The MCU does so many things right that its periodic struggles with romantic storylines stand out, but luckily, the solution is rather simple.
The narrative scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is breathtaking. It has effectively recreated the multi-layered universe encompassing dozens of comic book lines in both A-list movies and now ongoing television. The complexities of operating on that level are enormous, and yet they have kept track of a staggering number of characters and storylines through dozens of individual projects. Unfortunately, that sometimes leaves certain plot threads in the lurch, most notably its romances.
In the MCU, romance often takes a back seat to more immediate threats and plotlines. Marvel’s comics are rife with memorable couples from every title. But when it comes to the movies, they rarely reach their full potential. Fortunately, the cure for that is easy enough: devote more attention to their development, and let their inherent strengths emerge.
The sheer scope of the MCU works against it on this front, with each entry committed to both working on its own terms and tying into the myriad plotlines constantly moving through the franchise. That requires a great deal of screen time, and while the MCU takes care to keep its characters and their shared humanity in the forefront, that rarely extends to romance. This is despite the presence of copious couples from the comics and numerous token efforts to include romantic subplots in the movies. Sadly, the majority of them simply don’t click, especially when compared to those in earlier, non-MCU Marvel efforts like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies.
The cause of this failure boils down to a myriad of different reasons. Several romantic pairings feel artificially forced, such as Thor and Jane Foster, or Bruce Banner and the Black Widow. Others arrive out of the blue with little to no set-up, such as Clint and Laura Barton, or Hope van Dyne and Scott Lang. Even those that work, such as Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, leave significant sections out of their arc. Their break-up, for instance, takes place offscreen between the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, with their wedding and the birth of their daughter handled in much the same way. Thor and Jane’s relationship similarly ends offscreen for perfunctory reasons, though admittedly Thor: Love and Thunder promises to make up for lost ground, while Wanda and Vision have just a few minutes together onscreen before he is killed in Avengers: Infinity War. Even when it works fantastically well, as with Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers, other plot threads crop up to leave it unaddressed and unresolved until the literal last minute.
Surprisingly enough, the MCU’s more platonic relationships are the exact opposite. The friendship between Natasha and Clint, for example, is one of the saga’s central emotional pillars, while Sam and Bucky’s growing respect defines the arc of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Parent-child relationships are similarly endearing, whether literal like Scott and Cassie Lang or surrogates like Yondu and Peter Quill. Those connections have helped the MCU succeed by keeping the characters’ personalities and relationships in the forefront amid the explosions and special effects. It’s only when love blooms that the franchise often finds reasons to turn its attention elsewhere.
Thankfully, Marvel Studios isn’t giving up, and its upcoming projects appear to have a greater emphasis on overt romance. WandaVision filled in a huge number of blanks in the title characters’ relationship, and the careful development of Peter and MJ’s love in the Spider-Man movies appears likely to pay dividends in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Eternals, too, looks to make a love story one of its central narratives, while one of Marvel’s greatest romances – Reed Richards and Sue Storm – might be waiting in the wings at the end of Phase Four.
In all of the cases where love worked in the MCU, the filmmakers devoted screen time to developing and establishing the relationship. It appears to be the best way to stave off the doldrums that affect the MCU’s love stories too often for comfort. The saga’s non-romantic relationships thrive because it devotes time to them. If the MCU does the same with its romances, they are bound to take root and bloom.
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MCU’s Biggest Problem With Romance Is Time