Why can’t the MCU create true anti-heroes?

An anti-hero is a protagonist who doesn’t have the usual qualities a hero would possess. These include courage, idealism, morality, etc.

This is a classic definition of an anti-hero used by numerous blogs I stumbled upon while researching for this post. Every time people compare Marvel and DC, Marvel is known to have way more anti-heroes than DC does.

In fact, even in the book Slugfest, DC is known for its ideal view of the world with its do-gooder superheroes, which also became the reason for the decline in its comic sales during the early 60s.

However, in modern times, when we look at the cinematic universes of both Marvel and DC, we associate DC with more flawed characters than Marvel. Yes, a few characters like Punisher, Loki, and Deadpool are classic anti-heroes that have won our hearts, but a dark anti-hero is DC’s signature.

When Moon Knight came out, I thought the character would be much more gritty and violent, like in the comics, but it was far from it. Considering how the MCU is progressing, is it possible that the MCU can not make a true anti-hero?

I feel that the MCU can’t make a true anti-hero because of its need to cater to the age group of 5-75. This means they can’t make R-rated films or even depict protagonists with serious moral problems.

What makes a good anti-hero?

Before discussing how the MCU doesn’t make good anti-heroes, let’s look at other Marvel franchises, which were earlier not part of the MCU. So why don’t we start with everyone’s favorite, Deadpool?

MCU’s Dilemma of Creating True Anti-heroes or Family-friendly Content

When Deadpool 1 was released, it blew our minds for two or three simple reasons. It was one of the first times we had seen a superhero make fun of superheroes while breaking the fourth wall. The superhero was also one of the first to use profane words, phrases, and analogies we didn’t even know could exist. The third and the most obvious reason was the violence and the gore.

As an audience, we knew we had just witnessed something we had never before. Even if there was less graphic violence, we would’ve loved the hero for being so freaking gangster. The movie broke new ground and became a genre of its own within superheroes.

If we look a little more, I think Punisher was a great anti-hero. He was a merciless soldier driven by rage and vengeance. He might not have been as cool as Deadpool when it comes to wit, but he sure could rip people apart (literally!) by any means necessary.

While it was easy to root for Wade Wilson, it wasn’t so easy to root for Punisher. We knew he had lost his family, but the way he butchered and bludgeoned people was not a pretty sight. It made us question him, and therein lies the essence of a true anti-hero.

A true anti-hero can make you question your sensibilities. You’re not always going to side with them, despite knowing their story. Some things are just amoral, and they make you feel uncomfortable because you want to side with your protagonist, but you find it hard because your real-world ideals and thoughts get in the way.

This conflict is only possible if the movies decide to make their protagonist that way. It is essentially what good anti-hero movies, characters, and shows must do. However, it isn’t the case with the MCU.

Why does the MCU lack anti-heroes?

If you look at the first three phases of the MCU, you’ll find very few characters who possess the qualities of an anti-hero. In fact, even those who have slight hints of anti-heroism are transformed into idealistic heroes in the guise of character development.

MCU’s Dilemma of Creating True Anti-heroes or Family-friendly Content

Loki is a classic example of this evolution. He started as the villain in Thor and The Avengers. Over time, he just became someone who liked messing around with people to get what he wanted until he fought side-by-side with Thor in Ragnarok.

When his TV series came out, he became your usual hero through a process of introspection and softcore therapy sessions. While I loved the show, the character arc, and essentially everything about it, I realized it took away Loki’s best qualities of being the menacing anti-hero.

With Moon Knight, too, right from the beginning, we see the character as someone flawed, but you never really stop rooting for him at any point. In fact, in the comics, he is one of the Rated-R superheroes of the MCU. However, since he’s not that popular, people haven’t raged collectively like they are doing with Blade.

There can be a couple of reasons for the same. Let me try and break them down for you in a simple way.

I. Audience-friendly

Catering to the age group of 5 to 75 years means your content needs to be appealing to all of their sensibilities. To put things into perspective, you are trying to get your content to make sense to a 5-year-old who knows nothing about morals, good, evil, etc. while ensuring that it makes sense to someone who knows all about it.

MCU’s Dilemma of Creating True Anti-heroes or Family-friendly Content
Moon Knight

To be able to do this, if they go with anything remotely dark or questionable, they will be alienating a certain section of the audience, which of course, the studio wouldn’t want. This is one of the biggest reasons we see very few anti-heroes in the MCU.

Also, I mention MCU specifically because other studios have done some good work in this genre, like Netflix with Punisher and 20th Century Fox with Deadpool. However, even Deadpool had more morals in the second installment to attract a larger audience.

II. Minimum Stakes

For any franchise to have multiple installments, you need its main characters. Now, for that, if you look at the pattern, the main characters would rarely be harmed.

MCU’s Dilemma of Creating True Anti-heroes or Family-friendly Content

As a result, you already know going into a film that your hero and a few people around them will be fine. So there’s no conflict there, and even if there is, there would be an easy resolution.

The problem is that the stakes are never high enough. You know you’re going to lose it if your hero does something very amoral or if a central character’s death causes him to go against his principles.

But this doesn’t happen. This is why movies with superheroes like Shangh-Chi leave you unfazed. You have a jolly good time watching them, but they don’t make you question your own beliefs. However, the MCU is looking to even make the anti-heroes that way.

Moon Knight is a classic example. Even when the world seems likely to end, and Marc Spector is involved with Layla’s father’s death, you don’t feel anything. You know Marc would have a reasonable explanation, and the world will not end.

So, if you look at these two reasons, you’ll realize that the MCU can’t make anti-hero characters and films. So, the question now is if the trend is changing.

Are anti-hero characters gaining more popularity?

The simple answer is yes. Anti-heroes are gaining more popularity with shows like The Boys, The Invincibles, and more. More and more people between the ages of 16 to 40 want to watch flawed and problematic superheroes.

MCU’s Dilemma of Creating True Anti-heroes or Family-friendly Content
Moon Knight

So, having ideal superheroes as a norm might change, but it would take some time. According to a research study, most of the MCU’s audience base is millennials. Gen X and baby boomers are next in line, and then we have Gen Z, which only makes up 9% of the audience.

This means that maybe they’re not exactly into the MCU. At least not as much as the others. What is still being researched is if Gen Z happens to like anti-heroes. We already know that they are the most woke generation.

In fact, to gain their attention, the MCU lately has been getting representation right in their casting, like Makkari (Eternals) and Maya Lopez (Hawkeye). Furthermore, confirming that Loki is bisexual is another small step towards this.

That was a slight detour. But coming back to our main subject of anti-heroes, it remains to be seen if Gen Z is inclined towards them. If so, the trend might favor them; if not, well, we might see the superhero genre develop into something else.

Watch Moon Knight on:

About Moon Knight

Moon Knight is an American superhero television series created for Disney+ based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. The 6-episode series is directed by Mohamed Diab and the team of Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead. Jeremy Slater is the head writer for the sixth MCU Show.

The series follows Steven Grant, a mild-mannered gift-shop employee, who becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life. Steven discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector. As Steven/Marc’s enemies converge upon them, they must navigate their complex identities while thrust into a deadly mystery among the powerful gods of Egypt.

Oscar Isaac, May Calamawy, and Ethan Hawke star in the Disney+ series.

Epic Dope Staff

Epic Dope Staff

Our talented team of Freelance writers - Always on the lookout - pour their energies into a wide range of topics bringing to our audience what they crave - fun up-to-date news, reviews, fan theories and much much more.


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