10 Of The MCU’s Most Cringeworthy Moments

Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame below

Avengers: Endgame has a lot of us out there looking back at the first 10 years of the MCU. While the franchise has a lot to be proud of, it also has a lot to analyze as it goes into the next years-long saga. Frankly, the MCU has had some gross moments. Here’s my list of 10 of the cringiest moments that have been stuck in my head for far too long.

10. Tony Stark’s pre-Iron Man behavior

An embattled Tony Stark is in his iron suit, looking determined.
Photo credit: Marvel Studios

I think it goes without saying that Tony Stark was a creep before he grew a conscience, so it’s obvious his behavior would put him on this list. Thankfully, he was able to outgrow his man-childness, unlike some other superheroes in the MCU. Of course, it’s also worth saying that the only reason Tony outgrew his bad behavior was at the expense of others, particularly those who were being bombed by his weaponry in the Middle East. Even worse, it took him nearly getting killed by his own weapons to realize their awful power. But…growth is what counts, right? *crickets*

9. Marvel’s Inhumans

The cast of the Inhumans stand in front of a gray background
Photo credit: Michael Muller/ABC via Getty Images

I managed to watch as much of the first episode of Marvel’s Inhumans as I could stand when the show came out a few years ago. It was terrible. The show was created by the same guy who was behind Iron Fist, Scott Buck, and it goes to show how cringy Inhumans was that it beat out Iron Fist on my list. Whereas Iron Fist was just boring and lazy in every way imaginable, Inhumans was just at WTF levels of awful. With characters like the Inhumans, you’d think it’d be easy to create a show that seemed like a mix of the best elements of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doctor Strange. But my assumptions were wrong. Too bad Inhumans didn’t nail it on the first try; it could have been a cool, trippy show.

By the way, let’s pour some out for poor Anson Mount, who had to endure being on this show before he became one of Starfleet’s most beloved captains, Captain Pike, in Star Trek: Discovery.

8. ABC canceling Agent Carter

Photo credit: Marvel/Katrin Marchinowski

Since we’re talking about failed ABC-Marvel shows, it’s annoying that ABC tried harder to make The Inhumans work than they did Agent Carter. Whereas The Inhumans opened in the movie theaters for some inexplicable reason, ABC unceremoniously axed Agent Carter after its second season, right when the show was picking up steam.

Even though Agent Carter was critically acclaimed and had a loyal fanbase, the show was treated like an outcast. The only reason I can see is that the show’s brand—targeting women who weren’t otherwise focused on in the MCU at that time—was thought to not fit in with Marvel Studios’ core competency. In other words, it seemed like Marvel thought it wouldn’t be beneficial to give women comic book fans a show that spoke directly to them, because at the time, it was believed that the MCU’s target audience was men.

Maybe I’m just being sour. Perhaps there was some other reason Agent Carter was seemingly canceled for no reason. But if the reason is good, I’d like to know. As it stands now, the MCU still needs to give me an Agent Carter Season 3 or, even better, an Agent Carter movie.

7. Wanda and Vision’s relationship

Wanda has fallen on the tarmac and Vision is there cradling her, his soul stone glowing.
Photo credit: Marvel Studios

I personally feel it should be obvious why Wanda and Vision’s relationship is terrible. First of all, where is the basis for it? As with a lot of romances within the MCU, there’s no emotional basis for them to be together. What do they have in common? Why does Vision even like Wanda? And isn’t Wanda too young for Vision? Granted, Vision is a sentient robot who was born a few years before the events of Infinity War, so technically, Wanda is much older than him. But, he’s made to look like a 38-to-40-year-old man, and according to Quora, Wanda could be in her late teens in Infinity War (remember in Avengers: Age of Ultron  when Hawkeye tells her she can go to high school if she wants to?). What is happening with this relationship if this is the case?

To top it all off, it’s so unbearably cringy to hear Wanda call Vision “Vis.” It hurts my ears.

6. Pepper Potts’ lack of characterization

a smiling Pepper, in a navy off-the-shoulder dress with white polka dots, stands opposite Tony Stark, wearing a gray suit with a sky blue shirt and white and blue patterned tie. They stand in front of a bar.
Photo credit: Marvel Studios

I’ll sound like a broken record and say once again, as I’ve said in so many articles, that the MCU’s lack of characterization for women is annoying. One of the characters this is most apparent in is Pepper Potts, who seems to just be there to be Tony’s mother/lover.

The Oedipal complexes these superheroes have is frustrating and disgusting, to be honest. From Peter Quill to Peter Lang, almost every man needs a woman who will scold them like a parent and love them like a girlfriend. But Pepper seems like the MCU’s queen of Oedipal love interests. She not only takes care of Tony because she’s his love interest, it’s actually part of her job description as his assistant/secretary. Yes, she does eventually become more than just a secretary Tony can sleep with, but even as his girlfriend and wife, she’s a big nothing of a character whose main focus is to take care of Tony’s emotions. That’s not all Pepper is good for, surely.

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(Yes, I know she can pilot an Iron Man suit as well. But we don’t get to see her do that a lot. I wish we did.)

5. Joss Whedon’s treatment of Black Widow

Black Widow stares down the barrel of something dangerous as her hair blows in the wind. She's in some kind of dark hangar.
Photo credit: Marvel Studios

Joss Whedon will always have a lot to atone for when it comes to his run on The Avengers. I feel like I’m one of the few who didn’t like the first Avengers because of how jokey it was. But I especially didn’t like the second one because Ultron was frustratingly hammy and because Black Widow was written as someone who feels like less of a woman because she can no longer have children. I believe the line Black Widow says is that she feels like a “monster.”

I feel like a line like this could have been given the complex reading it deserves if the script was written by a woman. Why? Because it takes a lot of balls for a man to act like they know what constitutes being a woman. I feel like if a woman wrote this, they would provide much more context as to why Natasha feels this way.

Maybe she feels like a monster because she was forced to have the surgery as part of her graduation from assassin training. Maybe she regrets not having autonomy over her body, which goes back to her larger frustration of not having complete autonomy over her life—remember, she was indoctrinated into this elite academy of assassins; she didn’t choose it. In that vein, the moment of Natasha recalling her surgery could have been a nuanced jab at the government wanting to invade a woman’s body and take away her right to choose.

But instead, Whedon insinuates that Natasha feels like a monster because she assumes her inability to have children wouldn’t give the Hulk the type of relationship he wants. When put in this context, her sadness about her body is only in relation to how it can please a man. This is something I just don’t understand and I wish Whedon had just stuck to his usual problematic fetishization of Natasha instead. At the very least, we wouldn’t get any horrible lines like this coming from Natasha’s mouth.

4. Every POC is a super-sidekick

Sam, wearing a dark blue jacket, black pants and burgundy shirt, holds a drink as he and Steve look at each other. Steve is dressed in a dark blue button-down shirt and black pants. They're both at Iron Man's rich pad for his party.
Photo credit: Marvel Studios

From Falcon to Wong to War Machine to Ned, nearly every white MCU character has a POC sidekick to bounce off of. In some cases, All of these situations are supposed to read as friendships on screen, and to be fair, they do. (I mean, to me, the above picture would be enough to spawn tons of Steve/Sam fanfiction that I would voraciously read.) But when you line all of them up, you notice a pattern—the MCU seemed afraid to have a person of color as an individual. It seemed the only viable way the franchise felt they could portray people of color were as secondary—important enough to be top-billed, but not relatable enough to be the superhero in the spotlight. Thankfully that was corrected with Black Panther, but it shouldn’t have taken a full decade for the MCU to correct this wrong.

3. The Guardians of the Galaxy’s disrespect towards Mantis

Mantis looks worried as Drax looks on in the background. They're in some brown-ish shack-looking place with oddly-shaped windows.
Photo credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

The Guardians of the Galaxy is my least-favorite MCU franchise solely because of Peter Quill. I understand he was abducted from Earth as a child and never truly grew past his adolescence, when he lost his mother to cancer. But with that said, you’d think Peter would be much more mature than he is. Instead, he’s a whiny brat who makes boneheaded decisions 99 percent of the time. His inability to reason with himself is supposed to be tempered by Gamora, who, for whatever reason, likes him even though she is way out of his league. Again, a man-child must be mothered by a woman he has the hots for.

But while that’s cringy by itself, what really grinds my gears is how the film lazily draws on Asian stereotype to portray Mantis. I’ll give Pom Klementieff props—she has made Mantis immensely likable and sweet. But it was someone in the creative team’s decision to make Mantis less of the powerful character she is in the comics and more of a meek, docile, subservient woman in the MCU. The most important word here is “subservient,” since that’s where the parallels between Mantis and stereotypes like Geisha Girls align.

I mean, Mantis is Ego’s literal pet, for goodness’ sake. When they say this in Vol. 2, we are told in so many words that Mantis’ job was to serve and obey a being who takes the form of a white cis-gender man. I don’t mean to get all “SJW” with that sentence, but it has to be spelled out. What’s worse is that Mantis didn’t have to be brought to the screen in this way. Thankfully, we’re getting Shang-Chi in Phase 4, which means that hopefully, Marvel has learned its lesson.

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2. The Avengers shading Thor for daring to have feelings

Thor, in his superhero outfit and closely cropped hair, has lightning shooting from his body as he holds his axe. He's standing against a stormy sky.
Photo credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

If Avengers: Endgame showed as much empathy to Thor as it did to literally everyone else in the film, I would have liked the film much more than I did. To be fair, I already liked it a lot, but I was disturbed when I saw Thor’s storyline play out. The tragic part is that his storyline is already rich in emotion that a screenwriter could easily mine.

His entire character arc is based on his misguided idea that his worth lies externally, in his hammer, his god-like strength, and outward approval from his family and friends. As many have said, Thor became a much more well-rounded character thanks to Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. Infinity War increased Thor’s emotional growth by showing us a rarity in the MCU, a superhero who showcased his sadness on his sleeve. Too often, MCU’s heroes have a “hunker down and get through it” approach to life, a mindset that is destructive in real life. When you don’t face your emotions, eventually your emotions will slap you in the face. Whereas many of MCU’s heroes didn’t even cry during Infinity War, Thor actually did cry after losing half of his people. Because he’s the only superhero to engage with his emotions, he’s one of the most emotionally mature MCU characters we have.

But Endgame decided that the best thing to do with Thor was to make fun of Thor’s sensitivity. In Endgame, we find Thor in the throes of an emotional breakdown—he’s gained weight and has become a shut-in, an alcoholic, and battles kids in online video games. I don’t any of us should act like we haven’t been in the realm of where Thor has been. We might not have become beholden to a bottle or a pack of cookies, but we’ve all been in that space where it feels like the best thing to do is do nothing at all and wither away until you die. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I don’t think so.

However, instead of every Avenger–especially those who have served in the Armed Forces like Sam, Steve and Rhodey–counseling Thor or giving him some much-needed support, many of the Avengers treat him like a punching bag, lobbying insults veiled as jokes at him. The one that particularly stung to me was when Rhodey said Thor had Cheez-Whiz running through his veins instead of godly blood. As a veteran, you’d think him of all people wouldn’t have gone for such a low blow.

Of course, this is the screenwriters’ faults—in the hands of another writer, Rhodey might have been a lot more compassionate. But it shouldn’t rely on the right screenwriter to find compassion for a character who is clearly going through tons of emotional turmoil. It shouldn’t be a screenwriter’s first instinct to make fun of Thor yet find pity and understanding for everyone else just because Thor happens to not be in shape and everyone else is (or underweight, in the case of Tony when he first gets back to Earth). Endgame had an opportunity to turn Thor into a character that spoke to America’s obsession with separating humanity from those who are overweight. Instead, it punched down hard.

1. Captain America sleeping with Sharon Carter

Sharon Carter smiles up at Steve Rogers as they share an elevator after Peggy Carter's funeral.
Photo credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

It might be strange that out of everything I’ve listed here, from women getting disrespected to emotions becoming jokes to people of color getting shafted, that Cap sleeping with Sharon makes the top of the list. But this moment has disgusted me ever since I saw Captain America: Civil War in theaters.

As a Falcon/Steve fan, I knew I’d never see Sam and Steve be in a relationship on screen. So my disgust doesn’t come from seeing Steve not fulfill my personal shipping dreams. On the contrary, my hatred of this particular scene between Sharon and Steve is because it’s directly disrespectful to Peggy. Peggy isn’t even a day in the ground after her funeral before Steve makes a desperate move on Sharon. And inexplicably, Sharon goes along with this.

You’d think that Steve would have seen Sharon almost like a relative, seeing how she’s Peggy’s kin and in another life, Sharon could have been his own daughter or niece. You’d also think Sharon would have told Steve after he tried hit on her, “Look, dude, you might be Captain America, but my aunt just died! How dare you mack on me right now!” She would have then promptly slapped him across the face and told him to get off the elevator and never see her again. But no. We have to see Peggy get figuratively slapped by two of the people she loved the most.

Again, this is ugly action lies with the script, because I just don’t see either Sharon or Steve doing this right after Peggy’s funeral. Yes, I know they do get together for a while in the comics, but these films aren’t the comics, and whose to say it isn’t just as disgusting when it happened way back when.

Maybe this top entry did involve the MCU’s disrespect to women and stunted emotions after all.

What did you think about this list? What cringy moments would you have put here? Give your comments below.