by Angelica Macias
It is almost a year since the hype over the Avengers: Endgame was at its maximum point. Marvel fans awaited the day to watch the epic three-hour film in which all the allies that forged the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Iron Man, Captain America, Black widow, and more, would all come together. Despite all the hype and publicity, the story’s plot and the unbelievable science behind the heroes’ time traveling tactics to ultimately save the world were not enough to meet the expectations. Yet, the film managed to deliver on the franchise’s initial promise of giving its audience a flawed hero. Since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, its films have presented a new type of hero; a flawed hero, whose very flaws and imperfections, create an even better hero; a hero, that we, as normal human beings, can relate to in one way or another. It emphasizes the belief that fictional heroes are not perfect, which from a human perspective, makes them the perfect hero.
Over the years, fictional heroes have become a direct reflection of society and culture. Fictional heroes from literature, comic books, films and all media of entertainment have evolved from time to time. The very first fictional heroes date back to the time of the famous poet Homer. Homer told the story of Odysseus, a man, who because of his pride, endures the pain of being far away from his family for twenty years. Since the beginning of storytelling, heroes were presented as fallen and flawed, giving insight to a culture that appreciated entertainment and drama. Years later, the Aeneid was written by Virgil. The story was similar to The Odyssey but written to serve the purpose of glorifying Roman values. Therefore, while the character in the story was flawed, the main purpose of the story was to emphasize the perfections in the Roman society. Fast forward to the nineteenth century and Sherlock Holmes is introduced as a hero capable of discerning every single mystery that came to his door. Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as incapable of committing a single error and a character quick to signal out Dr. Watson’s mistakes. As a result, Sherlock’s incredible discernment and no sense of failure categorizes him as a “perfect” hero. In a sense, Sherlock’s character is nowhere near being human or relating to a human being. Many years later came the introduction of DC or Detective Comic heroes, with the introduction to Super Man, an alien, capable of defeating an enemy, capable of remaining optimistic in the face of a challenge, but whose main weakness was not his failures or temptations, it was a rock. Once again society was presented with a Utopian hero incapable of having any realistic human feelings or characteristics. Super-Man was introduced in an era of the “second fandom” where people sought not an outsider super hero but a hero able to integrate well in his society. During this time period, audiences sought a feeling of integration, a feeling that through their fandom and love for comics, people would be united and well integrated to their society, also a feeling of perfectionism through their comical heroes came about. However, with the establishment of Marvel, stories were able to progress from the medium of comics to the medium of film. Marvel has been introducing fictional fallen heroes that people can relate. Yet, these flawed heroes have been present in real life and all throughout history. Real life heroes possess human qualities that remain consistent through time. They each had their own flaws and mistakes, but as with the imperfect Marvel hero, it’s these same human characteristics which allow people from different societies, cultures and time periods to view them as actual heroes.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe three main characters serve as the perfect example of the imperfect hero. Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, Steve Rogers known as Captain America, and Thor, the god of thunder, all emphasize the idea of the flawed hero. Audiences have been following these characters since MCU’s first phase. MCU’s first phase commenced in 2008 with its very first film Iron Man. This film helped pave the way for future films like The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. Moreover, Iron Man gave the world of fictional heroes a new meaning, a new definition, proving that a hero is indeed imperfect. A hero is not one who simply goes through a hero’s journey without making a single mistake or keeping their optimism high, despite the stakes. A hero is one who is fallen; one who can be blinded by failure and tempted by riches. It is only after finding a solution for him or herself that he or she can share those powers with the rest of the world. This idea of a normal man rising to hero status can be seen in Iron Man, when Tony Stark sees news of his oppressors ensuing violence on innocent people. Tony, knowing that he could finally help liberate that town from oppression, travels all the way to the other side of the world and helps those in need. His heroism is on full display only after having faced torture and near death himself. He had to loose the idea of his “perfect” life in order to relate to others on a more humane level. It is only then that by being more human and like the “others” that he becomes a hero. Furthermore, the film “Thor” is yet another story of transformation. It demonstrates how pure pride, vanity, and incompetence are diminished in order to make room for the virtue of humility. Thor is stripped from his godly powers and exiled onto the Earth realm to live as an ordinary being. He is deprived of his strength and status, that which typically creates a “super hero”. However, as an ordinary human, like Tony Stark, Thor is able to find his “humanity” and interact with others in a way that allows him to be this flawed hero. By demonstrating a “weaker” version of his “glorious” self, being that he is the “God of Thunder”, Thor is able to help Jane, her colleagues, and the people of a tiny town in New Mexico from Asgard’s most powerful weapon, The Destroyer. It is only after this change in character that Odin, Thor’s father, grants him a second chance. Odin was not looking to convert Thor into a perfect hero for the fictional world of Asgard nor for Earth, but he sought to open Thor’s eyes to his own imperfections and then so humble himself to help others. In a sense, Marvel’s focus is placed on a hero’s humanity rather than each hero’s unique superpowers.
Lastly, Captain America, also depicts an image of the flawed super hero. Steve Rogers undergoes a literal transformation from a frail and physically weak character into a “super human” over night. The one thing that remains the same is his determination and sense of humility that everyone is able to relate to. The film shows how before the physical transformation he was discouraged to pursue his goals of being a soldier and helping others. It is only when he meets Dr. Erskine, the only person who sees a spark in Steve, that he is finally granted a chance to become a soldier and later a super soldier. Yet, even after the change, he is initially presented as a “model” for the perfect soldier, as he is used as a campaign symbol to enlist young soldiers into the war. This once again makes Steve Rogers fall short of his own expectations. He accepted to undergo the experiment to become a soldier and not to simply act as one, but not even his newly endowed strength provides him that role. It is his own determination and will, two human qualities, and not his super strength, that allows him to become the “hero”. In summary, all these films presented an imperfect hero capable of defeating evil. But Endgame’s story focuses on other aspects of these characters, their defeat.
After many years of having seen these super heroes defeat every opponent with their super mind and their mighty strength, Infinity war and Endgame portray a defeat. Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and all the heroes on the phase of the Earth fail to detain Thanos, an alien supervillain, a conqueror and destroyer of worlds, from snapping his fingers. This seemingly simple action ultimately causes half of the Earth’s population to turn into dust and vanish. Thanos’ self-appointed mission to restore balance to the universe comes with an irreparable consequence that leaves the remaining Avengers and the rest of the world in a five-year state of depression. They do everything in their hands to care for the remaining population, but at the same time, they try to find different ways to cope with their failure; whether it’s through support groups, alcoholic addiction, isolation or working with other heroes to keep the galaxy safe. Instead of these heroes being in constant contact and working out another solution, they resign to their mistake and try to lead a “normal” life. Tony Stark decides to have a family and lives a life isolated away from the city and away from all his team members. He is immersed in his own happiness and turns his eyes away from his friends’ miserable state of living. Also, Captain America decides to help people through support groups, instead of continuing to fight crime, which was still a major threat. Thor, on the other hand, gives up sovereignty over his people of Asgard and finds himself drowning deeper and deeper into an ocean of his own trauma, his addiction to beer and his own filth. Even these fictional heroes, who are meant to bring hope to audiences, who are meant to make audiences believe that heroes are somewhere out there; even these unrealistic heroes go through what every single person at some point goes through, suffering. Through this suffering, these fictional heroes are once again transformed into relatable characters. This allows the audience to feel a sense of hope; a feeling that no matter how broken or despite how low they have fallen, there is still a hero inside each and everyone. Perhaps, their current state of suffering is a catalyst that will bring upon the hero.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe gave rise to a new generation of heroes. It has become a place where science nerds, spies, technology fanatics and basically anyone, even an animal or plant, can become a hero. The only requirement is a little humanity. Fictional heroes are a reflection of our society and our times. They prove that super abilities are useless without a sense of humanity. The hero must embrace that which makes him or her weak in order to reach a status of greatness, in much the same way that everyday people face on new challenges, which allow them to grow as humans.