Are you growing weary of superhero films? Many viewers are, but others still fill the theaters, especially if the film presents the opportunity to enjoy another cameo of the now deceased father of the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee.
I’m in this latter camp. I find it hard to resist the appeal of a good fight-scene, car-chase, and explosion packed superhero movie. So naturally, last weekend I tossed aside concerns about feminist propaganda and supported the dying movie theater industry by watching Captain Marvel.
It’s not hard to figure out from the trailer, but Jude Law’s character, Yon-Rogg, transitions from being Vers’ mentor – helping her train at all hours and encouraging her to be the best version of herself – to the villain who is actively fighting against her. Rather than proving himself to be the empowering mentor he pretends to be, Yon-Rogg, along with the Supreme Intelligence, turn out to be genocidal despots orchestrating an unjust war.
Given many of Marvel’s recent films, this transition is hardly surprising. At this point we have learned that Asgard’s All-Father, Odin, used his daughter to do his dirty work while establishing dominance of the nine realms, only to lock her away when her powers started to scare him. Similarly, T’Challa discovers shortly after ascending the throne that his father, King T’Chacka, left young T’Challa’s young cousin, Eric, to fend for himself after Eric’s dad is killed for an act of treason.
Peter Quill’s father is absent, a murderer, and more than a little psycho. Howard Stark’s relationship with his son was always difficult. With failed father-figures playing a central role in the two movies immediately leading up to Infinity War, it’s no shocker that Thanos is an equally terrible candidate for Father of the Year. Sure, our heroes are only human, but the dads of Marvel have let us down so often that it’s becoming a predictable and cliché plotline.
Granted, there are a handful of exceptions to this trend in recent Marvel movies. Prison-time aside, Scott Lang is a great dad to his daughter Cassie. Hawkeye’s relationship with Black Widow raised some eyebrows once people realized that he had a wife and kids back home on his farm, but he otherwise appears to have a pretty healthy family life. If you go back fifteen years to the early, Toby McGuire incarnation of Spider-Man, Uncle Ben is a stable, encouraging father figure, offering the famous wisdom, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Sony’s Spider-Man, portrayed by Andrew Garfield, has a similar, though slightly more complicated relationship with his Uncle Ben.
We even see a decent, father-like mentor relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker in recent movies. Setting aside the fact that Ironman is a questionable role-model at best, and technically recruits Peter as a child soldier, the relationship between Tony and Peter is refreshing in the midst of all the failed mentorship in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) these days. However, given that Tony’s character development in the past several movies has centered around his efforts to process his guilt for all of the collateral damage that he has done during his hero work, it would be fair to say that the skeletons in Tony’s closet don’t look too different from those in Odin’s and T’Chacka’s.
Even taking the rare exceptions into account, the fact remains that the Avengers team as a whole lacks stable, dependable, and non-abusive father figures.
Since movies are often a reflection of broader cultural trends, perhaps this trend should make us stop and think. Do the failed fathers and mentors of MCU reflect failed fatherhood and mentorship in current American culture? Or is it a reflection of a generation that holds little respect for older generations? Perhaps both?
Fatherlessness rates have tripled since the 1960s, and roughly 20 percent of the millennial generation grew up without their dad. Recent estimates find that around 40 percent of America’s 1st-12th graders live in fatherless homes.
In addition to fatherlessness, it’s hardly a secret that there tends to be hostility between boomers and millennials. With generations often despising each other, it really isn’t much of a surprise that these hostilities would spill over into the entertainment world.
But what if there was an alternative? What if, as a society, we considered the good that can come from intergenerational friendships? Mentorship has been proposed as a means of combatting generational tensions in the workplace. If it has a positive effect in the workplace, isn’t it at least worth considering that it could have a positive impact in other areas, as well?
Entertainment reflects culture, but it also shapes it. Marvel might do well to keep this fact in mind when they design their storylines. With fatherlessness on the rise, and hostility between generations reaching the point that it is referred to as “warfare,” perhaps it’s time for a superhero movie that has a positive portrayal of fatherhood and mentorship, demonstrating the lasting effects that good mentors can have on a person’s life.