On the eve of Phase 5 of the MCU, it’s almost jaw-dropping to realize how many characters from the original source materials we’ve seen come to appear on the big screen. From the big three of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man to characters as obscure as Batroc the Leaper, Marvel Studios has brought an entire universe of characters to life in just over a decade of existence.
But that’s not to say they always get everything right. Some characters in the MCU are pretty weak tea when compared to their comic book incarnations and frankly, the franchise has squandered several opportunities to shine, instead trading in heroes’ legacies for comic relief and plot points.
Here are ten of the most egregious examples of how the MCU can let a character go to waste.
The Warriors Three
Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg, aka The Warriors Three, were intended to be Thor’s MCU BFFs and main backup in his struggles, not to mention a source of comic relief for the Thunder God himself who could — in his comic book source material, anyway —often take things a little too seriously. The trio got a few moments to shine in the original Thor but was unceremoniously killed by Hela in Thor: Ragnarok (perhaps not coincidentally in the movie where Thor started being funny on his own). The Asgardians have a long and storied presence in the comic book Marvel universe. It’s a shame they never got to live up to it in the MCU.
You wouldn’t know it if you only watch the movies, but in comics continuity, Ulysses Klaue aka Klaw is one of the more formidable villains in the Marvel universe. Klaw is one of Black Panther’s staunchest foes but he regularly goes up against the two biggest Marvel teams, The Avengers and The Fantastic Four. Using vibranium and his genius-level intellect, Klaue manages to transform himself into a being made of pure sound, granting himself superhuman strength and stamina and making himself effectively immortal. Unfortunately, we never get to see that transformation in the MCU. Killmonger supplanted Klaw as the Panther’s primary baddie, and Klaw became little more than a plot element tying the storylines together. Its a sad waste of Klaw actor Andy Serkis, easily one of the most talented actors in the franchise.
You can make an argument that the entire Eternals movie was a waste of time for anything other than worldbuilding but sheesh, did they have to go and kill Robb Stark all over again? Ikaris was the closest thing the MCU ever got to a Superman-style character but he only got an hour or so of screen time before flying into the sun. And yeah, we get the mythological reference of Icarus flying too close to the sun, but would it have killed Marvel Studios to give us at least a little longer with the coolest Eternal?
We can certainly admit that Jack Duquesne ended up being one of the most charming characters in the MCU on the strength of his appearance in the Hawkeye television series, but his swashbuckling charm also did us out of one of Hawkeye’s best antagonists and most interesting and tragic Avengers to ever join the team. In the comics, Duquesne was a criminal who initially mentored a young Clint Barton and first introduced him to archery. But Duquesne later betrayed Hawkeye and went on to become a supervillain. Later reforming himself, The Swordsman would go on to join the Avengers and later sacrifice himself to save the team and his lover Mantis from Kang. It’s sad that the MCU version was just a charming red herring.
We got the Hulk. We got Professor Hulk aka “Smart Hulk.” But we never got the Grey Hulk aka Mr. Fixit. While the MCU Hulk learned how to transition over to his superpowered body while retaining the consciousness of Bruce Banner, the Marvel comic book version of the Hulk had yet another dissociative identity known as “Grey Hulk” — a Hulk that lacked Banner’s moral fiber and even became involved in shady underworld dealings, becoming a bouncer in Las Vegas by the name of Joe Fixit. And while we’ve seen angry Hulk, it was a missed opportunity not to debut the moodier, greyer version of the character that wasn’t afraid to behave a bit badly.
In yet another example of the MCU making a longtime antagonist into a punchline, Iron Man 3‘s version of The Mandarin was promised to be the longtime comic book rival of the Golden Avenger in the film’s previews, but that promise was yanked away when it was revealed he was only a drunken professional actor named Trevor Slattery. It was certainly an expert-level bait and switch and it did give us several hilarious moments with Ben Kingsley as Slattery in Shang Chi, but a legion of hardcore fans that will never forgive Shane Black for squandering the opportunity to see Iron Man fight his longtime comic book arch-rival.
Let’s get this out first: the genderswap was fine. But making Taskmaster a silent robotic killer basically snatched all the fun away from one of the comic books’ coolest and most deadpan funny characters. Taskmaster’s MCU persona might have been an effective roadblock for Natasha, but other than that she kind of arrived with a dull wet thud without any of the charms or finesse of her source. With any luck, the upcoming Thunderbolts series might turn it around but her debut could have been a better analog to the wildly popular villain from the original comics.
Lady Sif suffers from a lot of the problems The Warriors Three had. Incorporated into Thor’s origin and intended for a greater character arc, she’s found herself largely shunted into the background in Taika Waititi’s last two Thor films. Waititi didn’t seem to have any idea of how to use the character other than to raise stakes, and ripping her arm off and then hustling her offscreen was frankly lazy. Here’s hoping that Jaimie Alexander can get some more justice in the MCU, perhaps in the upcoming second season of Loki.
This one practically goes without saying. Director Joss Whedon leaned yet again into his overused device of killing a main character to garner an audience response in Avengers: Age of Ultron and deprived the MCU of one of the longest-serving Avengers and a tie to the X-Men AND Aaron Taylor-Johnson. That’s a devil’s trifecta that had little payoff over the years, not even the inside jokes we got during Wandavision. It’s sad that Taylor-Johnson has to settle for Kraven.
And finally, there’s Ultron. Age of Ultron has gained a lot of apologies in retrospect, but there’s still little debate that it squandered one of the all-time biggest Avengers baddies on a film that is mostly an interstitial device to get the Cinematic Universe in order for Civil War and Endgame. Ultron is literally such a big part of Avengers history he easily could have carried his own trilogy but the studio decided to essentially skip over him in order to confront Thanos. At least we got a glimpse of a cosmically powered Ultron in What if …? but it would have been far more thrilling to have seen that kind of conflict play out on the big screen. We can only hope that he may show up again in some form.