In any franchise written by multiple writers, directed by multiple directors, and governed by multiple producers, some inconsistencies are bound to fly around eventually. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is no exception. For every continuity nod from film to film, we have retcons and errors that plague the timeline. Mind you, these errors aren’t all too frequent, keeping the MCU from falling apart from its own weight, but they do appear often enough where you have to question how the MCU has managed to stay afloat for as long as it has. Phase 3 has ironed out most of the kinks, thankfully, but Phases 1 and 2 are rough to go back to.
This isn’t to say those Phases don’t have great movies, they both have some of the best honestly, but that continuity was clearly on the backburner as far as the directors and writers went. You can’t really tie all the Thor led films together, for instance, they’re just too different in tone. This is to say nothing for the fact that the MCU’s growth will ultimately lead to certain threads getting dropped. The fact we’ve gotten Thanos at all is a huge deal and one we shouldn’t take lightly. The MCU does make sense as a whole, but not nearly as seamlessly as you’d hope or expect.
25 Thor’s Character (Pre-Ragnarok)
It’s hard to pinpoint Thor’s character arc prior to Phase 3 mainly because of how inconsistently he’s written. Not a single director writes Thor as a character with understandable motivations or goals. Sometimes he’s aloof, other times he’s jovial. Sometimes he’s a good friend, other times he’s an insecure jock.
None of the early directors seemed to know how to write Thor, or even care. He’s very much the afterthought of the group in terms of characterization, shoved into narratively important scenarios just because of how disconnected he is from the main group in regards to chemistry.
24 Thor’s Character (Post-Ragnarok)
Which makes it all the more refreshing when we get to Phase 3 and Thor has been reframed into a lovable oaf who manages to display a surprising amount of intelligence. This makes Thor a far more likable character and even spurns him down one of the more emotional arcs in the franchise.
He thought women couldn't be warriors in Thor, but always wanted to be a Valkyrie in Ragnarok. Hm.
Unfortunately, such a shift in characterization means his later character isn’t compatible with his earlier character. If you were to watch only the films with Thor in them, there would be no clear arc for him. He would just suddenly become a good character out of nowhere. It was for the best, but it does nothing to bridge his arc into something even remotely cohesive.
23 How Reckless The Avengers Act In Age Of Ultron
Civil War was the best thing to ever happen to the MCU in large part due to it actively working to fix Age of Ultron’s mistakes. The biggest issue most fans took with the movie was the recklessness of the Avengers. They basically destroy a small nation trying to defeat Ultron. While Phase 3 does rework this into commentary on the nature of the Avengers, the fact Phase 2 glorifies this happening is downright perplexing to the point where it’s hard to believe any of these heroes would so haphazardly attack Ultron’s forces the way they did.
22 The Incredible Hulk’s Place In Continuity
The MCU can try to ignore it all they want, but The Incredible Hulk is an official part of the canon and nothing can ever, or will ever, change that. Not only does Phase 1 actively reference the film, nothing in later Phases contradict the events of the movie, placing it firmly in canon. At the same time, that’s due to an explicit lack of reference.
As canon as they come.
Interestingly, the inclusion of The Incredible Hulk also makes Ang Lee’s Hulk canon since the former works on the assumption that the events of the latter did occur, just with the actors of the former. This is seen clearly in the former’s opening where events from the original film are recapped with Edward Norton.
21 The Spider-Man: Homecoming Timeline
Spider-Man: Homecoming infamously features an “eight years later” title card that appears after its opening to suggest that the movie takes place in 2020. Unfortunately, as Civil War takes place in 2016 and Infinity War seemingly takes place in 2018, Homecoming cannot take place in 2020. This is a blatant error on the part of the editing theme, pushing Homecoming further in the timeline than it should be and creating a massive continuity error where the movies aren’t lining up. Either Homecoming needs to take place in 2016 or 2018, but it cannot take place in 2020.
20 The Logistics Of The Mandarin Twist (And Not The Twist Itself)
The Mandarin twist is by no means a highlight in Iron Man 3, but it’s not the film ending story beat everyone makes it out to be either. It’s disappointing, but it has a funny enough payoff in the moment and leads to the real Mandarin, as underwhelming as he may be. The real issue comes from the logistics.
What a waste of Ben Kingsley.
Why orchestrate a fake Mandarin? What does it accomplish? Tony finds out who the real Mandarin is almost immediately. The front wasn’t even a front since it didn’t obscure Killian’s identity whatsoever. Even from a storytelling point of view, there’s no logic in having a fake Mandarin only to reveal there was a real one all along.
19 Tony’s Actions In Iron Man 3
Given that Iron Man 3 is a movie depicting Tony at his supposed lowest point, it only makes sense that Tony muck things up every now and again. These instances need to be within reason, however, and reflect his character accurately which… they often aren’t. In no scenario would Tony ever, in an act of self destruction, give his address to a syndicate actively targeting him, especially considering the fact he lived with Pepper at the time. It’s a massive blunder on Tony’s part that feels dangerously out of character for no reason other than to create drama.
18 The Relationship Between Bruce And Black Widow
Most people will see this entry and assume we’re talking about the intense lack of chemistry between Bruce Banner and Natasha, but the real reason the relationship between them is nonsensical is due to the mere fact that Betsy Ross exists in the MCU. Bruce’s long term girlfriend from the comics and his literal girlfriend in the MCU, Betty is a character who should be on Bruce’s mind. They aren’t currently together, but The Incredible Hulk is canon so the love is still there. There is no realistic way Bruce would strike up a relationship with Natasha the way he does.
17 The Tony And Pepper Split In Civil War
Tony and Pepper’s sudden breakup at the start of Civil War was a shock to be sure considering Pepper’s role in Tony’s life, but it really did add to the weight of Tony’s arc in the film. He is truly alone and desperate to cling onto anything to stay afloat. It makes the film better and Tony a better character.
It's okay to let your characters be sad.
Unfortunately, it’s undercut by the fact that they not only get back together by the time Homecoming hits, but their relationship is so strong that Tony can just propose on the fly without so much as thinking about it. It’s a moment that should be charming, but is ultimately damaged by how things played out just a few films prior.
16 Bucky’s Insane Strength In Civil War
Although Bucky does have the same super serum Steve has, he’s still more or less just your regular guy with a metal arm that makes him incredibly strong and also a double agent that worked as an assassin for several years. You know, like a regular guy. The point is, Bucky really shouldn’t be THAT strong, but Civil War really elevates him to new heights. This is a mean who can keep up with superpowered people with next to no experience dealing with them almost effortlessly. Bucky basically gives Tony the beating of a lifetime near the end. Speaking of...
15 Tony’s Lack Of Strength In Civil War
On the flip side of the MCU’s power scaling issue, Tony is simply way too weak in Civil War. He’s a regular man, sure, but he’s a regular man who repeatedly makes super suits that can let him destroy the world around him if he so chose to do so. It’s quite unbecoming that once we get to a film where he’s really just fighting against super strong men, Tony cannot muster a good enough fight against Steve or Bucky. His latest Iron Man suit gets demolished and he’s left battered, beaten, and humiliated by who is ostensibly his best friend.
14 How Easy It Is To Stage A Coup In Wakanda
A big point of Black Panther is that Wakanda’s close borders nature is wrong. The film ends with T’challa opening Wakanda up to the world and uniting in an act of global solidarity. It’s an uplifting message that manages to be politically relevant. In that sense, it can be easy to feel that Wakanda’s depiction cannot be criticized.
Long live the king. Until he gets beaten up by someone new.
While this is true to some extent, as Wakanda is meant to be flawed, some things in the film which are flawed aren’t presented as flawed. I.e. the fact anyone can become ruler of Wakanda just by defeating the current leader in combat. This basically makes staging a coup not just easy, but totally legal.
13 Loki’s Plan In The Avengers
When we say Loki’s “plan” in The Avengers, we aren’t referring to his brain washing and emotional manipulation- that’s actually quite fine and sound- but rather his plan to betray Thanos, the Mad Titan who commissioned Loki for this job. What did Loki think would happen once he betrayed Thanos? Honestly, Loki’s fate at the hands of Thanos only makes sense. There was no realistic way Loki would have gotten away with stabbing Thanos in the back the way he did for longer than a few years. The moment Thanos got what he needed, he hunted down Loki and dealt swift justice. Loki should have known better.
12 Steve And Tony’s Weird Rivalry In The Avengers
Steve and Tony are essentially the MCU’s two leads. Their arcs directly compliment one another while commenting on each other. All the while, they grow together only to separate violently at the start of Phase 3. Their reunion has been teased for years, but it’ll likely be heartwarming and wrenching once we get to the end of the Thanos saga.
Why does Steve want to fight Tony so bad!?
Which makes it all the weirder when you look back on the beginning of their dynamic and notice just how vitriolic the two once were. More than once, Steve threatens to beat Tony up, goading him to put on the suit so they can fight. This is arguably influenced by Loki’s scepter, but it’s a bizarre way to begin their friendship.
11 Literally None Of Iron Man 2 Matters
Of all the movies in Phase 1, and arguably the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 2 is perhaps the most insignificant. Where other films in the phase actively build toward the inevitable team up by moving all the pieces into the right place and developing the characters, Tony’s second outing makes for a very static film. Tony barely grows as a character, Rhodey doesn’t even come back for the end of Phase 1, and the movie itself only really serves to let the audience know that Thor will be appearing in the next movie. It’s actual filler disguised as a movie.
10 Hawkeye Didn’t Participate In Infinity War
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: the excuse given for Hawkeye’s absence in Infinity War is bogus. While this makes sense for Scott, Hawkeye was one of the core six in the original Avengers lineup. He would realistically never miss such a large scale battle that threatened all his friends, even for his family’s sake. Someone would have gotten in touch with him- likely Black Widow- and brought him back into the action. The fact he isn’t present at all is a massive misstep that really does not make sense for his character.
9 Groot’s Name Might Actually Be “Tree”
One of the best interactions to come out of Thor’s meet up with the Guardians of the Galaxy comes from him mentioning that he speaks “Groot.” This makes Thor one of the few characters to actually understand Groot perfectly, but it comes with a strange implication: Groot’s name may actually be “Tree.” Even though Thor knows Groot the language, he doesn’t call Groot the tree “Groot.” This means that Groot’s name has to actually be Tree when translated from Groot otherwise Thor doesn’t truly know Groot. Or maybe Thor is a massive racist! It’s really one or the other.
8 The Theming Of Thor’s Eyes
The fact that Thor loses his eye is arguably the most important thing to happen to him in Ragnarok while also being the most under-discussed. In losing his eye, Thor is forced to more or less symbolically become his father. As the last true Asgardian in the royal hierarchy, it’s up to Thor to assume Odin’s role.
Like father, like son. Briefly.
Considering how he was unfit for ruling in his first appearance, this marks one of the only character threads in Thor’s trilogy to actually find resolution by the end. Unfortunately, the very next film gives Thor a new eye and butchers the symbolic imagery that the lack of an eye ingrained into Thor.
7 Stormbreaker Invalidates Mjolnir’s Role In The Plot
One of the smartest things Ragnarok did, other than giving Thor an actually likable character arc, was recontextualizing the mythos of Thor. Mjolnir, which had played a pivotal wrong in Thor’s aesthetic, is stripped away within minutes, forcing Thor to grow as a character independent of his hammer.
This naturally leads to an incredibly personal arc that turns Thor into someone who believes in his own strength and can overcome challenges without relying on a mystical crutch. Then we get to Infinity War and Thor is forced to create a new weapon because he does not believe in his own strength and cannot overcome challenges without relying on a mystical crutch. Oops.
6 It’s Impossible To Tell When Loki’s Really Gone
Loki sure likes… not living a lot, for lack of better term. If Loki appears in a film, you can almost guarantee he’ll be losing his life by the end. Really only The Avengers and Ragnarok see him explicitly survive without question or doubt, but both films that succeed those movies knock him out anyway.
We're all better off assuming he'll be back.
Which actually leads to a big problem with the logistics of Loki’s life: how do we know when he’s really gone? Every time he loses his life, it’s played straight, but he comes back anyways. It’s hard to tell what can and cannot defeat him. Thanos supposedly finished him off for good, but can we really trust that when his revivals just sort of happen?
5 Steve Is Only As Strong As The Plot Demands
Steve Rogers is canonically quite strong. Injected with the super serum, his first appearance wastes no time in hyping him up as the man with the plan. It’s hard to balance a literally overpowered character, though, so the movies need to get creative. Sometimes Steve is strong enough to defeat the big bads on his own. Other times, he needs help. Sometimes he’s blatantly stronger than Tony. Other times, he’s blatantly weaker. At times, his strength is grounded and believable. More often than not, he’s depicted as a modern day Superman. Steve is as strong as the plot demands.
4 Peter Shouldn’t Be Using The Iron-Spider In Infinity War
At the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tony offers Peter the chance to formally join the Avengers, even bestowing upon him a new suit, the Iron-Spider. An Iron Man esque suit that would ostensibly replace Peter’s current suit, Parker ends up turning the invitation down altogether, sticking to the humble suit and background that made him Spider-Man.
The MCU sure likes regressing character arcs.
It’s a nice ending to the film and a pretty ribbon on Peter’s arc, but it’s thrown completely out the window once we hit his next appearance. The moment Thanos starts targeting Earth, Peter naturally jumps into action, but now he’s using the Iron-Spider, a suit he should not have considering how the last movie ended.
3 No One Bothered Looking For Hulk After Ultron
Near the end of the Ultron conflict, Bruce Banner as the Hulk blasts off in a spaceship and isn’t seen again until Thor Ragnarok deep into Phase 3. It’s a jarring exit for the character and one that is never followed up on in the films. No one bothers looking for Hulk past a very surface level “try” hinted at through dialogue. It’s only Thor’s chance encounter that reunites the two Avengers together. For such a tight-knit group, it’s strange more effort wasn’t put into getting Bruce back.
2 Tony Never Atones For Ultron
Ultron is Tony’s fault. That’s kind of the whole point of Ultron’s arc as a character. He is a reflection of Tony in every respect, at least superficially. Once you dig a bit deeper, it’s actually much harder to see how these two characters connect outside of some vague traits, but the thread is still there.
No room for depth when Ultron's involved.
Perhaps it’s because the thread is so vague, though, that the film never sees the need to really reflect or comment on Tony’s role as Ultron’s creator. Tony doesn’t even defeat Ultron, Vision does- another of Tony’s creations, mind you. This is a film so centered around what Tony has created, but it never makes any commentary on the matter or forces Tony to own up to what he has brought into the world.
1 Tony Keeps Making Suits After Iron Man 3
The climax of the third Iron Man movie ends with Tony destroying all his Iron Man suits in a blaze of glory not only because it makes for a nice action beat to end the film on, but because it signifies the end of his character arc. Tony is finally free of being Iron Man, it no longer consumes him and he can at last move on.
Come his next appearance, however, and Tony is back making new suits. Alright, makes sense, he’s still a superhero after all, but his very next appearance also marks the introduction of the Hulkbuster suggesting that Tony not only did not stop making suits, but he’s still experimenting with copious new models, invalidating his arc.