Warning: This article contains MASSIVE Spoilers.
Detractors often describe Marvel films as “stupid popcorn movies.” They believe that they sacrifice character development and poignant moments for the sake of selling toys with colorful action set pieces. On the contrary, many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe offer much more than “good action.” They actually offer some pretty heavy themes and dark moments. Here are just a few examples:
5. Tony Stark’s panic attack – Iron Man 3
Whether you love or hate Iron Man 3, it’s hard to deny the sheer impact of one of its first scenes. After the events of the first Avengers movie, Tony Stark is still trying to deal with the emotional impact of his near-death situation.
In The Avengers, Tony flew a nuclear missile into a wormhole and nearly suffocated. While he initially seemed to shake it off with a plate of shawarma, his heroic actions seemed to leave him with a serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder. His fear and anxiety of the universe’s threats would be explored in future films, but Iron Man 3 was the first time we really saw how vulnerable he really is.
The scene starts off innocent enough with two children asking Tony to autograph a drawing. However, things take a dark turn when the drawing is revealed to be of Tony flying into the wormhole with the missile.
This triggers Tony to have an unsettling panic attack in the middle of the crowded restaurant. He starts shaking as he writes “HELP ME” on the drawing, looking as if he’s sobbing and screaming on the inside. At this point, the child whispers:
“How’d you get out of the wormhole.”
Tony’s world starts spinning as he is overwhelmed by the danger and responsibility of being a superhero.
This scene was handled so well that lead to a debate among actual physicians over whether Iron Man himself has PTSD.
Psychologist Travis Langley Ph.D. writes:
Because PTSD better accounts for Tony Stark’s overall pattern of behavior and suffering, it remains the more likely diagnosis for the distress he frequently feels during the months after he’d faced his own mortality on the other side of a space-spanning wormhole.
The that a real physician is debating the mental state of a man in an iron suit is quite something. It just goes to show that Marvel movies are much more than just silly superhero flicks.
4. The death of Meredith Quill – Guardians of the Galaxy
The trailers leading up to Guardians of the Galaxy made it look like a full-blown sci-fi comedy. Conversely, while the movie certainly has its silly moments, it’s not totally comedic. In fact, it may be one of the darkest films Marvel has put out yet.
Based on the marketing alone, one could easily go into this film expecting a thrilling, action-packed opening scene. Boy, people were sure in for quite a surprise.
The film actually opens up with the main character’s mother dying of cancer. No joke; a film may expected to be a funny little sci-fi escapade opened up with a scene that’s the complete opposite of funny. In fact, it’s pretty damn tragic.
Peter Quill is introduced as a young boy whose mother is about to die from some form of cancer. His mother wants him to hold her hand before she dies, but Peter is too grief-stricken to face death. As a result, his mother dies before he gets a chance to say goodbye, which will haunt his character for the rest of the movie.
The audience isn’t really given a chance to know who these people are. In fact, the movie just throws them into a scene that many could mistake as being from The Fault in our Stars. It relies on the knee-jerk sympathy of a kid’s mom dying of cancer, but yet it still somehow works.
The main reason why this scene works is because of how jarring it is. People went in expecting a comedy and were greeted with super-serious character development. It’s almost as if the movie is saying: “you thought this was just going to be a silly little sci-fi film? Here’s a main character with a tragic backstory.”
While Guardians of the Galaxy is still a, incredibly fun adventure, its opening scene really sticks out as surprisingly downbeat. On the other hand, it isn’t the only dark moment from the film.
3. Rocket’s drunken meltdown – Guardians of the Galaxy
In another scene from Guardians of the Galaxy, audience expectations are once again shattered. A talking raccoon going on a drunken ramble sounds like a laugh riot on paper. In any other movie, it would probably lead to piss jokes and slapstick, but not here.
While at an intergalactic bar, Rocket has a bit too much to drink. When confronted by Peter, his goes on a ramble on how his life is a living hell. He reveals that he is nothing more than an experiment, and has gone through the most unimaginable pain for the sake of “science.” Rocket sums it all up with this quote:
I didn’t ask to be torn apart and put back together over and over and turned into some little monster!
He bursts into tears after saying this, no longer able to contain the uncontrollable sadness building inside him. It’s like the end of Inside Out, but with incredibly grim circumstances.
Throughout the film, Rocket tries to cover up his pain by being a smart-mouthed, trigger-happy short stack. He practically has a gun fetish and puts on a bad-ass facade to hide his true feelings. However, alcohol is known to reveal one’s true feelings, and this moment shows Rocket for what he really is: a broken individual with a tortured existence.
Once again, for a movie known for being a fun sci-fi adventure, this is some pretty heavy stuff.
2. Bruce Banner reveals his suicide attempt – The Avengers
With witty dialogue and spectacular fight scenes, the original Avengers movie is known for being one of the best films in the MCU. However, while many consider it to be light-hearted fare, it isn’t without its dark moments.
Instead of enthusiastically forming a team to stop Loki, the Avengers are butting heats right off the bat. The second act of the movie puts our heroes on an airship, leading to several scenes that flesh out their internal conflicts. Loki’s monologue with Black Widow and the argument between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are especially important to future storylines. However, one scene in particular stands out as a truly somber moment of character development.
On the airship, Bruce Banner discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D. built an enclosed cell for him in case he transforms into the Hulk. Bruce is not only livid about this, but he’s baffled as to why they would even bother trying to contain or kill the Hulk. He then chillingly reveals a time when he attempted suicide by putting a gun in his mouth, only to have the Hulk spit out the bullet. Bruce makes it clear that nobody can kill the Hulk, not even himself. He is forced to live with the torment of becoming a beast he can’t control, and not even the most drastic measures will find him a way out.
The Hulk is known for being a brute giant that yells “Hulk Smash!” and is often the butt of jokes in many kid-oriented Marvel products. This scene, however, reminds audiences that despite the toys and board games, this is a real, genuine character with a truly heartbreaking backstory. It sets in stone that no matter how many jokes and one-liners the Avengers crack, they are all deep and interesting characters.
1. Tony Stark learns the truth – Captain America: Civil War
The Russo brothers have promised that Captain America: Civil War will be perhaps the darkest MCU film yet. Many assumed that it would involve the deaths of several important characters. However, instead of its dark themes stemming from melodramatic death scenes, it stems from the character’s internal conflicts coming to a boil.
After constantly arguing about whether or not the Avengers should sign the government’s accords, it seems like Tony Stark will finally team up with Steve Rogers against a common enemy: Zimo. After realizing that Zimo framed Bucky for a deadly United Nations explosion, Steve and Tony storm his secret lair to take him down. It seems like they will apprehend him and shake hands, but things take a turn for the worst with a simple TV screen.
Zimo shows a survailence video revealing that Bucky killed Tony’s parents while under HYDRA’s control. The audience actually gets to see Bucky beat Tony’s dad to death and strangle his mother. Meanwhile, the film keeps cutting back to Tony’s horrified reaction. His initial reaction is to slaughter Bucky for killing his parents, but Steve tries to restrain him. Tony asks if Steve knew about what Bucky did, to which Steve reluctantly says he did.
At this point, it doesn’t matter to Tony if HYDRA was controlling Bucky; he is too shocked to process anything. His uncontrollable anger is directed not only at Bucky, but at Steve for not telling him. Feelings of betrayal, fury, sadness and horror are buzzing around his mind, and this leads to perhaps the most powerful fight scene in Marvel history.
As they exchange blows, any chance of them being friends again seems to go right out the window. At this moment, the Avengers are broken, and it will take a miracle (and perhaps a certain giant alien) to bring them back together.
Though Tony and Steve’s relationship was rocky from the start, the film shatters the audience’s expectations by having them team up right before it. Fans of all ages expect a happy ending, but aside from Steve’s apology letter at the end, the movie still concludes with Iron Man and Captain America going their separate ways. Detractors that claim Marvel movies are “silly” or “kiddie” should definitely take look at this ending.