill who attempted to take him in. She went on to become Tony Stark’s ruthless ally during the storyline and was responsible for capturing many of the heroes. In the film version of Civil War, she played a much more subdued version of this role, but the results remained more or less the same for Hill and for the superhero community. In any incarnation, Hill does whatever it takes to get the job done, although her motives are mysterious.

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Maria Hill's first comic appearances feature her in much the same role as Nick Fury, questioning the ethics and the competence of the Avengers while refusing to disclose any information to them about herself. The Avengers, in turn, haven’t always trusted Hill. However, after refusing an order from the president to destroy the team from afar, she earns a new respect from Tony Stark. He later becomes one of her allies on the Avengers and one of the few superheroes that trusts her implicitly.

In the comics, as in the movies, very little is known about Hill’s personal life besides the fact that she was born in Chicago. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father blamed her for it and became abusive and negligent as a result, which might partially explain Hill's lack of people skills. On the other hand, Nick Fury isn’t exactly the warmest guy in the world either and is brought under significantly less scrutiny for it. It’s one of those traits that comes with the job description.

We do know that early in her career Hill was sent to rescue two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that had gone undercover, finding her senior officer Reynolds traumatized and unable to make sound decisions. She relieved him of his duties to keep him safe, but he ignored her and was seemingly killed, although there was more to the story than that. The other operative blamed Hill for his death, but she was found innocent, and Fury admired her tenacity and her ability to make tough decisions. He offered her a promotion. Together, they discovered that Reynolds and his partner were actually triple agents. Hill was deeply troubled by what had transpired and asked to be given a pill that would allow her to forget it had ever occurred.

During the Civil War comic series and film alike, she goes above and beyond the call of duty to bring in superheroes that she considers rogue, proving invaluable to Stark’s agenda. In comics, she does so as Commander of S.H.I.E.L.D., taking over while Fury is AWOL. She professes to Stark that she doesn’t want to be S.H.I.E.L.D. director and that she wishes Fury could be reappointed. Stark uses this confession to undermine her so that he himself is appointed director, condescendingly asking her to run and get him a cup of coffee upon the announcement. Later, the two reconciled when Norman Osborne took the job from Stark, and Hill worked for Stark for some time. At one point, they had a one-night stand, but their relationship has returned to being professional. In the MCU, Hill's friendship with Pepper Potts and her tendency to relentlessly tease Tony Stark is a little more interesting than an ill-fated love affair, anyway.

While her moral ambiguity and her conflicting desire to follow rules frequently contrast with her tendency to disobey orders and to comply with her own ethical agenda when challenged, Hill is a pretty tragic and troubled character. In comics and film alike, we’ve seen very little of her inner world, but what we have seen makes her come across as extremely private, hiding a great deal of emotional turmoil caused in no small part by the difficult decisions she’s forced to make.

In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Hill’s appearances are all-too-brief, but her guest spots brought a lot to the show. Despite going hard on her mysterious operative role, Hill does listen to others and allows herself to be persuaded by passionate arguments from people she respects. Regardless of her professionalism and her commitment to work, she helps people when she feels that it's the right thing to do, which makes her one of Marvel's most interesting underutilized characters.

Despite her death at the end of Infinity War along with half of the universe’s population, she and Nick Fury are slated to play major roles in the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home. Based around the idea that Peter Parker travels to Europe for the summer only to encounter trouble as Spider-Man, this will likely show Hill in more or less the same role she’s been appearing as for the last several movies, the sidekick of Nick Fury. It would be really great to see her in more of a stand-out role, however, or to watch her pull her famous double agent act through the course of the movie to shake up the status quo. Her dynamic with the Black Widow is a lot of fun in the comics, as they both share a secretly conflicted nature, and it’d be great to see them team up onscreen in the future. Cobie Smulders provides fans with a genius bit of casting, and she nails the role to a T. In any event, it’ll be fun to see her reprise the character going forward.

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In comics, television, and the MCU, Maria Hill is the kind of character we need to see more of. Her no-nonsense stance and her complete refusal to cave on issues of ethics have made her stand out since day one. She’s not always right, but she does always strive to do the right thing. While male antiheroes, such as Nick Fury, are celebrated in genre, female antiheroes are seldom well-loved. People are uncomfortable with Maria Hill, and sometimes that says more about them than it does about her. She’s unpredictable and switches sides when it suits her, which makes her a wild card of the highest order. Her dry wit is always a delight, and she stands out as the best part of a lot of the scenes she appears in. Despite that, her role in Infinity War was small enough that it went uncredited, which makes us hope that her roles in upcoming films are more significant.

Always on the outskirts of storylines and seldom the focus of them, it is fair that Hill is occasionally viewed as superfluous to Nick Fury, but they stand apart in significant ways. To begin with, Fury isn’t as ruthless as Hill, nor does he carry the same level of self-loathing. The way Hill prioritizes work above all else and allows her personal life to exist in an ongoing state of disrepair is fascinating. Regardless of whose side she’s on or what role she plays in the MCU, Maria Hill will remain a fan favorite, because many people can see themselves in the unlikable woman that has to stick to her guns no matter what and remains under constant scrutiny.